Adventures today started just after class. We wandered into an arcade, which was pretty cool. It sounded like a Vegas casino inside, but with crane games instead of slot machines. Except here, they’re known as UFO Catchers, not crane games…We also played the Japanese version of Guitar Hero…Taiko Drum Hero. After seeing a couple Japanese kids play, I thought it’d be a piece of cake. Definitely not the case.
After a quick lunch, we met at the hostel to go to Kiyomizodera. It was a pretty simple trip, so naturally we got lost. It turned out to work great again, however…We came across a Buddhist temple, the kind where you take off your shoes before entering. On our way out, we heard a Buddhist chant in the distance…Turned out to be a pretty cool detour.
Eventually we made it to the top, after wandering through what seemed like dozens of awesome little stores…Again I’ve found I have a lot to learn-after asking in (I think) perfect Japanese a couple if they would take our group picture, they looked at me quizzically and told me they were Chinese. Oops. The view from the top was pretty spectacular, as we were about halfway up the mountains bordering Kyoto. After taking our time through the temple, we started on our way back down…
On our way down, we had a unique experience. We got interviewed by a Japanese reported from Osaka TV. Some of his questions really made me think about the trip…Have I found anything really crazy or confusing? No. Culture shock? Not really. What is Japan to me? An adventure. Ok, well that answer was really corny, but I was put on the spot under pressure. Oh well, at least I’ll be on the Osaka TV network on October 21st at 9 PM. I’m sure I said enough stupid stuff to entertain the Japanese masses. But I guess the moral of the story is that I haven’t really experienced any sort of “cultural shock,” despite the fact that I’m a fish out of water.
Our first free day in Japan, we decided to start the day early and beat the heat. At 7 or 8 in the morning, we went down south to Fushimi Inari. That’s the place where all the Tori gates are. If you’ve seen Memoirs of a Geisha, the scene with the girls running through the gates was shot here. It was a beautiful location, right on the hillside, with all the Toris and paths climbing up the slope. The wilderness aspect was beautiful enough, but the shrines and gates just made a very picturesque view. Halfway up, my fellow hikers got tired and turned around, but I wanted to climb all the way to the top. The farther I got, the better my experience became. In the deepest part of the forest, there was nobody in sight-just me, the forest, and a whole lot of Tori gates. Definitely haven’t had this kind of silence or solitude yet in Japan. On the way down, we stopped at a little Japanese restaurant for lunch—the fact that it said “English Menu Available” had nothing to do with our decision…
After showers and dinner, it was time to flex the golden pipes….Karaoke time! It turned out to be harder than it sounds…Everything’s written in Japanese at these Karaoke bars. I still can’t figure out why we didn’t foresee this, but we eventually got to a room. However, we had no idea how much we agreed to pay for 90 minutes, or whether or not drinks were included. After struggling for another ten or so minutes with the menu, we finally set the machine to English. Party in the USA never sounded so good. On the way out, we ended up paying 1750 yen per person, or just under $20. Turned out to be less than we expected, so I guess we can call it a successful experience.
Today was my solo day. I did eat with some others ate at a Japanese-Italian pizzeria, but that only made me crave Giordano’s more. But after that, I went off on my own. The plan was to use Kyoto Tower and the river as landmarks. Otherwise, I’d wander, get lost, and find hopefully something cool. The ultimate goal was to get to the top of Kyoto Tower, which kind of looks like the Seattle Space Needle thing. I didn’t even know if it was possible, but what’s an adventure without a little mystery?
On the other side of the river, I saw a walled off nature-like area. I figure if something’s walled off, its gotta be good, so I walked around until I found an entrance. Turns out it’s the Shosei-en Garden. After a “suggested” donation of 500 yen, I wander in and see another gaijin who seemed interested in talking. Turns out that my new friend Didier was from France, and spoke darn good English. We walked around the Japanese Garden, swapping stories about our Japan experiences while marveling at the landscape. It wasn’t just landscaping, it was art. I followed my new friend to Nishi Hongwanji Temple, where was for a Jodo sect of Buddhism. The prospect of yet another temple wasn’t enthralling for me, but I was enjoying Didier’s company. Walking through, we happened to find a Buddhist ceremony, so we sat in the back and just watched. Neither of us had any idea what happened, but the melodic chanting and smell of incense just had a very relaxing effect.
Afterwards Didier and I parted ways, and I made it to Kyoto Tower. 770 yen for a ticket to the top. It was a cloudy day and 770 seemed like a hefty price, so I figured I’ll just come back to Kyoto and get the view after I’ve made my millions. Besides, I’d done enough that day, and was ready to get home. Little did I know, getting home would involve losing my bearings and wandering for three hours. Air conditioning never felt so good.
Ventured out west today, to see the monkeys and the bamboo forest. Pretty cool views, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Another slow day, trying to regain some energy for traveling. We did go to Kinkakuji, which is the Golden Temple. If you’ve seen advertisements for Kyoto, you’ve probably seen this building before. It was a beautiful photo op, with a pond with little islands in front and the mountains in back. It was definitely worth seeing, but I probably wouldn’t go again…Its nowhere near any train station, and there wasn’t too much there.