Okay, when I last posted I was talking about Shin taking us out and showing us around Kyoto. A good time was had by all. Now I have to re-write all the post that I lost! Hooray for crappy Internet connections!
Just to add to that last post a little bit. One of the cool things that happened that night was that as we were leaving the restaurant Shin asked one of the workers where a good place to spot geisha would be. The guy told us it was probably too late in the evening for it, and plus it was raining, but he gave us some directions and a few umbrellas to boot! This was our introduction to the communal umbrella system. There is a really cheap, clear plastic umbrella that every store sells for ¥500 and there are just tons of them all over the city. Most shops and buildings have a little umbrella stand at the front, so it’s pretty common just to leave one when you don’t need it any more and take one when you do. Pretty handy.
Anyway, Andy and I had talked about wanting to see one of the shrines featured in Lonely Planet so we were up fairly early the next morning to do some sightseeing. Ben and Shin were checking out that morning so we all said goodbye and it was off to the station.
The Kyoto station is really spectacular. It’s a huge monster of steel and glass with a really interesting roof that lies open to the air at some points. We wandered around the station for a while taking it in and rode the giant escalator up to the 11th floor where there is a skywalk across the top of the station. After browsing around that for a while (in the rain) we found a train that would take us to the shrine and off we went.
The shrine, who’s name I do not remember, is dedicated to sake and rice which I am sure is a vast oversimplification of it but there you have it. It’s laid out on a huge many acre area of hilly land and has tons of torii all around the grounds, along with a section that is just wall to wall torii forming almost a tunnel. They are all painted bright orange and have black kanji letters marked in them. We were there on a rainy, dreary day and the effect was awesome. It was incredibly beautiful.
Normally, when you enter a shrine or temple you perform this little ritual before you go in which I believe is intended to purify you. We decided to try it out, much to the amusement of the Japanese people around us. There were instructions posted but it took a nice Japanese woman’s help for us to realize they were posted backwards (to us). In front of many temples and shrines you will find a little trough of water and little cups on long handles. You are supposed to take a cup of water, pour some into your right hand, then your left, then drink a little (or possibly just swish and spit, not sure) and then let the rest run out of the cup down the handle. The first time we tried it Andy did it backwards and I just completely made up my own ritual.
Now that I write that down… the events of that evening make a lot more sense. More on that later.
Mostly purified we wandered around the shrine for a few hours (it was huge) and made our way around the grounds. It’s hard for me to describe the place, since I have no idea what most of it means so to me it’s just a pretty place. I’ll just have to let the pictures speak for me.
After having a quick lunch at my favorite beef and rice bowl place we headed back to the hostel for a rest and to meet some more new roomies. By the time we had decided to go get some dinner and a few beers, Bob, a soldier in the American Army on his third(!) tour of Iraq had showed up and we invited him out with us.
This is where it all went wrong.
We took the train downtown, and then walked for about 15 minutes in the wrong direction before taking a bus to the right place, which was the center of downtown. Downtown Kyoto looks like a smaller version of Tokyo which is just a bigger version of every other city in the world, so I won’t waste much time describing it.
After shooting down about 200 restaurants because the food looked too scary or other reasons we finally stopped at one that looked okay and Bob suggested we check it out. It turned out to be a great little place will a long bar with a grill built in where they cook your chow in front of you. A few big beers and a fried noodle, chicken and shrimp in me we were ready to find some more bars!
Our first stop was Bar Afrika which had a very vaguely African theme where we sampled some beer, and then on to the Pig and Whistle which is an English pub we had read about in the Lonely Planet. At the Pig and Whistle I shared my love of Jeager with Bob and Andy, and Bob shared his love of tequila with us. We all also, as you may expect, had more beer.
When we had first walked into the Pig and Whistle two Aussie girls freaked out because apparently Bob looked exactly like some tennis player. After an hour or so they invited us to join them and their two friends, which were an English guy and a Japanese guy and we all had some more drinks together. Eventually the girls wanted to go dance, as they often do, so the Japanese guy led us to some club that I could never in my life find again and may not even actually exist.
The cover charge for the club was an absurd ¥3000 but it came with one free drink. So really the cover charge was about ¥2500, or $25. Crazy. Anyway, we went in and kept partying for several more hours. Somewhere in there Andy decided to buy us all a shot and he chose sake for it. Unfortunately the sake shots were more like glasses of sake but being drunk, drunk, drunk we did em as shots anyway. I like to believe this is the reason for the next bit.
When we stumbled out of the club it was around 3am and the buses and trains had long ago stopped running. We found a taxi and drunkenly tried to explain where we were staying but the best we could get across was “Kyoto Station” which is about a 5 minute walk from home, so off we went. Somewhere along the way we lost Bob. No one remembers how this happened. I thought he took the cab with us and he seems to think so too but Andy has no recollection. In any case, he wasn’t with us when I started throwing up in an alley.
Damn sake. So I threw up for a while, and Andy was a champ and stood guard in the alley… and took pictures. After suffering for a while I decided I could walk, made it about 50 meters and laid down next to a subway entrance to do it all over again.
Finally we were ready to try to find home. I can’t remember very well if this part came before or after the throwing up, but I’ll document it anyway. We had no idea where we were when the cab dropped us off, so we found another cab to try to take us home. We had a map of the surrounding around with our hostel marked on it but the cab driver didn’t have a clue. We tried for several minutes to convince him to take us to Kyoto station and after quite a bit of pointing and babbling he finally convinced us we were right in front of it. Who knew!
Somehow we stumbled home and I remembered no more.
Morning came and we had planned to go to Nara, a town close to Kyoto, to see some temples there. It had come highly recommended from Anne so we got up right before the hostel kicked us out and headed down that way. Bob had other plans for the day so it was just me and Andy. It goes without saying that neither of us were feeling our best.
After a brief lunch and a long train ride we lurched into Nara and quickly found out about the deer. The town is basically overrun with deer who were once considered sacred, then considered a national treasure and now, I can only imagine, are considered a giant nuisance. The deer are completely used to people and just walk right up to you to nudge you with their antlers demanding some chow. Luckily there are street vendors everywhere selling little packets of deer biscuits for ¥150 and woe be unto you when you buy a packet. The deer know the sound that the exchange of ¥150 makes and you quickly find yourself surrounded.
I had always considered deer to be cute and cuddly, but as we quickly found out, those antlers can do some damage if aimed correctly. Andy was limping for a while.
In Nara, aside from the deer we also saw a temple with giant, giant bronze Buddha and a shrine, or temple area with hundreds and hundreds of stone lanterns. I am not sure when, or if, they even light them all but I can imagine that if they do the place at night must be incredible. As before, I’ll let the pictures talk about the temples.
One highlight in Nara was in the giant Buddha temple. Behind the Buddha there is a large support column with a small hole cut into the bottom of it. It is said that if you can fit through the hole you will surely reach enlightenment. When we were there dozens of school kids were squeezing through just fine but no adults. Andy decided to give it a try and all the Japanese people thought it was the best thing they had ever seen. He made it through with little trouble and one Japanese girl asked if she could pose with him for a picture. He was an instant superstar!
We left Nara pretty early cause we were both feeling like complete shit. We went back to the hostel for a nap, eventually went out for a giant pasta dinner and then I came back and slept straight through till the next day.
Monday morning it was up bright and early again, this time to head west of Kyoto to find a bamboo forest. I’ve always loved bamboo ever since I discovered a huge bamboo forest right in the middle of New Jersey behind my friend Keith’s house. We did eventually find it, but first we found a monkey park!
The monkey park was actually a monkey mountain and we paid ¥500 to climb it. Before heading up we were told not to feed the monkeys outside (we weren’t sure why “outside” till later), not to stare at the monkeys and not to show them any food.
About half way up we spotted our first monkeys. There were three running along a path a ways away from us and then a keeper came around the corner and tossed an orange to them. Pretty cool.
The place is basically a giant open air monkey zoo. As best as I can tell the monkeys are not kept in by any kind of fence or anything. There are supposed to be about 150 of them on the grounds. As we got further up the mountain we started to see a lot more monkeys. When we spotted the first one close up, who was just sitting in a tree a few meters away we accidentally forgot the rules and stared at him. Big mistake. DO NOT STARE AT THE MONKEYS. The little bastard came straight for us, leaping from tree to tree and scaring me (us, I think) half to death. I am not too proud to say we screeched and ran like little girls.
When we finally got to the top we found a little building with chicken wire walls that monkeys were climbing all over. A keeper let us into the building and then we figured out the not feeding them outside bit. There were bags of food for sale that you could feed the monkeys from inside the building. It became clear really fast why you wanted a fence between you and the monkeys if you had food. The little guys, I think, would tear you to pieces.
Feeding the monkeys was pretty darn cool. I had never been that close to monkeys before and to see just how human they look and move is really amazing. You would put a piece of food in your hand and hold it out and the monkey would reach in through the fence and snatch it out. I managed to get one of them to take a piece with his foot which was really sweet.
I haven’t figured out how to rotate a video yet, so sorry for the one below.
fter monkey park we wandered around a bit to more temples. Let me tell you, it’s easy to get temple overload in Kyoto. We eventually did find a bamboo grove and Andy wanted to get a video of himself doing some (fake) martial arts so we snuck off into a corner and did that. The video was pretty funny, I’ll try to see if I can get it from him.
After a quick lunch and a beer we headed back to town pretty worn out. It was really hot that day.
We took a break for a while and then headed back out to find some, you guessed it, beers! We headed back downtown and eventually found a yakitori which is now my favorite kind of bar in the world. In a lot of Japanese bars you generally eat snacks, along with drinking yourself stupid. Each bar has it’s own specialty for the snacks. A yakitori specializes in skewers of chicken parts, grilled or fried and sometimes a few other kinds of stuff on sticks. Since it’s Japan you can get basically any part of the chicken you like. I stuck to the thigh and breast meat while Andy sampled stuff like chicken gizzard and pork belly.
We eventually ended up at another yakitori closer to home and finished up the night by entertaining the locals with our crazy English words and our pictures from the day.
And that was about it for the adventures of Andy and Jason. On Tuesday morning Andy was off to Osaka and I decided to stay in Kyoto a few more days to catch some of the sights in town. Everything I had done so far was out of town and Kyoto had plenty of stuff to see itself, so that was my plan for the rest of the week.
Now it’s Thursday night and I’m worn out from sightseeing around Kyoto. I’m still having a good time here, but I don’t have any fun roommates so I’m on my own again. I’ll post about the last few days tomorrow, cause I think I have typed enough for one day 🙂
But first! Before everyone suddenly flies to Japan and lynches me for keeping them in suspense… the big news!
Unfortunately, it’s not really THAT big of news. It only seems so big because I disappeared for a few days. I didn’t mean to build up so much suspense!
Anyway, the big news is that I’ve decided to cut the trip a little bit short. Money is going faster than I had expected. A lot faster, actually. So I am going to spend another few weeks in Japan visiting Hiroshima, at least, and then maybe Tokyo again for a while and then I am going to go to Hong Kong and see if I can get a visa to spend at least a few weeks in China. I am really enjoying my trip, but with the money issues and the fact that I really do miss home quite a bit I think I’ll be happy to come back.
So that’s it for now! The big news is out! Talk to you again soon!