We had visited this most famous of Kyoto sites when last here, but it was so very hot and so very humid it was unimaginable going very far up into the shrine. This time we were determined to make it to the summit, and we did it!
It was amusing that the city bus emptied out at the Inari stop, all but 4 of us Japanese tourists, and not a one of us knew which way to go to the shrine as the bus stop is on a busy street, rather nondescript. One Japanese woman had her iPad out, map active, and she became our defacto leader as we all walked the 2 short blocks to where the line of stalls and stores leads to the main entrance.
There are gazillions of pictures of this amazing place…but that didn’t stop us from taking a few of our own. We were there early about 9:30 or so, and already there were lots of uniformed school kids and others entering the shrine. In the first few segments of the path the crowds were thick and, being mostly adolescents, annoying as they sauntered, took pictures, and poked and teased each other (Field Trip!) and we had to squeeze past clump after clump so we could go at our own brisk pace. At each main junction, where a map showed you where to go (it is quite a confusing warren of paths so signage is necessary) and snacks and prayer tokens in various forms were sold, the crowd thinned a bit more, and within half an hour or so it was pretty clear though never lonely. It was fun to hear Americans every now and then turn a corner and OOOH at the views of the city and the winding paths of gates up and up.
We were relieved and thrilled to get to the top, where there is a maze of shrines seemingly on top of each other, every one with the statues of the two foxes, a few demons, one or two dragons, but fox statues everywhere and of various ages and condition, some quite worn down, others sharp and a few with painted eyes.
At the top was the ubiquitous vending machine, where I had the Pocari Sweat. It was cold, slightly sweet, and refreshing and felt like it didn’t even pass my stomach but went directly into my blood stream, I was so sweaty!
Down we came, wet and hungry. I wanted to head to a ramen place that was in the Lonely Planet book, Karako, and though on the other side of town we hopped the train and were there in 20 minutes. After a walk of maybe 6 long blocks (hot!), and thank goodness for google maps when they work (quite unreliable in that sense) we came upon this tiny place with 11 counter seats and a few men silently eating ramen and karage (fried chicken). Inside as soon as we sat at the counter the owner/cook welcomed us, pointed to the three dishes on the counter and said “Help yourself” while we looked at the menu. We both ordered the recommended kotteri, with meltingly good meat and noodles in a slightly thick broth, and helped ourselves to the refreshing slaw, bright green cucumber pickles, and a kind of chicken and carrot stew (these are the side dishes set out on the counter). It was delicious and fun!
After some temples, sub temples, mini-shrines in the hills along the east side of the city (with blessedly cool breezes), we hopped the train to return to our apartment for a rest and showers.
I had wanted to go to an isakaya while here, and the web suggested a place just a few blocks from our hotel–this location was fortunate because after all the sake we drank a longer journey home would have been tough. This place would be impossible to find, being down a sort of alley/hallway, unmarked during the day (though a sign was lit when we staggered out), and we crept along wondering if we were in the right place. The hall ended at a sliding door which we tentatively opened and there it was, a homey, funky, bar where we were greeted with smiles. The older woman, probably the owner, spoke a little English and when we said we wanted sake she immediately came with two enormous bottles for us to taste. We quickly selected the one we wanted and settled in for a few hours of drinking and bar food–though nothing like the US, as the menu was about 8 laminated pages of fried, lightly fried, salads, grilled, and a variety of sashimi. We had fried chicken, potato croquettes, a sort of soup of fried smelt and fried eggplant in a savory broth, grilled peppers…in addition to the fried squid which appears as “appetizer” as soon as you start drinking. We sat next to a fellow from Scotland, shared travel experiences, and drank a lot more sake (at least I did). It was delightful.
Today we go downtown to Nishiki market and to search out, I hope, more ramen!