Friday, August 12, 2011

Japan, Aisheteru!

For my birthday this year I gave myself a trip to Japan. I have always wanted to go since I was five years old and saw the PBS special "Big Bird goes to Japan".  In this special he started out in Tokyo and got lost from his tour, then he meets a beautiful woman whom helps him get to Kyoto and then to Osaka to take his flight home on the 15th. So for my trip the number one priority was to go to Kyoto. The easiest way to get there is from Osaka airport. From there you take the JR line to Osaka and then switch to the Kyoto line. This will take you about an hour and a half to do. Thankfully, Air India fed me on the plane and was able to make this journey without my stomach falling out. I have a feeling that a lot of people would be dying of hunger by the time they got to Kyoto.
My first kimono sightings at the shrine

There are LOTS of drink machines in Japan. They are on every single corner and train platform. So, you can get yourself a beverage before hopping on the airport express and then stay hydrated. Also with the express trains you can take the HARUKA train to Kyoto and it will take about 45 minutes off your journey. Problem, it doesn't run as often AND it's twice as expensive. For me it made no sense because I would have been waiting 40 minutes for the next train and then not saving any time for the money spent.

So, when I finally arrived at Kyoto I went in search for my hostel. The train systems in Kyoto are very helpful when you first arrive but I found Kyoto much easier to walk. It was layed out in a grid system and with the help of the river flowing through town you could always figure out where you were. My hostel was located in the Ginto district which is a great district to stay in because it used to be the Geisha district and therefore has kept a lot of it's character. Yes, I did see a real Geisha while I was there but I thought it was rude to take her photo. She's just a girl trying to do her job!!
Old style Kyoto Streets
My first day I arrived around 4pm, so my plan was to try and see some things and then eat dinner and get some sleep. I had to wake up at 4:30am to catch my flight to Japan so I could already feel the weariness of travel setting in. I got to see a shrine and take in the people going to shrine on Sunday afternoon. There was an abundance of beautiful yukatas and obis and there was the evening prayer ceremony already starting. I listened and watched and took it all in. Then, off for a wonder down main street: had a grilled rice ball with hot sauce (YUM!) and tried to get a feel for the pace and the architecture of the city. Something I immediately noticed was how quiet Japan is to Hong Kong. Example, got off the airplane and the airport was dead silent. I don't know about you but at my airport the customs line is always a noisy line!

Let's go back a second to Japanese customs, you MUST know the name and the address of the hostels you are staying in Japan. There were backpackers in my line who had a Lonely Planet and were like: "we're going to pick a place out of here when we get tired." The customs guy WOULD NOT let any of them through until they picked a place and wrote down the address. He chided me for not writing down my hostel's address. It's in Japanese! How am I supposed to write Japanese?! Immigration in Japan will take an hour. They have a new system where they take your photo and your finger prints before you're allowed in the country. Then they will check your bag for stuff. I was clear because I was only travelling for four days and had only the one bag but there were some people in my line who had 6/7 bags and a whole family that had to be checked! It felt like being back in America.
My handsome sushi chefs! Thank you for being so nice to me!
Back to Kyoto, I had my first meal at a Sushi Bar. Which was the number one thing I wanted to check off my to do list; more like my "to eat" list but same/same. It was a very nice place. I had to take my shoes off and sit at the sushi bar which was an experience in it's self. And this is where the fun began! I had an assorted sushi plate and an assorted tempora plate. I just had water to drink to save money but in the corner were Japanese Buisness Men. And they love to party, apparently! I was having a great time talking with the sushi chefs as one of them wanted to practice his english. He apparently used to work in NYC in the eighties. Then, about halfway through my meal I get told that the Buisness Men want to buy me something special to remember Japan by. I said "ok". One of them came over and said they were all going to eat Fugu and they wanted me to join them. I said "ok". Who am I to turn away free sushi and one of the things that Japan is really known for? It could have had something to do with that I was the only girl in the resteraunt other than the waitress. It could have been I was only white girl but I accepted their gift and tried Fugu. It did not kill me. But I don't really see why people eat it, it has basically no flavor to it and the texture is very odd to me. I think it's an adventure thing, I ate blowfish and it did not kill me! Yea!
Temple at Dusk
I walked around Kyoto til it got dark. I got a snack at the little grocery store and some stuff for breakfast as we had a little kitchen in the hostel and it would save money to eat at home in the morning before I went out. I hung out with some lovely people and the owners of IchneSou Hostel in Kyoto are wonderful! I highly recommend this hostel. It is an old Japanese style paper/wood house. If you're a girl you get to sleep on the tatami mats. I think the boys room had bunk beds in it. The only bad thing about it was that the paper/wood walls are not great for insulation and the area was so hot when I visited. We all basically felt like we were roasting at times. Especially after we all got sunburns from being outside all day long. But I think this is the BEST hostel in Kyoto.
My bedroom in Kyoto! More comfy than it looks
My next post will detail my full day in Kyoto including a firework festival!

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