Saturday, August 16, 2014

Transatlanticism

Last Thursday, I was on the early morning train when I saw on my newsfeed that Chris Walla has left Death Cab for Cutie. I could not believe it. I immediately wanted to plug in my earphones and listen to my DCFC playlist in the hopes that maybe, after playing my favorite songs, I'd see it was just a prank. But I realised I left my earphones at home. And Chris really did leave.

I cannot pretend
That I felt any regret
Because each broken heart
will eventually mend


 Jason, Nick, Ben, Chris. Death Cab for Cutie Live in Singapore, Fort Canning Park 2012

DCFC is one of my favorite bands. With their beautiful poetic lyrics, albeit sometimes borderline depressing, they make me relive some memories both pleasant and sad -- like growing up, choices, heartbreak, and moving on. If my life had a soundtrack, a lot of the songs would probably from DCFC.

Looking upwards
I strain my eyes and try
To tell the difference between
Shooting stars and satellites
From the passenger seat
as you are driving me home.


Ben Gibbard.

So I rummaged my files for the DCFC photos I took when they were here in Singapore last 2012. It was an outdoor concert at Fort Canning Park and I managed to drag my friend Aris along. It rained that night, so I got my shoes soaked in mud and grass while squeezing amongst other people trying to find a good view. I was a little bit pissed off with the kids smoking cigarette, and I was also hungry because I skipped dinner to get there on time. Needless to say, I swore to myself never to go to an outdoor concert again. Though, I forgot about all the inconveniences when DCFC began playing. Seeing them finally live was easily the best concert I have ever been to. They played a lot of my favorites, especially "I will possess your heart", and "New Year". They ended the concert perfectly with "Transatlanticsm". A still tear a little bit when I remember it.

The rhythm of my footsteps
Crossing flatlands to your door
Have been silenced forever more


Chris Walla.

"I think I long for the unknown. It might be that simple," Chris Walla said on why he left. I am incredibly saddened, but I could sort of understand why. I guess at some point, everyone needs to move forward.

I've packed a change of clothes
And it's time to move on.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto, Japan

I especially reserved my last day in Kyoto for Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), my most favorite shrine in all of Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is one of the most important shrines in Kyoto. It is well known for the thousands of orange torii leading up Mount Inari. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and one of the principal gods of Shinto. There are similar Inari shrines throughout Japan, and Fushimi Inari Taisha is considered as the most important among them. A noticeable element in the shrine are the fox statues, which are believed to be Inari's messengers. The giant Romon gate in front of the entrance was donated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589. Yes, Oda Nobunaga's general!

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社).

In the film Memoirs of a Geisha, there is a memorable scene of Chiyo running on the stairs leading up to the shrine. The panning shot of the senbon torii was really beautiful, and is my favorite scene in the movie.

Knowing that it is one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto, I woke up very early that day to avoid the crowd. From Higashiyama, I took the subway to Kyoto Station, and then transferred to the JR Nara Line until Inari Station. I think I managed to reach there at around 6:30 – 7:00 am. The morning was still gray. There were few people walking on the streets, and the shops near the shrine were still closed. As expected, there were few visitors inside the shrine very early in the morning. The shrine was very peaceful without the crowd, I enjoyed roaming the place all to myself. I almost jumped when I saw the trails of orange torii at the back of the main grounds. They looked really beautiful. I was alone at that time, so I shamelessly stretched my arms in joy (haha), before walking up the trail of toris. 

Sebon torii.

After a few minutes of walking through the bigger torii, the trail splits into two parallel rows of smaller torii called senbon torii (thousand toris). This is the part of the trail that I liked the most. The orange torii looked exceptionally vibrant in the morning sun, with the rays of sunlight filling the gaps between the torii. At one point, I encountered a priest going up as well. His white robe contrasted very well with the orange torii.

The walk was soothing. The only things I hear were the birds chirping, the buzz of small insects, and my own footsteps. At that point, I think I understood why the people of Shinto find god and holiness in nature. If I had to choose a religion, perhaps I would like it to be Shinto. Shinto in itself is very broad, but I fell in love with the idea of the divine manifesting itself in the form of nature. In that sense, for me, Fushimi Inari is not just a shrine to see, but one to experience. 



At the end of the senbon torii trail is a small shrine. As usual, I dropped a 5-yen coin, this time wishing for good health for my family. I always mention that I normally drop 5-yen coins whenever I visit shrines, but why is it a 5-yen coin? I discovered this bit of information one night while I was sorting out change. There was this gold minted coin without any value indicated on it, just a few kanji characters, unlike the other coins. Curious, I took a picture and sent to K. Immediately, he replied saying that it's a 5-yen coin. “It is believed that five yen is the most effective to bring good luck and chance,” he said. 5 yen, is read as “go” and “en”, homophones for the kanji “go”, a respectful prefix, and “en”, meaning connection or relationship. Hence, giving a 5-yen donation signifies the desire to establish a good relationship / connection with the god of that particular shrine.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.

Amusing votive tablets. This one above with a Titan face from Shigenki no Kyojin!

Mine >:3


As always, I looked at the votive tablets. The ones at Fushimi Inari Taisha were interesting because they were shaped as foxes, so people drew amusing stuff on them. I saw one with a Titan face from Shingenki no Kyojin (I swear, this fandom!). Of course I made one too. I hope someone who visits the shrine will be able to spot mine! *gives internet high five*

I walked further up the torii path, up the mountain, and stopped by several smaller shrines on the way. Some of them looked a bit worn down and deserted, but interesting, nonetheless.

Shrines off the torii path.

The writings at the back of torii are companies and individuals who sponsor the shrine.

Hiragana characters reading "mi-chi" :)

The hike up to the mountain can take up to two hours. I didn't finish the trail, because I was catching a train to Osaka later that day, so I decided to head back when I reached the Yotsutsuji Intersection (this marks roughly half way up the mountain).

There were already a lot of people in the main grounds when i got back from the trail. I was too excited about the torii up in the mountain, so I have not actually taken a look around the main grounds yet. It was pretty busy as there was a ceremony going on. Lots of people were lining up for charms and omikujis. I stayed for a while to observe the ceremony, and went around the shops to look for souvenirs before heading back to Higashiyama.

Entrance to the main grounds of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Inari Train Station.

Actually, I have already passed by Fushimi Inari on one of the nights I was in Kyoto. Shinto shrines are normally open until very late so I decided to give it a try. I got too spooked to go up the trail though because it was dark and I was alone, so I had to retreat haha.

Fushimi Inari Taisha at night.

I realized I still have time left, so I decided to visit the Heian Jingu (平安神宮), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Komei, founded in 1895 – relatively younger than most of the popular shrines in Kyoto. The shrine's main buildings were partially replicated from the imperial palace of the Heian period.

The movie Lost in Translation featured a bit of Heian Jingu too. When Scarlett Johansson went to Kyoto, Heian Jingu was one of the shrines she visited. This is the bit where Air's Alone in Kyoto was played, definitely my favorite scene! I initially did not like that movie when I first saw it, but it kind of grew on me when I watched it again. A friend once told me that there are movies we appreciate better, depending on certain points or phases in our lives. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray were so “lost” in the movie. Maybe I could identify being somewhat “lost”, that is why the movie resounded to me better than before. Also, the soundtrack of the movie is made of win. 

Heian Jingu (平安神宮).
Lovely foliage. I am going to miss Kyoto!

I walked from Heian Jingu back to Higashiyama, and since it was my last day in Kyoto, I felt like walking along the Shirakawa River (白川) again and having late lunch at Pooh's Cafe, just like on my very first day. I went back to the machiya afterwards to pack my stuff, tidy the room and say goodbye to the family.

The separation anxiety was handled better than expected. Though, I still did feel a little sad leaving Kyoto as I immensely enjoyed my time there. To cheer myself, I bought my favorite Belgian chocolate waffle from Manneken in Kyoto Station before catching the train to Osaka.

It was already late afternoon, I reckon. As the train left Kyoto Station, the buildings and city lights gradually disappeared from view. I slumped back on my seat. I was still in the vicinity of Kyoto, but I was already dreaming of seconds. Someday again, I'm sure.
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