Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why I Travel

I left the city behind at lunchtime, taking the Nara train two stops south to Fushimi Inari, the biggest of the 30,000 Inari shrines spread across Japan, and most famous for a four-kilometre long trail of wooden Torii winding through the hills like some kind of manic giant domino set.

The gates were sometimes little taller than my head, but mostly twice as big, painted red and black, as densely packed as self-seeded trees, some cracked open and bleached pink by the sun. I pass stone foxes dressed in red bibs, floating leaves on the surface of a pond, souvenir shops full of plastic torii (what else?), stray cats, hot cans of coffee, a jogger running up stone steps, open-fronted restaurants (This is NOT a place to sit and rest), graveyards and snatches of conversation: a group of Scandinavians, laughing and repeating the word Facebook; an Englishman and his Japanese girlfriend, "They only show films from Britain and Hollywood. Very few from mainland Europe." "Very few?"

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