Japan Trip - Kyoto Day 1

>> Monday, May 10, 2010

We are in Kyoto! I have a LOT more pictures and stories from Tokyo, but we're on the road now, and it seems a shame not to blog about where we are and what we're doing as we do it. So here we go!

The first leg of our two-week sojourn across Kansai and Western Honshu begins here in Kyoto, in one of Japan's most famously beautiful cities--and rightfully so. Kyoto is filled with temple after temple, park after park.

In our infinite wisdom, we decided to kill two birds (travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, and one night's accommodation) with one stone: the Seishun Dream Bus! It left Tokyo's Shinjuku station at 11:10 p.m., and arrived in Kyoto the next morning at 7:30 a.m. It was a double-decker, which was unexpected, but still Japan-compact, which meant that the first floor, where we were, had a ceiling about five feet tall. Good thing none of us is claustrophobic.

Wendi went to sleep pretty quickly, as usual. (Although she's just mugging it for this shot.)

Jo came prepared with Mr. Lion. Though all of us slept, none of us slept well. We may have dreamed on the Seishun Dream Bus, but they were dreams of being sardines in a can being shaken at high speed by an industrial paint mixer. At least that's what I dreamed about. And yes, we do plan to take Shinkansen (bullet trains) for the rest of our trip, but our two week Japan Rail passes don't kick in until tomorrow, which will allow us to still use them the day we take our final train, the Narita Express, out to the airport.

A host of manga characters greeted us at Kyoto Station, as Kyoto is home to both Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Manga" who created Astro Boy (center, above) in 1952, and, consequently, the International Manga Museum.

Astro Boy even adorns the information signs outside the station.

The interior of the station is like something out of a science fiction manga. Very modern, and very BIG. That was the first difference we noticed between Kyoto and Tokyo--in Kyoto, they have room for big, open buildings. Tokyo didn't feel like it had that luxury. Our first thought: if there had been a space this big in Tokyo, it would have been packed wall to wall with people. This place was nearly empty when we arrived Saturday morning.

Right across from Kyoto Station is the Kyoto Tower. In Tokyo, this modest structure would be lost among the skyscrapers. Here, it's the dominant landmark in town, visible everywhere on the outskirts of town, as Kyoto sits in a valley like a natural bowl. Climb up and out of the city, and the tower juts up like a red and white spike.

Our first stop was our hostel, K's House, to drop off our bags. We weren't able to check in until later, but when we did, we discovered why the guidebooks rave about this place. There's a cafe downstairs, all kinds of tourism services offered at the front desk, and small floors with great public areas. (I'm sitting in one right now, using the free wireless!) Each floor has its own kitchens, nice, clean bathrooms, and sitting areas with couches, a low Japanese-style table, a Western kitchen table, bookshelves full of manga, novels, and travel guides, and a great outdoor porch with a big table, where we've eaten breakfast each day we've been here. We love K's House!

Wendi and Jo strike a typical Japanese pose in our room, which has three beds--a bunk bed and a single twin, on which I'm standing to take this pic.

Out our window: a great view of the rooftops! Kyoto houses still have very traditional roofs--again, not something you see very often in Tokyo, even in the suburbs.

The little F Mart nearby, where we buy a lot of our groceries. We like to call it the "Fmart," said all as one word. "Shop fmart, shop F Mart!" (That's a little joke for all you Evil Dead/Army of Darkness fans out there.)

The onsen (hot tub place) right across the street from K's House.

After dropping off the bags, we went out to explore and to meet a friend of the family for lunch. Here, a cheese bar called "Magical Cheese."

A street named for Jo: Gojo Dori!

See the mountains int he background? That's an ever-present sight here. Again, very different from Tokyo. The roads here are wide too, and not jam packed!

A Godzilla-scale crab climbing up the side of a building.

The wide shopping thoroughfare of Karasuma Dori.

A covered commercial side street.

Hidden among the shopping malls and fast food joints are temples--lots and lots of temples. Sometimes they are little holes in the wall.

This one was barely big enough for me to get an angle to shoot it.

I liked the name of this place. Not sure what they do, but they have a "reservation priority system." Hmph. Snobs.

A pretty bird finial on a railing--perhaps to keep real birds off?

A peacock on a department store.

This building's exterior was all natural wood.

Another tiny temple. Or shrine. We can never tell which is which. Shinto buildings are shrines. Buddhist buildings are temples. But often a space will have both, which makes things even more confusing.

Our ultimate destination this morning was Rokkakudo, a temple (shrine?) with six sides, hence its name, which includes "roku," the Japanese word for six. We were there to meet a friend of my aunt Becky for lunch, and we arrived in time to poke around. It was beautiful!

Stickers and signs on a post at the entrance.

White paper tied to a tree. We asked about this once, and learned they are bad fortunes left here so they can be shed by the receiver.

Jo always loves the little fellows with clothes on. It's a tradition in Japan that these guys always be taken care of. There's a story about a boy who was headed home one day when he noticed one of the statues in a local shrine (temple?) had no clothes, so he left it his hat. From that point on, he had great fortune in life. What comes around goes around!

We've seen little collections of statues before, but never this many in one place, and of so many kinds.

One of our favorites.

More well-dressed folks, with specially knitted hats.

A smaller shrine on the same premises, complete with swans.

A series of buddhas. At least we think they're buddhas. It's not like there are English signs on any of these things.

Jo also enjoys the purification pools. This one had an intriguing dragon head.

Prayer sheets and paper cranes, tied to a board.

The temple (shrine?) itself.

Another quiet corner.

The top of the shrine (temple?) among the surrounding high rises.

We met our party, and we were off to Ume-no-Hana, a posh tofu restaurant. Wendi and Jo enjoyed their meal. I...well, I enjoyed the company. :-) Left to right, Hiroko, my aunt's friend and our host, Georgia, a woman from Washington State whose husband is in Japan to consult on matter of American football for the Asahi beer company's corporate team (I kid you not!), and me, Wendi, and Jo. Taking the picture is one of Hiroko's sons.

The meal really was amazing: course after course after course. Only afterward did we realize we should have taken pictures. The presentation of each dish was immaculate, with intricate little dishes for each.

Jo, posing in the restaurant's atmospheric hallway.

After our meal, it was back out on the streets for us. This was a stylish, stylized geisha statue, honoring Kyoto's most famous citizens.

Another temple, hidden in a shopping promenade.

A groovy statue.

Another covered shopping area, this one adorned with carp flags. March 5th was Children's Day, which is celebrated, in part, by flying carp-shaped flags. The flags are still up all over the country.

Wendi and Jo pose in one of those cheesy picture boards, in front of a tiny temple (shrine?) off one of the shopping arcades.

Right behind the kitsch, not surprisingly, was a quiet, beautiful cemetery. We particularly loved how the apartment buildings were right up against this one. While we saw evidence of this kind of thing elsewhere (like in Kichijoji, in Tokyo), scenes like this seem to typify the Kyoto experience. Ancient beauty and quietude, surrounded by the modern world.

Later that day we went down to Pontocho, one of the few remaining geisha districts, where we saw some honest-to-goodness geisha heading to their tea room appointments! Pontocho deserves its own post though, and it's past late here, so I'm off to my K's House bunk bed. More pics when I can post them!


Michael Kline May 10, 2010 at 1:29 PM  

WOW! Great times! I'm exhausted just reading and following in my head your day. Or was it several???

We miss you guys and look forward to more virtual day tripping!

tanita davis May 10, 2010 at 1:39 PM  

Oh, I like Kyoto so far best of all. Those little dudes with clothing are far too cute. I'd be knitting something just to leave it behind.

Also: the epically sized crab is awesome. There's a lobster that size on a building in Portland...

You know you loved that tofu. Just admit it, Alan.

Alan Gratz May 10, 2010 at 8:57 PM  

This is all from just one day--and we did more that night! I'll post those pics soon.

Today we're off to a shrine south of town with loads of torii (gates).

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