Tanaka Gokurakudo https://www.hostelworld.com/pwa/hosteldetails.php/Tanaka-Gokurakudo-Guest-House/Kyoto/280879 was right next to the train station in Kyoto so I’d come full circle. I thought I’d been locked out since the door didn’t pull open. Apparently, this one slid. Feeling foolish in front of the few in the kitchen, I casually joined in the conversation. The pair of guys were scuba instructors from northern Spain and told me about the colors of Madrid and all the vacationers they’d met. The younger lady in the room was from, surprise surprise, Germany, traveling the world. After crossing North and South America, she wound up here and was planning to go to mainland Asia. With all the plague stuff though, she was clearly rethinking her strategy.
The owner didn’t speak much English, but that didn’t bother me. On the second night we were joined by a perpetually stoned Australian guy and later an American, who had quite a cynical view on the plague problem. After being introduced to a new game of cards, I can’t remember the name of, we jokingly decided to play for money: 100 yen or around 1 dollar. I won the first round. What?! How’d that happen? Just luck I guess. Second round; dead last. I gave back my previous winnings. This is why I don’t gamble.
On to Plan C: stay put. Back near Friends Hostel was the Regional Immigration Bureau, which was an hour walk away. It was early morning and light rain had just started. Frustrated, all I could think of was that I could’ve done this weeks ago and in little to no time. I could have gone yesterday as well, but my phone died on the way out the door. Now with digital map in hand, I could find my way there. Well no, it died again near the finish line. Plugging it into my portable battery didn’t help either. Wandering aimlessly up and down the same streets, I knew it was somewhere close. After another hour my phone clicked on. I got my bearing, for about 17 seconds. It turned off again. Not wanting to shatter my only device for portable music I stomped down the road for the third time. I stopped and as I was about to throw my hands in the air and give up, there it was, the building I was standing beside. In tiny letters it read: Immigration Bureau. Up at the top of the building, I talked to the lady behind the desk; her and her mechanical translator. Explaining the situation through her device, she went to go ask her boss. Coming back shortly after, the little speakers explained to me as delicately as possible: “Sorry, no extensions on travel visas. It’s policy.” There was a tiny loophole I could’ve exploited to get me another month, but no, Plan C is a bust.
Trying not to let this news get my spirits down, there was the Fushimi Inari-taisha, a massive and world famous shine I absolutely had to see. I got there just after sunset, as suggested by my fellow travelers, and readied my phone for pictures. Dead. I almost bit the damn thing in half. The next night, I made SURE it was plugged into the portable battery beforehand. Following the same route I’d taken through the city, I got there a little earlier than before, grabbing some shots during the day.
The shrine lay at the foot of a sacred mountain, which locals climbed daily. Torii gates of bright orange led the way down the trails, marked by black script. It was serenely silent. A sense of calm washed over me, climbing the seemingly thousands of steps up. There was a rest stop at a little pond, surrounded by a stone altar of worship. Still further up, it had started to get dark. A viewing platform hung like a balcony off the cliff side. Kyoto waited down below, beautiful as ever. The air was warm but the wind was chilly. It was hard to decide whether I was too hot or too cold. At the top was another shrine marked by hundreds of altars. Alone in the silence of night, I finally did what I was supposed to. Descending in near pitch black, with only the trail lights guiding me down, I exited through the amazing red gate at the bottom of the mountain.
I was the second last one out of the hostel, with only the Aussie behind me. The owner was shutting his doors after we left, the lack of customers due to the plague the culprit of his financial struggles. Passing Kyoto Tower one last time, I picked up my expensive train ticket to my next stop in Japan. It was somewhere I never thought I’d be.