Random Thoughts

Japan has an umbrella culture. Nearly every shop, restaurant, hotel or bar has a rack for your umbrella or a machine that wraps it so it doesn’t drip in the shop.

Cycling is big. Watch your back or you’ll get mown down by a cyclist; probably one riding one handed and carrying an umbrella in the other.

Japanese society may be polite and formal, but that doesn’t apply to crowds walking down the street. When I’ve paused to let little old ladies past I’ve been shoved more than once. And barged reguarly. In fact having just been in a crowd I’d say English ones are politer.

Beer vending machines… on street corners!!

Ladies really wear kiminos out shopping. And not always the older ones like I thought at first.

Bars and restaurants often have decorated cloths or banners hanging in front of their doors. So you can’t really see inside to see what it’s like without really nosing.

Mobile phones seem chunkier than ours, nearly all flip style and muck more plasticy looking – often in bright colours. I think they have a lot moe functions than ours though. Having a dangly charm or fluffy or something attached seem to be the thing – even for be-suited businessmen.

Lots and lots of t-shurts with English writing in them; most of which makes sense.

No fat Japanese! A very occasional chubby one, but this is a LONG way from Florida.

If there is a view or monument the Japanese will take a picture of their friends or family standing in front of it… usually with the subject doing a “V for victory” sign for some reason.

Downs and ups

Last night I was a little down, the town was dead, I couldn’t find a bar or restaurant that a) looked open b) looked as though it wasn’t regulars only and c) didn’t have a queue waiting to get into it. So I bought beer, food and snacks at a mini mart and read my book in my room.

This morning started with a crossed leg Japanese breakfast and the festival… WOW!

I’ll write more about that later, but it’s DAMN IMPRESSIVE.

Takayama Train

It’s a travelling day again today, so as l write this l’m sitting en a train heading cp into the hills, past small towns and farm land. The train is full so I’m expecting the town to be packed.

This morning before getting the train I dumped my pack in a locker and took a bus to Nijo Castle.

One of the two palaces in the grounds is rather impressive. The design seems to be to have all the rooms in the middle with sliding painted screens joining them. then a corridor/walkway round the outside of all of them. The floor of the walkway is a “nightingale floor” specially made to squeak and chirp when it’s walked on so no one could sneak up on a rooms occupants. Outside of the walkway it’s all word and paper sliding screens. Very nice for summe but it must be very cold in winter, and lighting a fire inside would be very silly. It is does seem that nearly all of the historic buildings I’ve seen have burnt down at some time in the past. As I’m now expecting, the gadens were beautiful; but it was lacking in battlements and turrets for proper castle-dom. 😉

This train ride MUST MUST MUST be done again in November when the leaves have turned. The mountains are covered in forests and even now you can see there are different types of trees and different greens. In autumn it would be jaw droppingly stunning.

Kyoto day 2

Well I started off by trying to go to the Imperial Palace – but you can only get in with a permit – and today the office was closed…. so no permit – no imperial Palace tour.

So instead in the morning I went shopping, all sorts of interesting craft shops and electrical shops and of course – this is Kyoto – various shrines scattered amoungst them. Bought some japanese CDs after a brief listen on the listening post and a fractured exchange of words with the shop assistant.

In the afternoon I decided to do another walk from my guide book as the last one had been good. Got on a tiny (one carriage) train and headed out to Arashiyama. The train chugs away, past tiny little stations and some of the way on the road. The destination station has goldfish ponds in the waiting area …. and at the end of platform one a place to sit and give yourself a footbath while you wait for your train.

Off the train and into Tenryu-ji… now if you’re talking gardens that place has one! I want it! (In the absence of my uploads you’ll have to Google Image it). Then a walk off through progressivly more rural areas with a rainbow in the sky. After a long walk past various temples up to a final Tori and the Ayu Chaya Hiranoya resturant and tea house. A very very nice lady in a kimono served me green tea at a traditional crosslegged table. the place is gorgeous. Unasked she gave me a post card of their establishment, so prepared I was able to swop one of Nottingham. then when I paid my bill she gave me another present of some of their beautifully presented house chopsticks (again pre-planning! I was able to reply with some Nottingham leather bookmarks!). Seriously that was wonderful.. miles out in the sticks with thatched roof buildings and sitting cross legged looking out as it gets dark and drinking green tea… magic.

Back to the city by the same train and a supper from a Japanese fast food outlet – takoyaki or octopus dumplings, although I think mine had more prawn than octopus.

There is a LOT of Kyoto that I haven’t “done” (although I think that for the moment I’m “templed out”) so if you’re coming folks – give yourself longer.

Tomorrow morning before my train I may do the sightseeing bus – just to check out what I’ve missed.

Kyoto at Night

Just a quick filler, last night I went for a night time wander. Started off in the park of a shrine which was illuminated with laterns and had traditional music being played on the traditional Japanese version of a bandstand.

The a wander round some of the small roads where the upmarket eat and drink, a narrow road that is supposedly full of hostess bars (lots of heavily made up Japanese women in evening type dresses scurrying about). A VERY pretty bit with some incredibly posh resturants and tea houses. Then finally back down a busy street where I saw a Geshia walking down the street with a business man. The real thing, there were plenty of kimonoes all evening but this was the real deal – face beautifully (but starkly) made up.

Probably the Imperial Palace and shopping today.

Kyoto Day 1

Started of the day with a wander up the road to see Higashi Hongan-Ji, the equivalent of the Vatican for one branch of Buddhism. it’s the home of the biggest wooden structure in the world is;  just a shame it’s undergoing renovations and is enclosed by a steel sheel. Then a couple of blocks up the road to Nishi Hongan-Ji the older branch that the Higashi mod branched off from (splitters!). And in the temple gift shop I got Vanessa’s fan.


Buddhist Shire

Then via the Post Office to the train station and two stops to Fushimi-inari-taisha. That’s the place that was in “Memoires of a Geshia” with the long tunnels of Tori (the orange arches). It is much much much much bigger that I realised, the paths go all over the mountain through the woods and there must be thousands of different individual shires to the fox gods.


Tori


Lake amoung the tori

And when you get up the mountain the view across the city is fantastic.


Kyoto City Scape

It’s damn hard work though getting up there, and there were hardly any people about other than at the little shops along the path selling candles and other offerings for the shrines. I came back down a diffent path – emrged in a residential street and just kept going downhill thinking I’d find the train station again when i stumbled upon Tofuku-ji which has a cracker of a Zen garden and some rather impressive buildings. Once I’d bought a ticket into the place I found out where the hell I was and I realised I’d come down the mountain to the next train stop along the line.


Impressive Buildings


Zen Garden

I popped back to Fushimi-inari-taisha to buy some fox spirit charms and then got the train back to Kyoto station which is a pretty impressive modern building in it’s own right, and from the 11th floor roof garden you get some good views.


Kyoto Station Building

By then my feet were utterly knackered so I came back here to the hostel via the mini-mart to get some dinner, oh and some pocky sticks. When I’ve recovered I will probably head out and do the night time walk in my guide book.

Trains and more trains

Woo hoo I’ve had conversations! Met an Italain guy and a Russian girl at the ticket office at Otsuki who are also travelling to Koto. They are both students in London at the Nottingham Trent “London branch”. There is also an Australian family who just spent 2 nights in Fujiyoshida and visited the lakes and rode the cable car. So I may have been harsh on the place.

Then on the train to Hachioji I sat next to a nice Japanese young lady who started a conversation with me. Made me smile and her English was good enough to get through a lot.

Now on yet another commuter like train on the way to get my first bullet train (Shinkansen Hikari).

Shinkansen have masses of leg room, my knees barely get half way to the seat in front! And I’ve got a window seat – Comfy.

BTW Ness … tell Sockgirl that socks are in here.

Thursday???

I think it must be Thursday.

Breakfast in the hotel, and bless them, they brought me a western breakfast, well at least I didn’t get the same bowls and dishes as the locals on other tables.

The Japanese seem to treat breakfast as just another meal so I got a tiny bowl of cornflakes, two bread rolls, some kind of soup and an omlette and salad.

After a walk around in the rain I did find a little shrine but had no chance of even catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji 🙁 And nothing changed my impression of the town so as of now I’m back on the little train on the start of the trip to Kyoto.

Fujiyoshida

Well how can I describe it? The charitable description is “like a British seaside town out of season” the less charitable version is “a bit of a hole”.

To be fair I think it is effectively a resort town for the Fuji-san climbing season; which is now over.

I arrived by a little two carriage train which rocked through the mountains on single track line (and a private line so not covered by my rail pass). I think foreigners are still a bit scarey because at one stop a whole class of primary school chi
dren got on for a trip to the next stop (yes it was THAT sort of train) and filled all availble seats except the 3 around me!

When I get there it’s so misty I can’t see Mount Fuji – yet alone it’s summit.

When I left the station and there was no obvious town centre to head for so I consultied a map in the station and headed off. I did actually manage to ask a guy sitting having a fag “where is hotel?” and he must have understood because he pointed to big building 50 yards to my right with “hotel” written on it.

Great, one problem solved! So off I go only to discover (after taking the lift up to dark floor) that it’s closed – steel shutter down closed. Downstairs there is what I think is a girlie bar – so by now I’m less than chuffed with the town. Even more so when I have a 3 minute panic until I discover which pocket I stowed my wallet in.

My mood is lightened when a group of passing school girls “konnichi wa” me and have a fit of the giggles when I “konnichi wa” back.

After re-consulting the station map I head off to another hotel which is open but gives the air of that I’m the onky guest! Still comfortable enough.

After a shower I go wandering for food. The place puts me in mind of Canadian/American towns; development along lots of roads but I can’t find “downtown”.

I eat in a restaurant with a sushi conveyer belt! Cool! And the Japanese can put it away, the two guys’ pile of plates next to me soon towers over my puny 4!

I’m hoping the weather is clear tomorrow morning, then once I’ve seen Fuji I think I may leave earlier. This was so close to a disaster – but recovered enough for it to be funny now. The tale will grow in the telling.

Wednesday

This morning it was off to the station with my pack because today is the first travelling day.

First to Studio Ghibli which was only 4 stops up the line. At Mikita station I managed to stuff the big pack in a locker (just) then it was an easy walk. Was one of first in so got to see the movie (there are more than one type of cat bus) and have a little wander in peace. I know they restrict the numbers but I think everyone was in the gift shop at the same time as me. Bought some goodies but I was limited by the requirement to carry them and price!

Had a bit of a wait for my train and some problems getting the locker door open! But a kind English speaking gentleman helped. I will admit that I am stating to miss conversation!

As l scribble this into the PDA I’m on the train heading towards Mount Fuji. I’n just hoping I can find a room for tonight.

Wow, that was suprising to see! As the two guards walked out of my carriage the stopped, turned round, took their hats off and bowed to the whole carriage.