Sunday, December 2, 2012

30/11/12 – 1/12/12 Shopping, Temples, and Copious Amounts of Stickmeat


Today’s goal was to see some temples. Essentially, this is why people come to Kyoto – it is such a culturally rich place, with over one thousand temples to see. Having seen quite a few temples on my last trip to Kyoto, I was keen to cross off one or two that I’d really wanted to see, but didn’t get to last time. First and foremost on that list, was the eye-burningly pretty “Kinkakuji”, or “Golden Pavilion”.

So firstly, I checked the guide as to how to get there. It told us to catch Bus 205. This was the same bus that we caught yesterday to Taro’s cooking class. Easy! We boarded the bus, and were soon on our way. Well, as quickly as one can on the bus system in Kyoto (that is, not very). As we were driving up Kawaramachi street, we spied the delicious Udon store we had been to a few days prior, so we decided to get off here for some lunch.

This time, Emma had a bowl of rice, which was definitely much better for her stomach than her usual bowl of Udon. I went for the bukakke Udon, with about three different tempura sides. Highly unhealthy, but for the price you pay, easily the best Udon I’ve tasted.

After lunch, we decided to have just a quick look around the local area. This “quick look” soon turned into several hours of exploring downtown Kyoto. Kyoto’s block layout system makes it very difficult to get lost, even when all the street names are is in Japanese. Unlike New York’s block layout system, the blocks in Kyoto’s downtown area are quite small – it takes you only about a minute to walk between each one. As such, as long as you have a compass with you, you’re fine.

We strolled around the laneways, where Emma ducked into plenty of smaller retailers to have a look at their various stuff. I’d be lying if I said I could remember what she bought, but she seemed to enjoy her browsing and purchases.

We soon turned down one street and into a shopping arcade. I found an arcade store called “GAME PANIC”. The name was enough engrish to draw me in to see what was inside. It was a fairly standard Japanese arcade affair – loads of “skill tester” games that were impossible to win anything at, and then a smaller selection of actual videogames at the back of the arcade. There was one thing that immediately caught my eye, though. It was a small cabinet, with a big wooden table attached to it. I knew exactly what this was – THE TABLE FLIP GAME. Let me sum up this game with some ASCII art:

Yes. The purpose of the game is to flip the table with as much speed (and passionate fury) as possible. On the screen behind the table-prop, it shows a scene of a restaurant/family dinner/other circumstance, where people are doing increasingly irritating things, such as talking on their phones at dinner, chewing with their mouths open, or playing videogames at the table and whatnot. The goal is to guess when your character’s rage is at their highest, and then flip the table in rage. What follows is a spectacular slow motion replay as everything that was on the digital-table counterpart goes flying, causing damage to people and surroundings alike. It then shows a tally of the amount of damage that you’ve caused in JPY. I managed 88,000 JPY in one flip! The replay was hilarious as well. I pretty much destroyed the entire living room. I was very proud. Afterwards, Emma and I had a race on “Mario Kart”, which was also great fun. I came first, with Emma in close second.

After walking around for a bit more, we finally found Nishiki Market – somewhere which we wanted to see if we were in the area. Nishiki Market is nicknamed “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. This nickname is obvious when walking through there. Everywhere you look there are raw ingredients for all of the different elements that you see in Japanese cuisine. Much like a foreigner eating Japanese food for the first time, we couldn’t tell what about 70% of the things on sale were. Irregardless, it was a fascinating walk through the culinary heart of Kyoto. We even saw a few things that we used in the previous days cooking class.

We then headed back to the main drag, where we went to catch bus 205 to Kinkakuji temple. However, we soon discovered that there are multiple “205” route buses that go to different places. Seriously, Kyoto? Why would you have multiple bus routes with the same number? That’s just stupidly confusing! What’s more, it was starting to get fairly late in the afternoon, and the light was fading. I made an executive decision to give up on seeing the temple today, and we would focus on seeing it tomorrow. Instead, we headed back into “Loft”, Emma’s favourite homewares store. She spent a good 90 minutes in there, browsing through the various things on sale. It was great fun.

Afterwards, we caught the bus back to Kyoto station, where we dived into the department store’s food court to pick up a cheap dinner of “closing time” bento boxes. Yes, they are cheap and aren’t the best food in the world, but for the price you pay, you’d be hard pressed to find half as much food in Australia.

Overall, not the most productive day in the world, but it was still loads of Japanese-themed fun.


Today we were definitely going to see some damn temples. For sure. I was hellbent on doing so. As such, we woke up early. We checked out of our hotel, and then made a beeline for Kyoto Station. Having done some research into Kinkaku-Ji, I found that the quickest way was a subway trip and then a bus trip when you were out of the gridlock of the city. As time was a priority today, we decided to do this. It’s about 250JPY cheaper just to go on the bus, but it can take up to 90 minutes to get there, as opposed to the 30 with this method.

Kinkaku-ji was amazingly pretty. It shone brilliantly in the morning light, and the overhead clouds added some dramatic lighting to it as well. However, as the guide had warned us, it was rather crowded. It wasn’t shuffling along at a snail’s pace in most places, and everyone got some good photo opportunities, but it was still a little bit too crowded for my liking. This is really to be expected though – it is pretty much Kyoto’s most famous tourist attraction. It is definitely worth seeing, just don’t expect to get yourself a private moment alone with it.

Our next destination was Tofukuji temple. Unfortunately, this was on the completely opposite side of town to Kinkaku-ji, which  meant a few train trips to get there. Surprisingly, it was still cheaper to take the JR trains than the buses/subway combo that we used to get to Kinkaku-Ji.

Contrary to it’s name, Tofukuji temple isn’t famous for its Tofu. In fact, I didn’t see any tofu when I was there, at all. What it is famous for though, is its autumn colours. While I had already seen some breathtaking autumn colours in Seoul and in Yudanaka, I was keen to see some with a temple as a backdrop. I thought that we’d just go there and have a quiet stroll around, snapping the occasional picture.

I was wrong, very wrong. It turned out to be just as, if not more crowded than Kinkaku-Ji. While there were views of the autumn colours that were truly jaw-dropping, it was a bit of a stretch to actually be able to properly enjoy them, with each walkway being crowded with hundreds of people jostling for the best photo opportunity. It was all still very civilised, as everything is in Japan, but compared to our last visit to Kyoto, where things were still busy, but not overly crowded, made the overall experience a bit disappointing. Plus, the weather by this time was alternating sporadically between overcast and pouring rain, so periodically the crowd of tourists jostling for the perfect shot became a sea of umbrellas. Quite unpleasant.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still very glad to see these sights, but if/when I return to Kyoto, I will try to go during a lower season next time, or at least see some of the less famous temples. Just so I can get a few quiet moments of self-reflection. I definitely wasn’t able to get my “zen” on this time, which was rather disappointing.

We then returned to the train station, and caught the train from Kyoto to Osaka. This didn’t involve the level of epicness that we have had in the past with some of our train travels. It was a quick 40 minute hop between the two cities, and just on a regular urban train. However, it was jam packed for the entire 30 minute journey, which was somewhat unpleasant with our huge luggage bags in tow. I was starting to get a bit sick of crowds by this point, so I was happy to finally get off at Osaka station.

The journey wasn’t over though, as we then had to switch to the subway which was also super crowded. When we got to Namba, our local train station, we were confronted with a super confusing map system that not only didn’t orient itself north, but in some cases, didn’t even orient it from the perspective that the viewer was looking at the map. It made absolutely no sense, and frustrated me to table-flipping levels.

Thankfully, we did eventually find our way to our hotel. We checked in, and then relaxed in the room for a couple of hours. I did battle with my PC, trying to get it to act as a wifi hotspot, but I eventually failed. Looks like we are stuck just with the netbook as internet access for Osaka.

We then went out for Yakitori at a local bar. The food was tasty, and the people were nice, but the bill at the end was quite confusing. I think we got overcharged, but I’m not 100% sure. As the receipt was completely in Japanese, for all I know they could have had “tourist idiot tax” as one of the items listed. Still, the food made up for it as it was really tasty. It was all chicken-based, too, so very Emma-friendly. Copious amounts of stickmeat were had, and all in all, a good finish to a tiring day.


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