We poke into all kinds of shops looking at artsy books, hand painted Japanese kitty placemats and matted paintings, brightly colored change purses made of kimono fabric, giant stuffed rabbits wearing Hello Kitty t-shirts and woolens from Tibet. We dip into shrines to reverently watch people making offerings and praying for wishes to come true.
Ryoan-ji, or Temple of the Peaceful Dragon, is home to the famous and celebrated rock garden, the symbol of Kyoto, that draws tourists in droves to contemplate the emptiness between the rocks. It’s an oblong of meticulously raked sand with a formal collection of 15 strategically placed rocks on little beds of moss, apparently afloat in this sea of sand, and hugged by an earthen wall. The unknown creator of this garden left no explanation to its meaning, but tourists flock here to see this interesting but austere arrangement. Apparently it causes photographers fits because it is impossible to capture the entire garden with all 15 rocks in one photograph. Apparently no matter where you sit, you can see only 14 rocks at one time. There are no trees or plants, just moss and white stones and beautiful seasonally changing trees behind the surrounding wall. This temple was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994.
The Randen Railway Kitano line at Ryoanji Station is an electric railway that connects the center of Kyoto with the western suburb of Arashiyama, and it must be the cutest little train I’ve ever seen. It’s painted a cheery purple color and consists of only one car, driven by a pressed and uniformed driver with a little conductor hat and white gloves. It makes a clanging noise as it rumbles along the tracks and drops me eventually in the suburb, where I wander down the street, captivated by pretty little thingies in shop windows.