Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Day 7 - Kyoto to Tokyo

Dear Worms,

I know, living as you do in a black plastic box on my Patio, you can have very little interest in what goes on across the pacific. But despite your lack of interest, I thought I'd write you and let you know I'd met a cousin of yours yesterday.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day. My mum had so enjoyed the Fushimi Inari shrine (the one with the fox and the red gates) so much that we decided to visit again. If you'd read any of my previous blogs or journal from my last trip, and being worms I know you haven't, you'd know that I've never had much time at this particular shrine. The first time I went in 2004 me and Tech Support were exhausted and only made it so far before being forced to turn back. On Monday we'd had to catch a fast train to Nara at 10:50, and could only go so far again.

This time, having given up on the idea of Hiroshima on account of 6 hours in the train, we had all the time in the world.

So we hiked.

I did not find it as transportative as the Buddhist Temple the day before, but nonetheless it was terribly beautiful up in the hills. The orange toris did indeed continue forever. And we met several critters on our way up.

Japan has a somewhat progressive view of noraneko (stray cats) in that they do not trap and kill them. They do not however, trap and nueter them to my knowledge, and one of the kitties was definately pregnant. Still, there is something about Shrine Kitties. I guess no one had told them it was a fox shrine.

These are two different kitties who were fairly close together and obviously kin of some kind.

This kitty was further up, near a shop.

And this kitty was on the way down, a place we'd passed a few times, and was the only one that wanted to be pet. In fact she (this was the pregnant one) walked right up to Tech Support and flopped on the ground by his feet. She then bit him on the hand to try and indicate her preference on being pet.

The other critter we met were the crows, who made the most wicked sounding caws as we hiked through. The crows outside your box have nothing on this.

We also got very thirsty.

Of course now you're thinking "what do I care about these creatures, what about our cousin?" (Or more probably, where is the food? But that will have to wait.) On our way down from the summit, which had been a bit disappointing because you couldn't see any view and the shrine there looked like any other shrine, we ran into a giant worm. This one was in rather poor condition on the steps so we stepped politely past and moved on and I won't horrify you further on that score.

Then we met another one. I took his picture though he seemed to object and writhed desperately to get out of it, I still managed this shot. I should have put something in there for scale, but I was rather afraid of him.

You would not want him in your plastic box with you, I promise you that, because he is about 6 inches long and I bet he is rather mean. Still, I told him you said hi.

After the Fushimi Inari shrine we were all very exhausted so went back to the Kyoto station. I had sushi again while Tech Support and Mum went and ate something else, and we did a bit of last minute shopping. Then we ran back to our Ryokan to get our bags, and made it to the train platform with relative ease. I must tell you, moving giant bags around a strange city is my least favorite thing to do. Feel happy you will never deal with this.

The Shinkansen to Tokyo takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, and afterwards I had to drag my Mum and Tech Support around the Tokyo station to get on another train. Mum was overwhelmed by the number of people, and reluctant to drag her gigantic bag onto the train. Nonetheless we made it on, and I lied about the number of stops we had to get off until. In my defense, it was very hard to read the map above several salarymen's heads, and the English was very small.

We then took the subway, a new one for me, to a private station near our Ryokan. Luckily this was very painless. I then managed to direct us straight to our ryokan, which made me very happy as we were all very tired.

The Tokyo Ryokan, as expected, is a little smaller.

But it is nice. The area of town we are in is very interesting. I will try to take lots of pictures and post them tomorrow, as trying to explain them would be inadequate. We voyaged out into it last night to get some more riceballs and crackers for dinner, and then, once more, I collapsed into bed.

I hope you are doing well my worms. I will be back to give you all sorts of terrible treats next week.


Day 6 - Kyoto

A day will never be enough time to cover the wonders of Kyoto. Ignorance is a bit of bliss, in that at the end of the day, we don't know what we've missed. We were thinking of going to Hiroshima the next day, so knew we'd have to pack in what we could. As it turned out we didn't go to Hiroshima, but we also didn't explore much more of Kyoto either. Maybe someday I will have to come and spend a week in Kyoto, but not for a while.

But on Tuesday we did our best.

The day started with another Japanese breakfast that was excellent, though I preferred the previous days soft tofu. The room was swarming with older Brits and I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of "Keeping Up Appearances". I have no idea what group they were with, but they did not seem to be Nippon-O-Philes ("Seaweed with breakfast eh?" "I dunno what it was, but I ate it in one gulp.")

A prerequisite for any day exploring Kyoto is the day bus pass, which we picked up, and then set out for Kinkakuji. I'm not sure what can be said of kinkakuji, it looks a lot like the picture, it was my third visit there, and anyone who comes to Kyoto needs to see it, so we took my mum to do just that.

But I am forgetting one thing.

Apparently it is national school trip week or some such, and the school children are out in force. It would not be outside of the realm of possibility to be trampled by a stampede of them. Furthermore, they have homework. These poor children must find English Speaking Gaijin and ask them questions. So we spoke to a cute, young group of Junior High Students from Chiba, took a picture with them, and gave them our adress for sending us a copy. I'm really curious to see if we get one.

Unfortunately, the massive (MASSIVE) number of Elementry, Junior High and High School students swarming the most popular sights did make it a bit difficult to see them as well. Kinkakuji might have been more pleasant without them.

Luckily we arrived at Nijo Castle just in time to see a herd of them depart.

Nijo castle, another third time visit that I had to show my mum, was beautiful as usual. The gardens are sculpted and beautiful. And worth having your picture taken at.

Mum enjoyed it. I admired the wooden carvings yet again.

We also did a brief, Gaijin-Friendly tea ceremony, that mostly involved eating mochi and sipping tea with a lovely view of the garden. My mum was quite pleased to get to join in a tea ceremony, and I enjoyed it as well.

(Photo looks weird because we sloppily tried to adjust for dark interior.)

Stopped briefly at a museum where Tech Support once more decried the Japanese size as his feet stuck out 3 inches past the slippers we had to wear inside and said were the most uncomfortable yet. Mum and I agreed that the slippers were hideously uncomfortable, and thus the exhibit did not hold our attention well.

I then led us back to the bus stop to depart for a new area of town I had not been to, and as we waited it began to rain. We got into the bus. Then it began to pour. Hard.

Luckily by the time we got off it had calmed, but not enough to yet voyage out to a temple, so we hoped on another train and ended up getting off at a big shopping area. This was mums first exposure to such a place and she loved it. I managed to spot a Very Cute Store where Cute Things were procured, and we ate at a curious bakery with a rather ostentious name.

I was determined to get to one new Temple, so dragged us back out onto the bus once more. The temple was near what seemed to be a nicer, municipal area of Kyoto, with high walled streets that reminded me of some anime. Apparently those kids lived in the nice area of town.

We hiked up a bit of a hill. The rain had stopped completely and it was warm again, but water rushed beneath us and it smelled lovely. Fresh from the rain. We passed a school where lucky children get to learn at the base of a mountain next to a beautiful temple. A beautiful temple I was very happy to find as my directions were - well, I was going off the maps on the street.

The temple had a big gate that for a couple hundred yen, you could go up.

It was worth it for the view. The temple, Nanzenji, is at the base of some of Kyotos mountains, and the recent rain somehow made it all the more wonderful.

We then skipped paying any fees to see further inside, and instead hiked along the side. We passed a Roman Aqueduct that I can find no information on and Tech Support Theorized had been brought by the romans themselves, or maybe aliens.

Closed off areas are somehow more mysterious for their remoteness.

I was terribly pleased with just how beautiful the place was and did my best to explore. My tired Mum waited while me and Tech Support climbed further into the mountain. Though I was happy we came after the rain, I regretted not having more time to explore. Perhaps it is all a romantic notion, but I can see what inspired Miyazaki (director of My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away, and many other good animations) in these moss covered steps and wood enshrouded shrines. A sign warned us at the base not to speak loudly, but this is the type of place I instinctively whisper in anyway. I don't want to disturb the wood sprites.

And so that I don't get too serious, there are signs like this to inject an odd humor into the moment.

I left the beautiful, mysterious forest with a little regret, but mostly happiness, and found my mum.

We went back to Kyoto Station for a bit more shopping. Discovering another yarn shop and going to Muji once more, where my Mum agonized for a bit over what she wanted to buy. I was too exhausted at this point to do anything more than stop at a conveinence store for a dinner of riceballs, crackers and evil pepper rings.

Day 5 - Nara

(The Ryokan in Kyoto was great, but only offered internet on the computer in the lobby, so I was unable to post anything the past three nights, I did however, write two of the days up so far and will post them. This post was written 5/30/06)

Monday started with a Japanese breakfast prepared by our ryokan. Everything was delightful, but Mum and I particularly enjoyed the soft tofu and sauce they had for it.

Our first stop of the day was the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is most famous for the hundreds of orange tori (gates) lined up one after the other. Tech Support and I had been here before, but it was well worth a return.

We hiked up a bit, and wandered off the trail some.

I love the feel of shrines like this, tucked into the woods, with staircases leading off to the side and rocks dedicated to the ancestors. When wandering up these stairs I think whimsically of Miyazaki movies and wood sprites.

We also learned what the red bib (and on some dieties, red shower cap) are foor. Apparently they are for dieties and statues that are outside, never inside, because they feel bad for them being outside and want to give them something to protect them. The red color is related to buddhism (even though this was a Shinto Shrine, Japanese mix religions).

We hiked up as high as we could, time permitting, and then returned to the station because we had an appointment in Nara to meet with That Girl and her family.

The day wasn't as warm as that day in 2004 when a typhoon was blowing through lower Japan and Tech Support and I thought we would melt in Osaka, but the day was very warm.

In Nara our first stop was a traditional style restaraunt for some... interesting food. Certainly it was an experience. I enjoyed some of it, but admit to detesting the Japanese tendency of turning solids into jellies. Nonetheless, experiencing the traditional food of Nara was not something I would have been able to do without That Girl.

Like last time we were in Nara, deer were in plentiful supply. They are considered National Treasures and thus can do what they want mostly. We watched one casually cross a street. They are also very fat and healthy looking, with visitors feeding them "deer biscuits" all day long. We watched one deer who had somehow gotten a hold of an entire stack of deer biscuits attempt to eat them all. Another deer had walked directly into the kitchen of our restaurant earlier, and was led patiently out with the promise of more food.

Our first Temple was the Toudaji, which houses the daibutsu (Great Buddah).

We'd been here in 2004 and not much had changed, so I didn't take too many pictures. Our next stop was another Temple I believe, high up on the hill where you can get a good view of Nara.

A sign described the horrible death that awaits Pacman should he attempt to drink some of the shrine water.

We then hopped back in the car, which was great as my legs and feet were aching, and drove quite a ways out into Nara. We passed the ugly, modern city with it's garish signs and self proclaimed (in english) "World Famous Chinese Food" restaurants. Until we came to another Temple with a name that I have forgotten. We arrived 30 minutes before closing so missed most of the excitement, but did get to see the impressive buildings which are apparently the worlds oldest wooden structure.

I love the detail of the design.

We then were driven back to the train station, another long drive which gave us some time for chatting as we were parting ways with That Girl and her family for the rest of the trip. I very much enjoyed my time wandering with her and her new husband around Nara, and was sad to hug her goodbye. I'll see her back in the states soon enough.

At the train station we ran into one of those things that white people run into from time to time in Japan, a Japanese person who wants to practice English. I wonder what happens to those caucasians who don't speak English, probably some confusion. It doesn't matter for us though, as the very nice older Japanese man very importantly made sure we knew which train to get on (which we already knew, but humored him) and sat with us for two stops. He was a retiree who "didn't remember his past", had never been out of Japan but wanted to visit the east coast, and had very passible English, though he complained many English speakers spoke too fast. I could say the same of many Japanese. He also struggled over describing the way Sony's stock was falling. We said bye to him at his station, and chatted the rest of the way back to Kyoto.

There we went to a Kaiten Zushi (conveyorbelt sushi) restaurant we'd been to last time, where me and Tech Support ate Quite A Lot Of Sushi. It wasn't as good as the one That Girl had taken us to, but it was dirt cheap and worth it for the money.

Muji was closed, and thus we were unable to spend more money there.

Back at the hotel Mum and I attempted a Japanese style bath. We made it through the shower before discovering the bathtub had been heated to 9 zillion degrees. The baths of Japan are often too hot for me, but this one was also too hot for Mum. Still, I enjoyed the shower part, which involves sitting on a stool in a large room, soaping yourself and then pouring water over yourself.

And that was it for the adventures of the day.