Posts Tagged kyoto

June 20, 2006 – The hungover guide to Kyoto

I woke up around 9:30 with an evil EVIL hangover after seriously overindulging last night. In Canada this wouldn’t be a problem, but Japanese hotel checkout times are notoriously early; we had to be out of our room at 10:00am. Thanks to traveling light and a bit of luck, both Super Dave and I managed to get ourselves together and checked out on time. We ventured out into the bright, noisy, spinning center of Osaka.

The subway ride to Osaka station was extremely unpleasant, and I asked Super Dave for a few minutes to sit down and rehydrate before we continued on to Kyoto. I was actually starting to worry that I wouldn’t survive our day of sightseeing, but after a lot of water and fresh air, we braved the hour long train ride to Kyoto.

Our first stop in Kyoto was Ryoan-ji, which is home to a large zen rock garden. A quiet place of reflection was a great idea given the state of my brain. My only problem was looking at the rocks, which started moving around in my vision making me feel dizzy. Hungover or not, Ryoan-ji is a very peaceful place and highly recommended.

We also went to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion. This was a first visit for Super Dave and a second visit for me.

You could literally throw darts at a tourist map of Kyoto and come up with a fantastic place to visit – there are no wrong choices. We did discover one problem: there were a severe lack of accessible bank machines. Carrying cash is a must in Japan, so it’s confusing why we had no luck finding bank machines in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia.

By late afternoon we were both feeling like humans again. Before we took the shinkansen back towards Shizuoka we stopped by a large import store in Kyoto station. They carried such luxuries as spicy salsa, instant oatmeal, and root beer. By the time we left the store, I was overburdened with import goods and my shopping from Osaka, which included a bilingual English / Japanese version of Monopoly that I couldn’t resist buying.

When traveling in Japan, I don’t recommend getting so hungover that you wish for death. But if you do, make sure that you have minimal travel the next day, and head for a nice quiet outdoor temple or zen garden.

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March 30, 2006 part 1 – Kiyomizu Dera with my parents

In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and found ourselves in the lobby with several youth baseball teams from Australia. I didn’t know that anyone even played baseball in Australia! After a brief chat with the Aussies, we set out for Kyoto.

My parents had visited Kyoto in 2004 on their first trip to Japan, but we were only there for a day which is nowhere near long enough to see all of the interesting things in Kyoto. Our plan was to hit two or three of the popular places that we hadn’t seen the first time and then return to Numazu in the evening. Unfortunately the crappy weather had other plans for us. It was cold, windy, and damp when we arrived. We decided to visit Kiyomizu Dera, one of the places that my students had been continuously recommending, and then see what else the weather would allow.

Side view of Kiyomizu Dera

Side view of Kiyomizu Dera

Kiyomizu Dera is a breathtaking temple built on the side of a hill in Kyoto. The current buildings date back to 1668, and not a single nail was used in construction. The temple is built around a waterfall which provides for some amazing pictures. I’d like to come back when all of the trees are green and flowers are blooming.

Kyoto Kiyomizu 2

One of the interesting things at the temple is two “love stones” which are 18 meters apart. If a single person walks with their eyes closed from one stone to the other, they are supposed to find love. Couples can also try this to test their relationship. It was cute to see my parents, married for 33 years, attempting this. My dad closed his eyes and my mom calmly gave him directions so he could safely reach the other stone while navigating the crowds. Their teamwork paid off, and he successfully reached the other stone without opening his eyes. My parents have been together 33 years but they actually still like each other!

After a long visit to the temple and taking endless pictures, we returned to Kyoto station for lunch and to kill some time waiting for the weather to change. Instead of getting better, it started snowing so we decided that one temple was going to be our limit for the day. We did enjoy exploring the massive Kyoto station complex, and found a cool import food store. I happily bought root beer and Quaker instant oatmeal, neither of which I had seen anywhere else.

It was unfortunate that our day was cut short, but we still enjoyed our time in Kyoto, and would recommend Kiyomizu Dera highly to anyone visiting the city.

(Author’s note) My original plan was to repost my experiences exactly 10 years after they occurred. However, real life got in the way this year, and I am finishing the rewritten post in August 2016. I am happy to report that a few days ago, my parents just celebrated their 44th anniversary! Maybe there is something to those love stones after all 🙂

Kyoto Kiyomizu 3

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July 3, 2004 pt3 – Kaiten zushi

Not my picture – thanks Wikipedia!

After a long day of sightseeing in Kyoto, my family and I were back near our hotel and hungry. By this point in the trip, my mom and sister wanted a break from Japanese food. They saw a McDonalds in Kyoto station and were determined to get some familiar food. My dad reminded them that they could eat McDonalds in Canada, but they didn’t care. To compromise, my father and I dropped off my mother and sister at the golden arches and then set out to find some Japanese food.

There are way too many restaurants in and around Kyoto station. After looking around for a while, we settled on a small small kaiten zushi restaurant. Kaiten zushi (the s in sushi becomes a “z” after kaiten) restaurants have a conveyor belt that moves plates of sushi through the restaurant. Smaller restaurants will have the chefs in the middle with sushi moving around them. Larger restaurants will have huge conveyors that wind their way through the restaurant.

Our restaurant was relatively small, so we sat at the counter. We ordered beer, and were amused to find that our glasses were filled by an automatic beer pouring machine. The machine tilted the glass at an angle, and the spout moved along the inside of the glass to reduce the head. Near the top, the machine returned the glass to an upright position and added a tiny bit of foam to the top. The machine created a perfect pour every time, and was a lot of fun to watch.

We had a few sips from our perfectly poured beers and then turned our attention to the conveyor belt and the tiny plates of sushi going by. Like other kaiten zushi restaurants, the plates were colour coded by price.  My dad seemed confused, so I told him to just grab anything that looked good as it was going by. The problem was that he wasn’t very familiar with sushi, and didn’t know what was good. I selected a few pieces of the least threatening sushi as they passed our section of the counter. After a enjoying the first few pieces, he started to make his own selections, trying some familiar fish and some more adventurous choices. Several plates and another beer later, we were both pleasantly stuffed.

After dinner we took a walk around the station building and surrounding area. Unlike major train stations in Tokyo, there wasn’t a lot going on around Kyoto station. We passed a number of small izakayas, and thanks to the window models I was able to instruct my dad on the difference between jocky (a regular size glass of beer), daijocky (a big glass of beer), and the rare but impressive super jocky (a really big glass of beer).

Near the station we walked by a pachinko parlour. Like many foreigners, my dad was confused by the concept. I explained that gambling for money was illegal, but you could win a small prize and then sell it for cash at the nearby prize exchange. He sounded skeptical until we walked by the prize exchange window.

When we had our fill of exploring, we returned to the hotel to find my mother and sister were happy with their McDonalds dinner, and that they had also done some minor exploring in the stores around the station. I am sure they had fun, but I really enjoyed the beer and sushi with my dad. When I was growing up, my dad was always interested in taking me to new places and teaching me new things. It was great to get the opportunity to return the favour.

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July 3, 2004 pt2 – Pulling rank

Other than the amazing sightseeing, my personal highlight from my day exploring Kyoto with my family occurred as we were ready to leave Kinkakuji. It involves a conversation between an American soldier and my sister.

There are about 50,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan. This is due to a treaty signed with Japan at the end of World War 2. The United States has pledged to defend Japan in cooperation with the Japanese Self Defense Force. Due to the large numbers of servicemen, it’s not uncommon to encounter them especially in popular tourist areas.

There were a small group of American soldiers in civilian clothes doing some sightseeing. While we were taking a short break before returning to the hotel, one of the soldiers started chatting up my sister. She seemed to enjoy the attention of the nice looking young man.

At some point my dad walked over, which forced my sister to awkwardly introduce him. The young man shook my dad’s hand politely. Then my sister mentioned that my dad was a retired Captain in the Canadian Forces. Instantly the young American snapped to attention, standing straight and tall. My dad tried to engage him in some small talk, and the soldier started responding with “yes sir” and “no sir”. He seemed to be intimidated by my very non threatening father. My sister was not amused at all.

Shortly after the soldier excused himself to rejoin his friends. My sister was annoyed, my dad didn’t understand why, and I stood off to the side laughing. Good times!

(2014 Update) My dad could have been a Major, but turned down a promotion so we didn’t have to move while I was in the middle of high school and my sister was in the middle of junior high school. If the young American soldier reacted so strongly to a Captain, I would have loved to see his reaction to a Major!

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July 3, 2004 pt1 – Wabi sabi – Kyoto style

Me at Kinkakuji. Please note the Winnipeg Jets hat and the University of Manitoba shirt.

Me at Kinkakuji. Please note the Winnipeg Jets hat and the University of Manitoba shirt.

My family and I spent the day exploring parts of Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan until 1868. Kyoto is home to some of the oldest and most famous historical buildings in Japan, making it a very popular destination for tourists. All of the main tourist areas offer service and signs in multiple languages. Getting around is easy, with a small subway system and very well labelled buses. Tourist maps are available showing the location of all of the major tourist sites.

On our day in Kyoto, we went to three places: Nijo Castle, Daitokuji and Kinkakuji.

Nijo Castle in central Kyoto was our first destination. I love castles, so I made it a point to get Nijo on our itinerary for the day. Nijo is not the typical giant stone building that looks out over the land. It is a series of one story structures connected together, surrounded by beautiful grounds and a moat. My favourite feature of the castle was the nightingale floors – floors designed to squeak at the slightest touch. These floors were installed as a security feature so you could hear people coming.

From Nijo Castle, we went to north Kyoto to see Daitokuji – a large temple complex with several sub temples. I can’t remember the names of the places we went within the Daitokuji complex, but we did see a traditional zen garden with combed rocks. It was very relaxing.

Our main event of the day was Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion. Kinkakuji is by far the most popular tourist spot in Kyoto for foreign visitors. It is a Buddhist temple on a lake covered in gold leaf. The golden shine is striking, and easily visible from a distance. The original temple was founded in 1397, after being converted from a wealthy businessman’s villa. It was destroyed in the mid 1400s during the Onin war and rebuilt. In 1950, the temple was burned to the ground by a mentally ill monk. The current structure dates from 1955.

While foreign visitors love Kinkakuji, most Japanese people prefer the similarly named Ginkakuji, the silver pavilion. The name is deceptive – the original plan was to cover the structure with silver foil similar to the gold foil covering on Kinkakuji, but the covering was never finished. The difference in preference between the two temples illustrates the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”, which is a concept nearly impossible to translate fully into English. The best explanation of wabi-sabi that I ever heard was from The Penpal: a new stone carving is beautiful, but Japanese people think it’s more beautiful if it has been exposed to the elements for years and has some cracks.

It’s interesting to me that a country that strives for perfection in nearly everything also values the beauty in imperfections. I have learned a lot about Japan and it’s culture, but I don’t think I can ever truly understand everything. I can appreciate a peaceful rock garden however; they are the best.

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July 2, 2004 pt3 – Where is the f**king hotel?

Kyoto station

My family and I started July 2 in Kawasaki, then traveled to Hiroshima and visited the Peace Memorial Park. The third and final stage of our long day of travel was returning to Kyoto and checking into a hotel.

From Hiroshima we took the shinkansen to Kyoto station. Yesterday I made an online reservation at the Dai-Ni Tower Hotel in Kyoto, which was described as “just in front of JR Kyoto station”. The only problem was that Kyoto station is HUGE. The station itself is Japan’s second largest station building. In addition to having train service on JR, private train companies, and Kyoto subway, the station also features a shopping mall, movie theatre, and government services. If you need to do anything other than sightseeing in Kyoto, chances are good that you can find it at Kyoto station.

We got off the train with our bags, and then tried to find an area map. The station was so huge that the map was not helpful at all. I decided it was time to test out my Japanese ability and ask for directions. I found a nearby station information booth, approached it and asked the friendly attendant how to find the Dai-Ni Tower hotel.

Asking “where is blabla” is one of the first things people learn in a new language. In Japanese, it is very simple: “blabla wa doko desu ka?”, where blabla is the person, place, or thing you wish to know the location of. The difficult part is understanding the answer.

The helpful attendant looked relieved that I could speak some Japanese, and then proceeded to give me 5 minutes of detailed instructions at high speed. I got him to repeat the instructions, and tried to follow along with language and hand gestures. The directions were as follows:

  1. Walk to the end of the station
  2. Turn left
  3. Walk half way through a bunch of restaurants and stores
  4. Turn left
  5. Walk half way down another long hallway
  6. Go down some stairs
  7. Walk underground for a while, taking a slight right
  8. Go up some stairs
  9. ????
  10. There’s the hotel

We did pretty well following the instructions until the last part. We left the underground area at the wrong exit, and ended up at the back of Kyoto station with no Dai-Ni Tower hotel in sight. After unsuccessfully trying to find an area map, I got my family to wait nearby with the luggage while I tried to find someone else to get directions from. After a search, I ended up learning that the hotel was very close to where my family was sitting.

I returned to find my sister in a hilarious conversation with some drunk businessmen. They were trying (very poorly) to flirt with her in English by talking about how her gaijin nose was so nice and their Japanese noses were very flat. She declined an offer to go for a drink, and we were on our way.

At the hotel we learned that the online reservation didn’t work, but the hotel quickly found us rooms at the online rate using excellent English. We got our room keys and rode a tiny elevator up to our rooms.

I can’t speak for people from other parts of the world, but North Americans are always shocked by the size of Japanese hotel rooms. My parents had their own room, and my sister and I shared a room. If we could have knocked out the wall between the two rooms it would have been about the size of a typical Canadian hotel room. It was small, but at least we found the f**king hotel.

(2014 Update) Despite our difficulty in finding it, I would recommend the Dai-Ni Tower Hotel. It is located close to the station, is clean, quiet, and reasonably priced. Look it up on your favourite map website first, or make good use of any mobile device with GPS. Also, travel light: the only thing less fun than being lost is being lost while transporting large bags. Travel light!

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