Fox Shrine

This morning, Toby and I decided to head up to the Gioji moss temple and the little fox shrine that Rachel Manija Brown and I had found near Gioji on our 2007 trip. I couldn’t remember which station we’d gotten off at on the previous visit, and the hanare we’re staying at for this visit is not terribly far from the shrine by non-American standards (by American standards it’s a trek and a half), so we walked up to the local tram stop, took it one stop (which turned out to be a 30-second ride, so everyone stared at us for being so weird), then walked the rest of the way.

Rachel has this secret for getting around in Japan. If you’re lost, just take out a map, stand on a corner, and peer at the map in puzzlement. Shortly, someone will stop and ask if you need help.

This is truth. In Tokyo, we had made one change and were standing in the next train station with our bags, having just pulled out of the flow of foot traffic to take our bearings, and INSTANTANEOUSLY a Japanese man materialized and asked if we needed help. We told him which line and station we were looking for, and he led us to the appropriate elevator.

However, today this wasn’t quite such a help. Toby had plotted out a route to the Gioji temple with his phone, and about halfway here we stopped at a large map on a street corner to make sure that we were calibrated properly. A helpful Japanese man materialized and asked “Station?” then pointed to our right and said “Station!” I said “No, Gioji!” whereupon he tried to explain complex directions to us, then led us over to the map and pointed out a route that was nothing like what we had planned, over major thoroughfares, and instead was along tiny back streets.

This normally wouldn’t be a problem, except that the unusual snow is still sticking around, and after a couple of days it’s turned into snush, a term I accidentally coined this morning that’s a portmanteau of “snow” and “slush” and which encapsulates the grody, slippery stuff underneath which black ice is lurking perfectly to my way of thinking. And the major thoroughfares are mostly clear while the tiny back streets are covered in the stuff.

So we ended up thanking him and setting off in the direction he pointed out, then when we were out of his sight, Toby pulled out his phone and potted our way back to our original path and we continued on our way.

We eventually got to Gioji. It’s a moss temple, which means the gardens in the grounds are cultivated with lots of moss. It’s very beautiful. And, at the moment, totally covered in snow! So, yeah. I took a ton of pictures, but I’ not up for processing them right now so you’ll have to wait to see what it’s like. (You can also Google “Gioji moss temple Friedl” and get the blog of a photographer who lives in Kyoto and has taken many photos there.)

Last time I was here, after Rachel and I visited Gioji, we started down a nearby street intending to go to a doll museum and got sidetracked when we found a tiny hidden shrine with a half-height door into a hillside that was, at the time, chained shut and blocked with rocks. It counted as one of the high points of the trip, and you should all stop right now and go read Rachel’s account of the shrine RIGHT NOW. I mean it. I’ll be here waiting.

OK. You back? Read it? Good. If you’re on DW or LJ, you can also click on my “fox shrine” tag and read more about it.

Anyway, so I made Toby follow my previous path, and we found the shrine. It wasn’t as overgrown, perhaps because it’s winter and half the trees have lost their leaves. There was evidence of recent ritual activity there–a metal basin in the middle of the little wooden enclosure that contained burned charcoal, perhaps from New Year festivities. Plus an old rickety bike and a folding chair where someone may have sat tending the fire.

The door in the hillside was open, and the pathway went in a few feet, then disappeared into gloom as the roof of the tunnel dipped down. I happen to know, because every time someone on my friends list says they’re going to Kyoto, I ask if they want directions to the shrine and some have made it there and sent photos back, that the tunnel goes in a bit farther then makes a sharp right and disappears into the hill.

Naturally, I took a photo looking through the door into the hillside, and at that something, perhaps a bird, in the bamboo above us rustled around a bit, twittering a complaint, and a small mass of snow fell nearby, as if I were disturbing something.

I spent more time looking at the monuments in the clearing this visit. I don’t know if they’re memorials, gravestones, or what, but I took a lot of photos of them and once I get back I plan to post them and see if any of you who know Japanese (it may require that really formal flavor of Japanese, I suspect) can enlighten me.

After we visited the shrine, we trudged back down the road to a small cafe that we’d noted on the way up. Toby had pancakes and coffee, while I had an egg sandwich and cola. (Restaurants seem to just serve “cola” here, and exactly which type seems to vary from place to place–at times it’s obviously Coke, at other times Pepsi, and sometimes it’s unidentifiable.)

While we were waiting for our food, I said “Man, I forgot about the app! I wish I’d made a bubble at the shrine!” Toby said “It’s right there. We can go back if you want.” I wanted, and after we ate, we went back.

Click here for a 360° view of the shrine! Trust me, you WANT to go look at that. This is a 360° photo that you can manipulate on your screen to see in all direction. If you’ve got an iDevice or an Android device that uses Chrome, you can hold the device up and move it and it will look like your device is a window onto the scene, and if you’re on a regular computer you can turn the scene with your mouse. You’ll see one of the fox statues, the door into the hillside, and as you turn your device or the picture, the monuments and the covered enclosure with the bike and chair and, in the background, the torii gates that mark the entrance.

There is an option to record sound, for that immersive experience, and I turned it on for this bubble. There should be a volume symbol in one of the corners that you can click to turn on the sound.

Only four of you guys clicked on the bubble in the earlier post. I expect to see way more of you clicking on it in our stats now! Please let me know what you think!

Crossposted all over the place. If you comment on Facebook or the DW feed we may not see them, but @ing telophase or myrialux via Twitter or commenting on the regular DW account, Flickr, and the actual blog should get to us. Or you could just email to be absolutely sure we get it.