We decided to check out our travel arrangements in the Kyoto main station. To do this we also decided to walk into town from our studio. This is really not difficult because of the street grid system. We had spotted one of those ‘no smoking’s zones on the way into the centre which we wanted to check out. As we wandered along we stopped from time to time to check where we were on our map. Each time someone came to help us. Mostly they had more difficulty with the map than us! Barry is an ace map reader. I’m fine if I turn the map in the direction I am going, like most women. En route we came across a wonderful covered market. Only problem was it was very crowded with a great many tourists. It is probably in the Holy Planet (Lonely Planet) or the Rough Guide, both of which we ignore! I am sure we miss ‘must see/visit’ places but we have our own personal experiences of places we are visiting. One is only passing through so can’t expect to see everything. It is the essence of a place we try to experience. The market was actually fascinating, The variety of goods on sale was mind blowing.
We sorted our travel arrangements and headed further south to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine. The only logic in this choice was that it was not far from the main station and was on a JR line for which we could use our passes.
It is situated just outside the station and on arrival we discovered that this shrine must have been on the ‘must visit’ list in Trip Adviser-enough said, it was thronged. We were somewhat surprised when we reached the shrine that there was a Japanese rock group belting out their music. Directly behind there was some sort of Buddhist ceremony going on in the open temple. A couple of people were sitting there but by far the bigger crowd was watching the rock group. We were, however, surprised by the fact that most of the visitors were very young.
Behind the temple, steps rise up through huge wooden arches. Many of these are in a bad state of repair but then the shrine was built in the 12th century, I think. Half way up, we were trying to find a secluded spot to have our picnic. We were sneaking up a side path when this young woman, dressed in kimono, asked us in French, if we would take a picture of herself and her friend. She wasFrench but living in Japan! We did manage to have our picnic!
Mentioning the kimono reminds me to say that many, many people, mostly young, wear traditional dress during Golden Week. They are quite splendid. They also love to be photographed.
Things we expected to experience in Japan and things that surprised us.
We realised that Japanese people are a little obsessed with cleanliness but the extent of this obsession was a little surprising. I suppose it comes from living in very densely populated areas. If hygiene is not maintained at a high standard then disease would run rampant. The list of do’s and dont’s in our studio is quite significant. What items have to go into which disposal bag has my head smashed! Refuse is collected daily.
The refuse lorries are sparkling clean. The drivers are immaculately dressed. It makes being a refuse collector much easier.
Cars are all spotless. Each apartment building has a car washing hose available in the parking area. People seem to wash cars that are already gleaming. The taxis are a sight to behold with white lace type covers on the seat backs. Again the drivers are wonderfully dressed with white gloves. When one exits a taxi the door closes slowly and automatically behind you.
Both in Tokyo and here in Kyoto our bathrooms seem to be made of moulded plastic. This does not leave room for personal design but it sure makes cleaning simple. The whole area is a type of wet room despite having a deep small bath into which you step to use the shower. The wash hand basin is half over this bath and half outside it. This means the hot tap can be controlled from in the shower area. The temperature is pre determined from outside the bathroom. I know some friends and family members who would love this…
I talked about the wonderful loo arrangement. The small size of most toilet areas leaves no room for free standing wash hand basins. This problem is solved by using the top of the cistern as a wash hand basin, the refill of the cistern runs through a filler like a sink. You rinse your hands and the water refills the cistern. Loo seats are heated!
Shopping for food is a joy. The assistants are so polite and bow formally when you reach the checkout. You place your money on a tray that avoids the assistant having to touch your hands. They then place your change on the tray. Some stores even have different colours for money in and change out. When buying something like butter you get a small ice pack to keep it cool – I love it. Could I ask John Field to introduce this?
Japanese people are very petit and very fine. The all have very small sized dogs. We seem to be like giants in comparison. Handrails are at two levels, the lower one for Japanese and the upper ones for us. Likewise hanging straps in the subway are at two heights. Chairs are often low which is difficult for me with my gammy hip. Our wash hand basin is situated below Barry’s waist level.
Many Japanese have very turned in toes. Online explanations say women effect this walk because it is considered sexy!!! I doubt this seriously as many small children also have turned in feet. May be genetic variation, although many younger people don’t have a problem. Another explanation is it is because when they sit on the floor they turn their feet outwards.
The cities have certain street areas that are non smoking. These are the older parts of the city with very narrow streets.
As I already said not all streets have Western names. Those that do – have these placed in different areas. Some engraved on metal on the ground, others way up high on plaques. One is constantly searching.
There seems to be a huge French influence here. In our small area in Kyoto there are many French restaurants and boulangeries. Many shops have French names. Japanese often use French expressions when speaking to one another.
As a visitor here you buy pocket WiFi. This is a tiny box that can be carried about with you. It costs about 100euro for three weeks. It works a treat – so practical. Gadgets are a big deal here. Some look useful but the robot cleaning machine in our studio keeps talking to us when we try to make him pick up the crumbs. No matter which button we press he refuses to budge. But a tiny gadget for straining your tea that hangs on the side of the cup would be on my “must have” list.
Parking, as you might imagine, is a premium. Everywhere there are little areas where you can pay to park, there are very few carparks, per se, just lots of spaces for two are three cars. These are rented by the hour, different rates for night or day and contract pricing. You can buy on the spot, or per period, and get access to a site, which opens up the security bars. It is very efficient.
Finally and typical of the sort of the militaristic nature of things in this big and busy country. If you come across a stairs to be climbed in the underground, for example, each step has a calculation written on it telling you how many kilocalories you are using by climbing each step!! Says everything….
When one hears the expression “You couldn’t make it up” it often concerns a happening that is quite routine. If anyone had told us what would happen today I certainly would not have believed it.
We had planned a day of temple and garden visiting. All the literature said bus was the way to get around Kyoto. So we, with a bit of unusual fore planning, had purchased two bus day passes in the subway station yesterday. With these came the entire Kyoto bus routes (on a single sheet). Good eyesight is an essential here in Japan as everything is written in miniscule characters. The plan, which at first glance, seemed impossible to decipher, became quite logical and clear once we had located ourselves on it. The information with the pass was very comprehensive. You enter the bus from the rear door. You press the stop button just after the bus leaves your penultimate stop. Then if you are using your pass for the first time you run it through the machine by the driver’s door. All trips thereafter only require you to show the driver the date stamp on your pass.
The trip was quite long, about ten stops. Once we left the bus we just followed the hordes to find the temple. The gardens were magnificent. On entering there was a pyramid of sand. Barry wanted to wait for a rain shower to see if the whole thing would collapse. Throughout the gardens there were several sand gardens with beautiful simple patterns onthem.
WARNING: I will be removing the Silver Strand up to Kilmoon on my return to Sherkin to create my very own Zen garden…
There was a winding path that led up to a wonderful view over Kyoto. I had seen that there was another temple in the immediate area. So like all the young travellers we switched on Google maps to locate it. But as usual if we had opened our eyes we would have seen the lovely carved wooden sign. We followed it and came upon a haven of tranquility. This was a Buddhist temple and for some reason it does not seem to be so popular.
And here comes the unbelievable occurrence. As we wandered past a temple a lovely man indicated to us that there was about to be a concert within. We needed to rest our feet so thought “why not”. He said the singer was a soprano. She arrived with her accompanist on a lute. She started to sing the “Sally Gardens” in a glorious voice. We almost fell off our chairs. I have rarely heard it sung so beautifully. The concert proceeded with Scarborough Fair and Greensleeves. Talk about being surreal…
The sun shone all day. It was such a wonderful experience.
We rose very early this morning, a little too early due to misreading of watch. But this proved to be a blessing. We ate what we had left in the studio, one piece of bread between the two of us, and washed it down with tea/coffee. We had been advised to return to Tokyo main station to board the Shinkansen bullet train, even though it stopped at a station nearer to us. It was a great piece of advice. We arrived at the main station about 6.45a.m. The place was already totally manic. Of course today is one of the biggest holidays in the Japanese calendar. Despite the throngs of people, everyone was moving calmly but smartly. There were dozens of railway staff to help with directions. We were told what gate and what platform to proceed to.
The 7.03 train was standing in the station. We knew we had to board carriages 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1. I tell you this in reverse order as everything in Japan reads from right to left and mostly up and down. Takes a bit of getting used to!!! We were somewhat puzzled as there was a number of small groups of people queuing either side of the open doors. So we bowed to all and sundry on either side and stepped on to the train. We worked our way up to carriage 1 without finding a single free seat. Of course this is why those lovely calm Japanese people were queuing. They were waiting for the next train!!!! We disembarked, red faced, and joined them. This time we were fourth in the queue. The bullet train to Kyoto runs every 30 minutes, bang on time, every time. Our 7.33 train rolled into the station and we quickly found a seat.
Bullet trains resemble the TGV in France but they are longer and the seating is much more spacious. The train quickly filled and off we went. At the first stop, which was the one near our studio, those getting on had to stand. The trip takes 2.45hr. Even small children stood quietly. One hears about how spoiled Japanese children are but this has not been our experience. They are delightful. One strange custom is that one is expected to stand up for children on the metro. Men do not stand for women unless they are old or infirm.
The trip from Tokyo to Kyoto passes through very flat land, with mostly rice crops, backed by mountains. We flew by Mt Fugi in the blink of an eye. I had just time to ‘snap’ it in a “we were here” type photo.
There is no food served on the bullet so on arrival we sought and found a nice cafe in Kyoto station and ate the biggest sandwiches I have ever seen.
Our landlady, Jasmin, had furnished us with detailed directions to our studio. We were disappointed to find that our JR Pass did not work on the Kyoto metro. We are staying only 4 stations from the centre. It is like a village within the city. Kyoto is so calm and serene after Tokyo – then anywhere would be! In Tokyo there are so many people moving about that on some footpaths, there is an arrow for the direction in which one is expected to walk.Also one ascends and descends stairways in predetermined directions. These are sensible precautions as one could be mowed down with the volume of people.
We found our studio which is on the 6th floor of a block. It is even tinier than the one in Tokyo.
In fact our Tokyo accommodation now seems palatial! But the quality is several rungs higher. In fact there are a lot of house rules to be followed. Two pairs of house slippers were sitting neatly at the entrance. Strange though, despite the higher quality, there are no knives. But there is a washing machine and a balcony with two bars on which to dry the clothes.
In fact one person and these bars fills the balcony completely. After a rest we set off to explore our surroundings and get some provisions. All the information was supplied with our paperwork so finding things was easy. Streets are on grid system so it is a little like a maze. Everything looks similar.
There are many more old wooden houses here, unlike Tokyo which is all modern and shiney. We took one of the recommendations, from our info, for a restaurant. We, and a single man, were the only guests. Because of the holiday most people seemed to be eating with their families. It was a delicious meal, cooked in front of us.
I had ordered a soup with ‘stringy’ eggs but it resembled closely, an omlette! My main course was veggie in a sauce. Delicious. We had a lot of bowing with the man eating alone until he took upon himself to teach us some Japanese much to the amusement of the two chefs. It was a lovely evening.
This morning we decided to visit the Imperial Garden Park which is within walking distance of us. At least it would have been if we had not taken off in the wrong direction! It was a lovely walk and, as usual, once we produced our useless map, a young girl jumped off her bicycle and came to our rescue.
The park is wonderful with a couple of old tea houses and temples which can be visited. The Imperial Palace is not open. The tea house, on the side of a very still pond, was such a place of peace and meditation.We sat there quietly for a while and allowed the atmosphere just washover us.
We had bought sushi for a picnic lunch which we ate in the park. Many families were having picnic lunches on the grass.
After a rest we set off for down town Kyoto. It is so calm compared to Tokyo. However it is holiday time. We visited a lovely garden in the city. Kyoto is the place to see Japanese gardens, a real treat.
Dinner was partaken in a city restaurant. Good but not brilliant.
This is version 2 of this entry since version 1 seems to have have become irrevocably locked… These are the joys of technology on the move. I’m sure our grandchildren will look back and wonder at how we managed to do any of this communicating given our limitations…
As I was saying in version 1 there were good things and bad things happened yesterday. The bad was not so bad as it was only our inability to find the restaurant to which we had been invited by Airbnb for a complimentary sake. We had checked the location on Dr Google maps but alas things ain’t always what they seem. The sight of bewildered foreigners, looking into phone screens, then raising their eyes trying to reconcile the virtual with the reality, is very common.
Failing to locate our free drinkie courtesy of Airbnb we pushed on to the local restaurant which we had booked. This was found with no bother. We seated ourselves on high stools (great for dodgy hips) in front of the kitchen. Boy do these chefs work hard.
There were 3 main chefs, one was gri!ling, mostly sea bass, another was occupied with the raw fish and a third was doing everything else including stir fry and omlette to die for, more about that later. We were somewhat alarmed by the offers on page 1 of the menu, partly in English, mostly in Japanese. I won’t go into detail in case you are reading this while eating. But as we proceeded, after we were given a reduced, mostly English version, with better pictures, we found what looked like an amazing plate of raw fish. Many varieties of raw fiah, oysters, octopus, cod etc. But what really took our fancy was the raw mackerel. We have so much mackerel on Sherkin but we would never think of eating it raw. A whole business to be developed in view of Brexit!! Our raw fish plate was delicious.
Day 5: In Gotanda TOKYO 2ndMay 2017
But we were so fascinated by the omlette maker that we ordered two, one cheese and one shrimp. But the waiter said it would be too much for us! He suggested half shrimp and half cheese. It was very tasty. We washed it down with two beers. We felt a bit bad about our beers as everyone else was on water. The whole lot cost us 50euro. So depending on what and where you eat Japan is not too expensive. The fish plate had a set of sauces, We suspect the fish is mostly farmed, so sauces are necessary.
Today we decide to visit a photography exhibition by one of my favourite photographers, Saul Leiter. It was held in the Bunkerama Museum. We had a fair idea where this was. On arriving at the building a very nice man showed us exactly where we should go. This was a retrospective exhibition of Leiter’s work. For those who do not know his work he was known mainly for his fashion photography. But we was a trained artist and only practised fashion photography to pay the bills. However some of his artwork was included in the exibition. I can’t say I liked it. I love Leiter’s urban photography and there were many brilliant examples ondisplay.
The building in which the museum is housed is stunning. In a central garden there is a very chic restaurant called “Les Deux Magots” – well not as chic as Paris…
We sauntered (if that word can be applied to any people movement in Tokyo) around until we got tired.
We had checked out another local restaurant for dinner. It was all about meat. We were advised to return at 7.30 but that we would have to queue. We dutifully returned. We had sussed out the queuing area earlier in the day. It was seating around a cool water dispenser. I had thought the morning queues were for the dole!!! On arrival we sat down in this area only to have a panic struck youth rush out of the restaurant to escort us across and down the road to the smokers designated area. Here we were to join a very orderly longer queue. We eventually worked our way up to the seats and then inside. It really was all about meat though we had a delicious mushroom starter.
Meat is very expensive. So we left very well fed but financially lighter.