Friday, March 21, 2008

Memories of Kyoto

Even though we all know I'm now back in Canada, let's pretend for a moment that I'm still in Japan, in Kyoto in fact, and that I'm blogging about our first exhausting day in this beautiful city.

It turned out that Phil didn't have to go into work on Friday, so we were able to check out of the hotel in Yokosuka fairly early and head into Tokyo (actually, it was the Shinagawa station) to catch the Hikari Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were hoping to get there early in the afternoon, so we would be able to do a bit of sightseeing right away (pretty much all the tourist destinations close at around 4:00 pm).

After getting ripped off by the only female taxi driver we encountered in Japan (Phil gave her 1010 yen on a 710 yen fare, and she never gave us the change. She even made the receipt Phil asked her for out to 1010 yen.), we made it to our connecting station without incident. We had about 40 minutes between trains, plenty of time to locate the ticket counter and get our tickets for the bullet train. Upon arriving, unfortunately, we were told that the next train was full, and that we'd have to wait another hour. This wasn't really an issue right then, but it made us realize that we should probably look into booking our tickets ahead for the trip back to Narita the following Tuesday.

We hung out at the train station a while, then caught the train to Kyoto. This was Phil's first time riding the Shinkansen (by this time, I was an old hand, and was able to be quite blasé and nonchalant about the whole thing), and he agreed with me that this was definitely the civilized way to travel.We arrived in Kyoto about 3 hours later, and after some initial wandering around in the rain, managed to locate our ryokan. For those of you scratching your heads, a ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, sort of a bed and breakfast, with tatami mat floors in your rooms and futons and everything. When looking for places to stay in Kyoto, I really wanted us to have the authentic Japanese experience, and this place came highly recommended in my guide book, and was really, REALLY cheap to boot (about 50$ per person per night, a bona fide steal in Japan, I kid you not).No sooner had we dropped our luggage off at the hotel than we hightailed it out of there and ran halfway across town to try to see the Sanjusangen-do Temple (also known as the sanzunjensenfendensen temple), a "must see" according to our guide book. Unfortunately, after walking in the rain for 20 minutes, we discovered that said guide book was out of date, and did not in fact close at 4:30 in March, but rather at 4:00, and didn't sell tickets past 3:30. Totally miffed, we decided to visit the Kyoto National Museum, conveniently located right across the street, instead. The book said to give yourself 2 hours to visit the museum. I guess Phil and I just aren't museum people, because we were in and out of there in 35 minutes. ;)

By this time we were getting seriously hungry, so we decided to find a restaurant to have dinner. Still following our guide book, it recommended a conveyor belt sushi place (which we loved) right around the train station. "Across the street from the McDonald's" it said. Hah! First off, there IS no McDonald's (I may be a twit, but I can still locate the golden arches anywhere, for Pete's Sake). It took us forever to find the place (as Phil said to me that evening, if only we could have recreated the insane detours we took trying to find the damn restaurant! It'd be a hoot), but find it we did, and it was delicious, as usual (if a little pricier than what we were used to in Tokyo). Beat and well fed, we headed back to the ryokan.

Saturday morning we woke bright and early and started our day with a traditional Japanese-style breakfast (omelet, fish, miso soup, rice, Japanese vegetables (LOVE that Lotus root!!!!) and other fixins). It was actually delicious, and would have been perfect were it not for the tea which, and I can't stress this enough, tasted like cigarette butts.

Were you ever at a party and took a swig from an almost empty bottle of beer, only to get a mouthful of cigarette ashes and butts? (I suppose that'll be an unfamiliar experience to future generations - don't worry, you're not missing anything). Yeah, like that. I actually had 2 sips and watched Phil take his first gulp with a puzzled, sourpuss expression on his face, before commenting that it tasted like cigarettes. "That's exactly what it tastes like, you're right" he said, before turning green. Needless to say, we didn't have breakfast at the ryokan again after that. Too bad, really, everything else was terrific.

We had a big day planned for Saturday (understatement!!!). The 2 main temples we wanted to visit were the Kinkaku-Ji temple (more commonly known as the Golden Pavilion) and the Ginkaku-Ji temple (the Silver Pavilion). Unfortunately, these are in different areas of the city, so we decided to head for the Golden pavilion temple first, which had more "must see" temples in the area.

We saw temples and shrines and gardens galore, gardens like the one at the Ryoan-Ji Temple, the most famous Zen garden in Japan.

Yeah, pretty much my thoughts exactly. :) Actually, it's supposed to represent the universe or islands in a tranquil sea or a mother tiger and her cubs or something. Yeah, I didn't get it either.
After lunch, we found something truly remarkable: the Golden Pavilion. It was magnificent, and doubly so because there really weren't that many tourists around. No amount of pictures can do it justice (and we took A LOT of pictures!), you just had to be there.

From there, we decided to head back to the train station (OK, I ran into the first bus that stopped for us, and it happened to be going to the train station), then take another bus to the Silver pavilion. This wasn't the greatest plan that Tara came up with in Japan, boys and girls, because where as the Golden pavilion is in the North-East of the city, and the Silver is in the North-West of the city, the train station in the south part of the city.

Riiiiiight. When we finally got to the Silver pavilion (after sitting, or rather standing, in a packed bus struggling through traffic for about an hour), we ran to the gate, and what did we find?
A temple wrapped in plastic. I was not amused.
By this point in the day, we had already walked about, oh, 8 kilometers, but we weren't done yet. I had read that there was a winter lantern festival going on in the Gion district while we were there, so we headed to the area (by subway this time), had dinner, and waited for night to fall and the lanterns to be lit. Lanterns would be lit over a 2.6 km course (hahaha!!!), with special entrance and illumination in seven temples.Again, pictures can't do it justice. It was beautiful (and CROWDED!), and after wandering around for about 2 hours, our poor legs called out for mercy, and we headed back to the hotel. It was 9 o'clock, we had been walking for 13 hours, and we were beat. A great day indeed, one for the books.


Sereknitty said...

Glad to hear you're back safe and sound! So enjoyed your posts from Japan and felt like I was living my life vicariously through you.
Happy Easter!

Caroline said...

I love the pic with the golden pavilion, it looks like it's in your hand!

Jennifer said...

I can't get over your trip! The best photo, hands-down, has to be your face upon seeing the plastic-wrapped temple. Priceless!

Anonymous said...

What a great post. Gave me a real feeling of spring on this bright, but still cold morning. Thanks for all the deets - Jenn's right, the look on your face is priceless, and I rather like the video too.
Seriously, thanks for documenting it so well

Anonymous said...

I also have been to Kyoto. It is a good point.
Especially, I like Ryoan-ji Temple. It is not only a garden and
surrounding atmosphere is good.

By the way, the food of Japan was how?


Knit & Purl Mama said...

That's not cool that your temple was bubble wrapped in plastic! We had that same experience in Barcelona in fall 2006, I was mad!!!