Thursday, May 19, 2005


[Associated photos at Yahoo photos - Kyoto album.]

After a week of meetings, my father's group had a few days left to see Japan before heading home. I'd seen a lot of Tokyo on my own already, but we all took a guided tour which included the boat trip on the Sumida (a couple of the pictures in the Tokyo album are from that trip). One day in Tokyo was enough for them (crazy!) so we took the bullet train to Kyoto for a couple of days. The bullet train is fantastic and as comfortable (and nearly as fast) as flying. We finally got to see Mt. Fuji (it was too hazy to see it from Tokyo) and a lot of the countryside and coast.

One of my father's Japanese colleagues convinced us to book a stay at a Japanese style hotel, called a ryoken, instead of a western hotel. It wasn't comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm so glad we did it. Japanese hostesses (not geisha!) greeted us when we arrived with tea and cookies served at a floor-seating table. When we returned from sightseeing, the tables were put away and futon mattresses were on the floor. In the morning, the ladies would wake us up for a HUGE breakfast (eggs, cooked fish, rice, soup, vegetables, and tea) down the hall while they put away the futons. It's a little unnerving having someone else come and go from your room like that, but it's part of the experience.

Our ryoken was a block off of the main pedestrian mall, Nishiki-Koji Dori, a covered but otherwise open market of every sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound you can imagine. We 'discovered' a kitchenwares shop along the street proudly displaying an enormous selection of knives and utensils, all hand-forged on the premises. Dad and I each bought a kitchen knife, which the shopkeepers then stamped our phonetic name into with a small metal punch. I thought it was just a neat souvenir, but I later found out that the store we just wandered into (Aritsugu) has been making knives for over 400 years and are some of the most respected in the world.

If you've seen Lost in Translation, you'll recognize Nanzenji from the scene where Charlotte takes her own trip to Kyoto and sees the Japanese wedding party. There's a quick flash of her looking up at the sunlight coming through a thousand perfect leaves of the maple trees- I had exactly the same experience at Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. If you only have 1 hour to spend in Kyoto, go there. It's not nearly as old as Ginkakuji (which predates Columbus' discovery) but the shining gold pavilion floating over the water is something to see before you die. Nijo Castle is beautiful and fascinating, but the floors squeek. Actually, they squeek on purpose and it's a rather pleasant squeek called the 'Nightingale Floors', designed to warn of intruders without being offensive to the inhabitants. (I tried- you can't walk on them without them squeeking.)

We didn't have train reservations for the trip back, but after almost 10 days of total immersion I walked into the train station and got us 5 tickets back to Tokyo plus the train to Narita airport. Several of the trains were already booked, so it wasn't as easy as point & grunt, and I made a big impression on my traveling companions. *brag*

Kyoto was home to the Emperors for 1000 years before the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1868. It's a thoroughly modern city now, and even if you ignore all the temples, palaces, and the castle you can still feel something of what the ancient Emperors must have loved about this place. I love it too, and it's one of my favorite cities on the planet. I will eventually have a Kyoto mailing address...


At 5:45 AM, Blogger evilsciencechick said...

mmmm...sounds lovely! don't know if I could stomach fish for breakfast, though!

beautiful pics - is that your dad in some of them?

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Mike said...

I also spent a couple nights in Kyoto (staying at Ryokan) and my impressions were very similar. The city is a remarkable combination of the very old and the modern. I'd use the word "enchanting" if I weren't such a cynic.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Esther said...

For a long time the far east was not on my list of possible travel destinations. Mostly because a lot of the travel programs just focus on the shopping that can be done there. I've definately changed my mind though. To (kinda) quote mike, it sounds and looks enchanting.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

ESC- I generally need a couple hours on my feet before I can eat anything, let alone fish. They woke us up and sat us down to eat within 15 minutes (lest it get cold, of course).

Mike- Use whatever words strike you, nobody reads this anyway. :)

3sth3r- I don't know if I'd shop for anything more than souvenirs in Japan, it's awfully expensive. The real bargains are in China (and Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines I imagine). Go to Japan for the spiritual journey, if you're so inclined.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

It makes me happy that everything somehow goes back to "Lost in Translation."

Because that's an awesome movie.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Ryokan breakfasts are BRILLIANT. I got so addicted for a while that I used to make them myself in the days when I had time in the mornings.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Brighton said...

That sounds beautiful. I could see you living that kind of life.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Aide- I can't help looking at everything in the background and not really paying attention to the actors.

Theic- I'm SO not a morning person that if I eat breakfast it actually makes me sick for the rest of the day.

Brighton- It seems so far away but I've planted a flag in the ground to shoot for. I know you'll come visit me when I get there. :)

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

"Pack my bags, Jethro. We're going to Japan."

At 3:03 AM, Blogger elizabethbriel said...

Stayed several times at a ryokan in Fukuoka, a beautiful little place, with enclosed gardens - and fish, rice, & eggs for breakfast. I just couldn't get past the silvery scales that early in the morning.
NB: if I eat breakfast, my metabolism shoots into overdrive and I'm starving a few hours later. So I just don't eat it anymore. Why can't we eat (western) breakfast for dinner even when it's not Lent? (apologies to WASPS, buddhists, and the like)
Though Japan overall isn't high on my asian travel destinations, Kyoto is. The cultural capital of any country's always worth a few days.


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