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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Book II ~ Chapter 20 ~ Kinky Kyoto

22-Dec-2018 – 11-Jan-2019

I have already stayed in this particular area of Japan once before – actually that was only 66km away as the arrow flies (though if you know arrows that actually fly that far, you should be either mighty pleased or seriously concerned depending on whether they are in your hands, or those of your enemies) in Nagahama on the far side of Biwako (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape) – but that was only for a few short nights. Now, I am here for several weeks, which is why I consider this to be my official entry into…

Kansai (関西 "Gateway West") – which is also known by the name of Kinki (近畿 "Early Capital") – is ironically located in the middle of between Chuugoku (中国 "Middle Country") and Chuubu (中部 "Middle District"), and with 22 million inhabitants is the second-most populous region of Japan after Kanto, putting it just a little bit short of Taiwan. It is also the second-most populated region after Kanto at 832 people/km², which is about the equivalent of Palestine. With a size of 22.735 km², it is also the third-smallest Region of Japan after Shikoku and Okinawa, and a little bit larger than Israel (and Palestine).

Kansai consists of a band of mountains to the north, a mountainous peninsula to the south, and an area of densely populated plains in the middle, where the cities of Osaka, Kobe (神戸 "God's Door"), Sakai (堺 "World") and Kyoto converge to form Japan's third-largest metropolitan area after the Radiant Metropolis and the Greater Nagoya Metropolis. Kyoto-fu (京都府 "Capital City Metropolitan Prefecture"), in which unsurprisingly Kyoto is located, is interestingly one of three prefectures in Japan that have a special suffix to signify their elevated rank (as opposed to normal prefectures that bear the "–ken" suffix), the other two being Osaka-fu and Tokyo-to.

Kyoto-fu is also one of those "unnecessarily big" prefectures, that consists of way more land than one might expect. Specifically, in addition to the main and surrounding valleys where 99% of the population are located, Kyoto-fu also encompasses about 100km of mountains to the northwest, which I suppose must be the result of the initial immigrants to this region having been greeted by a local entrepreneur with the words "Welcome to Kinki! 3.000km² mountains buy you want?". Being after the cultural treasure trove which the former capital city of Japan has to offer, I have made my base of operations in the city proper for once.

Kyoto is a veritable treasure trove of culture, which might be related to the fact that it was the Capital of Japan for over a thousand years. Not in one stretch, mind you. There was a time in which the capital was moved every time a new Emperor assumed power, but starting from 1180, Kyoto was the permanent capital city of Japan until it was succeeded by Tokyo in 1868. Interestingly, with "only" 1.4 million inhabitants, Kyoto is almost exactly as big as my home town of Munich, also it covers about twice as much of an area and thus has only half the population density. Those last two numbers, however, are a bit misleading since Kyoto also includes quite a bit of unpopulated mountainous terrain in its boundaries, and on a very rough estimate, I'd say that this city really is the Japanese equivalent of Munich in terms of population, density, and even culture. Anyway, geographically, Kyoto is located at the northern terminus of a cul-de-sac valley, and is separated from Biwa-ko in the east by a range of relatively low mountains, just low enough for a Typhoon to conveniently blow over. My home, meanwhile, is located just a short walk from the Kyoto Central Station, placing it just outside the south-eastern corner of what I'd call the city centre.

Latitude-wise, I made a very slight advancement to the north, to the point where I am now at 35°N. That now finally intersects with Crete, as well as Kaitaia in New Zealantis.

As for the climate… despite the latitude, the temperatures should soon enough drop into proper wintery ranges…

…and on one morning, I should even be able to briefly observe the thinnest layer of snow outside and on the rooftops, before the sun melts it away.

Also, snow should fall a couple of times during my stay here, but apart from that one morning, none should survive contact with the ground.

Either way, this is the beginning of my adventures here in the…

City of Foxes ~ The Cultural Capital

This time around, I am staying in a hostel by the exotic Spanish name of La Casa ("The House"), which was advertised over Airbnb, which is how I came across it.

The place is run by a middle-aged man by the name of Kobayashi-san, who is notably a fan of the Japanese Band "Babymetal", which among other things is famous for integrating traditional Japanese elements into their performances, such as foxes. My first impression is that his is rather distant, but after getting to know him better over the 20 days of my stay I realize that he is actually quite kind and caring, and that his favourite animals are, as a matter of fact, foxes.

Kobayashi-san runs this place together with his sister Etsuko and another helper by the name of Mayumi, who only occasionally make appearances at the hostel. But enough about that. Now let me tell you about the rest of…

The Place

Since a movie says more than a million words, let us begin with the usual tour of this place.

Looking at this place, one might get the impression that it's still pretty new – especially considering it's not yet displayed on G-Maps, and that most light switches are still covered in "remove before using" foil.

The most pleasant consequence of that in consideration of the current season is that in crass contrast to the previous two places, La Casa is blissfully warm. Thanks to modern insulation, the central heater should be absolutely sufficient to keep not only the common room but also the bathrooms on the ground floor nice and warm, while the AC in my room should not have to work very hard in order to sustain a comfortable level of temperature.

The door design is also pretty cutting edge, featuring modern magnetic door stoppers below, and clever closing mechanisms that function without any joints or hinges above. I am willing to bet that someone won a design award for those.

Also, after almost four months, I am now finally at a place that has a dryer again, and am thus looking forward to fluffy-warm clothes after laundry time.

In sharp contrast to all these amazing amenities, the kitchen should be spectacularly unsatisfactory. Specifically, it is missing any kind of stove or cooking utensils, and is not even equipped with a rice cooker. All that it has is a microwave, a mini-oven, and a water boiler, and that's it. This total and utter lack of equipment despite the place having included "Kitchen (Space where guests can cook their own meals)" in its amenities should severely throw off my groove for the first few days.

Refreshingly honest, by contrast, is that this place did not advertise a laptop-friendly workspace, which is why I am not terribly upset about having to improvise a little bit. The end result should be that I would turn the lower bed of my bunk into a makeshift desk, which provides me with quite some surface area, and use the futon of said bed as a makeshift carpet of sorts.

So much for the hostel. As for my immediate surroundings, they should sport an interesting combination of urban and suburban character, not unlike the area in Munich where I'm from, and yet distinctly different.

Also, this neighbourhood – which goes by the name of Higashikujou (東九条 "East Nine Strip") – features already quite a number of Temples and Shrines, so I should inadvertently run into some of the during my routine shopping strays.

Speaking of which, my primary port of call when it comes to seeing to my shopping need is the good old Aeon Mall just across from the Kyoto station.

It is only near the end of my stay that I find a closer and smaller Supermarket by the name of Daikokuya (大黒屋 "Great Black Shop") – named after Daikokuten (大黒天 "Great Black Sky"), the god of craftsmen and one of the Shichifukujin – which I should use to cover my last few shopping trips.

And finally, on one occasion, I should also try out a new Konbini Brand by the name of Daily Yamazaki. Originally a dairy store, I wonder if they just mis-romanized "dairy" as "daily" and then chose to stick with it because it sounded good (that, and they probably had already paid the artist for designing their logo).

So much for the setup. Next, let us jump straight into the main event, for this time around it really issomething that absolutely cannot wait. Believe me. I checked. It says so in the contract I signed when I sold my soul to the foxes. With that, all that's left for me to say is:

Day Trip 1: We wish you a Foxy Christmas...

Distance: 11.6km
Ascents: 300m
Duration: 8h
(∞🦊); 18; 4/9🎁︎

As mentioned before, Kyoto is a cultural treasure trove with centuries of history, making it scattered with Shrines, Temples, Palaces, Gardens and whatnot. There are all sorts of good reasons why I would want to come to Kyoto, but one reason outshines them all.

That reason is called Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社 "Prostrated Hopes Inari Great Shrine").

Fushimi Inari Taisha is the Head Shrine of all Inari Shrines, no matter where they are. You could say it is the Sistine Chapel of Shinto Faith, and being the first and foremost of all Inari Shrines, I expect to see many, many foxes at this place. as such, I begin my pilgrimage – on foot – to reach what I imagine ought to be the foxiest place of all, expectations high, mentally preparing myself to be disappointed, but trying anyway. And I am going to mention at this time already, that I should not be disappointed. Quite the opposite actually, but more about that later.

Before I go there, however, I have to take care of one more important thing: You see, my family sent me a little Xmas present from home, and that was quite the hassle. I originally intended to have it sent to La Casa, but regrettably Kobayashi-san must have missed my message, and thus we decided to try something more risky, namely having the package sent poste restante, and being stored at a nearby post office. Figuring out the correct syntax to write on the package was quite tricky, but apparently it worked, since the blessing of online tracking allowed us to track the package all the way to the post office.

However, I should soon find out that my acceptance of the package would get further delayed, because first off this particular post office is not open on the day of my arrival on Saturday since that's Tooji (冬至 "Winter Climax" = "The Festival of Lights"), and is routinely closed on Sundays, and the following Monday turn out to be a banking holiday for the observance of the Emperor's birthday, which happens to have been on 23-Dec. As thus, it is not until today that I get a chance to walk to actually enter the post office…

…and finally get my package, which my family so lovingly prepared for me.

That having been taken care of, my next destination for today is Fushimi Inari Taisha, which is conveniently located half an hour away from my current home (although with my usual detours, it should be more like an hour and a half).

And thus, I set out, walking down the street under the watchful eyes of felines…

…and crossing Kamogawa (鴨川 "Wild Duck River"), where a number of mixed waterfowl are currently roosting.

Naturally, it shouldn't be too long until I run into the first Shrines and Temples. Actually, it's mostly Temples this time around. Pretty much exclusively Temples to be perfectly honest, with the exception of maybe one or two tiny Side Shrines along the way.

And to emphasize the predominance of Buddhist Temples in this particular part of town, there is also one which I immediately file in the size category "Complex" without a second thought. Toufukuji (東福寺"East Fortune Temple") is one of the Gozan (五山 "Five Mountains") – the five great Temples of Kyoto – and dates back to 1236. It's main gate is the oldest Sanmon (三門 "Three-fold Gate") in Japan, and currently contains a total of 24 sub-Temples and -Shrines.

One of said Side Shrines should – much to my delight – also feature the first foxes I should find during my stay in Kyoto, though Dragon knows I should run into way more of those than I accounted for before long.

Along the remainder of the way, I also run into Kyoto's manhole cover design. It's disappointingly abstract, but the interesting thing here is the city crest of Kyoto, which is remarkably similar to a design that came to me in a dream many years ago, and which I have since then incorporated into the Chronicles of Ceal as the symbol of the Novean Faith.

Not much later, I run into the Fushimi Inari Shopping Street, which is like a dream come true. It takes all of my willpower to not go "WHEEEEE!!!!!" and spend five digit amounts of ¥ in what must be the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise.

Here, they have everything and I do mean everything related to foxes and Inari Worship, starting with fox statues in all sizes and several colours (the largest of which are "did you bring your own truck?"-sized)…

…going over small house Shrines prized in the 5-digit category…

…and ending with "did you bring your own truck?"-sized garden Shrines in the upper 6-digit to lower 7-digit category. Imagine walking into one of these stores, declaring you want to buy one of them and then asking them to gift-wrap it.

There is, however, one thing that I have been searching for a long time that is not on sale, not even here, and that is chopsticks with a vulpine design on them, and so I eventually wander on, not buying anything… yet. Today, my priority is visiting and exploring Fushimi Inari, and I just know that as soon as I start buying stuff at one of those shops, I won't stop until either my wallet is empty or I can carry no more.

Anyway, that's enough stalling on my part. The main gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha are literally just across the road from the Inari Station – which is painted in the traditional Kouhaku (紅白 "red and white") colours, which are considered very lucky colours in Shinto Faith, and also makes up the traditional colour scheme for Inari Shrines all over the country. Interestingly, a single very dynamic dark fox can be seen guarding the outermost gates. Drawing upon my descriptions and pictures of Inari Shrines thus far, can you figure out at least three ways in which this fox guardian is unusual?

And then, after walking up the roughly 123.45m long approach, I finally reach it, the ultimate goal of my journey: Fushimi Inari Taisha, the place where all foxiness in Japan began, both the inner gate and the main Shrine flanked by another pair of great foxes each, female on the left, and male to the right. How can I tell? Well, let us just say that some of these statues are detailed, and whenever I came across such detailed statues, the male one was always the right.

This, however, is only the foxy beginning. Going further inside, there is an impressive amount of Side Shrines, all held in the bright Kouhaku colour scheme, and some of them featuring more foxes.

Following that display of foxy goodness, there is the "cliché" Torii Tunnel, which is what I suppose most people think of when they hear Fushimi Inari Taisha. Since today is Xmas day, this place is particularly crowded, with people trying to go the right way under the watchful eyes of yet more vulpine guardians.

At the end of the Torii Tunnel, there is another foxy sanctuary, where I purchase another vulpine Omamori by the name of Ryokou Ansen Mamori (旅行安全守り "Travel Safety Protection") not only to keep me safe on my as of yet still ongoing travels, but also because it is simply adorable.

Oh, and just kidding. The endless corridor of foxy Torii carries on, and leads past yet more vulpine sanctuaries along the way.

Eventually, however, I leave the infinite Torii corridor behind, and set out onto a side path and finally into the forest like a fox in order to fox out a very fittingly and foxy Geocache hidden nearby.

From there, my quest for more caches (and foxes) leads me along a path along the side of the very aptly named Inariyama and through a very vulpine bamboo-forest. As I foxily lope along the fox-trodden slopes, I find that this place still bears the scars of the Typhoon that tore through this particular area like a rabid fox on 4-Sep, and hit me while I was temporarily located on the other side of Biwako in Nagahama (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape). Actually, scratch that. In Japanese mythology, it is actually weasels that are associated with sickling winds, not foxes, and certainly not rabbits. Why suspect them?

And then, I run into this foxy thing:

It's a full glade full of tiny little fox Shrines!

There are foxes left…

…foxes right…

…foxes everywhere….

…foxes fox…

♪ fox fox fox fox ♫
♫ fox fox fox fox ♪
♪ Lovely fox! Wonderful Fox! ♫
♫ Lovely fox! Wonderful Fox! ♪
♪ Lovely fox! Wonderful Fox! ♫
♫ Lovely fox! Wonderful Fox! ♪
Yip yip yip yip!
Arf yap yiff yaff!

I wake up in the red med-bay in front of an Inari Shrine somewhere on the side of Inariyama, not quite sure about what just happened, but there's this incessant yipping that I can't seem to get out of my head, and for some strange reason the battery of my camera seems to have died on me again. Also, I find that my loose change wallet has emptied out again, and is it just me, or do these fox guardians seem to be grinning at me?

It is at this point that I realize that I have lost. When I came to Japan, I promised myself I would find as many Fox Shrines as possible and pray at every last one of them, but with this many vulpine Shrines around, I realize that there's simply no way to accomplish this feat without coming to Inariyama every day for maybe a month or so, and probably figuring out a system for keeping track about which of these many many many many vulpine Shrines one has already visited. For you see, it's not only this one glade that has such an tranquilizing amount of fox Shrines: Amalgamations of similar or larger proportions can be found all over and around the mountain, in gullies, on hillsides, and atop peaks, making Inariyama truly the mountain of foxes.

It should also be noted that some of these Amalgamations – as well as other Shrines and Temples in the area – are closed to non-worshippers, and while I do count myself among the latter, I don't really want to risk spending extra time and PP having to explain myself, and thus content myself with viewing those Shrines and amalgamations from the outside.

One way another, I have accept that the best I can do with the time that I have is to make a collective prayer at each vulpine amalgamation, and make my way gradually up the side of Inariyama across a rarely-trodden trail…

…and eventually rejoin the Endless Torii corridor…

…before finally reaching Inariyama Sanchou (稲荷山山頂 "Inari mountain mountain peak") at a modest 233m, which unsurprisingly features another vulpine amalgamation with more foxes than the mountain is high.

After paying my respects there, I follow the endless Torii corridor down the other side of the mountain, running into many more fox shrine Amalgamations along the way.

By the way, I'm sure you're wondering about the exact shape of the endless Torii Corridor by now. It's actually not a linear path, but has two forks. Coming from Fushimi Inari Taisha, the lower fork is in the middle of the woods and has a short left arm that soon terminates, and leads back along several more fox Shrine amalgamations to the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise. Thee right arm of the lower fork, meanwhile, leads up to a distinctive locale with a fox Shrine amalgamation and a resting house complete with restaurant and souvenir shop, which I spontaneously name "The Crossroads", only to later find out that it's actual name really is Yotsutsuji (四つ辻"Crossroads"). From Yotsutsuji, the right path leads to Inariyama Sanchou via its three subsidiary peaks, while the central path loops around the back and approaches the summit from behind. It is on the latter that I am currently walking, and making my way to (the as of yet unknown to me) Yotsutsuji.

Finally, the left path of Yotsutsuji leads to an amazing viewpoint, from where I get a great overview over the valley of Kyoto in all its expanse, and finally comes out near Toufukuji if you follow it all the way to the end, which I do not at this point.

It is also here at Yotsutsuji that I come across a price sheet for various sizes of Torii, which one can invest in in order to curry favour among the gods, and although there is no scale given for them, by looking at the prices, I am reasonably sure that those are the category of Torii that is making up the endless Torii corridor. Thus I realize that every single of these many, many Torii that I'm walking beneath was donated by an individual or a family, and symbolizes a heartfelt wish. And just to emphasize the cost of those things: My entire travels around Japan, flights included, should in sum be no more expensive than two of the size 10 Torii. The Torii Sizes 1 through 4, by the way, are the little Torii that can be seen in front of all the many many Shrines of the fox Shrine amalgamations. You can easily purchase them at the local Shrine stores, where a priest personalizes them with your name and wish, and then place them in front of one Shrine of your personal choice (though you will have to decide on exactly which Shrine you want to place it in advance since the priest also writes the name of the Shrine on the Torii).

Moving on, I continue down the endless Torii corridor towards the lower fork, from where I take the aforementioned left arm (right from my perspective) towards the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise, and soon enough run into one particular fox Shrine amalgamation, that for some reason is populated with quite a sizable number of cats (though nowhere near Aoshima, see Book II ~ Chapter 18 ~ Matsuyama Madness).

A little ways further down, there's a fox matchmaking Shrine, which is attended by a humongous number of vulpine threesomes, featuring a Shujin (主人 "husband"), an Okusan (奥さん "Wife"), and a Nakoudo (仲人 "Matchmaker"). People can purchase a threesome at the nearby store and take it home with them to wish for "introductions" in their life, such as a mate, or a new job. When their wish has been fulfilled, they can either keep the threesome, or return it to the Shrine, meaning that every threesome displayed here at the Shrine bears testament to a wish that has come true.

And then, there's this completely unexpected froggy shrine…

…as well as Hachireisha (八霊社 "Eight Souls Shrine"), which presents statues of the twelve signs of the zodiac, as well as foxes.

With that, I have gone full circle back to the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise, which by now is getting pretty crowded…

…where I enter one of the shops and befittingly get myself a bowl of Kitsune Udon and two rolls of Inari Sushi for maxed out vulpinity today.

And then, I proceed to Inari-Eki, from where I take the JR Nara Line to Kyoto-Eki and get some grocery shopping done on the way back home, fulfilled after my visit to the foxiest Shrine ever. Counting all of the fox Shrine amalgamations on Inariyama as being related to this one, Fushimi Inari Taisha exceeds the Rank of a Golden Fox Shrine, making it the one and only Crystal Fox Shrine in all of Japan.

To wrap up an already perfect day, back at the hostel, it's time for me to open up my Xmas present from home. Inside, I find all sorts of yummy assorted chocolate goodies, as well as some of the tasty jelly candies that I haven't been able to eat for almost a full year now.

Not done yet!

You may recall that I mentioned I'd return to the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise to do some ferocious souvenir shopping, and I should too! So let's skip right to…

Day Trip 1 EXTENSION: A Foxful Boxful

Distance: 4.7km
Ascents: 50m
Duration: 2.5h
>1; 5

Once again, I should walk down to Fushimi Inari Taisha. This time, however, I should take a different route…

…and as a direct result run into different Jizous and Temples along the way.

Walking through the backstreets, I cross a little stream with just the barest remnants of snow…

…and then I arrive back at the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise…

…where I promptly proceed to pack my literal shopping basket full of as many goods as it can carry… several times over, in various stores.

To my very great delight, I also find what I've been searching for in vain in a side shelf of one of those stores: Vulpine chopsticks! Two of them in fact, spread out over two different sets. Naturally, I do not hastate to buy them both.

In the end, I spend over 35,000¥ altogether on souvenirs today – more than what I spent on souvenirs from both Zao Kitsune Mura (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together) and Kitami Kitakitsune Bokujou (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story) together! But that was definitely worth it! My loot contains fox statuettes in several sizes, a fox mask, fox ears, a fox notebook, fox and Tanuki towels and wallcloths post cards, lanterns, T-shirts, as well as a wide selection of kitchen magnets. Also, two more foxy plushies join my collection: Ran and her little sister Chen.

It goes without saying that I cannot possibly carry all this stuff around with me in my already over-full baggage, and so I put the box that my family sent me for XMas to good use, and utilizing the legendary packaging skills that run in my family, I manage to fit everything within the case… everything, with the exception of Ran…

…who should henceforth keep Levi and me company during our travels.

And then, it's time to take the tightly-packed package to the post office, and once again I should inadvertently run into another Shrine along the way – this one is, however, is actually already pretty run down.

Arriving at the Kyoto Central Post Office, I next face a sanity test, as I first have to stand in line for quite a while only to be handed the pale green form. After I finished filling it out with details about my purchases and the contents of the parcel, I have to queue up once again, only to be handed the snow white form in which I have to describe the contents of the package in even greater detail, and the young clerk double-checks everything with impressive meticulousness. Altogether, the process of finally dispatching the parcel should take the better part of an hour, and cost me another 7,600¥.

For me, the following weeks should be filled with anxiety as I hope that my package full of precious souvenirs makes it home safe and sound. As for you, my dear readers, you have the luxury of skipping straight to that point in time a little over two weeks later when my father – despite having been snowed-in in the Jachenau for a week – finally picks up the package from customs and finds everything safe and sound inside.

Anyway, back to the "present". While I'm this area, I also gladly take note of the Kyoto Tower, which at only 131m and an observation deck at 100m is not quite as impressive as either Tokyo Tower or the Skytree (but is still the tallest structure in Kyoto)…

…and also involuntarily take notice of the toebreaker staircases, which a sadistic architect designed with an unnecessary extra step in order to maximize accidents. At least that's my best guess, because I can't think of any other logical explanation to justify this usability calamity.

My original plan at this point is to find a nice place to eat in the extensive underground shopping passages which go by melodious, exotic names such as "Porta" or "The Cube", but I soon abandon it as a fool's errand, for all the interesting places have long lines in front of them, and time still being that one resource that I'm dreadfully short on.

Instead, I should proceed to the Aeon Mall and find a nice place to eat there, but I am going to go into more detail about that when I talk about…

The Food

After I've been subsisting on Müsli for breakfast in the last two places, I revert back to toast here in Kyoto, and once again rotate through the various combinations of Natto, Nutella, Strawberry Jam and Mustard and Mayonnaise, together with some tea and juice.

Realizing that this might be my last chance to do so (since all of my subsequent stays should be rather short), I dedicate this particular episode to try out as many different brands of Natto as possible, and with the exception of the Shiso Nori Natto that I should sample last (and which tastes like a hearty bite of front lawn exquisite), should find all of them quite tasty.

Also, one morning, Kobayashi-san should surprise me with the gift of a store-bought breakfast bento box. I am certainly grateful for the kind gesture. However, sadly, the bento turns out to be not half as tasty as it looks. Oh well.

Due to the lack of a stove, lunch should pretty much exclusively consist of cup noodles of various kinds. Fortunately, that still leaves me with a lot of options.

Among those, one commands particular attention: I have already mentioned that both foxes and Tanukis play a particularly important role in Japanese culture, as becomes apparent by their appearance at Shrines and stores respectively, as well as having foods named after them, such as Kitsune Udon with the tasty Inari-Age, and Tanuki Udon with Tenpura batter. Kitsune and Tanuki also form a Yin-Yang unity of trickster spirits together, which goes by the name of Kori (狐狸 "Fox Tanuki"). So far, this has only been a circumstantial fact, until I come across Kori Soba here in Kyoto that feature both Inari-Age and the typical pizza-like Tenpura batter in an extra-high cup.

However, since unlike Yakisoba and Yakiudon, cup noodles are a not one of those things that I like to eat every single day, I occasionally also alternate my lunches with Katsudon and Tonkatsu Bento from the next Konbini.

As for dinner, with little perceived alternatives, I first resign myself to only have cup noodles and instant noodles for dinner as well, and even dare to sample Japanese refrigerated pizza again (bad idea)…

…until I realize that in spite of lacking a rice cooker, I have another option. You see, there is also pre-cooked microwavable rice in the supermarkets…

…and using that and a bit of cheese, I can add a whole dimension of curry rice to my daily diet.

In fact, I should use this as an opportunity to sample my way right through the supermarkets' curry aisle, from sweet over spice and very spice to "are you crazy"-spicy. The Lee 20x Spicy curry is the spiciest they sell, and I can see why, for I am only able to eat it with great difficulty. Still, it's sure is nice to have something burning hot spicy on cold days like these.

In addition, I should also frequent quite a number of nearby restaurants here in Kyoto for both lunch and dinner. For example, when my grove got thrown off right after learning that I didn't have a proper kitchen to work with, I mitigated the damage by having a really tasty Irodori ("Various Things") Udon & Inari Sushi Teishoku at a Shokudou in the basement of a shopping centre right across Kyoto-Eki…

…and the Aeon Mall features a food court with a really tasty and affordable Udon-Ya that I should frequent more than once.

At the terminus of the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shopping Stray, I should visit a tasty Katsudon restaurant, which is also located in the Aeon Mall. Interestingly this one has a very unique kind of Misoshiru featuring strips of Inari-Age, making it Kitsune-Shiru. I guess Kyoto really is the city of foxes after all.

And then, there's this epically named burger restaurant just next to the nearby Toufukuji-Eki that I should walk past several times during my strays, and naturally can't resist to visit on one of these days.

Snack-wise, I should run into some very interesting taste combinations, such as porky pork, lovely cheese flavoured chips, as well as fish-and-mushroom-flavoured potato puffs.

Also, the hostel has a little selection of snacks available, including the chocolate kisses as seen in the place tour…

…and since it's apparently something really special for someone to stay as long as I do, Kobayashi-san and his family should occasionally also treat me to things such as yummy XMas cake…

…Korean banana juice…

…and whatever the hell that is.

Anyway, we've also covered a foxy XMas, so now it's logically time for…

Day Trip 2: ...(and) a Vulpine New Year

31-Dec-2018 – 1-Jan-2019
Distance: 9km
Ascents: 213m
Duration: 3.25h
(∞🦊); 4

New Year in Japan is… different. Specifically, the most important custom for Shougatsu (正月 "Justice Month" = "New Year") is Hatsumoude (初詣 "First Temple/Shrine Visit"), which as the name says is the first Shrine Visit of the new year, often followed by a temple visit. The truly devote line up at their respective favourite Shrines to perform this ritual right at the stroke of midnight, while more relaxed fellows fulfil their obligations to the gods over the course of the first few days of the new year. It goes without saying that I should join the midnight-pack, and which Shrine I have my sights set on should also be pretty obvious.

Thus, it is around 10PM that I set out for my second return to Fushimi Inari Taisha, making my way to the grand Shrine on foot once more, and naturally choosing yet another original route for my pilgrimage. Technically, I guess that makes this not so much of a day trip as a night trip, but oh well…

Once again, I should not be able to do so without running into a Temple, a Shrine and two Jizous. In fact, by now I am fairly convinced that it is pretty much impossible to go anywhere in Kyoto without walking past at least one of these religious places, even if one actively tried. The biggest obstacle for such a "religious avoidance" stray would be the Jizous, many of which are not listed on any map.

As I approach Fushimi Inari Taisha, the roads get significantly livelier with people who simply rode the train here (read: everybody but me), and the police has even closed the street right in front of the Shrine to cars.

And then, I reach the end of the line… quite literally. At first, I am not sure whether I should queue up there since some people seem to be walking right past it, but then I realize that this s simply the line of people queuing up for Hatsumoude at the main Shrine, and if that's not your purpose you can just walk right past it, even all the way to the main Shrine and pray if you like.

Hence, I walk past the many festival stalls lining both sides of the main approach…

…and proceed to ascend Inariyama once again, this time following a different approach through the infinite Torii corridor.

As a direct result, I should come across several more fox Shrine infinities…

…and also a flaming awesome fox Shrine at the shore of Kodamaga Ike (谺ケ池 "Free Spirit Pond").

A little further up the way, one of the many souvenir stores along the mountain path has been converted into a rest stop for the night…

…and then I reach Yotsutsuji again…

…from where I get a great night panorama picture of Kyoto beneath me.

Moving on, I take the aforementioned right path from Yotsutsuji this time around, passing over the subsidiary peaks of Inariyama, and as a direct consequence running into yet several more vulpine infinity Shrines. Having learnt my lesson from last time, I do not even attempt to take pictures of all of them this time around – after all, I want to make it all the way to the summit before the stroke of midnight.

I manage to reach Inariyama Sanchou with maybe 15 minutes to spare. Naturally, there is also a line of people queuing up for Hatsumoude right here, but unlike the one at the main Shrine which was probably around a thousand people or so, up here it's maybe only a hundred.

Meanwhile, the priests are busy selling Torii of sizes one through four to worshippers…

…and I spend the remainder of the year walking among foxes.

At the stroke of midnight, there is a short burst of cheers, and then those assembled one by one pay their respects at the Shrine under the watchful eyes of the foxes.

And I'm right there, celebrating the beginning of the new year with them, and among foxes.

Subsequently, I descend Inariyama via the back road once again, passing by the first few infinite fox Shrines of the year along the way.

Now then, since I've already walked down the back road along the infinite Torii corridor once, I decide to take a different path down this time around. Utterly defying all common sense, several "turn back" signs and a number of "caution: wild boars have ben spotted"-notices, I brandish my trusty torchlight and make my way down along a forest path that might just be the tiniest bit gloomy.

After not getting eaten by bears in Hokkaido and not mauled by boars on Tokashiki, I figure I might be pushing my luck a little bit here, and I will admit that it is more than just a little bit scary. Then again, getting mauled by a boar would be one heck of a way to start 2019, which incidentally is the Year of the Boar in the eastern calendar. Fortunately, however, I should be able to reach the welcoming outskirts of civilization before such an ironic event can transpire.

Okay, so maybe "welcoming" is a bit far-fetched in this case, for I quickly find myself surrounded by a forest of "No Airbnb" and "Oppose Guest House" signs, and quickly begin to wonder about just what must have transpired here to incite such hatred. After all, this is pretty much the only place in Japan where I've ever faced such inhospitality.

By contrast, the fox infinity Shrine that I find here at the foot of the northern slope of Inariyama feels just so much more welcoming.

As I walk steadily more or less in the direction of Kyoto Tower brightly illuminated in the distance, I observer how much different New Year is here in Japan. Unlike in Germany, where the skies would be set ablaze with fireworks for an hour or more, here the new year is welcomed with quiet solemnity, and even the 108 traditional gong rings of the temples can only be heard very quietly through the deep, dark night.

By the time I finally return to the hostel, it's already past 1AM. Incidentally, this should also be the one time that I would actually walk back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, as opposed to taking the train to get back home. What a great way to start the new year! Not only was it definitely the foxiest new year ever, but I also did not get mauled by boars, which is always a very good experience that I can only recommend, second only to not getting eaten by bears.

Think I'd stop there? Think again!

I know they say that all good things come in threes, but the opportunity for one more visit to this foxiest Shrine of all should soon present itself to me, and this one would be…

Day Trip 2 EXTENSION: 250% More Furry

Distance: 6.9km
Ascents: 120m
Duration: 3.25h
1 (1🦊)

As it happens, a furry by the name of Tatsuro whom I last met in Tokyo lives not too far away in the city of Himeji, and one afternoon they come to visit Kyoto, looking forward to see Fushimi Inari Taisha. It goes without saying that I should be only happy enough to show them around. Gun from Thailand is a dragon just like Tatsuro, and Josh from the USA is quite possibly on his way to be furry, making us three-and-a-half furries altogether.

Now, during my fourth visit to this foxiest Shrine of all, the XMas and Shougatsu crowds have finally dispersed, and as such we actually happen to get an unobstructed view of the infinite Torii corridor.

You'd think that I would already have visited all the foxy Shrines here on Inariyama by now, but as it turns out, there is actually still one hidden off the main path and in the middle of the mystic woods that has eluded me, and while my furry companions marvel at the mystic mood of the sunset woods, I go to pay my respects at this one final vulpine Shrine.

Since Gun and Josh are a bit short on time due to having to catch a train later tonight, we only have time for the short tour, and thus after returning to the infinite Torii corridor, we take a left at the lower fork and return back to the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise, passing some Shrines along the way that are already familiar to me, but of which I could not take any pictures back at that time due to my camera's battery having been empty.

So, this entire meeting should end up being just a little bit rushed, with us quickly returning to Kyoto-Eki by train and subsequently eating at the food court of the nearby Aeon mall. This time around I pimp up my customary Kitsune Udon with a bit of Tenpura.

After parting ways at the Kyoto station, I run into an interesting little grove of musically illuminated trees on the northern station square (the repetitive ding-dong in the foreground, by the way, is an acoustic signal guiding visually impaired people to station squares that I have observed all over Japan)…

…and then walk past what appears to be the Japanese equivalent of an XMas market nearby…

…before returning to the hostel via the riverfront, watching a train cross the bridge on its nightly eastwards-bound journey.

And that finally concludes my accounts of the four visits to the vulpinemost Shrine of all. I am going to carry these memories as a part of me for all eternity.

However, Fushimi Inari Taisha should not be the sole focus point of my explorations throughout Kyoto. I would also visit some other locales, but before we get to that, it's now time to cover…

The Flair

Once again, there are quite a number of curiosities to be found around here, and interestingly enough, most of them should be inside the hostel, starting with the machine that goes "Beep!". I should never figure out just which machine it is nor what it is about, but since it's right next to common room and "kitchen", I should quickly enough getting used to hearing the beep every minute or so, as if it were the heartbeat of the hostel.

Staying in the kitchen, I find a somewhat over-simplified representation of cutlery. Or maybe that's just because the spoon – being used to eat curry rice – is the most commonly used piece of exotic western cutlery in Japan.

Staying in the kitchen, let us talk about Natto. The vast majority of Natto brands simply have little plastic bags with the Shouyu (or other sauce) and sometimes mustard in them, which kinda tend to go all over your hands no matter how you open them. However, some brands have found innovative approaches to this problem, my favourite of which is Nattou Ichi ("Natto One"), which has a very clever back design that automatically pops open as you apply pressure, dispensing the Shouyu and mustard over the Natto and over the Natto only.

And then, there's the creative design of Niowa Nattou ("Aromatic Natto"), which has the Shouyu contained in the lid and requires you to snap the lid in half in order to dispense the Shouyu over the Natto. It works surprisingly well.

Another thing to be found in the kitchen is free coffee, of a brand that is guaranteed to awaken the Briton within you!

There are also free network maps for the bus and train system of Kyoto around. A pity that you're not allowed to use them.

For that matter, there's also the AC remote in my room, most buttons of which I am apparently not supposed to touch. I wonder if one of them is the self-destruct button.

By now, the cute Kitsune satchel that Katharina gifted me back in Tokyo is already badly worn and battered, and sure, I could have easily gotten a new one now that I'm here in Kyoto, and have considered it long and hard, standing in front of the capsule machine that sells those in the Greater Fox Fox Haven Shopping Paradise, but eventually decided against it. After all, this one has travelled all around Japan with me, and I want to keep it around until the very end of the journey. As such, I take up needle, thread and scissors once again and set about fixing it, hoping that it will last, and determined to patch it up for as many times as I have to.

Also, I don't think I've mentioned this before, but the Daiso stores have really, really cheap and perfectly functional adapters for only 108¥, but confusingly, they are labelled "not for use in Japan". "Why not?" I wonder since they work just fine, but eventually I figure out that it apparently is due to some weird trade law or something, so it's not that they don't work, but that you're not supposed to use them in Japan because of reasons. Not that anyone ever minded during all of my travels.

For times when Kobayashi-san is out of the house, there's also a handy little self-check in system that works just fine thanks to the highly law-abiding Japanese culture…

And then, there's that one day (the eve of XMas to be exact) when the hostel gets spontaneously invaded by a chorus of carol singers singing Japanese XMas songs to the apparently empty house just while I'm preparing my dinner around the corner in the "kitchen". I for my part am so surprised by that (and also don't know what is expected of me) that I just hide and listen to their songs the vulpine way: Hidden out of sight.

Going out onto the streets of Kyoto, I unexpectedly find the answer to a question that has been on my mind for months: Are there also female Tanuki in Japanese culture? And yes, there are, and just like male Tanukis are depicted with incredibly large testicles to symbolize fertility, female Tanukis have a breast size that was clearly not modelled on the real animals – though I've seen bigger in pretty much every single game I've ever played.

And come the new year, there's "Year of the Boar" gift articles and advertisements to be found everywhere.

Also, there's this row of houses who I figure must be really low on rent, being located not next to one but pinned between two frequently used railroad tracks. The access road there is also quite interesting, being located between two level crossings just far enough apart for a single car to stop between them.

Finally, there's the Bird Bird Crossroad, where hundreds of little birds can be found sitting on the many, many overhead wires, noisily chirping the evening away in bold defiance of all felines that might be prowling below.

So much for the flair of Kyoto. Now, let us set out onto the next exploratory romp featuring…

Day Trip 3: Reverse Mountain ~ The Drawn-out Daimonji Derby

Distance: 19km
Ascents: 550m
Duration: 9.5h
49 (21🦊); 38; 6/13🎁︎

Now, this particular stray also has a bit of backstory. Do you remember Yoko, my cheerful host from Onomichi? When I told her I'd be going to Kyoto, she informed me of a great lookout spot: Daimonjiyama (大文字山 "Letter '大' Mountain"), which is one of six mountains related to the Gozan no Okuburi (五山送り火 "Five Mountains Sending Fire"), a summer festival for seeing off the spirits of the departed. Each year, at the night of Aug-16, bonfires are lit atop the five mountains in the shape of the characters 大 (Dai "Great"), 妙法 (Myouhou "Marvellous Law of Buddha"), a boat, 大 again, and a Torii, and although I am not here during quite the right season for that, the characters are still clearly visible on the mountains,

I am headed towards the eastern of the two Daimonjiyama, at the foot of which a temple by the name of Ginkakuji (銀閣寺 "Silver Palace Temple") is located. This, by the way, is another great opportunity to get confused, for the temple at the foot of the western Daimonjiyama is called Kinkakuji (金閣寺 "Gold Palace Temple"). Now, since I know myself and thus can tell that I would be wasting an incredible amount of time going after the substantial amount of Shrines and Temples on the way there and might not even reach the foot of the mountain before nightfall, I decide to make this a reverse stray, that is I take the train to near Daimonjiyama in the morning, and then walk back to the hostel from there. That way, I figure night is most likely to catch up with me somewhere in the city, from where I'll be able to walk, or take a train or bus back if necessary.

Hence, my first port of call is Toufukuji-Eki, from where I intend to take the Keihan Honsen (京阪本線 "Kyoto-Osaka Main Line") all the way to Demachiyanagi-Eki (出町柳駅 "Leaving Town Willow Station").

Interestingly enough, they have something here which I haven't seen at any other place so far: A display board showing the names and distances of all nearby tourist attractions, and since it's digital they can even dynamically update it as the nearby temples… or… distances… change… hm.

And then, I board the Junkyuu (準急 "Semi-Express") that will take me all the way to Demachiyanagi-Eki.

Well, or at least most of the way to Demachiyanagi-Eki. Two stations prior to Demachiyanagi-Eki, the Junkyuu terminates, and I have to get off the – by now underground – line and transfer to the next train, which continues all the way to the final destination.

By the way, it would seem that the Keihan Main Line is really something. Not only does it have posh premium cars, it is also the only (partial) underground line with double-decker cars that I have ever seen.

What can I say? The Keihan Railway is very convenient for… T*O*U*R*I*N*G*K*Y*O*T*O.

Anyway, Demachiyanagi-Eki turns out to be quite an interesting station. If you look at it on the map, you'd think that the line just continues north from here, but that is not the case. Instead, there's a "step" in the line as the Keihan Honsen terminates underground, and the Eizan Honsen (叡山本線 "Imperial Mountain Main Line") continues from a station at ground level. Great planning guys! I can imagine the faces of the workers when they tried to connect the two ends only to find out they had not accounted for a 20m difference in altitude.

Afterwards, I make my way through streets both narrow and wide…

…and come across Shrines and Temples both small and big.

Eventually, I get horribly, horribly sidetracked when I see this great, red Torii beckoning to me from the other side of the road…

…and before I know it I am walking a green hill path while simultaneously attending a Kitsune-no Yome-Iri (狐の嫁入り "Fox's Wedding" = "Sun Shower").

Not much later, I should arrive at Takenaka Inari Jinja (竹中稲荷神社 "In the middle of Bamboo Inari Shrine"), which features an array of foxes that I would have called impressive had it not been for the enormous overdose of vulpinity I received at Fushimi Inari Taisha just recently.

After this little (and probably divinely planned) detour, I strike out northeast again…

…and before long get to see Daimonjiyama prominently in the distance.

Along the way, I also come across a house that clearly did not take the last Typhoon well, as well as a cafe with a very onomatopoetic name that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways.

Now, originally, I was planning to pay Ginkakuji a visit while I'm around here, but upon getting there I learn that it not only requires an entrance fee, but is also overflowing with people, so I pass.

Instead, I proceed right to the relatively tame ascent of Daimonjiyama, which pales in comparison to the similarly-named Daisenji of Daisen (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen). I still get those two mixed up all the time.

By the way, I don't know if I already mentioned this, but the Japanese apparently really enjoy using a material that I am dubbing "Like Wood": Looks like wood, is used like wood, but it's actually plastic – or stone, sometimes – but definitely not real wood. It's pretty realistic, though, and most of the time you can only tell by looking really closely at how it reflects the light, or touching it.

Anyway, before long I reach the Tenboudai…

…from where I get an absolutely amazing panorama overview of Kyoto, just as Yoko promised.

The other mountains of the Gozan no Okuburi can also clearly be seen from up here…

…and naturally, there is a "May Peace Prevail on Earth"-pillar planted up here as well.

Moving on from there, the summit is only a little ways further up the mountain, along a path that still bears the scars of Typhoon N°21. That, or some of the trees have just naturally decided to grow horizontally for a change.

Only a little while later, I reach the actual summit, which is 466m high, 8°C cool, and apparently a popular location among the locals.

Since by now it's just about lunchtime, I proceed to feast upon my humble but satisfying Konbini-bought egg-and-ham sandwich…

While simultaneously enjoying the totally different panorama from this side of the mountain. Whereas the "face" of Daimonjiyama was looking out towards the east, my current bearing is towards the south, enabling me to overlook the ridge of Inariyama surrounded by the city like a green peninsula…

…and in the far distance can just make out the skyline of Osaka past little Otokoyama (男山 "Man Hill"), and maybe ever-so-faintly the mountains of Shikoku beyond.

Also, I might mention that while I eat my light lunch, I notice that most if not all of the Japanese whom I am sharing this moment with have packed proper picnics falling just short of minor feasts to enjoy up here, and while I have to agree that they look quite appetizing, my mind just abhors the thought of how much time it must have taken to prepare something that should eventually get devoured rather unceremoniously. But that is simply the Japanese mentality of enjoying the ephemeral nature of things, and not giving anything any less attention just because it is by nature transient.

Moving on, I descend the mountain along a long and winding route heading towards the green peninsula, the paths on which are in various state of disrepair following last summer's great Typhoon…

…however, unlike certain other mountain trails, this one turns out to be exceedingly well marked, with guide post monuments featuring little maps at every turn, making it all but impossible to lose one's way.

Eventually, I come across a little cave Shrine by the name of Ama-no Iwato (天岩戸 "Heavenly Stone Door"), which is an allusion to a very central aspect of Shinto Mythology. According to legend, the god of storms Susanno-o (須佐之男 "Man of Necessary Help"), angry over a bet he lost to his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu (天照 "Shining Heavens") went on a rampage across the world and drove Amaterasu to hide in the Ama-no Iwato, and block the entrance with a great boulder, plunging the world into darkness. In order to lure her out, 800 lesser gods threw a party outside the cave, and the goddess Ame-no Uzume (天宇受売命 "Heavenly House Catch Sell Life") – goddess of dawn, mirth and revelry – performed a lewd dance, eliciting much laughter and causing Amaterasu to grew curious and moved the bolder a bit so she could peek outside. As she did, she was instantly entranced by her own image reflected in the Yata-no Kagami (八咫鏡 "Eight Span Mirror"), which the other Kami had placed outside the cave for just that purpose. As she gazed at her own reflection, Ame-no Tajikaro (天手力男神 "Heavenly Hand Strong Man God") – a god of sports and physical strength – forced the cave all the way open, and thus light was restored to the world once again.

Coming down from the mountains, I start running into Shrines again right away…

…just before running into another piece of history in the form of the Keage Incline, which used to be part of a fucking ambitious project for transporting goods between Biwa-ko and Kyoto in the 19th and 20th century. The great eastern lake was connected to the former capital city by a series of channels and tunnels of substantial length, and finally punctuated by a 1:15 gradient slope over which the boats were carried on railroad tracks. Nowadays, only the dry channel remains as a historic landmark, and the Keage Incline can be walked on foot.

Following my return to the city proper, I am immediately subject to a veritable onslaught of Temples and Shrines, further reinforcing my hypothesis that trying to make one's way through Kyoto while avoiding both Shrines and Temples would be the real-life equivalent of a game of Minesweeper on expert mode.

And so, I zig-zag my way through the city for the next few hours in a pinball-esque manner, going from one Shrine or Temple to the next, and eventually even running into a single Konkoukyou Kyoudai.

I also come across a bike that I would classify as a heavy-duty off-road mountain bike, if it was not for its complete absence of gears. I guess that makes it more of an artistic statement then.

Subsequently, things start getting a bit abstract as I walk past the Man in the Moon…

…and eventually make my way all the way to my home town of Munich. I knew my strays were getting a bit long, but this is getting just a little bit absurd. Well, at least I did not end up in Zürich.

Okay, so as it turns out, it's only a German restaurant serving traditional Bavarian food such as sausages, tomato and asparagus gratin… fried chicken wings… and… Omrice?!?!? Huh, must have missed that the last 25 years I was in Munich. For the record, and those of you that are not familiar with German cuisine: A number of tasty local specialities that I miss very much and which are authentic Bavarian foods befitting a place like this would be Knödel, Spätzle and Reherl. neither of which I manage to find on the menu of this place. But in their defence, they do at least have Zawaakurauto (ザワークラウト "Sauerkraut") on the menu.

Moving on, I make my way through the Nishiki Shoutengai (錦市場商店街 "Brocade Market Place Shopping Street"), which features a beautiful tri-coloured roof and is decorated with paintings of Baku, among other things…

…and eventually realize that I won't make it back home before nightfall once again (as expected), since Amaterasu is rapidly approaching the western horizon to visit other countries on her daily stroll around the world.

Fortunately, it is just then that I come across a food place that is yet on my "to try in Japan"-list.

Unfortunately, however, I learn that here in Japan, Pizza Hut – just like Domino's – is exclusively for takeaways or delivery, with no option for eating in-store, and since the hostel is still a good distance away, I elect not to go for it at this time, and proceed to make my way through the darkening streets…

…but not without running into several more Shrines and Temples along the way – Shrinesweeper, remember?

Eventually, I end my day with one of above mentioned visits in the food court of the Aeon Mall, where I treat myself to a well-earned bowl of tasty tasty Kitsune Udon, and although there is yet one more day trip to come, my thoughts already start wandering towards…

The Retrospective

The La Casa hostel clearly was off to a slow start, but I got used to it eventually, and managed to make it a home. The bathrooms were outside of the rooms, but there was a washing machine and a dryer – both coin-operated and at reasonable prices – as well as a bathtub that I used twice. The bed was kinda hard though, and at night it was sometimes noisy. I had to improvise my workspace, but it worked out nicely in the end. Also, after I got used to the Kyoto-style of communications, Kobayashi-san turned out to be a really nice host, and the addition of the occasional free snacks was very nice too. Location wise, it was not very close to a station or shopping options, but reasonably so. The kitchen was a huge letdown, however, and the WiFi was sometimes pretty unreliable. Yet in exchange, the place was nice and cosy, pleasantly warm despite the cool outdoor temperatures. The price was a little bit more than I'd say it was worth, with my personal preference for what was offered coming out at 2,200¥ a night as opposed to the 3,014¥ that I paid. Altogether, when compared to the other places I've been to, the La Casa hostel comes out pretty solidly in the middle.

As the time of my departure approaches, Kobayashi-san does not grow tired of telling me how sad it is to see me go and asks me to come back one day, and I too, feel sombre about leaving the city of foxes behind, but that is the ultimate truth of my travels, never staying in one place, and always moving on. Not without leaving something behind, however, and after having stayed with Kobayashi-san for three full weeks, it goes without telling that I should prepare a piece of gift artwork for him. Incidentally, this should be one of the few gift artworks featuring a fox other than myself, the only gift artwork in Japan featuring a fox, as well as the final piece of gift artwork I would prepare during my stay in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Once again – despite the total lack of quality that I perceive – the piece of gift artwork is gratefully received, and Kobayashi-san is totally fascinated by it. That moment alone is more than worth the effort I've put into it, and I hope that it will serve as an anchor for the memories of my stay here.

I am not quite done with Kyoto yet, however. Well, technically, I am, but there is still one destination in the general area that I can reach with Kyoto as my home base, and that would be…

Day Trip 4: City of Deer ~ Natural Nara

Distance: 15.5km
Ascents: 360m
Duration: 7.5h
72 (7🦊); 24; 3/9🎁︎

[To be continued…]

The Road Ahead