Fushimi Inari and Osaka, or Is This Orange or Red?

The famous Fushimi Inari temple was our destination Thursday, with Osaka gluttony planned for Friday. Fushimi is famous for its large number of torii gates. They are all painted in what I would call a vibrant orange. It just so happens that this vibrant orange is the same color that is called “red” by the company from whom I buy calligraphy ink. Compare, if you will, the following.

Whether it’s orange or red, there is a lot of it. A LOT OF IT. The torii gates are stacked upon each other, marching in a row along the path. Occasionally, you would see a set of “mini” torii gates at shrines or en masse at the side of the road. I joked that if one of the torii gates broke, the just put up the small one, added water, and — poof! — chia gate. I’m actually not sure why there were so many of these. Each gate had something written on it, and it might be that they were telling some kind of story or lesson; in uncommon fashion, I didn’t look that up.

Another cute element of the temple was the prevalence of kitsune, or foxes. These guardian creatures often had an orange (or was it red?) smock and would hold various things in their mouth; one looked like a key. There were also stuffed animal versions, one of them looking like he was either laughing or about to barf (see below for picture).

In order to see all of the gates we would need to essentially climb Mount Inari. This seemed doable until we realized that the concept of scale was obviously missing from some of the pictures. It became clear when we reached stop 1 and realized that we had quite a bit further to go. Patrick basically said, “Nope” and while I was motivated to do the climb, the inevitable six days it would take me to do it would substantially cut into our vacation. Luckily, someone constructed a trail that allowed us to head back to the entry area. So we took that instead.

(One thing I would note, and it struck me after the fact, that it’s very hard to experience these Japanese temples as serene places, since they are often packed with people. I would contrast this with my experience in Cambodia and the Angkor Wat complex. There it was easy to get into some of the jungle temples and wander around completely undisturbed. In Japan, the temples and shrines usually had a number of tourists, so it was very hard to appreciate their relationship to nature and the surrounding space [simply because all the space was taken up by people]. It’s one thing that was — perhaps — disappointing)

Once we made it to the bottom, we grabbed some food. Patrick and I had dinner plans that night, so we parted ways early to get back to the hotel, chill, and prepare for dinner — that’ll be another post. But for now, we’ll magically leap to Friday for Osaka, or what Chris called the “food capital” of Japan.

Osaka was an all-day Friday affair. By this point Patrick and I were on Japan time, which meant we would go to bed early-ish (2100 or so), and then I would wake up at 0415.I don’t remember exactly what time we left for Osaka, but it would turn into our longest day yet. On the agenda was a castle and food, in that order. The day was going to be hot, and the humidity was not our friend. The Arizona dry heat, while a joke, does have something going for it.

Osaka Castle

The castle in question was Osaka Castle (fancy that), and after a longish and sweaty climb to the top, the consensus about paying to go inside and explore was “Nope.” I think we had all hit a kind of wall physically and mentally. Plus, there’s only so many crowds and so much lacquer that a person can take — and we were there.

After leaving the Osaka Castle grounds we grabbed the subway to Dotonburi, the downtown district and where all the food was. The plan was just to eat our way up and down — and we did. Sushi, gyoza, a smoked meat restaurant, yakitori — we had it all. Up until that point I felt like all the walking we were doing had fooled my body into thinking I was in caloric equilibrium. Not today though — I was quickly feeling stuffed. We did some more walking to make space for more food, as well as taking a brief boat tour under Dotonburi’s many bridges.

At one point we stopped at a building for a radio station and joined other lounging on the steps. Below, in a space marked beer pavilion, was a “Texas BBQ” complete with all Coleman grills and camping equipment. The Japanese interest in Western Americana was on full display, and although the food offered was by no means “Texas BBQ” it did look tasty. They even had (electric) lanterns on the (picnic) tables. I give them big props for effort — it was really well done.

Um.

We wondered back to Dotonbori, during which I encountered the strangest sign I had yet seen in Japan (and shared above). I did not investigate further, but I do hope it is as cool as it sounds in there. It was turning into evening, a Dotonbori was getting busier, reaching that crowd and energy level that seems to be a feature of Japan. Neon signs lit up the streets and people, and the whole place took on a carnival feel. It made the relatively quiet of side streets and unexpected images a balm.

Our last stop was at yakitori restaurant where we let Breanne and Chris order by computer (which luckily had pictures and English translation). Dessert was maple and chocolate churros (!!) — the perfect end to the day. Near exploding from all the food, we made our way back to the subway, and then on to the Shinkansen. When we arrived at Kyoto Station it was time to part ways — Breanne and Chris were heading back to Tokyo the next day (Saturday), and we had two more days in Kyoto. We exchanged hugs — and promised we’d stay friends when we got back to the States (hee hee).

I’m sure there were some small adventures getting back to the hotel, but we made it there and turned in later than we ever had, and slept well.

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