Asia | Japan | Kyoto – Two Days in Kyoto
I arrived in Kyoto a little after ten PM. On the shinkansen I found my reservation form for the Tour Club Youth Hostel and I noticed something I had never noticed about it before. Check in ended at ten PM. Uh oh. I soon discover I also had no phone number to call the hostel and tell them I would be late. I prayed, and I figured God would find me someplace to sleep.
I arrived in Kyoto and left the train station to find the hostel. A very kind sight was the fact that there were a lot of big chain hotels near the train station. I started to follow my map to the hostel in the rain. A light drizzly rain, but annoying enough. I started following the map, and all of the sudden I realize Ive missed a turn. These things that look like streets on the map looked like alleyways to my eyes, so I walked right past them without counting how many I had passed. I turned down a larger street and started counting smaller ones to see if I could find it. I stopped at a small shine on the side of the street which had a light to use to look at my map again, and sure enough, the very next person who came my way asked if I was lost and if I needed help. Yes, and yes, thank you very much. He looked at my map and we started walking again. We walked a few blocks, when he stopped to ask another fellow if he knew where the hostel was. The second fellow didnt know, but he said he knew someone who did, so I climbed in his van, and off we went. He parked on the sidewalk a few blocks down, and let me into another hotel. The gentleman at the front desk was a friend of the fellow with the van. He didnt know where it was exactly, but he knew where the street was, and where the post office was that was marked on my map of the youth hostel. Off I went again to discover the hostel was about a block away.
I entered the hostel. By this time it is at least 10:30, if not a little later. The front door was still open, so I figured that was a good enough sign. No one was present at the front desk, and there was a note for another guest about where his room was. I found the toilet, and then the general living room area of the hostel. The other guests looked up at me, but no one questioned my presence there. I went back to the lobby and searched over the check in desk again. I found a buzzer marked for late night check in only and I gave it a buzz. Soon, a very cheery young man appeared from outside, happy to check me in! Yea! He knew right away who I was, and he was not at all unpleasant about my late hour. He is up until 11, when he has to close and lock the outside doors, so it was OK. He led me back to my room. It is a room with 5 beds. Two bunk beds with two beds a piece, and one extra cot, which I found later to be blocking off most of the closet space. One roommate was already in bed, one bed looked lived in, and so I chose an open bottom bunk. The Hostel Host showed me where the bathroom was, and told me that shower time would be ending at 11, so I needed to be quick if I wanted a shower tonight.
Now, I think hostels are a great idea. Bunk bed style rooms. General or private showers down the hall which everyone can share. Usually some rules and hours, but thats OK. Bu not having to pay for 24 hour front desk staff, it helps keep the price down. Hostels give travelers a chance to meet other travelers in a pleasant environment. Some hostels have rules about the minimum (to make sure your old enough) or maximum (to keep old weirdos out) ages, but not all of them. I dont find the need for a maximum age limit (you can have young weirdos too), but I do believe in the minimum age limit. Staying in the hostel the two nights I was there included young travelers, some older couples, and a family of four: a husband, wife and two sons ages 1 and 5. These kids had no concept that they couldnt walk in and out of any room they wanted, any time they wanted. They went screaming up and down the halls. They couldnt understand why they had to wait their turn for the toilet or the shower. Aaacckkkkk!!!! I dont think everyone belongs in a youth hostel unless they are old enough to understand what is going on. And for the rest of us, if your kids are too young to understand what is going on, than just dont bring them to the youth hostel!
I did manage to get a good nights sleep, with or with out the screaming kids. I was too tired to not sleep. I woke up at ten and went into town to figure out my day. At the train station, which is also where the bus station is I learned last night, there is a Café du Monde, yum yum, for breakfast. And for those of you that arent in the know, Café de Monde is a wonderful little restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans that should not be missed. They sell coffee and beignets, which are small rectangular fried pastries that are dripping with powdered sugar (confectioners sugar). Evedently, there is also a string of them in Japan. Yum, what a tasty breakfast.
Next stop is the tourist information center to gather some English maps of Kyoto for today and tomorrow. There I got directions to the Saihoji Temple, the Moss Temple of Kyoto. See the story The Religion of Moss for more information on that part of my day.
After the Moss Temple, I walked around that part of Kyoto, seeing a shrine where everything was made of bamboo, and the Temple of 1000 Bells. This temple, the Suzumushi-dera, about 30 years ago, had a monk who wanted to hear the crickets year round. In Kyoto, the crickets sing in the fall, in the dark, when it is mating season, and when there are no humans around. Somehow this monk found a way to get the crickets to sing year round. Not there is one large room which has six large aquariums filled with crickets, singing all the time. The monk giving the explanation has to use a microphone to be heard over the crickets. From a distance away, you can still hear the crickets, even though you can no longer hear the man with the microphone.
I ended up finding my way back to the hostel again. My favorite desk clerk was working, so I asked him where I should go to see geisha. Geisha literally translates to Woman of the Arts. She is trained in music, dance, the art of pouring tea, and conversation. A geisha is most definitely not a prostitute! He told me that the geisha were present in the Goin district, and are most often seen around dusk and early evening escorting their clients to dinner. So I went to the Going district to look and look and look. To find someone, when you dont know really wear to look, and you are just waiting for them to pass you by, if a difficult thing. There were two main cross streets in the Goin district, and lots of little alley streets. I wandered the alleys for a while, but there is only so much wandering one can do. So I found a pub that served sushi, and sat down for dinner. Another fabulous meal of miso soup, sushi and tempura, yum. Back out into the streets and I started admiring hair ornaments. These are made for geisha and maiko (girls training to be geisha). In one store, small (tiny!) hairclips started at $40 US. They went up to very ornate hair combs (decorative hair combs made to be stuck in and seen) made of tortoise shell inlayed with jade and gold for up to $5000US!!!!! I did not purchase any hair ornaments.
Window shopping at another hair ornament store on a main street, I hear the loudest Japanese woman I have ever heard. I find this strange because so far I have found them to be such quiet and reserved people, at least in public. After the voice passes, I turn to look at her to discover a geisha! She had walked right by me and I had almost missed her. She was walking with three business men, one woman, and another geisha in tow. I stood in shock. She turned a corner and I turned back to the hair ornaments I was looking at. Then I thought, why dont I see where she is going? So off I go down the alleyway behind her. The alleys were full of people, and every doorway seemed to have a large man in a black suit and tie protecting it. During the walk, we passed two more geisha on the way to their evenings. Finally, the geisha I was following escorted her group into a restaurant and that was the end of my followings. No photographs of her because I felt strange enough for following her up and down these dark alleys to her destination.
Back at the hostel, our room has gained one more member, so now there are four of us sleeping in here. Unfortunately, the new one seems to be a rambunctious snorer, to go with the more melodic snorer above me, so there is a musical interlude to sleep to tonight. When the morning comes, I am more than happy to get out of bed and get ready to do some touristing. . Unfortunately, it is raining again. So I pack my bag and check it at the station and I take my satchel and my rain coat and hear off to see the Golden Pagoda, Kinkakuji Temple. Somehow I managed to get off the bus at the wrong stop, and have to walk a ways to the temple complex. Slowly I am getting wetter and wetter. I have a rain jacket, but not an umbrella, so my satchel is getting wetter and wetter. Since it is mostly pink and red woven material, everything inside of it will end up with pink corners by the end of today.
I find the Golden Pagoda, with the ubiquitous throngs of school groups here to see the sights. There are even groups of kids on the buses, usually in groups of four or five, which seem to have no chaperones and are traveling the city from famous site to famous site. It is a Wednesday, so I expect it is a school day. Besides, if it was not a school day, why would they all have on their uniforms? The temple grounds, and the path around the lake are filled with kids, but the view is still good since they mostly seem to be middle school age kids here.
After the Golden Pagoda, I try to make it back to a bus to go back downtown. Every time I have gotten on a bus in this town, it seems to be a thirty minute ride to anywhere. Kyoto is full of temples and shrines and other cool sites to see, but they are all spread all over the city, so it takes quite a while to see any of them. In the rain, I am wishing I had an umbrella. Not so much to protect me from the rain, but to protect me from everyone elses umbrellas. One the sidewalks, people walk by and I am constantly dodging the points of peoples umbrellas. Also, people leave their umbrellas outside when they go in a store here. I can tell by the looks on their faces that it is in bad taste that I will wear my wet rain jacket into the store (it was a convenience store), but there was no place for me to leave it outside.
I end up walking to a subway stop, and taking that to the main train station. With a little more free time before I need to leave, I decide to go to the tallest pagoda in Japan, located at the Nina-ji Temple complex, which looks close to the train station. It actually was close; the walk was only unpleasant because of the rain. Wet socks are not my favorite thing in the world. Ah, but to be a tourist, one must take what one is given. So I still enjoyed the pagoda, and the walk, and Kyoto. If I return to Kyoto, I will know that I need a lot more time than just two days to see a city as full of wonders as this one.