Published: August 29th 2005August 14th 2005
Superhero station start
The comic world begins at Kyoto station...
Run run run! Go go go! Why can't I just settle down for awhile? Perhaps this is the problem with my whole life, but at least I get to see a lot! I've really struggled with which photos to add to this entry as I have taken so many. I hope I can give the Kansai area of Japan justice! I've taken the night bus from Tokyo, arriving in Kyoto at 5am. The bus ride wasn't too bad. Apart from the fact that the guy sitting next to me snored his way onto my shoulder, and then both of the reading lights were directed onto his side. When I arrived in Kyoto, I was slightly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the station. I hadn't envisioned the cutting edge granite and glass towers in a city known mostly for its' temples and peace agreements. Nonetheless, I found the lockers and the washrooms and made myself respectable for an early start on the temple tourist track.
The first temple I directed my lost feet towards, was the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan called Toji. It's a shame I never found it. I instead took in the intense sounds of the cicadas
Although it's not rush hour, it's clear that there are always some people that must go go go!
in the grounds of another temple. (I later realized I was just 2 blocks away from Toji!) The sound was so intense I almost reached into my bag for a pair of earplugs, but was flagged down by a Japanese man eager to tell me about the plight of the cicada. It's quite tragic that the life of these extremely large flying critters is mostly spent underground, up to eight years in fact. When they finally feel that they are ready for the big bad world, they crawl up to the surface and shed their 'skin'. For the next two weeks it's a race to find a special friend and make as much noise as possible before their life comes to a stop. End of story.
My next stop was to the Kyoto tower, although the guidebook thought it was a waste of time. I found it incredibly useful to be able to navigate from above. And I was then able to see the wooden pagoda that I had come so close to just an hour earlier. I laughed at the sight of an amusement park on some of the building rooftops. And seeing the birdseye of a
Even the floor here was sooooooo clean!
Japanese crosswalk was interesting. The Japanese are very clever with their crosswalks. Not just from A to B and B to C, but a diagonal straight through the middle. Saves so much time! And rather then the chirp or the beep to tell you that you can now walk, you have a melody that will stick in your head for the rest of the day. After I took in the sights from above, I had a chance to fulfill my caffeine needs at the base of the tower. Have no fear Starbucks is f***ing everywhere.
I had seen a garden (just 1 of 250 in Kyoto) from the tower so it became time to chill out and plan the rest of the day. As I approached the pond I thought Japanese Jaws was coming my way. The Koi fish were so quick to pick up on a human presence, somebody might be feeding them! The water rippled in every direction and I finally had to give in. I should be eating Japanese noodles for lunch, not the sandwich a had stuffed into my bag anyway!! Around the corner I saw elegant white cranes fishing for their lunch. The
dragonflys nearly swarmed me and the mosquitos ate me alive. Being in this garden I felt like I had seen so many symbols of Japan, apart from the mosquitos. I think Winnipeg Canada might win the prize there!
Looking on the map I thought it might be a half hour walk to the another temple. My problem with tourist maps surfaced yet again, as they don't seem to find it necessary to put in all the roads. As I couldn't read the street signs I counted the number of roads to the point of turning, thus skipping roads on a map can make things difficult! I spent the day walking to the other end of Kyoto taking in the sights all along the way. The blisters on the soles of my feet really didn't hurt when I looked at what some of the Japanese girls were wearing! When I finally couldn't walk any more, I made my way back to Kyoto station and on to the hostel.
Compared to Tokyo the fashion of those walking the streets is extremely different. I don't quite understand how the girls plan it, but often there are a group of
Was a nice blue sky day even in the windows
friends all wearing yukata (the summer version of a kimono) although they seem the type to be wearing heels and jeans the next. Of course the fashion of Hello Kitty will never fade out here. I met some girls in the morning that arrived 2 hours before starting work in order to chat on their 'lesure mat' (Hello Kitty). When I asked if it was a picnic at 8am, they just claimed to be gossiping. I think I got quite a bit street cred when I showed them my Hello Kitty cloth, soon put to shame of course when I was shown just how many Hello Kitty items each of them had with them! Another sight from walking through Kyoto was of boys off to their baseball practises. I would expect to see a baseball bat slung over their shoulders, but not here. Baseball has a huge following, and the equipment must be treated with respect. Their bats are kept within a padded case, carried delicately and held back from the foreigner asking them ridiculous questions.
My next adventure was jumping on a train to Nara to see the Budda of Todai-ji. It was a pleasant town with
The best mode of transport, seen during the first morning walk
many deer roaming the park. Actually they all seemed to be hunting down the tourists for food handouts, including myself of course! When I made it over to the Budda, I was suitably impressed. Large might be an understatement. The warriers at the gate were big bad boys too. Following the tour around the grounds, I poked my head into a few shops. I was amused at the type of socks sold here as they accomodate wearing their clog type flip flops. I was saddened by the 'dried' turtle in the window of a restaurant-especially as I had spent an awful long time watching live ones bath themselves in the sun by the pond! When I made it back to Kyoto I decided to switch hostels and was so thankful to be closer into town. The new hostel recomended a public bath to go visit, why not? Having been in the hostels onsen I was aware of the protocol, women only and no need to cover up anything. The public bath was a great treat as there was an outdoor bath, a lavender bath, a sauna, a cold tub, even one with electodes in the water to massage achy muscles
(was a very strange sensation!) It was entertaining to watch the Japanese womens' reaction to a Westerner trying their style of bathing. They laugh at our attempts to squat on the mini stool for the washing process and I am amazed that they are comfortable in that position!!
When I boarded the train early early the next morning, I imagined myself flying across the country. Really, the bullet train that I was on was no different to the rest of the trains that I've been on except that there were a lot more seats and a lot more room than in England. I finally made it to the Expo site after several different transfers. The line up at the gates was ridiculous, but to be expected. Time for the ipod and people watching! Once through the main gates, I had been recomended to join the queue for the corporate pavillions. As I didn't have a great desire to see robots singing and playing instruments, or a need of being impressed by the worlds latest gadgets, I headed staright to the country pavillions. Funny enough, Canada was the first that I saw. Adjusting my accent back to my roots,
Me at the Station
It's a bit embaressing to admit how many photos I have taken of myself. But it really was to figure out the camera!
I was pleased to be offered the VIP tour. For those that know how my accent has changed over the years, it was with great pleasure that I got the VIP tour for the English and Irish pavillions as well! It felt strange when I was in the American pavillion as I had to ask for an english translation!! Other pavillions gave me great insight into the future travels. Having walked the grounds from back to front, I was fairly exhausted by the end of the day. The announcements warning us of the ligtening storms dampened only a few passers by, although I'm sure those in the cable car above were a bit eager to get out! Just before I stepped foot off the grounds, I sat and watched hundreds of women dance to the live drum, koto and other Japanese instruments that I'd not seen before.
One of the most impressive sights of this trip has got to be Himeji Castle. Also noted for its beauty as a back drop in the Bond movies and in Tom Cruise's Samarai movie. It's many tiers of white can be seen from everywhere and even the surrounding gardens were stunning.
Potential Starbucks location
I had an interesting dinner in Himeji that night. Having filled the machine with tokens outside of the restaurant, my meal was very quickly brought to me once I handed over my printed coupons. I wonder if this will take off anywhere else in the world.
Back in Kyoto I joined a walking tour from the city's finest leader. 'Johnny Hillwalker' was entertaining and able to give us much more insight into Buddism and the back streets of the Geisha areas called Pontocho. We saw fans being made, pottery being painted, shrines being tended. And yes, I even tried on a kimono! I don't think it's quite my style at the moment, but I like the idea of somebody else dressing me! Johnny then took us to the original building that Nintendo occupied before inflicting thumb injuries to youngsters around the world. The company originally manufactured cards that locals would play with, and can still be bought here. It was funny to see the young boys on the tour suddenly light up with awe from the history in Kyoto. Different history for different folks.
All in all, I visited only 5 temples in Kyoto. You would
need to spend many many months there to take in the 1600 within the area! The Golden Pavillion Kinkakuju gleamed in the waters surrounding. It didn't seem real to have such brightness in the middle of nowhere! Nearby the Stone gardens of Rion-ji confused me, as I just didn't quite get it. Then there was Higashi Hongan-ji nearest the station. It's size dwarfed all modern attempts nearby. Sanjusangen temple was overwhemning to see 1001 staues staring back at me as I walked by. Each statue has 40 arms in order to save 25 different worlds. I'd have to study Buddism to understand the complexities of their symbols. Unfortunetly, there were no photos allowed here. (however that's probably a good thing for me!!) Heianjinju temple is one of the countrys' symbols of pride, although the many many layers of red laquer didn't do a lot for me in terms of absorbing the history. Oh actually, one more and it was my favourite. Tucked into the hillside, Kiyomizu has a platform that allows you to see over all of Kyoto. I looked across the treetops to see another temple enveloped in a rolling mist. I found it easy to distance myself from
Although I never saw Toji up close, the view of it from Kyoto Tower was rewarding
all of the other tourists and take in the beauty and step back in time. This is what I've wanted to experience in Japan.
It's a great shame that my time in Kyoto didn't happen to fall in one of the festival periods. All I ever read about was the number of fireworks planned for the day I leave. And another thing to think about for the next trip (from Tokyo) would certainly be climbing Mount Fuji. As I met people in the hotel as they returned from the gruelling climb, I thought it might have been a great experience as it can only be climbed for two months of the year. However, if I was doing a world climbing tour it would have been an issue. Afterall, I missed Africa's Mt Kilimanjaro too. Next time.
Right, well I think that's it for Kyoto. I managed to take a nightbus back to Tokyo for my one remaining day in Japan. It was a nice surprise to discover that the bus was designated for women only. They are very considerate here! My slippers and blanket were very much appreciated. Arriving in the early hours, I sipped a
coffee and snoozed for awhile before venturing over to the computer stores. I had decided to purchase a mini laptop in order to cut down the time spent in internet cafes. A great idea and there were certainly some great laptops, but unfortunetly those within my price range only had Japanese operating systems and I don't think I would have managed for long! And as much as I wanted the gorgeous new Sony with an English system, I couldn't bring myself to spending the same as my entire budget for New Zealand. So does anybody want to buy me a laptop? I'll write more and in real time!! Maybe I'll be able to write a book before long!
In order to run away from my disappointment at the computer store, I bought a ticket to watch a portion of the Kabuki theatre. The comedic moments were not hard to miss even in a different language and seing the costumes and make-up were a great way for me to end my time in Japan. I also had a chance to stand on the sidelines of the Fukagawa Festival. Mostly known for the water thrown on the passing people and
Treetops and temple
I will always remember it as the treetop temple, although it's called Kiyomizu
mikoshi (portable shrines) it was the best entertainment in Japan yet. And after all the missed festivals in Kyoto I happen to catch one in Tokyo that only occurs every 3 years! Score!
So that's it! Japan in 2 weeks is not realistic. This country has so much to see, and pretty much each season will show the visitor something else. Although I wasn't inspired by Japan in the beginning of the trip, I have grown to love and respect this culture. I've learned when to take my shoes off and remembered to put on the toilet slippers. I've learned that this must be the biggest recycling nation ever (8 different waste bins at Starbucks!) and the streets are swept clean every day. I've chuckled at the jingle jangles hanging from every mobile phone or bag. And finally, that it really can be affordable if you look in the right places. Now if I could only learn the 2000 characters as their alphabet and learn to read a map!!
There are more photos below