Japan 2023: Day 6

Attending a Buddhist fire ritual and mochi-lifting contest at Daigo-ji, while making many mistakes to and from.

February 23. Today was a day of mistakes.

  • Steps taken: 10,345
  • Money spent: 5,220 yen or $40.19 USD

Table of Contents

Severely sleep-deprived

I went to bed at around 5:30 a.m. and probably didn't fall asleep until at least 6 a.m. I woke up at around 7 a.m. and got ready to leave for Daigo-ji, a Buddhist temple on East Kyoto, a little after 8 a.m. There was a special annual Buddhist event starting at 9 a.m. called Godai Rikison Ninnō’e & Mochi-age that I wanted to attend. I got there a little before 9 a.m. The walk from the Daigo station was pleasant and beautiful. I passed a few vending machines with coffee but opted not to get any because I intended to leave “early” shortly after the mochi-age event. The temple itself was also a sight to see, along with all the activity happening for the special event. There was a long line for what I think were folks on a pilgrimage, or they were able to participate in part of a mini-pilgrimage by paying a small fee to receive special gifts from the temple and access to specific worship buildings.

I walked around for awhile, exploring the grounds. There were shops for sweets and savory snacks. I bought small edible versions of the mochi-age mochi, along with an assorted snack set. I discovered several stands for goshuin and opted to get two, one each from a different stand. I enjoyed the gardens and the smaller temples with Buddha statues ominously staring back at their practitioners. I was enamored by the Buddhist fire rituals and filled with nostalgia as the monks chanted the heart sutra over familiar smells of temple incense. I enjoyed watching all the different kinds of people who gathered here, on the Emperor’s birthday, for a thousands-year-old event: many seemed to be devout Buddhist practitioners, often elderly, while others were families and young people here for the fun and connection back to their roots. I could make out very few foreigners, either by appearance or language spoken.

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Arrived at Daigo-ji too early

The thing was, I did all of the above at a very leisurely pace in about two hours, but I ended up needing to stay an extra hour and a half until the mochi-age event began. If I understood right, they were a half hour late (?), and while I enjoyed seeing the opening procession of monks at 9 am., I don’t think it was worth how tired I got from the little sleep I gained in needing to wake up early. I wish I had arrived an hour or hour and a half later than I did.

There was a preliminary kids' version of the event, which was very cute to watch. Kids in groups of 3-4 would lift a smaller version of the adults' mochi-age, with the help of some monks and a mascot named MochiMochi.

When the main mochi-age event did start at 12:30, it was pretty darn cool, and I got to see at least five women attempt to lift a very bulky 189-pound pair of mochi stacked on a crate. Two of them were able to lift it up and keep it up for 5 minutes, until the priests cut their time off out of courtesy for others. That was impressive! But I was just too tired to keep watching the rest, so I opted to leave before the women finished and the men started. (There were apparently 11 men and 12 women participating.)

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Decided to detour to Kyoto Station, and got lost several times

On my way back to my hostel, I decided midway to get food at Kyoto Station because I remembered from my study abroad days that there were a lot of cool restaurants there; also, I was not confident I could get back to my home station in time for a restaurant I wanted to eat at before it closed at 2:30 p.m.. Unfortunately, walking back to Daigo station, I took a few wrong turns. That wasn’t so bad; it only delayed me a few minutes, I super liked  walking through the suburban-rural neighborhood here.

However, mistake after mistake compounded. When I boarded the train at Daigo station and transferred at Yamanizawa station to go to Kyoto station, I took the wrong train (opposite direction). That delayed me another 10 minutes.

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Underestimated how overwhelming Kyoto station was, especially while hangry

By the time I got to Kyoto station, I was pretty darn hangry on top of super tired. I bumped hard into someone because I was rushing around for food. I was frustrated that most of the food stands had long lines (I shouldn't have been surprised, being a major commuting hub), and I forgot just how much of a maze Kyoto station was. It took me awhile to even find the right subway line for my train ride home. Eventually I did find it, in the middle of one of the basements…. And I got to my home station at around 2:40 p.m. How funny, if I had not taken a detour I would have gotten there at 1:43 p.m. or so – and I could’ve taken a chance at that other restaurant, even if I felt a little guilty cutting it close.

I ended up eating at a cafe I had been meaning to try out before. Though I originally wanted to try their coffee or desserts since that seemed to be their specialty, since I was looking for a  proper lunch, I decided to have their plum and wakame udon. I later realized the irony in this, because the other restaurant I wanted to eat at but closed at 2:30 was a specialist in handmade udon and soba! On top of that, the cafe I did eat at apparently had a lunch set special… but I had just missed it since it ended at – you guessed it – 2:30. Cries.

It’s not the worst fate. The udon was still good. I still have to come back to try their desserts. I do worry about my body not getting enough sleep now.

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Not grabbing dinner early enough

After udon, I got to my hostel and crashed. I woke up again at around 8:30 p.m. to do my computer stuff. I got caught up in some coding task and lost track of time. It was around 11 p.m. when I went out to find food, which frustrated me because I knew from past days that many restaurants I wanted to try were closed, and I was intending to go out at around 9. There are still bars open, but I'm not super keen on going to one by myself just yet.

I settled on what's become a reliable backup for me, Matsuya. It's a fast food chain that serves a lot of Japanese comfort food, it's open until midnight, and it's a 3-minute walk from my room. I got a hamburger steak meal set because I got a 50-yen (I know, it's not even worth it lol) coupon for it, even though it was already very cheap at 760 yen original price. The total was then 710 yen or $5.27. The hamburger steak just OK. :/ Though, I did appreciate the big salad and usual tofu skin miso soup. But, I really wish I had tried another good restaurant since I have limited time here.

Sigh, I have had pretty good luck and planning most of this trip so far, so I guess I was about due some bad luck and planning to balance things out.

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On the positive side

I learned several lessons today. Many aren't necessarily positive in content, but I hope to be better prepared as a result in the future.

Transferring between JR Line and other local lines is a few more steps

Until now I had just taken local train lines (and the one Shinkansen). I learned that transferring between JR and local lines requires you to pay a fare out and pay a fare in, so you need to navigate through the transferring station in a bit more winding of a way. Good to know if I have a tight schedule or am juggling a lot of luggage.

The JR Line train seats are different from local ones

Unless I'm prematurely generalizing, the JR line seats, based on the ones i took, are in horizontal rows, 2 seats per side, rather than one long column on each side per the local trains. The JR line seats have additional hidden seats you can pull out by the doors in case other seats are taken up.

Kyoto station is confusing

Maybe I didn't realize this as much as a student since I wasn't commuting around by myself back then. I would just explore it for the shops, and I relied on my sensei during class trips to shepherd us to the right platforms. There are 11 floors and 2 basements! Ridiculous, and very bustling. I noticed many things have changed since I was last year 12 years ago.

Nonetheless, if I did just want to re-eplore the complex for itself, that sounds like a decent rainy day activity. There are skyways and viewing areas and so many businesses. It may also just be a good practical idea to further familiarize myself with the different train entrance areas for the future.

My home base line is in the middle of B2

Don't forget!

Prioritize food in unfamiliar areas

I've had this gutsy habit of skipping breakfast and banking on finding a good lunch spot on days I go out since I don't normally care for breakfast food. Today and Day 4 were examples where that failed, to the point where I would become a little dangerously physically weak, not be able to think straight, and end up settling on a food place that's fine but not my ideal.

Thankfully, as mentioned in Day 1, I have always had snacks with me, so I don't faint. But that's still not...good.

Moving forward I should probably stock up on some happy calories in the morning and have some specific restaurant in mind for lunch. I won't have to go to that restaurant, but I will at least have it as a backup in case i don't find anything else on the way that compels me. I also hope I can better adjust my schedule so I can have more enjoyable dinners at restaurants before they close! This is probably a unique problem for me given my weird schedule.

Many other people can just go with the flow, drop in anywhere that seems interesting... but I'm realizing, as much as I wish to be that kind of person, at least with food I'm a little anxious about it since I have to interact with staff, and I'm still nervous about my japanese! I am doing well in that front, objectively speaking, but alas...

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