I got a map, an overcoat to keep me warm, and a childhood dream to fulfill. I got all I needed to survive my winter days in Kyoto.
The day before I left for Kyoto, my guardian took me to the Tokyo Station and taught me how to purchase a Shinkansen (bullet train) ticket. I could actually make seat reservations online but there are vending machines and ticket offices inside all JR stations where purchasing tickets are convenient, as well. However, my real challenge, it turned out, was not getting myself a ticket but finding my platform, my car, and my seat.
I had to go to the station earlier than my scheduled trip the next day because I already anticipated getting myself lost inside one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. Was I scared? Of course, I was but I was thrilled, too.
Caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji
I found my platform after quite a while but I took the wrong car. I entered Car 13 that was apparently for those who got reserved seats, so I ended up walking towards the cars for non-reserved seats while the bullet train was moving. Luckily, there was an available seat by the window at Car 1. My guardian was a little anxious that it took me a while to message that I already boarded the train.
When I finally settled in my seat, I hugged my bear companion, Chiaki, with a sigh of relief. My guardian told me to catch a glimpse of the elusive Mt. Fuji and so I did. It was already majestic even from my bullet train window and back then it was enough but I promised that one day, I’ll run around Fujiyama and I’ll climb that mountain, too.
It was a calming sight and for a moment I forgot my fears. I fell asleep and woke up 15 minutes before the train arrived at the Kyoto Station.
The moment I got off, the winter exploring began. Shivering and with a silly grin, my first question to myself was, “which way to go, Armie?”
Happy wanderer of Winter
My map showed that my guest house was only three-kilometer away from the station. For a runner like me, it’s not that far but for a first-time traveler, that 3KM was certainly a long and funny walk.
I passed by a silent neighborhood, the kind you see in thriller movies. I had to pick up my pace and walk faster like there was a masked man chasing me. The eerie atmosphere had that effect on my imagination that day. I also passed through a dark tunnel, the kind you see in Criminal Mind episodes where crimes often happen, that I had to wait for cars to pass through it and I ran like I was chasing those cars. It took me a good hour to reach my place, the Santana Guest House Kyoto, located in a neighborhood of mostly traditional Japanese houses.
I finally found my home in Kyoto and that alone made me the happiest wandering kid alive that day.
On that same day, I experienced my first snowfall, too.
Going around Kyoto
I came for the Kyoto International Marathon and that gave me the opportunity to tour around scenic sights and tourist spots on foot. It was a cultural experience for me, too.
The day after the marathon, a good friend of mine, Peku-chan, came all the way from Kobe to keep me company. We went together to the temple I fell in love with the first time I saw it on a photograph back when I was 11 years old. We visited the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Higashiyama.
According to its website, the Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 778 and its history dates back over 1200 years. In 1944, the temple was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the historic monuments of ancient Kyoto.
When I saw the photo of this temple the first time, I was drawn to it and since then I’ve always dreamt of visiting it one day.
That day finally came and I didn’t know where the tinge of nostalgia was coming from. Even though it was my first visit, it felt more like a comeback. My friend Peku-chan was very kind enough to document everything.
When I get the chance to live in Japan again in this lifetime, I’d still choose to settle in Kyoto.
I’m certain that one day, it’ll also come.