11.11.2009 - 14.11.2009 20 °C
Last few days have been a blur.
A couple of nights ago, I met three girls from Kyoto at the bar beneath the hostel. They come to the bar to meet foreigners and practice their English. I said I hadn't seen Gion (a famous suburb in Kyoto) and they offered to take me out to dinner and give me a quick tour the following night. Gion is full of shops, bars and traditional Japanese restaurants. It also has the famous back alleys where, if you are lucky, you can spot a real life Geisha or Maiko girl (Geisha apprentice) rushing to a cab or to meet one of their clients. So the next day, we met near a Japanese theater in Gion and took a small walk before dinner, sampling Japanese sweets and different types of pickled vegetables. I was quite fortunate that at the very end, we turned a corner and right in front of my eyes there was a Geisha standing near a corner with her client. I had to be a shameless tourist, walking right up to her like a paparazzi to take her photo. She didn't even flinch, must be used to it by now.
Geisha in Gion, Kyoto (photo was a bit blurry as I was still moving when I took the shot)
So now I can cross "Geisha" off my list, all I need now is to find out where the ninjas hang out.
We had dinner at a small restaurant that specialised in udon noodles and tempura, it was quite delicious actually. I'm getting the hang of Japanese food, and it's not all about sea food, there's lots and lots more to choose from. The hardest part is when you just want a snack and you have to go searching for something that you can just heat in the microwave or pour boiling water into, but all the instructions are in Japanese so it's a bit difficult unless you can find someone to translate (so far so good).
Last night I had to move to another place for one night because my hostel (and almost every other in Kyoto) was all booked out. I stayed in a guesthouse rather than a hostel which was, as the name suggests, more like a bed and breakfast. It felt really homely with a traditional Japanese look and feel. Some of the walls were made out of paper (girls dorm) and the shower was shielded from the hallway door with bamboo. It was nice staying there and the guy who runs it was really friendly and spoke near perfect English. I did however experience a first (and probably a last) whilst in this guesthouse and this was only revealed to me the next morning as I looked out the window from the top bunk on which I had just slept (see photo below)
Never thought I'd sleep so close to someone else's final resting place (at least not until I become a vampire)
Today I visited Iwatayama park in the far west of Kyoto. This place is very popular with the locals and it was packed with people enjoying their Saturday afternoon, sort of like Mission Bay in Auckland but with a large river instead of the ocean.
Bridge at Iwatayama Park, Kyoto
It was a nice and sunny day so on my way back to the train station I decided to buy an icecream cone. Unfortunately I overestimated the structural integrity of Japanese ice cream and within half a minute of it being in my hand it was flowing freely down my wrist. I didn't even try to fight it as the flow was far too much for the flimsy servillette to cope with. Luckily by the time I finished it I was only two blocks from the train station where I could wash my hands. I thought I must have looked like a messy gaijin (foreigner) during that short walk with a hand fully covered in icecream - but actually it was much much worse; As I looked up and into the restroom mirror I noticed two thick blots of chocolate icecream on the tip of my nose and chin. Oh well, the beauty of embarrassing yourself in front of hundreds of strangers in a foreign country is that you'll never have to see them ever again.
Across the Oi River at Iwatayama Park, Kyoto
Tonight I'm back in the original hostel I stayed in when I arrived in Kyoto. The hostel is "family friendly", I thought that was quite a novelty and not such a bad thing since over the first three days a Dutch family was staying here, they had two daughters about 6 and 8 years old. They were extremely well behaved and even though the younger one skipped along from place to place she did it with really soft feet and was always smiling and super silent like a ninja (the silent part, not the smiling). Tonight, however, it's a different story. There is a Spanish woman with two boys, one must be about one (in a baby's chair) and the other is probably about four. The baby is crying constantly and the older one is running around the wooden floor in the common room bouncing a plastic ball, pressing all the elevator buttons and slipping and sliding all over the place in his "pajamas-with-feet" tripping people over and knocking over rubbish bins whilst making loud car noises. The mother just sits and chats with another woman totally oblivious to the havoc her children are causing in this normally chilled out lounge area. The poor Chinese girl sitting in front of me quietly sipping her green tea is still trying to look relaxed and unbothered but I can tell she's totally freaking out (like me). Sorry but I really hate parents like that. If you can't control your children, don't inflict their menace on other people, get a private hotel room and keep them there or better yet, don't take them with you on holiday. It's not like they will remember or even appreciate it anyway. I feel like walking up to her and saying something like:
"Perdone Señora, por favor, nos salve y manda a su pinche hijo de la puta a la cama ahorita, gracias"
It's probably not grammatically correct (my Spanish is still a bit rusty) but I'm sure she'd get the picture.
The Japanese have gone vending machine mad. They have them on every second corner, down most alley ways and even at entrances and exits of all temples and shrines. They sell mostly drinks, including beer, and some have cigarettes. They even have vending machines that sell, get this, soiled women's underwear – Now, I must confess that I haven't actually seen any of the latter variety myself, but I have been told this by more than one person (for me this has got to be the epitome of the bizarre Japanese culture). These machines must only be in certain places which I have not yet visited. Strangely enough though, they don't sell food from vending machines, the only exception that I've seen was "Kit Kat" bars and they came inside a jar! Furthermore, vending machine hot drinks, such as coffee and hot chocolate, come in a can! And you thought your standard cardboard coffee shop cup got hot, try a metallic one.
Kit Kats in a jar from vending machine
Some other Interesting little things I've noticed about Japan since I've been here:
- Tommy Lee Jones has done a huge ad campaign for a Japanese drinks company “Boss” - his face is on all the bill boards, it reminds me exactly of Bill Murray from the movie Lost in Translation.
- Mini skirts (and I really do mean MINI) and knee high socks or boots are way in fashion. Somehow they get away with it without even a stare of disapproval from the more older and presumably conservative adults, I don't disapprove either.
- They have awesome automated car parks. Because of their issues with lack of space, they have to improvise and improvise they have. They drive on to a small mechanical platform in the car-park building (the building being only about as thick as one and a half car lengths) then the platform automatically rotates and lifts the car up to a designated spot in the building. Looks like a baggage handling machine at an airport and it's absolutely bizzare the first time you see it. Other small garages, have a rotating platform which means they can do a u-turn on the spot or go around a tight corner without even turning the wheel - These are the kind of things Auckland needs.
- Most toilets are high-tech, they don't only have a bidet, but also (my favourite) a seat warmer and sometimes a button which makes a flushing sound with adjustable volume - you can guess what that is for. On the other hand, in most of their public restrooms, the toilets are like long-drops, no toilet seat, just a porcelain recepticle on the floor over which you would have to squat - I have not yet had the pleasure of using one of these, but it's early days yet.
- In a country where almost everyone follows the rules to the letter, everyone rides their bikes (at high speed) on the foot path. If you are walking along and you wander away from a straight path, your life is in danger.
High Tech Toilet in Hostel
And now for some more sight seeing photos. The middle of the week was slightly rainy, but that didn't stop me. I took a trip to the west of Kyoto to visit two of the more famous attractions, Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavillion) and the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, as well as several other smaller temples dotted around the place. I thought since it was raining, it was going to be a little quieter than some of the other temples I had visited - I was wrong.
Raining at Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavillion), Kyoto
The famous rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto (this is the original Zen garden). I sat and stared at this garden for something like 20 minutes, but instead of discovering the spiritual truth of Zen enlightenment, I just pondered on how they could rake all of that sand in such straight lines without leaving foot prints.
Silhouette of Buddha statue at Ninnaji Temple, Kyoto (actually that's me - This place was so Zen, even I started to meditate)
Ninnaji Temple Pagoda in background, foreground is palace garden taken from the Palace's verandah, Kyoto
Ancient statues (9th Century) in Ninnaji Temple museum, centre is the Amida-Nyorai Buddha - There were "No Photos" signs everywere, but it was the end of the day and I was completely alone in this museum - I couldn't help myself so I quickly scoped for security cameras and took a sneaky snap. All the other statues in this little museum were also impressive and very old but I didn't want to get greedy.
Palace Garden at the Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto - the pond had lots of huge Koi (fish) skimming the surface for food
Behind the scenes at the tranquil Tenryu-ji Temple Palace Garden, Kyoto - This is what it's like at most temples.
Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto - The bamboo goes on as far as the eye can see.
Today is Sunday and it's my rest day - I really need it. I pulled a muscle in my foot yesterday while walking to the bus. I found out last night the All Whites have qualified for the world cup, Yay! So that's both Mexico and New Zealand through to the finals. I just hope they don't end up in the same group because I don't know who I'd cheer for if they played eachother. Unfortunately with both their track records, it's likely there will be double the disappointment. I just hope at least I get to see them play wherever I am at the time of the world cup, probably somewhere in Europe I imagine.