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.
Whilst more compact than Osaka’s Kuromon Ichiba market, the Nishi market certainly had the variety of sweets, pickles, fresh shaved bonito (which I kept mistakenly called bonobo), and of course mochi. Anna picked up a string of delicious semi-dried persimmon, and I’d managed to find the CD soundtracks for Neon Genesis and Ergo Proxy.
I’ve been to Asia before, so squat toilets are not a novelty. Perhaps stinky, unusal, requiring a lifetime’s coordination, and daunting, but not novel. I’m reminded of a recent trip down the Hume Highway, we made a pit stop at the Benalla BP & McDonalds to fuel, freshen up, & use their conveniences. We had the misfortune to use the toilets 10 minutes after a busload of Chinese tourists had gone through, and other than especially poor aim, I am still trying to picture how people were doing what they were doing as there were footprints on the loo seat.
Puts you right off.
We’d gotten used to the Japanese squat in our Osaka residence with only the mild fear that the door handle of support might snap sending us toppling into mixed company areas. The superb bullet trains also give you a choice of Japanese or Western-style so at least the art of balance at 300km/h is not always required.
The Japanese Bidet was also a revelation, not only for the gentle squirting of cleasing warmed water, nor for the post clean air dry blower, but for the controls. Should you be presented with a toilet seat and electronic controls, on no account should you look down and assume the squirty button is ‘flush’ unless you’d like your face washed. The flush mechanism is usually attached to the cistern.
Convenience stores also tended to have publically usable (usually Western) toilets, and we came across a particularly beautiful one at the Nara museum. We discovered a few weeks later though that the hygiene standards and availability of public Western toilets were not nearly so good in Hong Kong…
Heading down towards the Kamo River (鴨川), one wonders why in Australia we turn our pretty waterways into big concrete drains. One only need look at what was the Moonee Ponds Creek following the Tulla Freeway to see the attitude. Pretty? Pah! I did hear a farmer on ABC local radio complaining that the recent Australian floods were all due to plants growing in the waterways. Yeesh.
An oddity did occur as we crossed the bridge – a Japanese TV crew wanted to interview us (presumably as to what foreigners were doing in Japan when most expats had been told by their respective governments to flee – one almost expected to be accosted by former PM Rudd with his sleeves rolled up rescuing his Aussie maaates). They only wanted to interview residents, not tourists, so we missed out on our 15 seconds of fame.
The Ponto-cho alleys were historical geisha and entertainment areas. Whilst the alleyways and the restaurants looked nice, the modern iteration seemed to yell tourist trap to me. Apparently they look nice all lit up at night but we didn’t get the chance to return after dark.
After a lap around Niomon Dori to discover that our preferred Yakatori meal was shut on Mondays and that the only other option was pizza or Maccas, we landed on the doorstep of this fine establishment (whose English name I do not know) and decided on the banquet for four. Warm sake was a revelation for me (I don’t normally like Chinese rice wine either as it reminds me of window cleaning solvent), but this was nice.
The many many small courses which in Cantonese might have been called dim sum, not only warmed the heart but filled the stomach. Or perhaps it was the warm sake…
Japan’s extensive & generally user friendly rail system was the best way to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’. Underground, it’s a little difficult to tell which direction is which, but we found a few shops (eg: ‘cube’ subway entrance next to Juicer Bar) with which to gather our bearings.
Elevators and escalators also abound, but only if you go towards the correct exit. What are the chances of zigging instead of zagging and getting stairs every time? Probably quite remote, so I suspect some intergalactic deity is toying with our little lives…
Our last day in Osaka was a little sad for the fact that we’d just started to get a handle on the Namba district. Another week or so would not have gone astray. Bic camera is listed in the Lonely Planet as a one liner, but this mega store of everything photographic (and electrical and computers and whitegoods…) was astonishing for the uninitiated. I picked up more SD memory and a GPS unit for my Nikon D300s. 15 minutes is just not enough time to investigate 7 Floors of modern shopping goodness.