Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kyoto - DAY 1

Carl here...

Ever since I first thought about coming to Japan, I have wanted to visit Kyoto, the old imperial capital. The city was Japan’s capitol city for more than 10 centuries, only moving when Emperor Meiji moved his imperial court to Edo, and renamed the city Tokyo in 1868. In all this time, it didn’t always hold the reigns of the country, from the 12th Century until the Meiji restoration, the country was controlled by the baku-fu, or military power commonly known as the shogun. Before and during this time, when the Emperor and his minions had nothing better to do, Kyoto became the cradle of Japanese culture from moon viewing parties to the tea ceremony.

Kyoto has often been the site of conflict which has meant that some of its greatest buildings have been lost over time. A lot of what can be seen today is from the early 17th century when the Tokugawa family restored much of Kyoto’s assets, basically as a show of the family’s power and to keep a check on the Emperor’s minions. In fact, the Nijo castle was built next door to the Imperial Palace, and is somewhat grander – an obvious snub to the Emperor.

Busy busy
Anyway, we managed to work out a free 3 day period where Amy and I could get to visit Kyoto. The only problem was that it was during the Japanese New Year holiday, this was to cause us a few problems later on. We also thought we’d drag Lawrence along, and to make up the numbers Okano-san from Shiramizu decided to come along too!

Day 1
For Amy and me, our day started with a 6:00am train from Wado station. As we headed into Tokyo we were not only greeted with a perfect, cloud free sunrise over the Arakawa River, but also an uninterupted view of Mount Fuji. Lots of local’s were taking advantage of the clean early morning air to go walking or jogging along the banks of the river. It was at this point that we also got our first glimpse of the majesty of Mount Fuji!


Nozomi Shinkansen...

The Japanese bullet train is really cool! Naturally we had to ride the fastest version, the Nozomi, which to build cost a massive almost 5 billion Japanese yen per train, which is around $55 million US. This crazy cost means that even the economy seats are pretty luxurious.

To make the trip even better, we had a perfect view of Mount Fuji in all its glory for a lot of the journey. The speed of the train did make it difficult to get a good picture of the mountain that wasn’t blocked by a random blur of buildings or utility poles.

Lawrence and Okano were travelling the 600 kilometres by car, which meant that Amy and I had to hang around for a few hours before they arrived in town. To pass the time we headed to a few of the places close to the station including:

The Shosei-en Garden, a really nice example of a Japanese garden which belongs to the Higashi Hongan-ji,.

The Higashi Hongan-ji,.a bit of a disappointment because the 2nd largest wooden structure in Japan is currently under refurbishment (note the huge warehouse type building in the photo);

The second largest wooded structure in Japan... No really!

Higashi Hongan-ji, main gate

The Kyoto Tower was ok, but nothing particularly special.

Show me the money
After the tower, we had to find a cash machine which should have been a simple thing in one of Japan’s biggest cities. However, the day was part of the Japanese New Year's holidays so all the cash machines decided not to give us access to any of our money. We must have tried about 20 different companies’ cash machines with both Japanese bank cards and our English bank cards without success. In the end we had to rely on Okano finding us a ‘Seven-Eleven’ store which we knew accepted out English cards.

I’d just like to say that Okano was great, not only did he book our accommodation and drive us everywhere in Kyoto, he also took it upon himself to make sure that we were always having a great time.

After using his trusty Sat Nav (car navigation system) we headed across town through 20 minutes of traffic to find a seven eleven and get some money.

Apparently the trick with the machines was to only ask for 10,000 yen at a time!

The Hotel
Then we headed to the hotel which unsurprisingly had a seven eleven around the corner from it – typical! The hotel seemed pretty nice, in the ‘robby’ there was a huge in-door pond the full length of the room against one wall with huge koi carp in. We checked in and headed to our rooms to get freshened up, agreeing to meet in the ‘robby’ in 30 minutes.

...just to explain, the lobby was actually labelled 'robby' in the elevators, which made us smile. 

We met up with one of Okano’s friends, a local who was going to show us the sights. We headed for food with him, and we worked out a schedule for the places we wanted to see. This actually turned out to be all the places that I wanted to see, because Amy, Lawrence and Okano were happy to go with the flow. After sampling the local cuisine, we wandered around Gion looking for some geisha.

Then afterwards hit a few karaoke places.

No comments: