Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jim in Kyoto

Jim here.

It's becoming a new Thanksgiving tradition for Irish or me to go to Kyoto for the weekend. Last November she went with a group of friends from the Seoul campus and she liked it so much she insisted I go this year.  I booked the plane and hotel and guesthouse a few months ago when cold weather and the end of the semester seemed far away. I have had a few busy weekends recently including a trip to Singapore for a workshop, so I felt a little guilty leaving Irish with the kids again, but only a little.

After a half day of school on Thursday I walked quickly from my classroom, met up with a few other teachers who were also going to the airport and split a taxi with them to Incheon. Flying out at 3:30 I landed in Osaka by late afternoon, got on the train below and was in the city by early evening.  

One of several unusually nice trains I rode over the weekend

I had no real plans for my time in Japan. I figured I would eat and see some sights like a tourist and that was basically what I did. Walking from the train station to my hotel I got started when I passed a vendor selling okonomiyaki, I bought some and brought it with me to the hotel. It was strange, but it quickly grew on me and I went to get more. 

Okonomiyaki. A big fried mess with a little too much sauce that was still incredibly good.

batter, with a squid treat in the middle
I'm pretty sure the Hotel Mickey Cookies is a love motel.

I did not do any solo karaoke but what a great slogan. Big mouse IS anytime ok!

The coin on the left is 500 yen, around $5. The one on the right is 10 yen, around 10 cents. Having a pocketful of change in Japan is tricky, easy to have a lot of money fall out of your pocket. 

Leaving Osaka Friday morning I got on a subway, felt pretty good about my ability to get around in Japan until I noticed I had gone several stops past where I meant to. After some navigation with google maps I was back on my way, 30 minutes or so to get up to Kyoto.  The station in Kyoto was surprisingly big. Everything about Kyoto was bigger than I imagined. I had pictured a quaint town when it is in fact a city with over a million people. 

It turns out late November is a popular time to visit Kyoto. When I was booking things months ago it was a bit of a struggle to find a place to sleep. Eventually I got a very simple guest house room through Airbnb.  Arriving at the train station there was a sign in the visitor center that simply said "no hotels available" Apparently people like to come look at the fall colors. I never thought of myself as a go see the foliage kind of guy, but in all honesty it was pretty amazing, shown in a few of the pictures below. 

At the station I found a locker for my bag and then got on another train, went just two stops to the Fushimi Inari shrine. The orange structures in the pictures are called torii gates and they go on and on. for the first few hundred yards there were dense crowds of people and lots of people taking pictures looking annoyed at all the other people getting in the way. Then as you work your way up the mountain the crowds thin, and if you keep going you find yourself all alone. And if you go further, thinking you found a different way back without just turning around you will get lost. I had a very pleasant very long walk through the woods eventually coming out in a residential neighborhood, finally stumbling across an entirely different train station. 

some of that foliage people come to see

After getting back to Kyoto Station I got on a bus to Nijo Castle. This was the Kyoto home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. I paid for the audio tour so I could tell you a lot about this place, but I won't.  Very pretty. Like a lot of places in Japan it burned down at one point, struck by lightening in the late 1700s. I noticed it was covered in lightening rods now, dozens of them, seemed like overkill. 

Gate to the castle and a woman wearing a kimono. 

Another beautiful tree

After the castle it was late enough that I could check in to my room. It was a fairly long bus ride to the north. After getting the key I walked up six floors to my room. The view from my window was amazing, so was the view from the roof.  The room itself was fairly spartan, but I've certainly stayed in far worse. 

very plain room
even less beautiful hallway
That night I went out to get dinner, found a noodle place and had a great cheap meal. then I found a conveyor belt sushi place and had a second great meal. By then I was exhausted and went to bed.

In the morning I could walk to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, just five minutes from where I was staying. It is a sort of iconic image of Kyoto. Like the palace this place also burned down. It was set on fire by a disgruntled zen monk in the 1950s, and then it was rebuilt.

The zen rock garden at ryoan-ji was something I really wanted to see. Turned out it was also close by, a 15-20 minute walk south from the Golden pavilion.  On my way I passed the noodle place and I got another bowl of udon noodles for breakfast. 

When I arrived at the temple I bought my ticket and then was approached by a student from a local college. He said they were giving free tours in english. I started explaining how I didn't really need a I just wanted to experience the place...and then he interrupted saying "ok, lets start the tour now!" So I had a tour guide, which turned out to be alright. 

The garden itself was amazing, the pictures don't do it justice. When I first saw it I thought it was smaller than I expected. But sitting on the edge it was mesmerizing. I stayed sitting quietly for around 20 minutes, which got a little awkward as my guide sat quietly next to me waiting to continue the tour. 

After finishing at ryoan-ji I said goodbye to my guide and walked to another train. It was a little two car local train, the inside was all polished wood. I rode that down to the the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Strangely when I got back to school on Monday I noticed I had been using a picture of the grove as the desktop on my computer for a long time. Crowded, but incredibly pretty.

Near the bamboo grove I got on line for a Japanese buffet lunch. The line took longer than I expected, and I noticed the menu had lots of references to different kinds of tofu. I like tofu well enough, but i was getting worried about this buffet, thinking I would end up hungry. Turns out there were noodles again, and deep fried things, and curry, so I ate enough, along with several things that were a mystery to me.

As it was getting late in the day I decided to go back to ryoan-ji.  I really had enjoyed my guide, but I also wanted to sit quietly on my own there. So I rode back on the old timey train. Paid my 500 yen a second time, and sat back at the edge of the garden. This time I spent more than an hour there. I could hear other tourists come and go behind me, some loud, some quiet. An old woman sat next to me for a lot of the time. It was just a remarkable place, peaceful, kind of mysterious. it's not at all clear why it is laid out like it is and no one knows who originally made it, but it has stood there perfectly for 700 years. I am really glad I went back.  And then as it got dark I got up and left.

Sunday morning I got up early, I needed to take a bus back to the train station, then a train to the airport in Osaka. And, the Ohio State-Michigan game had been played while I was sleeping.  I downloaded the slingbox app on my phone and started watching the recording of the game as I rode the bus, then the train, eventually seeing the win as I was n line for security at the airport.
And with that I was on my way back to Seoul on Peach airlines with the smallest amount of legroom I've ever had on a plane.

A great trip. And great to be home with my family. I feel very fortunate. 

1 comment:

  1. Well done Jim, a wonderful report of your journey. I completely resonate with your return to the garden - I would have done just that - and loved your description of spending time there, just listening, and absorbing the spirit of the place...