Meeting my friend Yoko at the train station, I stowed my bag in a convenient (and huge!) locker, then we headed to a very cool bar area and took advantage of the 3000 Yen (US$25) "all you can drink" that was on offer there. Although we both drank pretty efficiently for a couple of hours, it seemed the great deal failed to mention that only a minuscule amount of alcohol (at best) was contained in each cocktail, so we went away poorer and not much else. After that I retrieved my bag and we taxied back to Yoko's little self-contained unit to crash for the night. Basically consisting of a bedroom/kitchen and bathroom, there was more than enough room for us both - I was pleased to once again be on the receiving end of legendary Japanese hospitality.
After handpicking a selection of the more renowned temples and shrines I headed out with Yoko for a few hours of cultural absorption. Most of the more popular sites require an entry fee, but it is well worth it providing you just select the cream of each genre and don't try to overdo it by visiting too many. A must see is Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple elevated high on pillars to look out over the trees for a view of the city. Along with Otowa-no-taki waterfall, torii and pagoda - don't leave it off your list. Another favourite was Ginkaku-ji, which offers a zen stone garden as well as fantastically kept grounds and ponds.
Heian Jingū is a Shinto shrine, hard to miss as its massive torii towers over a couple of lanes of traffic, and all the buildings sport unbelievably bright red/orange colouring. While these were the pick of what I saw, I did actually see a few other temples/shrines, and simply walking the streets in the main tourist area is fascinating in itself.
Aside from what I got to, there were a few other popular sights that I sort of regret missing - but it gives me something to look forward to next time! Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Temple) is a little out of the way, but is very famous and breathtaking from the photos I've seen. Tō-ji has a five-story pagoda, and is a symbol of Kyoto - both of these should really be on your list.
Seeing as Yoko had to run off to work, she handed me over to her friends Migiwa and Kanako for the night shift. We began by checking out more of the architecture around Kyoto, but after the sun had gone to bed we headed to some bars for a little drinking. They were great to chat to and hang out with, and once we'd had our fill we bought a couple of roadies and headed back to Yoko's place to chat a little more and wait for Yoko.
For my last day in Kyoto I was feeling a little run down and not keen to do much strenuous activity. I talked Yoko into seeing an English movie with Japanese subtitles (The Da Vinci Code), but given the relatively complicated nature of the book it was no real surprise that she admitted afterwards to not really understanding anything about what went on in the movie. The movie was an okay adaption of the book, but more interesting was the whole "cultural experience" of the cinema. The men's bathroom had baby seats affixed to the walls, and when the movie finished nobody moved! Not even the lights came on, as everyone remained seated until the credits had rolled - yet again a show of the unique Japanese respect for others. After the movie I jumped straight on a Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
With another early start I made my way from Kochi to Kyoto - a lazy 6.5hrs away via Shinkansen. Kyoto is quite possibly the cultural and historical centre of Japan, given its 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines as well as palaces, gardens and architecture intact - it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. The reason? Well, in more recent history it was spared from US fire bombing during World War II because it was identified as a potential test city to drop an atom bomb on. The reasoning was that the US wanted to be able to take meaningful before and after aerial surveillance photos to gage the power and effectiveness of their new toy, and Kyoto fit the profile of a city sufficiently built up in order to measure this. According to the Japanese, it was only spared thanks to unfavourable winds and cloud cover, but the US claim they were swayed by the "beauty of the city" and decided to spare it. I know which version I'm more likely to believe...