And so it was with a little sadness that our trip to Japan was over. We’d a little time to kill in Kansai International Airport, so we did some wandering around and checking out the souvenirs to be had. I happened upon an English translation of the manga “Ghost in the Shell” and snapped that up.
Unfortunately we almost missed our flight as we neglected to factor in the number of minutes to catch the intra airport express train to the actual flight terminal. Oops! Got used to the ‘little’ international at Tulla. Or the even littler one at the Gold Coast!
And so as quickly as it began, our time in Kyoto is now over. We set aside the final day to have another walk around to appreciate the spring blossoms, and what a difference a week makes! The trees are full of blossom, and the locals are out in droves to appreciate them. My one regret for the plethora of tastes and experiences of Kyoto tried was the one untried. The previous night I read in the Lonely Planet Guide that Kyoto was well known for its many and varied tofu meals. Ah well, next time…
Now to board a train back to Osaka for one final gourmet night then homewards via Hong Kong…
Feeling a bit tired after a day’s frolicking, I decided to wander around the main strip of Gion to see what could be seen whilst the girls went to pickup brother Jon. I did find some magnificient fresh mochi (mmm), and come across a disturbing semi-human sized rabbit.
I also got stuck on one side of the footpath against a shop front. Ordinarily, the random movement of people allows the easy egress from one point to another, only sometimes requiring conscious thought to avoid the odd embarrassing collision. What pinned me down was what looked like a school group, all in a line of 2 rows following each other double file with a flag at the start and one at the end.
It felt like I was caught playing a human version of centipede. A couple of unavaoidable phone calls on the mobile to rellies in Hong Kong to tee up some visits there suddenly racked up tens of dollars for the few minutes of conversation. Damned international roaming costs!
We wandered around looking for a restaurant but ended up deciding and going back to our favourite Number One Yakitori. Delicious. And unfiltered sake. Yum.
You know, I didn’t think that I’d be affected by a tea ceremony what with my Chinese background. A friend of brother Jon’s runs them in Kyoto and we thought we’d give it a go to see what it was all about.
We had read about it but the full experience was powerfully laden with emotion & symbolism, some elements of which even causing a shiver down the spine. Of course, it may also have been the lack of circulation to the lower extremeties from sitting cross legged for a period of time.
Our host was delightful & is about to make the move to Australia (of all things) to join up with her hubby who’d gone on ahead to Cairns as a cook.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted suprisingly by 4 brash English voices bearing Aussie accents. Civilised colleagues come to experience a different world culture? No, it was (from our estimations), young probably rich kids probably over here on mummy & daddy’s gold credit card and making ar*es of themselves and the country they represented.
Oh f, that was the best f-ing temple I’ve ever f-ing seen in my f-ing life. F mate! F Etcetera F.
We stopped talking amongst ourselves lest they detect our same accents and (godhelpus) strike a conversation.
What I did miss out on was the lifetime opportunity of giving back a little of what lowbrowed whitetrash had imparted on my growing up experience. I completely failed to speak up fully and loudly, and tell those prats to p*ss off back to their own country.
The Japanese love of the vending machine is legendary. Having endured the start of a very bitter spring there, we came to appreciate the breadth of weird and wonderful beverages of the warm variety, if nothing than to heat one’s hands and temporarily forestall frostbite.
It must come as a shock to Japanese tourists when they visit our shores in Australia. The best we can manage is the 200 varieties of Coke, tooth rotting sports drinks, and calorific crisps and chockies; all mega sized for the voracious sweet toothed Caucasian.
We decided to bus it on our way to visit the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). On the map, the route for the particular bus seemed to go from our hotel to the site. What the map didn’t reveal (most likely due to our non-existent Japanese language skills) was the terminus half way between our point-a and point-b!
Moreover, the Japanese system of piling on the bus from the rear entrance and grabbing a ticket/token then paying at the front of the bus when exiting though a good idea generally, falls down in practice when the bus is chockers and one has to plough through many civilised persons to exit the vehicle.
We found buses in Hong Kong (and Australia, to think of it) similiarly perplexing for their mystery value. At lease with trams & trains, you can fairly definitively say where you are going but buses? Who knows? Is the little side street a detour or a destination?
Feeling a bit deflated after purveying an allegedly anime & cosplay shop (I would have loved to pick up a Susumu Kodai (Derek Wildstar) jacket) in Akiba which actually sold what looked more like p*rn, we thought we’d head to see Tokyo from above so wandered towards Shinjuku and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
We would have liked to have seen the Shibuya intersection, one of the ‘must see’ destinations in Tokyo for being a famously busy intersection with people coming from all angles. Time restricted our choices and we started to get a feeling of general voyeristic unease at the Shinjuku underground.
We were fortunate to have not felt any major quakes or aftershocks in our brief time in Japan, but the eerieness of the lack of crowds, the turned off and roped shut escalators and travelators, and the dimmed lights contributed to our heightened nervousness of being underground and possibly in trouble should the ground start to move.
The Government offices are a particularly good vantage point to view the city from all angles. They were unfortunately all closed due to the earthquake and pending ok from the powers-that-be to reopen. The nearby Sumitomo building’s observation deck was open, so another (creepy, for being bereft of people) visit over there ensued.
Another Japanese city, another camera store! We happened upon the multi-storied Yodabashi Camera in Akiba and spent an hour or so wandering the floors of camera & electronic goodness. At least, Anna & Sarah were wandering; I was on a caffeinated high darting from one display to the next, rapidly calculating conversion rates and excess luggage capacity, and generally trying not to drool on things.
Much like Bic Camera, Yodabashi just blew the mind for its breadth & depth of stuff compared with what gets retailed in Australia. The contrast too of the modern digital age compared with our last trip in 1998 was also apparent.
What was also becomming apparent was the distinct lack of foreigners (white people) in Tokyo itself, most having been evacuated by their respective governments, or concerned parents as the case may be.
A destination visit to the Ginza district was in order to view the Leica Gallery. After a fruitless hour or so of searching (starting to miss my iphone maps functionality) we finally came across the store only to discover that it was closed Mondays. Today was Monday. Curses!
I remember Ginza from our previous trip as having a great buzz which was understandably not there. The mood was similar to Hawaii a few months after September 11; much of the local population still in shock dealing with the new reality.
We spent part of the Takayama trip agoinising over our inability to use our JR tickets fully and explore Tokyo. Having kept an eye on radiation levels in the Daily Yumiuri, we decided that we’d have a day trip to Tokyo. The trip on the slow bullet takes almost two and a half hours to cover 500km. Roughly the same time it takes us back in Melbourne to get Camperdown (half the distance) on VLine. Still, it’s not fair comparing gold rush era infrastructure to 1970s infrastructure, or Japan’s can-do mentality to our own she’ll-be-right one. Or is it?…
We thought we’d get a look at Mt Fuji as the bullet sped past but ended up with a lot of blurry images which sort of look like clouds or fuzzy buildings but could be the famous mountain.
I was keen to check out Akiba (the local nickname for Akihabara) at least, having missed out on the 10th annual Anime Fair (cancelled due to the earthquake/tsunami). The local train network was still picking itself up after the disaster, and electronic bulletins informed passengers that whatever scheduled train had been cancelled or delayed reason being earthquake. In Melbourne we have similar notices where the 8.47 from Broadmeadows has been cancelled due to a kitten crossing the tracks.
My memory of Akihabara from 1998 was of an exciting place with lots of exciting things happening. People, colors, lights, noises (sadly, I came down with a migraine from hell that time which could explain the colors, lights & noises), and wild & weird electronics as far as the eye could see. Post earthquake reports were unfortunately accurate. There were no thronging masses. Electronics shops and department stores had their power dimmed and all their displays turned off with signs indicating they’d gladly demo them for you if requested. And the tip of the Tokyo tower was as reported, slightly bent.