Kyoto - City without Accommodation

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
1
9
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Trip End Oct 02, 2009


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Where I stayed
Hotel Raizan South, Osaka

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ben Reporting: Kyoto. What can I say about Kyoto? It's the Japanese city that people rave about. "There's so much to see!" they say. The Lonely Planet guide for Japan suggests that Kyoto is the most worthwhile city to visit in Japan, and that a week isn't enough to even scratch the surface... the width and breadth of cultural experience, the temples, the food, blah blah blah.

The problem is, Kyoto is just soooo popular, that there's pretty much no accommodation available. When we were there, the tourist information centre had a sign up saying all accommodation in Kyoto for Saturdays in the month of April are booked up. So the story of Kyoto begins.

Due to the supposed brilliance of the city, we arrived expecting to spend about 4 - 5 days of our 14 in Japan in Kyoto. The first day we arrived, we'd stupidly (in retrospect) not booked any accommodation. Upon being refused our first choice, we took to the phones with our 10 Yen coins and began the ring around. No less than 12 of the places we called were full. The only place we could find was a crappy little hostel that by some amazing fortune had one double room left - just for the one night as well - no beds for the nights following. And it was the worst place we'd stayed in Japan as well. Our room: try and imagine a rich persons walk in closet, with racks of furs and Louis Vitton. Now, remove the clothes and cut the closet in half. That was our room. The wafer thin double mattress was wider than the width of the room and there was about a foot and a half extra space beyond the end of the mattress.

So, our first day in Kyoto was spent trying to find accommodation, getting really frustrated that we couldn't find any for the next three or four days, and then spending more time looking for accommodation somewhere else. We learnt an important lesson at least: in Japan, book ahead, which we did for the rest of our trip.

That being said, we couldn't, with reasonable searching, find any place to stay in Kyoto at any point in our time in Japan, so we had to stay in Osaka and catch the train to Kyoto, which, on a good day is about a 45-minute journey. So we did get to Kyoto, but only for 1 full day in the end, due to the difficulties and time lost.

The full day we spent in Kyoto, as tourists anyway, it was raining. Freakin' typical. It was the first time since we left Adelaide that it had rained during the day. Plus we'd forgotten to bring our rain jackets!! So we hung around the train station, which, I might add, is the most impressive train station I've ever been in. Bigger than some International Airports and with impressive glass/metal architecture, it was a sight in itself. And it was at the station we found our first exciting thing to see in Kyoto.

It was an Astro Boy exhibition! For those of you who don't remember, Astro Boy was a famous Japanese cartoon from our childhood, which involved a robot boy who saved people from evil things, as those sorts of cartoons generally go. The exhibition involved a screening of the first episode of the Astro Boy cartoon (in Japanese, but still cool) and a visit to an Astro Boy shop. It was a great trip down memory lane and we indulged as well, since we were so excited by the nostalgic find: I bought a T-shirt and comic, Leah bought a jacket.

After that we braved the rain and caught a bus out to the Higashiyama region. We wandered in the light but persistent rain for a while, but eventually decided to buy some umbrellas from a stall. The umbrellas each cost 500 yen (about $5.50). After a fair walk in the rain we began to get a sense of the variety that Kyoto offered. On our way to the Teiji temple, we walked past a river with a very impressive water fountain, and a giant traditional Japanese gate that straddled the main road and towered impressively over traffic.

Finally we arrived, a little damp, at the temple we'd been seeking. As with other temples we'd seen, this one had a very large, impressive entry gate - in ancient Japan they didn't do things by halves. We arrived at the temple too late to enter for any significant time, so we wandered the grounds, which offered some impressive sights. One sight in particular was a long row of red brick aqueducts that looked very similar to those famous aqueducts that run through the city of Rome, an example of ancient Roman architecture and technology. (I hope I'm getting my history right here.) We were able to climb to the top of the aqueducts and see the rainwater running down through the top, a good example of early water management systems.

We left the beautiful temple and made our way to the Gion district. The Gion district of Kyoto is where the nightlife of the city gathers - a bit like Rundle Street in Adelaide actually. On a good day you might find an authentic Geisha girl walking the streets here, but, as our luck in Kyoto had it, we only saw everyday people with umbrellas.

We sought out and found a place that had been recommended to us as the best in the city for dumplings. The dumplings were indeed delicious, crispy and savoury in the warm, local bar setting. We also tried something we'd both been aiming to try as a part of our Japanese culture binge: Sake. For those who don't know, Sake is a traditional Japanese rice wine, very popular here; any liquor shop you visit is always more than half filled with different bottles of the stuff. Unfortunately we were not taken by our first taste of Sake. The sample we had tasted like a pungent white spirit, perhaps vodka, with a sweet finish a little reminiscent of aniseed (again, sorry if I've got the interpretation wrong regarding this drink - I know there are fans out there.) We found the drink a little pungent for our palettes, but were satisfied to have tried it and so wouldn't die wondering.

After the dumplings we enjoyed perhaps the best meal we'd had in Japan: ramen noodles with pork and sides of deliciously golden fried chicken, which we ate at a quiet little restaurant down an unassuming side street. After dinner and after strolling the wet Gion district, it was getting late and we had to catch a train back to Osaka.

Our time in Kyoto had been filled with frustrations and let downs, but also pleasant cultural surprises. Perhaps, next time, with a bit of pre planning and forethought, we might be able to unlock more of the joys of this still mysteriously famous city.
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Comments

travelblues
travelblues on

No accomodation
Having no accomodation was also my problem when I went to Kyotot last month (August). But as I mentioned somewhere else on this blog, I was lucky because the lady who I rented my yukata from lives in a very central area and so she refered me to 2 hotels that were walking distance from her place (Teramachi). I took the cheaper of the two (near the Imperial Palace) and I found it convenient to move about. She also lent me a bicyle one day and so I was able to move around even better while staying in Kyoto.

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