Storytime #1: Kindness in Kyoto

It was my second day in Japan – July 18th 2016, I traveled to Kyoto from Ibaraki prefecture to catch Gion Matsuri festival. I did not book any accommodation earlier and everywhere were fully booked. I did not worry too much about it, thinking I could just probably stay the night in McDonald’s or manga cafe – just 1 night. 

I was chilling by Kamo River with my newly met fellow travelers and of course, we could not resist from NOT dipping our feet into the cooling river. I followed one of the travelers to his hostel, I needed to charge my phone and of course, a place to go for the night. I stayed at the common area, alternating between closing my eyes and browsing the net.

4 am – few drunken guys came in. One of them was too drunk to notice me, he came out from the room with just his boxer, trying to brush his teeth. Around 5 am, the staff woke up and he saw me. I tried to avoid eye contact with him to avoid any questioning from him. Furiously texted my friend to wake him up, asking him to open the main door for me so, I could leave the hostel quickly as the staff just went out.

Walking down the street around 5 am in the morning, unsure where to go and since I am not in a rush, I thought of walking to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Estimated duration was 49 minutes. I stopped at a convenient store to grab some breakfast. Bought a pork cutlet sandwich and sat down at a bus stop.

The sandwich was delicious. Right after I started walking, a car slowed down and eventually stopped ahead of me. The driver asked me, where am I heading. I told him, I wanted to go Kyoto Station (I am unsure why I said Kyoto Station, probably easier to reply in Japanese). He was shocked and told me if I am aware that it is VERY far from where we were. I said, yes. He offered me a ride to the station but I politely declined his offer (especially when your mum taught you not to get on stranger’s vehicle). He insisted after a couple of times, I finally agreed.

He told me that he is from Osaka but came to Kyoto for Gion Matsuri festival, it was his day off too. He was talking to me in Japanese, even though I could understand him but I could not reply him in proper Japanese as my Japanese is very much limited. He asked me where did I learn Japanese, I told him that I learned it from anime. He was surprised and asked if I’ve watched One Piece. As the conversation goes by, he asked where am I intending to go, I told him that I wanted to visit the temple. At the end, he sent me to the temple instead.

It was around 6 am, not much of crowd at the temple, just some local elderlies exercising in the compound. Took my time and strolled around, enjoying the beautiful scenery. There was a family, the mother in her 30s was wearing a hoodie. Underneath her hoodie, I saw a sugar glider came out for a peek. I looked at them and we smiled at each other.

After the visit, I walked down the hill to a street of shops. They are still closed but I enjoyed taking my time to look around. Some of the shops have quirky and unique window displays.

I came across a small temple down the street with a wooden gate. Curious about what’s inside the temple, I walked in. There was no one except for a monk, sitting in a windowed reception section, attached to the whole building. He asked me where I came from and told me that this Buddha temple is also a cemetery.  I did not notice it was a cemetery as it was pretty hidden at the back of the building. He has a son which does not want to follow his path as a monk and currently working overseas. He showed me a photo album with photos of his son and the temple during different seasons – mostly spring. The temple is beautiful in spring as the sakura blooms surrounding it. He thought I was a teacher because I have the “look”, probably the glasses.

He showed me of his handicraft of the hobby. Small jam jars wrapped with citrus peel, covering the whole glass surface and only leaving the lid visible. It was fascinating and unique. Given the opportunity, I would love to learn from him on how to make it but it was difficult to communicate, he was talking to me in mostly Japanese.

He told me that he likes me because I listened and he was going to show me the Golden statue inside the temple, which is off-limits for visitors. However, I must not take any photos, I agreed. The Golden statue is as breathtaking as he said. There was a lot of antiques inside the temple. He gave me a tour inside the temple and shown me the old fairytale/storybook (long horizontal pages) filled with illustrations and writings. There was a giant straw hat framed and hanged on a wooden pillar. There was another frame filled with handmade origami-ish dolls in Japanese printed fabrics as kimono.

He wanted to eat breakfast, so I excused myself. I was standing few steps away from the temple and checking my phone, he came out from the wooden gate and saw me, he asked if I’ve taken my breakfast and asked me to follow him to the nearby convenient store while we talked. Back to the temple again, he revealed another section of the building to me, the tatami resting area. He bought me a popsicle too. Before I leave, he asked me to come back to visit the temple in spring.

My phone was out of battery and I asked a woman for directions and she told me to follow the tower and I will eventually find the station. I stopped by at a cafe called Cafe Hinami, figured I could get my phone charged and of course, getting myself a second breakfast. The cafe is really cozy and homey, I sat at the kitchen counter section and watched her prep and cooked. I could tell that she’s a cat lover from the cat stickers and ornaments. She is the owner and also the only worker that manage the cafe. We chatted for a bit while she was prepping for lunch menu (ginger pork) and she gave me a taste of seaweed salad that would go with the dish. It was delicious.

In just 1 day, I was offered with so much kindness while traveling alone. Thank you, Kyoto.

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