We make our way to Kyoto and explore the many gates of Fushimi Inari Daisha after a filling lunch of loco moco, tonkatsu, and my very first fresh tofu - which I now understand I’ve been missing out on this entire time. After performing the water ritual at the crowded entrance, we hike further into the park, hoping to lose the few tourists. We cross path multiple times with a smiling grandpa, helping us find our way. I wonder if he has a side-quest for us, but he is only here for Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴), literally “forest bathing,” a word for a visit to the forest for relaxation and health. The park is a complex of Japanese shrines: thousands of bright orange gates, set in a deep green forest amongst the dark grays of traditional tombs. We learn the word Komorebi (木漏れ日), “sunlight shining through the leaves of trees.” China had a sense for the epic; Japan has a profound one for the aesthetic, the tasteful and subtle beauty, the perfect harmony. Geishas pass by, some are simply locals dressing up, others are the ‘real’ ones, entertainers of the Gion district. Ukiyo (浮世 "floating world") describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects of this world.
After a two hour hike through the park, Madie and I cool down with amazake, a cold, sweet, fermented rice drink with ginger, and agree that if we had the opportunity to live here, we’d probably do it. The high-pitched laughter of children echo from a nearby elementary school - the usual trigger for us to think about the future. Our dinner is a bowl of rice and raw fish on which we pour dashi, the tasty Japanese broth. We pick up on a new tradition, eating yogurt (or chocolate pudding) at night in our tiny hotel room.