Kickin' it in KYOTO!!
Trip Start Mar 10, 2009
39Trip End Nov 09, 2009
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Where I stayed
Tomato Guest House & K House
More pics have been added. I will attempt to get some write blogging on today and catch everyone up a bit
CMB - So, we get to Kyoto late in the afternoon after an 8 hours train ride on local JR trains to Kyoto. Not the ideal time saver but much cheaper with a special train pass many japanese use at this time of the year. During sakura, they offer the Seishun 18 kippu, a special train pass, to use any 5 days from March 20 - April 10 for $110. This is really a huge bargain which is why all the locals buy it but you can not use the shinkansen (bullet train) with this pass. So, we had many train rides that day with 5 train transfers and 8 hours of travel instead of no transfers and 2 hours for the bullet train. Such is life for the unemployed backpacker. Was cool to cruise through the small towns and see more of the landscape as well
Of course, Makely and I are lazy and like some adventure so we did not book a room in advance when going to the most popular Japanese destination at the most popular time of the year - spring, sakura blossom Kyoto = crazy.... we are very very smart in case you didn't know. So, we get in and start walking around town with our multiple backpacks looking for a room despite several warnings that it is very crowded and almost everything is booked. We, of course, are turned around and are lost as we exit the train station. This by the way is one of the most confusing parts of traveling by train or subway. You get to a new place or location and you exit 1 of several station exits and you have no idea where you are or which direction you are facing. Luckily, there are usually blown up map signs giving you some help but not here as the train station here is also a huge mall and hotel.
So... we start to go to a hostel we thought to try from Lonely Planet. Too bad we end up going southeast instead of northwest... completely turned around. Luckily, we see another backpacker walking this direction so we stalk him. Luckily for us, we follow him right to another hostel we had heard good things about, J-Hoppers - which has locations all over Japan and all come recommended. Catch up with him and he re-iterates how hard it is to find a room in Kyoto right now..
And now we realize we are not lucky guys traveling the world just stupid guys... As Makely says... long story longer... we finally get a good map of Kyoto which show locations of many hotels and hostels. The guy at J-hoppers recommends trying, K house, which we had also heard about and had a great recommendation through hostelworld.com. We head over there...about a 20 min walk. When we eventually get there we are getting tired and the backpacks are starting to weight at least 10 tons... BTW, side note, we are screwed when we try to hike Machu Picchu for 4 days later in the trip. Of course we ask if they have any beds... no dice.
Getting a little worried at this point and it is getting late... we may be sleeping at the train station on the ground. They did have rooms here in 3 days though so we went ahead and booked those. They also gave us a recommendation not on the Kyoto hostel map which we were sure everyone probably had. They had a public phone we could use as well so I called ahead on 1 of them and SUCCESS!!!! They had just had a cancellation and fwe hours ago for a double room which wasn't much more expensive than a dorm style room. Reserved and then another 20 min walk across town to our new home... at least we had one.
Nice place - Tomato Hostel, in case ur ever in Kyoto, and it was the first Japanese style room we had statyed in. No bed, just mats and comforter to sleep in... really not bad at all. We also had our own TV... a novelty but fun to watch some Japanese TV in which we couldn't understand a lick but was funny to watch nonetheless.
After a good night's sleep, we take off to see some of the great Kyoto sites
OK, CMB back at the the computer to try to wrap up parts of Japan which already seem like months ago. One quick note though.... Japanese is WAAAAAAY easier than Chinese to speak and understand as we are now in Xi'an and have already been to Beijing.
So, back to our first day in Kyoto... We hit the eastern stretch of town which is lined with beautiful Buddhist temples with sakura starting to blossom everywhere. It really is a beautiful time to be in Kyoto. I would highly recommend coming here around this time. Japanese and foreigners are out in the thousands to enjoy the beauty of this time of year and the traditional backdrop of old Kyoto. Makely and I are taking pictures like mad since everywhere you look seems to be another "perfect" shot. We hit our first temple, Kiyomizu-deru temple. There are many mothers and their daughters out in full kimono traditional outfits that Makely and I are sneaking around to get shots of while they are posing with the sakura
At each temple, as you enter, there is a fountain of sorts with water dripping usually out of a bamboo into a stone basin and a bamboo "ladle". You are supposed to use the ladle to get some water and rinse your hands and then rinse your mouth out before you enter the temple. Not mandatory but I started to do this at every temple as Makely began to photo document many of the episodes, "Birnie washing his hands for the 1000th time...".
So many sites this first day, it was a bit overwhelming. Temples to parks lined with food vendors and crafts for sale, to small old Japanese cobble-stoned streets with teahouses and sakura poking out of little patches of dirt between the old homes
After a full day of walking around the temples and parks, we were quite beat and ready to sit or more likely lie down. We started the walk back to the hostel, maybe a 20 min walk. Of course, we were magically pulled aside by the offerings of a 1 coin standing bar. The beer sounded good so we ducked in to this tiny standing bar for a "quick" drink. Each beer was only 100yen ($1) with the nominal gaijin entrance fee of 100yen. We convinced ourselves that it only made sense to have at least 3 beers to get the most of our entrance fee... and so it began. We soon caught our 3rd wind and are off to the races drinking and laughing about this little place and events of the day. You will see the picture of the bar as club radish or detonator bar (detonator from the japanese symbol of the bar's name). So happens that this little place is soon packed. We end up chatting to 2 gaijin (foreigner) guys that show up. One, a guy from New Zealand (kiwi), and the other an American from, of course, Encinitas. Crazy how small the world can be. Second person we have now met from Encinitas while traveling around... who would have thunk it? These guys have been living in Japan for awhile and we start talking about everything... Japanese phrases, such as "O-tsukare sama des" (what u say to locals after a long day and are ready to relax), what is it like living here?, the guy from Encinitas is asking me about Swami's and some other surf breaks and eats around north county, etc... really was classic. Eventually the guy from Encinitas starts talking to an older Japanese guy and his daughter that were near us
I get up the next day hungover. Makely is hungover too but he gets up and heads out... I am feel terrible and stay in. Makely, of course, has no money so he has to go hunt for an ATM to get going as do I later when I get up. Both starving when we get up but have no money. Both find ATMs and Makely discovers the error of the ATM card problem when he uses a help phone attached to the ATM machine. I open my wallet at the ATM and find a polaroid picture of Ms. #1 dart player in Kyoto and I that I had forgetten about. Funny night and great fun!
So in order to catch up on this blog, I am going to have to speed things along. As much as I wish I could document it all and every moment, it ends up taking for too long to compile it all.
So, my hangover day was spent hungover by me in bed and out to Arashiyama for Makely. Arashiyama is a great little town just outside Kyoto by train
When I went to Arashiyama the following day, it was raining and cold at the beginning but soon it cleared and I lucked out with a great day. The temple is quite impressive and they had a Buddhist service while I was there that I sat in on for a few moments... seemed very similar to a christian church sermon with a Buddhist monk delivering a monologue with occasional chuckles from the patrons. While the temple was good, the gardens around the temple were stunning. Quite beautiful as the architect of the gardens tried to incorporate the hillside into the grounds seemlessly. As the rain cleared and the sun came out, I had to go back to the gardens for a second round as they were that beauitiful
Walked around this cool little town and went to another cool temple, ran by all women which was very small and quaint. Cool setting with many different ground moss and variety of flowers everywhere. Then walked around the park for a bit and along the riverbank.... all making for a very relaxing and peaceful day. Headed back to Kyoto to meet up with Makely where we again took a train up to Karume about 30 minutes north of Kyoto to experience our first onsen, Japanese hot springs bath house.
We head up there ready to relax our weary bones in the hot waters
Easy enough... get outside where Makely was first to arrive, he sees the showers with stools in front and a flexible hose and shower nozzle. He was a bit confused so headed to some nearby more Western looking showers to clean up. Luckily others were washing up by the time I made it out and I guess the norm is to sit on these stools and wash yourself with the flexible shower head and the provided soap and shampoo. A bit weird at first. On to the hot springs, sit in the very hot springs and relax... beautiful hillside nearby, sakura trees and no sounds of the city
While talking, Makely happened to see one of the guys creating his own jacuzzi to which he self-consciously looked around to see if any one else saw this. Makely just gave him a big smile and looked him in the eye to say, "Yep, I saw that...". Later that night, we headed out for a night photo shoot. Many of the streets and temples are lit up and look amazing. Hit a few temples which you can see from the pics and then to the major park with everyone out drinking and eating to catch the huge weeping cherry tree lit up. Makely and I all the while attempting to be professional photographers with the correct angle, lighting, etc while using makeshift tripods from railings, trash cans or anything we can find that is grounded. The last spot was a very small side street near the Gion district called XXX (I'll have to look it up later). It was amazing! Almost full bloom sakura lining the side of this quaint street with a small stream running along side the street as well. Great little teahouses and restaurants all about. Was really amazing lit up at night... the pictures don't do it justice.
Next day, Makely again is feeling like he needs to rest up and lays low for a some R&R. I head up to the Imperial Gardens and palace here in Kyoto. Great park and I just cruised around listened to my iPod for awhile while i would people watch. Again really beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. You could only go into the palace if you arranged a time in advance with a separate tourism office which was fine as I just liked wondering around the park and gardens for the day
We head out to Gion area towards Kiyamachi street to find this recommended pub from the exchange student at the onsen and his gaseous friend. We hunt around high and low with no luck as the bars in Japan are tiny rooms on any of multiple floors of the buildings scattered throughout the major streets intertwined with maze like side alleyways. Basically, it is near impossible to find some of these regular bars without ever having been there before.
I finally give up and try to ask one of the guys outside one of the 100s of other bars. I ask in broken Japanese, "Where is the A Bar?" He replies, "Oh, the gay bar is over there..." "No, no, no... not gay bar... the A bar?" "Ahhh, (chuckle) the A bar..." where he is able to lead me around the corner maybe 100 feet away and we find our place. We head in and looks like a cool place... good american music and mostly locals drinking and eating at big communal tables. So we grab an open seat and order up 2 big Yebisu beers. While we are settling in, 2 japanese girls come in and end up sitting next to us. Enter.. Taka Tanaka and Chika Chicagawa. Classic names which still gives us a chuckle We end up chatting for quite awhile with our broken japanese and their better broken english. One round after next and we had to move to a smaller table to make room for a larger group that came in
Much laughter throughout the night and several rounds and eats later, we head out and try to get some sleep for the night. Taka and Chika are kind enough to walk with us all the way back to our hostel as they live nearby as well. Much joking and laughing all the way home makes for another great night in Japan!
Back "home" and to sleep to get ready for a day trip to Nara the next day...