Wednesday, April 6, 2011

05/04/11 Kyoto: The city of Bicycles, Bins and Ding-dongs.

Firstly, I shall explain the title of the blog. The bicycles bit is pretty self explanatory - everybody rides bicycles in Kyoto. There are bicycle lanes everywhere, and there are thousands of spots where you can park your bicycle. Good to see that the city is somewhat environmentally conscious, although it is Kyoto, made famous due to the Kyoto Protocol - an agreement signed by various nations around the world to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help prevent climate change. So if it is anyone's responsibility to be green, it is Kyoto's.

The bins - When we were in Tokyo, Nagano, Yudanaka and Takayama, finding a bin is like trying to find Wally (Waldo) in a barbershop pole museum. - They're pretty much non existent. Hell, in our brief transit in Nagano, I actually had to ask the tourist information counter where the closest bin was! But, in Kyoto, it is a different story. Bins are everywhere. Every time you round a corner, there is a bin, with separate sections for rubbish, bottles, cans and newspapers.

The ding dongs - everything in Kyoto goes "ding dong" when you pass through it. The convenience stores do, the toilets do, the subways do, the lifts do! I wouldn't be surprised if some of the temples go "ding dong" when you walk through their gates. Our local subway station even went "ding dong" without walking through any doors! Every five seconds or so, it would loudly announce to the world an alert that, the entrance to the subway (an open passage) was still in fact open, through the means of a loud "DING DONG!" I feel very sorry for the Seven and I-Holdings employees right next door, as they have the double whammy of the subway and every time their shop door opened. And, being next to a subway entrance, this was quite a lot.

Anyways, on with the blog. Today we did another temples run. This time, we headed to eastern Kyoto to check out Nazen-ji and the path of philosophy that runs north of it.

After getting off the subway, I had a quick look through the lonely planet guide to see where we were. While I was doing this, Emma was busy being accosted by an old Japanese lady. Emma was literally being shaken by this lady, as she yelled at Emma, "beuutitul! beuutitul! you are beuutitul!" Emma just smiled and laughed, and posed for photos with the lovely old lady. I feel kind of bad though, as I didn't actually realise what was going on, until I saw Emma rapidly swaying in and out of my peripheral vision.

Nanzen-ji, and it's accompanying temple grounds are truly a sight to behold. A mix of tall, evergreen hardwood trees and cherryblossoms line a large pathway up to the massive Sanmon gate. And when I say massive, I really do mean massive! It was about 30 metres tall, and about 50 metres wide. Definitely much larger than any other gate that I'd seen before. One thing that puzzled me though was that this gate wasn't exactly joined to any walls of any sorts - and as such, any form of gigantic foe that they were trying to regulate the passage of could easily walk *around* the gate. I guess it must be one of those spiritual things.

Anyhow, after Sanmon, there was the temple and the zen garden it held within. The zen garden was particularly amazing. It had meticulously raked stones flowing around the other large boulders and islands in the garden. I pondered, somewhat philisophically to myself: "I wonder if the monks who reside in this temple ever want to just jump into the garden and make Zen-angels in the stones?" Naturally, I decided neither to voice this thought, or act upon my thought, as I'm sure my cultural uncouth-ness would have caused offence beyond any feeble language boundaries. Also, Emma would have probably hit me.

After spending a good hour or so wandering aimlessly through the temple grounds, we headed north along the "tourist track" to the "Tetsugaku-no-michi", or "Path of Philosophy". At the start of the path, there was a small vegetarian restaurant, so we decided to stop for lunch.

I had the (ironically enough) beef curry, whereas Emma had the curry tofu and noodle soup. My meal was nothing special, but at least it was fragrant. Emma's, on the other hand was warm, thick and there was very little difference in texture, consistency or taste between the noodles, soup or tofu. Essentially, Emma had a bowl of curry-flavoured snot for lunch. I decided to tell her about my thoughts on her meal *after* she had eaten it.

The Path of Philosophy itself was quite nice. A stroll next to an old canal, lined end to end with cherryblossoms. Very peaceful (even with hordes of tourists around us also walking the path), and it did offer a few opportunities here and there to ponder on quiet thoughts. Along the path, there was a delightful lady who was painting postcards. She had considerable skill, so Emma and I bought some. The lady was delighted. Now, there's no real polite way to say this, but this lady's voice was super high. It was like a chipmunk had inhaled its own body weight in helium, recorded itself speaking, and then played it back in fast forward. I only made out "thankyou very much!", but she was very cute.

Then, we caught a bus back to Kyoto station, and we made our way to our hotel. At the hotel, we managed to hook up a Skype session between Emma's parents and us. Good times were had, as we filled each other in on our trip and what had been happening down under.

Then, we headed out for some dinner. We found lots of restaurants that seemed to share a lot with Phuket's "jack of all trades, master of none" ethos - the food looked to be alright, but nothing spectacular. In the end, we settled on an Udon Noodle place. It was a great decision, as they hand-made their noodles, and the food was good quality. Upon seeing us enter, they handed us an English menu, too, which was a nice touch. The restaurant worked on a semi-buffet system, where they gave you your desired noodles and soup, and then you put whatever extras you wanted with it on your plate, and you were charged accordingly. It made for a great customisable meal. I wish I knew the name of the restaurant, as I would post a glowing review about it online!

Then, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow and our next destination in Japan: Nara!

Next: Nara, Japan's ancient capital. Now it's full of DEER!

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