Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 1 Kobe to Kyoto, Japan

Day 1 Kobe to Kyoto, Japan

We woke up early only to find that customs was going very slowly. Customs is an interesting thing, especially internationally. In some countries the ship gets cleared in an hour once passports are stamped, but in Japan we were required to give them our fingerprints and go through a lengthy procedure with our baggage. Once the ship finally called our sea (we’re always last) we dashed into the Kobe terminal and bought train tickets to Kyoto. Finding the correct train is always stressful, but somehow I managed to pick the right one and Perri, Becca and Brittany hopped on. It took about an hour to get to Kyoto. The train was clean, but there weren’t enough seats so we (with some other SASers) took to the floor and a few stood. Eventually everyone was able to obtain a seat. As I looked out the window, I saw a very urban landscape. Japan is debatably the most industrialized country in the world and it showed. From the deep black roof tops with their corners pulled upwards it was clear that Japan successfully pulls from the old while turning to the new.

We finally arrived at Kyoto station and ran upstairs to grab tourist maps (in English) before heading to our Hostel. We stayed at Tour Club Kyoto, which was my first true hostel. It was clean but very different from anywhere we had stayed before. There were four beds in our room all on the floor with just a little room between it and the bathroom. I took the bed closest to the wall (away from the bathroom) and delighted in the free internet that I could receive from my ipod.

After we dropped our bags off we split up, Perri and Becca wanting to explore the local area (Brittany and I knew we were going to rent bikes the next day). Britt and I headed to the Gion District, which is where the Geishas are. We took the bus (we always use public transport) to the foot of the district.

The cherry blossoms were out and despite the fact that my foot was bothering me (I had twisted it earlier) we managed to make it to Kenninji Temple. The sweeping temple is one of Japan’s largest Zen temples. Brittany and I posed with the immense black and white temples and beautiful gardens. Most of the gardens had some sort of large stone with Japanese writing on it. They were striking, especially paired with pink cherry blossoms and green flora.

After arriving at some sort of zen we decided to tread on. The district was basically a street lined with restaurants and brown doors which led to Geisha’s quarters. There were a few Geishas outside with their ornate kimonos and flip-flops (with white socks, of course!). I snapped some pictures of them and we were on our way, content with our sightings.

Our next stop was to the Yasaka Shrine on the eastern end of Shijo-dori. The Gion Matsuri takes place in July at this shrine. It was quite large and had some sort of an event going on so there were stalls full of food from fried chicken (which Brittany purchased) to sodas and beers. Shinto Shrines seem to resemble carnivals to me in some way. There are different booths within which you donate money and then do some sort of a ritual and pray. We participating in one where you toss money into a basket and then pull a very long rope which makes a bell ring and then you say a little prayer. It was very cool to participate in yet another religion.

From there we headed to it’s gardens which were lined in blue tarp. I sat under a cherry blossom and listened to the Japanese students surrouding me. My foot was really hurting so Brittany walked around a little and tried to cheer me up. Soon Perri and Becca arrived from their travels and we all headed to a local Japanese restaurant. We sampled some hot green tea (loved it!) and dined on tempura and rice. The Japanese individuals around me utilized their chopsticks in such a graceful spooning/shoveling manner, whereas I seemed to be picking and pulling at my rice bowl. By the end of my meal (and three of Perri’s advils) my foot was feeling better!

Becca had read about a temple which is lit up at night so we decided to try to find it. After a while (it was getting cold quickly), we realized it must have just been the park behind Yasak Shrine (Maruyama Park). It was full of young Japanese college students partying it up under cherry blossom trees. There were vendors all over. The main attraction at the park is the weeping cherry tree (Shidarezakura), which is lit up beautifully at night. I managed to garter up the courage to ask (well sign and motion, lol) a Japanese man if I could use his tripod to take a picture at night! He kindly obliged. After my photoshoot, we walked around the trees and talked to some other tourists (from Holland!) and some Japanese students who spoke pretty good English. Brittany and I were quite tired by the time we said goodbye to catch the last bus back to the Hostel, while Becca and Perri stayed with our new friends.

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