Ha! We thought we were going to see the major sites in Kyoto today, just 30 minutes away by train. There are two palaces, and temples, shrines, and a famous forest. We would do it all. Again…ha! We were up early, had a fairly quick breakfast, and then began the travel fun! We couldn’t find the correct train line in the train/subway/shopping complex that sprawls underneath our hotel. After a few inquiries and after following several false leads and signs, we were finally bound for Kyoto…except we boarded the slow train, not the Special Rapid train even though we could both swear that it said Special Rapid on the side when it pulled up. So it took awhile. When we got to Kyoto, we had another learning curve, looking for the correct train line, standing in two different queues, and finally were on our way to the Bamboo Forest, another 20 minutes away. Once we got there, we decided to follow the crowds, as the signage to the forest was all in Japanese. Giant mounted maps along the route didn’t show the bamboo forest, at least not in English. So we followed everyone, and there were scores of people walking toward us, which convinced us that we were headed in the right direction, as they were coming from the forest. A good thought, except when the road split, there were equal numbers of people going two different ways. So we asked a vendor, who pointed back all the way we had just walked and said, “10 minutes, then turn left.” We actually, arrogantly, thought she was wrong! But she wasn’t. We had enjoyed walking through the village, though, and every other shop was soft-serve ice cream: both the wildly popular matcha tea flavor, a new-to-us bamboo flavor (!), and vanilla. By the time we got to the forest after walking back from where we were, it was more than 2.5 hours since we had left our hotel, rather than our assumed 50 minutes. So, no other sights were taken in today, just the forest. But what a forest it is!
Sagano Bamboo Forest is on every list of Famous Forests, Top Sights in Japan, and Places to See Before You Die. The grove was created in the 14 century by the Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk, Muso Soseki, who was a poet and master of garden art. The bamboo species here, Moso Bamboo, originated in China and grows 60 feet in one month! On windy days, it has been said that the forest sounds like gentle wind chimes when the bamboo stalks knock against their neighbors. But today was clear and calm.
So, the first photos, as you can clearly see, are all from a walk through the great, towering, calming bamboo. It is other-worldly. In many ways, it is similar to the experience of walking through Northern California’s Redwood or Sequoia Forests. There is a shared sense of awe and reverence with the other visitors. Also, there are homes around the edges, and small shrines inside the forest, and even a cemetery. You can see a memorial ceremony at the cemetery in one of the photos. After those, you can see one of the many rickshaws in the village with two kimono-clad women riding. It could be a scene from another era, except both women are on their cell phones, and the puller isn’t in any sort of traditional dress. Notice how pretty the women are, though, and how buff the rickshaw puller is! They just run down the street pulling the passengers, and at times are also shouting tour facts and pointing out places. It was interesting to see.
At the end are two (cute) plastic mascots followed by their progeny….the first spawning ice cream creations, the second, baked goods. The Japanese seem to love cartoon and other playful characters, as they are absolutely everywhere. We even saw an older woman traveling on the train today whose luggage had Mickey Mouse all over it! Many young men wear loud prints and even leggings. Women have backpacks, purses, and phone covers with Hello Kitty and cartoon characters. Buildings everywhere display either tv screens or plastic sculptures of cute animals. Along with vending machines, they are everywhere! It is just part of the Japanese landscape.