February 24, 2009: “Day #7: Voyage through Kyoto”

Historical postcard of Japan

Image via Wikipedia

Today we slept in a little – until 8:30AM. We woke up, devoured our four pastries and came up with a tentative plan for the day. We soon learned that in Kyoto, with their complicated bus system, you need to come up with a VERY organized plan or you will soon end up beyond frustrated. We walked to the Kyoto Station, purchased an all day bus pass for 500 yen (approximately $5 USD), and went to the Kiyomizu Temple. This temple had an entrance fee of 300 yen (approximately $3 USD) which was extremely reasonable. We wandered the grounds even though it was pouring rain. This temple is built into the side of a large foothill and affords beautiful views of the city of Kyoto below. This particular temple was founded in 798 AD and portions were rebuilt in 1633. I read the following about the Kiyomizu Temple, “[t]he temple occupies an exalted spot on Mount Otowa, with its main hall constructed over a cliff … [t]he main hall is dedicated to the goddess of mercy and compassion, but most visitors come for the magnificence of its height and view, which are so well known to the Japanese that the idiom ‘jumping from the veranda of Kiyomizu Temple’ means that they’re about to undertake some particularly bold or daring adventure.” We then embarked on the local Higashiyama-ku Stroll that begins at the Kiyomizu Temple and ends around Maruyama Park and then winds through Gion, the geisha district. The stroll was lined with small local shops but we mainly enjoyed the quaintness of this area. The geishas apparently come out at night in unmarked areas where only select people are invited to be entertained by them. Contrary to popular belief, the geishas are not prostitutes, but they are entertainers (by way of jokes, musical instruments, and companionship). It is currently estimated that there are approximately less than 200 practicing geishas left in modern existence. It is heartbreaking to see part of Japan’s culture becoming a way of the past.

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We ate a very late lunch of yakisoba in a tiny restaurant where we soon realized our elderly waitress did not like Americans. We were none-the-less very polite.

I soon realized that since we are not traveling in Kyoto during tourist season, I think that may be why we are having a difficult time communicating with the locals. It is probably a time of year when few foreigners are likely to visit because the cherry blossoms are not in bloom nor are the beautiful autumn leaves changing color.

Upon our return to the hotel this afternoon, we came up with a detailed plan for visiting three temples and a castle tomorrow. We have unfortunately had to learn the hard way that it is far easier to write down a specific bus route, with bus numbers, rather than stand in the pouring rain and attempt to blindly read a bus map. We have realized that many of the bus and city maps are not drawn to scale which makes them even more cryptic to decipher at times.

We are heading out to dinner soon so I will write more when I am able.

****

We left our hotel, arrived at the Kyoto Station, and took a bus to the Gion/Shijo-agaru area to eat dinner. We found an interesting restaurant in one of the guide books that Lisa was kind enough to let us borrow. We ate at “Kushija Monogatari” which served kushiyaki. You select skewers of various meats, vegetables, and bread (in a refrigerated case) and then you cook them yourself at your table by dipping them in batter, panko breadcrumbs, and then deep frying the skewers at your table. The deep fryers are built into the table so this is a very interactive experience. You are restricted to 90 minutes as it is an all-you-can-eat restaurant. For an additional 1050 yen (approximately $10.50 USD) you can have all-you-can-drink included in the 90 minutes as well. Jason was very interested in the all-you-can-drink menu and I lost track of how many drinks he had after about seven. They had very interesting, exotic drink combinations as well, e.g., black pineapple liqueur with coca-cola. The Japanese are ingenious because they have a button built into the table and when you want to call your server you press the button and he/she instantly appears (which I’m sure my hubby’s determination to fulfill his all-you-can-drink menu was rather trying on the staff). They also had a self-serve ice cream machine but I didn’t want an ice cream cone; I was just in search of vanilla ice cream with berry syrup so I decided to use a porcelain bowl. JMy hubby said the staff laughed at me for using a bowl for ice cream because they thought it was completely bizarre. We left at exactly 90 minutes on the dot because the Japanese are very strict with their rules in their conformist society and there are zero exceptions for bending the rules.

One interesting cultural difference we have noticed is that as Americans we feel more accepted in larger cities and by the younger generation in Japan. When visiting the outskirts of Tokyo – in more remote areas (even though Kyoto is a very large city) – you can tell the older generation has negative connotations associated with Americans. It is almost as though some of the older generation believes they are the superior race. There is a distinct difference between the younger and older generations. I can also tell that some of the older generation frowns on how the younger Japanese generation has become more “Americanized” through the decades. The Japanese do not teach history, as we in America do. World War II is not discussed in their history books, nor is their invasion and slaughter of millions of Chinese in the 1930’s (for which Japan has refused to acknowledge or apologize therefore there are very negative feelings between the Chinese and Japanese). The only Japanese history that is taught are Japan’s victories and historical cultural – nothing negative.

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