Wednesday, 28 March 2007
Slept well last night. The skyline was very cloudy and foggy, so we figured it would be another chilly day. For breakfast we went to Mister Donut and people watched at the main Kyoto Station entryway. Hoyt needed a jacket so the lady directed us to Avanti. However, it had warmed up enough by the time we left that Hoyt didn’t really need a jacket. To get to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, we decided to take the train halfway, so we returned to the hotel room to grab our Kansai Area Pass vouchers. It took some time to get our actual passes, but we only have to show them to the gate guard to get through. To get closer to the temple, we rode the Sanjo-in line up to Emmachi station. The train itself was orange and green. A station before our stop a British family boarded as well. I found them amusing. It was lunch time when we got off, so we pulled into the nearest grocery store. Hoyt grabbed some sushi and I some small rice balls. It turned into a very nice day, but a lot of walking. The road seemed to go on forever. Sidewalks are split using white brick to separate out a lane for cyclists. Because traffic patterns are reversed, so are the walking patterns. People walk on the left side with cyclists close to the road. We finally happened upon a temple where we could sit to eat. With such compact spaces, we didn’t see many garbage cans or suitable places to just sit. The sidewalks are very clean despite there not being any receptacles. We eventually made it to the Golden Pavilion after almost two miles. It is set at the base of the mountains with a starfish shaped monument towering over it. We paid 400 yen each to enter; the ground was covered with moss and cherry blossoms not quite in bloom. The Pavilion was not far with a lake and lake path. Koi were abundant. After spending some time looking at the gold building we took a trail up part of the mountain. Men were sweeping the dirt, I image to keep the ground clean? Probably for the moss, but I still found it a little funny. At the top of the trail was a shrine and gift shop with many people. We continued down the stairs and purchased some soft-serve green tea ice cream before heading towards the Imperial Palace. The Palace gardens took us over two and a half miles to reach, after the gated areas closed for the day. The open gardens have wide gravel pathways that Japanese seem to take their pets for good walks. We saw some of our first blooming cherry trees so took many pictures like the rest of the people. We walked through to the south side and turned east for the Handicraft Center about three quarters a mile away. We were both decently sore by this time, but I still wanted to shop. I had only purchased a small ornament as is now tradition while at the Golden Pavilion. Hoyt ended up spending a lot of money instead. He bought himself a kimono for forty two hundred yen, and a scroll with art for about seventy five hundred yen. He won a set of chopsticks as we left – they gave me a postcard. We were both hungry and sore as we walked half a mile south to a local commuter rail station. Overall, we walked about eight miles. Hoyt chose the first restaurant we saw at the Kyoto station. I had a pilaf with plum that tasted good, and Hoyt ordered spaghetti – not tomato based though. Unfortunately many people were smoking in this small restaurant which did not improve my state at all. When we finally made it back to the room we took our shoes off as fast as we could. I drew up a bath – the tubs are quite deep here – and we just soaked for a while. I passed out very shortly thereafter.
Saturday, 31 March 2007
I was startled awake this morning by the sound of someone rustling at the door with the newspaper. We got a call from Rie who confirmed the hotel costs were greater than she told us, which was upsetting but expected. The front desk gave us directions to the Yachiyo ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Hoyt opted to walk, so off we went! The sky was overcast, but a little warmer when the wind let up at times. We walked around Maruyama Park on our way – it looks very nice. I am excited to explore the Gion district after walking by some shops near the area. We passed by Chion-in temple before coming to Sanjo dori. At the T intersection we saw the widest rail tracks either of us had seen. The Yachiyo was right beside this, so we left our bags with a kind man at the entry then went in search of the Path of Philosophy. We overshot the first time and ended up at Nanzenji temple. Here there is a massive brick aqueduct we walked along until we found the main pumps. The water taps Lake Biwa and supplies the city of Kyoto. As we walked around, we saw the other half of the very wide rail track. Apparently, small boats were loaded from one canal, carried down the hill, and released in another canal. We walked the tracks down to the bottom of the hill then looked at the canal museum briefly. Back to searching for the path, it was right at Nanzenji temple entrance. It was filled with many people, so hard to miss… I was getting anxious to buy something (the past few days really), so I made a few stops at shops. Hoyt has been tremendously patient with me wanting to look at things and being in constant pain; I wish I was in better shape for all this carrying and walking. We aren’t too sure why it is called the philosopher’s path though, but we did pass by a few temples. We managed to walk the entire path with several pictures taken. Hoyt really wanted to try ramen at this point as well, so we found (after looking the entire path) a shop that served soba and udon noodles. We both ordered soba with green tea. The waitress dropped one glass that splattered all over Hoyt and startled me. She apologized a great deal, but we weren’t upset. Hoyt had thankfully put his leather cap over the camera as it only got some tea on the lens. We put it back in the case after that. The noodles were sadly bland; from the hype in anime I was hoping for more. Maybe we didn’t get the right dish. A bit rested, we took the direct route back to the Yachiyo. Total miles walked were about two and a half to the Yachiyo, a mile around the canals, two miles along the Path of Philosophy, and a mile and a half back for at least seven miles total. Our luggage was already in our room when we returned. We took our shoes off at the entrance, put on some slippers, and took care of administrative work. A lady in a kimono gave us a quick tour of the facilities, primarily where the public baths (separated by gender) were and how to make tea in our room. The room itself has an entryway where we remove our slippers and have access to a private bathroom. Through another door is the living space that was currently set up with a low table and two floor chairs in the center of the tatami floor. The lady served us some tea; I mistook the sugar cube for a cookie (in my defense, she called it a sugar cookie) that was quite tasty – very sweet. So I ate Hoyt’s too. We wrote several postcards and Hoyt took a bath in the public facilities. I felt too conscious of myself to do that, so I stayed behind with the t.v. and tried to nap (the beds were not made yet). Hoyt is so wonderful, he even went out and bought us some ice cream. It lifted my spirits slightly, I felt very sore. We were both wanting to lie down, so we asked a lady who then sent up some men to put them together. They moved the table over and set up two separate beds – traditional Japanese beds. Hoyt was opposed, but when we got under the comforter (the sheet was very interestingly wrapped around it, like an inverted fitted sheet,), I was so warm I couldn’t get very close to Hoyt at all. We talked for a while before zonking out. I found the bed to be comfortable for my sore back. Hoyt thought otherwise.
Sunday, 1 April 2007
I was really warm when waking up in the Japanese bed this morning. I thought it was pretty comfortable. I worked up the courage to try the public bath with Hoyt – in separate baths of course. Luckily, no one else was there when I arrived, so I went in. Showers with little stools on one side, and a steaming hot shallow (maybe two or two and a half feet) water to the right. I just wanted a rinse so I stepped into the bath and just scooped some water on myself. After ten minutes, someone entered the powder room (they were separated by a sliding screen door), so I grabbed my towel and hurried into my kimono and back to the room. Breakfast was very Japanese. We weren’t too sure what we ate, and I did not eat much of it. We took the subway from Keage station to Kyoto station, dropped our luggage off at the El Inn, and started walking south to Fushimi Inari temple. We picked up some pastries to make up for the weird breakfast we had, so I felt pretty full for most of the day. It began to sprinkle at the temple. We missed most of the flower arrangement ceremony, but did see the end. Behind the main temple were paths covered with torii gates and clusters of shrines. We followed a path partially up the mountain before turning back down. The trees shielded us from the rain, and we could smell cedar and incense in the air. After roaming the woods, we took the train up to Gojo in search of the Gion district. We got a little lost but stumbled upon a maiko makeover establishment. I was very shy about the whole thing. It was the first time I did something really without Hoyt. He went for lunch while they took me in back. They gave me a shift and toe socks to put over my undergarments. I left my clothes in a locker and climbed the stairs to the makeup area. Two others were nearly finished when I sat down. She pulled a net up to my ears, then it expanded to hold all my hair that was then clipped to my head. She rubbed my skin down and powdered it before applying the white with a wide brush with short hairs. This covered everything except my ears. She then redrew my eyebrows using red and black. This took the longest. Next was the bright red lips. It was also a “paint” of sorts applied with a very thin brush with almost an inch long tip. Back to the eyes, pink blush was added to the eyelids after red lines were drawn around the eye rims. Pink blush was also added to my forehead and cheeks. Last was black eyeliner on my lashes (or whatever that stuff is called, I know nothing about makeup). She sent me into the next room where I was to pick out a kimono. I found this particularly difficult because I was uncertain what color would work for me. I alight blue, deep dark blue, light green, or bright red. I chose the bright red to balance my new deep red lips, and because it was a strong color. I kind of wish I chose green, so my eyes didn’t get lost. Dressing took many layers. Long hard shoulder straps were the base of the neckline. Another red shift was added, tied up to my chest area. A plate was tied around my midsection at some point – either right before the kimono or right after – to help shape the obi (sash). I only had two color choices, green or blue, so I chose the more subdued green and gold. A bit like Christmas I suppose. With the kimono on, I ascended another set of narrow stairs to get a wig. It was slightly heavy, but much easier than getting my own done. I think hair is typically done at the beginning of the process. Hoyt was allowed up then. A professional photographer took two pictures of me, then we were sent to a room where the other two maiko/geisha were taking pictures of themselves. We took a few as well, then Hoyt was sent back downstairs as I was taken apart down to the shift. The most difficult part of the process was removing the makeup. I spent a great deal of time rubbing it off with tissues and wet napkins, an assistant helping with my back. All the sinks were in use, but I got on near the end. Not all the makeup came off, but enough to not be noticeable. I changed quickly and braided my hair. The professional pictures will arrive in the mail, I am curious to see them. I wish Hoyt could have dressed in a samurai outfit, but we only had enough yen for a maiko makeover (6500 yen, the geisha makeover was 8700 yen). It was a great experience, but I did feel shy and out of place. Afterwards we found the Kenninji temple in the Gion area, then Shijo-dori. Shijo is lined with shops and stuffed with people. Hoyt let me peruse some shops this time. I did so briskly – we didn’t have any money. Then we saw Miyako Odori with many lanterns and a larger pink sign. This road looked to us like Gion. The road was brick and was more people than vehicle. The buildings were from another time, built primarily with wood and not concrete or steel. I overheard someone explaining to a friend in English that the name on the sconce was the geisha who lived there. So I believe many of the buildings we passed in this area were okiyas. Tea ceremonies were available, and near the south end of the street was the theatre. We couldn’t attend either of the whole long mix of traditional Japanese culture or the cherry dance, but we made note of the times for later. We returned to the El Inn with the last of our money. The receptionist would not accept travelers’ checks, which put us in a bind for paying our room and dinner. When Hoyt went back to ask a question, they found the Nippon Travel Agency could still exchange (banks are closed on Sundays, of course), so we exchanged a thousand dollars then stuffed ourselves at the Skylark, the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. We had steak and salad (we split this), then had two separate desserts – Hoyt’s had gelatin cubes, ice cream, a sweet pastry, some strawberries, and molasses on the side; mine had ice cream and sweet whipping wrapped in angel food-like bread with lots of fruit around it. So yummy! Stuffed, we made our way back to the room after paying the sixty thousand yen for it, and watched Under the Tuscan Sun before falling asleep.
Monday, 2 April 2007
I slept terribly on the hard bed and rock hard pillow last night. The pillow is filled on one side with some sort of pointy bean of sorts, that didn’t help. Have to remember to close the windows too; we face an office building that is very active. The hotel isn’t bad, especially for the price, but I admit I was expecting more for its grand reopening. Ah well. Today we decided to go to the steam locomotive museum. We stopped by the Boulangerie at Kyoto Station for a good breakfast. We did laundry (okay, Hoyt took care of most of it), then went back to the station to pick up rice balls for lunch. We walked quite a bit alongside the tracks when we reached the park next to the museum. It was not very far, but we were both a bit sluggish. Quite a few flowers blooming in the park and many people enjoying the warmer weather and colorful views. We ate most of the church before reaching the museum. It had a small information area with a few videos, some model trains, and some demos of the coal shoveling and cab. Outside was a large circular storage shed with several steam locomotives. I tried to stay mostly in the warm sun though. The way they were stored seemed very efficient with a turntable at the center to let any of them out. The engines were well kept and clean; we even saw the emperor’s train that was designed to have the smoothest possible ride. A live steam train was available to ride a short distance, but Hoyt has already ridden many steam locomotives before and decided not to go. The place was filled with children – it seems to be popular for that age. We finished our rice balls in a dining car and made our way back through the park. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. We made a short stop at The Cube’s book area and purchased Memoirs of a Geisha. We both felt tired, so back at the hotel we began reading the book to each other and caught up on e-mail. Hoyt dropped off our postcards at the front desk and bought a small dinner at a convenience store. We fell asleep after a bit more reading from Memoirs of a Geisha and a bath.
Tuesday, 3 April 2007
Today the sun peaked over the city early, making it look pleasant outside. I dressed in my skirt and sandals then my suede jacket to fend off the morning chill. That chill never went away though. We took a side road instead of going through Kyoto station. We found a small eatery for breakfast and ate something similar to spaghetti. Sanju-sangendo, the temple with a thousand and one kannons was just a few blocks away. The wind blew from the north and was very strong; I was shivering when we entered the temple complex. We paid five hundred yen each. Around the main building pictures were okay, but no photography was allowed inside. I was so cold we hastened to enter the temple. Shoes were removed, our heat sucked through our feet into the in-exhaustibly cold floor. In front of the fading kannons were twenty right figures, a complete set of gods or demons that all had interesting stories provided in English. Halfway down the long hall – this was the longest wooden building in Japan – sat a large Buddha not so large as Todaiji’s through). A monk or llama stood in front speaking to a group of people sitting around him. He looked happy and learned; I wish I knew what sound advice he gave. By the end of the hall and the thousandth and one kannon, my feet were numb with cold. A hall behind the larger hall held memorabilia of the temple’s history that I quickly passed in search of heat. I did see it was built on an alternating foundation between sand and clay for earthquakes, which I found very clever. I found a spot of sun and waited there a long while for Hoyt to emerge. We purchased a charm from the small shop and headed for Kiyomizu. Unfortunately, as soon as we stepped outside the walled temple my shivering would not cease. Luckily, the Kyoto National Museum was just across the street. We paid the five hundred yen a piece entrance fee and quickly made our way to the heated building. Inside was a small collection of ceramics and scrolls we briefly browsed as we thawed. Hoyt was also chilled; he left behind his jacket this day. He found an overstuffed chair in the sun while I perused the gift shop. I found a cherry blossom dangly that Hoyt agreed we should purchase. I quickly added it to t he camera case next to the marriage charm purchased at Sanju-sangendo. Outside warmed up just a little, so we continued on to Kiyomizu. I was really excited; Kiyomizu is a candidate to become one of the new seven wonders of the world. We took what we later found out was more of a back road and walked past an expansive graveyard that rolled with the mountain. We ate dumplings in sweet sauce at the north end of the graveyard and south end of Kiyomizu. It was beautiful and had a terrific view. We saw a maiko – she was treated like a celebrity by all – who was very pretty. Farther up we saw two young maikos in training, still learning how to walk in the large wooden shoes. There was an entrance fee to enter the actual Kiyomizu temple, so Hoyt decided we should go to Nijo-jo before it closed. It was quarter to two, and Jamie had warned me that it closes its gates at four. As we made our way down the steep hill, we heard them announce the cherry festival would begin at two. I was really torn. I wanted to see the cherry festival and go inside Kiyomizu, but I also did want to see Nijo-jo. Hoyt seemed more interested in the castle, so we continued to the main road and caught a taxi. Nijo-jo also had an entrance fee we paid. I moat ran all around it with trees growing atop the walls. We went to the shogun’s castle first for it closed before the grounds did. We again removed our shoes, walking barefoot across the polished (with age and use) squeaky (intentionally, to sound like a nightingale) floorboards. The rooms were very similar and square with varying painted scenes on the walls. Afterwards we walked the gardens and came to the inner moat that surrounded a second castle inside Nijo-jo. This was only open on special occasions, so we just walked around the gardens and up the wall. We came to a tea place along the path that turned out not to be what the signs read, a tea ceremony, but instead was just tea and a tea cake at six hundred yen a person. We agreed it was a rip off, but the tea cake was good, we sat in a traditional open tea area, and Hoyt go to take his shoes off again. We caught a train at Nijo station across the street back to Kyoto station. Hoyt wanted to try a shabu shabu meal (you cook everything yourself in a pot then drink the broth last), so we shopped a bit to get closer to dinnertime. I found my leg covers at The Cube, which made me very excited, then we went up to the eighth floor of Isetan in search of a photo album. We didn’t find quite what I hoped for (I would have loved something bamboo with cherry blossoms on it…), but it was Japanese with cherry blossoms. We grabbed some cute little stamps to use as well. All the way to basement level to find the restaurant, the kind man told us a shabu shabu restaurant could be found on the tenth floor of Isetan. So back up the escalator we went. Another nice man left his restaurant and walked us all the way to it, where we discovered the prices were insane. We ate at a pasta restaurant instead, the Ante Room, where both our orders were wrong but tasted okay. On the way back down we stopped at the ninth floor to buy Michelle a birthday gift. After that we were both wiped and sore, so we went back to the hotel and bed shortly after.
Wednesday, 4 April 2007
I woke up feeling good, but things went downhill quickly. We went to exchange our second set of Kansai Area Passes, but I grabbed the wrong set. I was already annoyed that someone cut in line ahead of us. With the right passes, we returned and got the JR Pass. The currency exchange then wouldn’t open until 10, so we putzed around until then. I turned in three hundred dollars, then we went to the train. We had a twenty minute wait for the next local on the Sagano line, so we waited around some more. We finally made it to the Arashiyama station to see the romantic train just leaving. The weather was blustery, raining cold and windy, but I was in the mood for ice cream. Hoyt turned down the idea, so with the hour we had before the next train, we tried to see the bamboo forest. My ears hurt so much from the wind, Hoyt was not too happy with me. The temple had an entrance fee with no sign of the bamboo forest, so we turned back to the station to catch the romantic train. The name is misleading because thought it had great scenery, it was packed and bustling. Everyone looked to be having fun though, so it’s all good. At Hozuko, the other end of the route, we walked a bit to Kameoka to take the JR back to Arashiyama. We boarded the wrong train though that zipped right past our stop causing insane ear pressures as we flew through the tunnels all the way back to Nijo station. Here we just missed the local back to Arashiyama, and I had a big breakdown. It was nearly an hour until the next train came; Hoyt was trying to cheer me up but I just couldn’t stop thinking all I wanted was to see the bamboo forest. I was cold, sore, and depressed, and I couldn’t decide if it was worth going all the way back into the wind and rain. We did. Hoyt had nearly had enough of me back at the temple, but then I saw a sign with trees on it that made me feel better. The path led us to the river, when we climbed large stone steps up to an observatory. With every step I felt better, and then we finally found ourselves standing right next to it – the bamboo forest. We could only walk on a stone road, the forest itself was fenced off, but it was really lovely. I was able to touch live bamboo. We can do just about anything with it – build a house, make clothes, eat it… I like bamboo. On our way back we stopped for ice cream. It was soft serve with four different flavors; from bottom to top we start with vanilla, the green tea, brown tea, and sakura. I had never had three different tea ice creams let alone four different flavors on one cone before. We rode back to Kyoto station, bought a small bento meal and some rice balls, then returned to the hotel. We watched Bruce Almighty while we ate, then later went to bed.