fushimi inari taisha is kyoto's iconic shinto shrine. i know it causes great astonishment to the three people reading my blog to know that i am not like, a particularly learned authority on shinto- so this isn't an travel essay on how i alone of all tourists just really *get* this magnificent shrine.
i have, however, mastered the art of waking ian at 5 am and fretting to him about the dire necessity for an early start. the train ride to fushimi inari station is bleary-eyed but brief- i spend the entirety of it deeply immersed in facebook political strife, the most hateful and pointless activity a person can do while on vacation.
i am initially nervous about the chozuya, a water ablution basin set in a pavilion for symbolic purification prior to entering the shrine. in addition to studying train timetables with the frenetic intensity of a serial killer, i am also mentally armed with a lot of anecdotes about dumb foreigners who botch this rite horrifically. i've seen americans actually drink from the ladle, the learned weeaboos of the internet have sneered. because my brain is just an feedback loop that runs an anxiety track between self-loathing and fear of social faux pas, i wonder if i will fuck up this act in an even worse way.
i saw this lady drink from the basin like a farm animal, they will say on tripadvisor. and it looks like her husband was browsing best_of_grindr memes.
i'm happy to report that there are literal cartoon drawings of how to perform the temizu properly and no one was around to witness me desperately overthinking it.
fushimi inari is unbelievable. i think a lot about one of my top 5 favorite video games, okami. the beauty of the vermilion torii is as striking in person as it is in photos- winding paths crowned with seemingly endless gates. i feel like i am going to come out to an unexpected landscape on the other side, like i am chihiro in spirited away. instead, i end up accidentally photobombing a chinese couple's selfie.
even more impressive than the torii are the hundreds of stone foxes everywhere- they flank shrines with proud symmetry but also lurk in small corners and spaces like clever, curious little details. because i am with ian, we get lost and are soon completely isolated in various nooks of altars and fountains. i furtively pray over the senseless, horrific gun violence back home in america. i know that inari is mostly about agriculture and prosperity, but the sanctity of this place verges on magical. it feels like the right place to pray, and then whisper ban all white men. coincidentally, ian falls down a set of steps shortly afterwards.
i reach the apex of my high-strung timekeeping here by insisting that we catch a train to nara for the sole purpose of spending less than an hour at nara park before rushing back to our hotel for checkout. we achieve this feat primarily by running like two insane people in a mad dash to the train station. it's hard to do this when you're mostly lost and completely out of shape, but we sprint our way past a lovely little farm, a high school, and a sleepy neighborhood. ian looks back fondly on this pathfinding as one of his favorite detours. i look back and hope those high school students didn't make fun of me. they probably did.
but i am in this for the deer. hundreds of sika deer roam freely around the park and temples and i think fleetingly that they will live up to their reputation and bow to me for treats and i will feed them from my hands like a gentle disney princess and we will all be beautiful and graceful with big eyes and thin legs and at some point this stopped being about deer.
as it turns out, the deer of nara and i do have a lot in common- we're hungry, annoyingly intrusive, disgruntled, and occasionally raggedy. the deer crackers i purchase enthusiastically at the park entrance are immediately snatched from my grasp by an onslaught of these bold ass deer. they surround us with hopeful mouths like a swarm of dementors. long after we've exhausted our cracker supply, errant deer still follow us around and nibble hopefully at my purse. i encounter only one deer that bows begrudgingly. ian's pants are muddy from being headbutted so many times. it is still an excellent time.
we are both starving by the time we head back to kyoto, so we break the social contract and i eat the most delicious box of food on the train.
then finally, after leaving hotel kanra, we board the shinkansen from kyoto station. we're in an unreserved car, but seating is plentiful and comfortable. there are outlets and tray tables and a little lady pushing a snack trolley down the aisle like we're on the hogwarts express. it is an excellent way to travel. in the blink of an eye, we arrive at tokyo station. a handful of subway stops takes us to toranomon hills, then at the top of a 52-floor skyscrape- andaz tokyo.
this is japan's first andaz, and it is stunning. every inch of the property feels like a cohesive marriage between midcentury modern design and japanese aesthetic. even ian, who can't tell the difference between the four seasons and a mine shaft, remarks dang when we check into our room. we have a glorious view of the tokyo tower at sunset. the hotel concierge have surprised me with a thoughtful birthday gift- a very dry, crumbly brownie that i eat with determined gratitude.
i am on the cusp of three fully-lived decades, and there is no better way to celebrate my adulthood than perching in this room, cuddling up with my love, looking out across the tokyo skyline, finding out that it cost me like a hundred dollars to use the hotel laundry service.