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.
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.
The day started a bit unusually as I thought I’d head into Kyoto CBD to pick up some Bonito soup mix for mum (it’s much cheaper in Japan, she says) and thought the food court in JR Kyoto Isetan might be a goer. My lack of Japanese languaue and my lack of an idea of what I wanted to purchase bogged me down a little except for the iphone picture I had. I found a kilo’s worth and, yes it was much cheaper (rough the same price for 1kg as for 60g in Australia!).
I caught up with Anna & Sarah again at a patisserie Sarah’d been eyeing off. Unusually, this particular patisserie did not serve coffee.
Time to visit brother Jon’s place and have a bit more of a wander around. Judging by the landscape, there is a giant ‘big’ character carved into the side of the hill. I’d seen some postcards around showing that with some celebration where they light up the symbol at night.
The climate continued to be bitterly cold, so it only seemed appropriate to eat ice cream from a street vendor. They had a dozen odd varieties generally unknown in Australia. I had the black sesame whilst Anna had the cherry blossom. Cold but yum.
Visiting Ohara, we discovered another temple whose name completely escapes me now. Picturesque but freezing, so we kept moving.
If it’s Kyoto, then it must be temples. Our first stop of the day was not too far up the road – a small temple called Shoren-in which was a lovely hour’s investigate around this quaint, almost boutique artefact. It was only in retrospect that we realised we enjoyed it so much as the rest of the day’s temples. The Chion-in further south we found to be crowded and harried. There also seemed to be a Buddhist ceremony of some sort on (it’s so hard to tell when you neither speak nor read the language).
The hill gardens of Maruyamacho were strangely deserted. Many blue tarpaulins had been laid out signifying a bagsed position (presumably for upcoming cherry blossom parties). The feeling in the middle of the day was of a carnival that was about to happen. Or had happened. A minor discovery was Shijo Dori, the main street of shopping action in Gion.
After an interminably long walk, we arrived at the Imperial Palace and took a bit of a stroll around two of the giant perimeter walls before realising that there was no way of entry (excepting through the paid entrance). We had a nice little lunch at the souvenir shop – the Japanese idea of tea and sandwiches doesn’t completely match the idea you have in your mind, but is tasty and inexpensive.
Some cherry blossoms in an outer garden were blooming, so we joined the not-quite-yet thronging masses to photographed them.
We joined a tour of the Palace and happened to luck upon an English tour which unfortunately contained a small horde of Americans. Kind of jars you completely out of the Japanese serenity.
Racing through the day, we managed to arrive at the Botanic Gardens 10 minutes after the conservatory (which by all accounts is worth a look in) shut its doors.
Right next to the subway entrance was an modern art installation which contained some interesting interpretations of both Asian and Western masters.
A dinner of Hong Kong style noodles at the brain-numbingly large Cube capped off a tiring day.
We finally got to try Yakitori near the corner of Saikaishicho and Higashimonzencho at a franchise run by fabulous proprietors who made our night really wonderful (so much so that we abandoned our ‘try something different every meal’ mantra and went back a week later).
Unfiltered sake was a bit of a revelation. Sort of a milky slightly fizzy yoghurty taste without the fumes except that a small bottle still had around 15% alcohol. Hic! Brother Jon did the honours of ordering for despite my outward Asian appearance, I’m not Japanese.
Apparently I further compounded the situation by learning how to say “I cannot speak Japanese” in Japanese, because people did not believe me (ie: Yes you do, you did just then!)
And the cost was cheap! Generally speaking you’d want to eat locally where ever you travel, but for what we ate and drank, we paid for all 4 of us what you’d pay per person back in Oz.