Friday, 29 June 2007

Kyoto Botanical Garden & Taisha Inari (Fox) shrine

Kyoto Botanical Garden on Friday 29 June was a humid stroll, only surpassed by the tropical glasshouse, enter a sauna, in which luscious jungle plants, many kinds of bromeliad, orchid, phalaenopsis and others, cacti, grew in regional plantations covering floor to ceiling suspensions. Outdoors, the garden had generous arrays of European plants like roses but also a bamboo garden (a bit small), maples and deciduous indigenous plants, a naturally growing Japanese section, strikingly coloured and varietal hydrangeas and my favourite, the elderly, refined bonzais.

We continued on to Fushimi Inari (fox) Taisha (Fushimi Inari Shrine), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. 'Fushimi' is the location to distinguish it from other Inari shrines. One of Kyoto's oldest (founded in 711 AD) and most revered Shinto shrines, Fushimi Inari serves as the headquarters for all the 40,000 shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Originally the god of rice, Inari now governs the modern equivalent: success and prosperity in business. Fushimi Inari Shrine draws thousands of businessmen and tradespeople seeking blessings for their enterprises, especially at the first prayers of the New Year. Fushimi Inari is noted for its 10,000 small torii (shrine gates) that arch over a long path up the hill behind the shrine. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail, and there are nice views of Kyoto from the top. Fushimi Inari Taisha is most notorious for these tunnels of red torii gates. Looking downhill, each torii is inscribed with a different message. These are the names of businesses and individuals who donated them, thankful for their prosperity, one of the most iconic visions of Kyoto.

Foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari, and stern bronze foxes (kitsune) can be seen throughout the shrine. Inari's foxes are generally considered helpful, but they have also been said to bewitch people. The keys that some of them hold in their mouths are for the rice granaries.

Subsequently we caught the shinkansen from Kyoto, yummy bento boxes from Isetan food court in hand, to Shinagawa. the food floor was a marvel in itself: marbelised wagyu beef for $31.50/100g, unimaginable varieties, weirdnesses and profundities in the fish department, unidentifiable other sea creatures and a feat of dumplings, skewers, every conceivable kind of sushi and sashimi and then some Japanese icons for traumatising foreign taste-buds, such as konyaku and natto, 27 kinds of seaweed!