Okay, so I’ve been a bad blogger! This is going waaay back a month ago to the 3-day weekend of Sept 21-24.
I took the overnight train from Akita to Kyoto. I had to change trains (from the sleeper to a regular train) around 5a.m., so I got to watch the sunrise in Kansai from the train. Pretty cool way to start my trip! Anywho, I arrived in Kyoto around 8am and met up with Joe, my friend from high school (we took Japanese together for 4 years, and now he’s studying abroad in Nagoya), and we dropped our things off at the ryokan (Japanese-style inn) Joe reserved for us. Then we met up with Chris (fellow Berkeley grad), bought all-day bus passes and headed out for a day of sight-seeing!
Word to the wise, you cannot even begin to see Kyoto in just one day (though, we tried!). We visited Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), Niijo Castle, Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion), Tetsugakusha-doori (The Philosopher’s Walkway), and a couple other smaller temples whose names I’ve forgotten.
Kinkakuji is probably the most famous in Kyoto, as it’s like one of the oldest wooden structures or something, and it was very pretty. I was surprised by how small it was though! In the pictures it always seems so huge! While we were there we got omikuji (fortunes), and mine was the best – it said I was very lucky. ☺ Oh, we also bought giiiiiant snowcones! Good thing, too, as it was really hot and humid.
Next, after getting lost on the bus for a while, we made it to Niijo Castle, which, even though rather touristy, totally blew my mind! I wasn’t all that impressed by its walls or its moats, but then we went inside and walked on the Nightingale Floors. They were specially designed to squeak no matter where or how lightly you stepped on it in order to prevent assassins (yes, ninjas) from attacking the shogun. And even after all these years and (I’ll venture to say) millions of people walking on them, the floors still sing like nightingales! Cool!
Oh, and we saw some geisha promoting an upcoming festival.
Ginkakuji has a misleading name, as it’s not ACTUALLY silver (the guy building it died before they got that far), but it’s grounds are AMAZING! There was a beautiful stone garden, and a nice path through a real garden that wound up a hill and allowed us to take some amazing photos of the city as the sun was setting.
On the little street from the temple to the Philosopher’s Walkway, there were a bunch of vendors, and Chris and I stopped to buy some omiyage (souvenirs) for our families. Then we proceeded on the walkway, philosophizing (and deciding where to go to dinner). The path follows along one of the original canals (and current home to some HUGE koi). Being the klutz I am, I was twirling my souvenir bag on my arm and before I knew it, it had flown into the canal! The water wasn't very fast or deep or anything, but the canal was deep so it’s not like I could just reach down. Joe, Chris, and I just kind of stared in disbelief trying to figure out what to do, and before I knew it, this young Japanese woman was climbing on a pipe (with the help of her boyfriend) down into the canal! She hopped into the slimy water and braved this huge scary koi to rescue my bag!!! It was one of the craziest and nicest things someone’s ever done for me! When she climbed out, I thanked her profusely in Japanese, and she asked me in English where I was from and if I liked Kyoto. Then we took a picture together and parted ways. Chris says she rescued it just so she could practice her English... I think not!
After all that silliness, we were tired and hungry, so we popped back to our ryokan (I’m deleting the part about how we waited for buses that never came for almost 2 hours) to clean up before heading out to eat. Chris knew the area best, so we hopped on the subway and, of course, got off at the wrong station, but decided to make do. We ended up at this GREAT Italian place. Afterwards we wanted to karaoke, but we couldn’t find a place and we were too tired anyway, so we hit the hay.
Joe, Chris, and I checked out of the ryokan just before 8 and caught a train to Osaka. We went to the America-mura (America Village) area thinking we could get some great American breakfast. We were disappointed to find only a smallerized Statue of Liberty, a McDonald’s, and some American-esque clothing stores. I’d decided this was my day for all non-Japanese food, since that’s pretty much all I can get up in Akita, so for breakfast I had scrambled eggs and toast. Then we headed over to Osakajo kouen (Osaka Castle Park). We wandered around a little bit waiting for Katie and her friend to get there. [No, I’m not talking about myself in third person. I’ve known Katie since first grade and I begged her to take Japanese with me in high school. She’s studying abroad at Kansai Daigai. Oh, and she and Joe are old buddies, too.] Once we were all reunited in the shadow of the ginormous Osaka Castle, we ventured in.
As cool and impressive as its hugeness was from the outside, that’s how not so exciting the inside was. Firstly, the thing was rebuilt during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) because it’d been damaged in wars and stuff, so the inside wasn’t castle-y at all. It was a museum! Probably a very good museum, too, but they didn’t have a lot of stuff in English, and it was jam-packed with tourists so it was hard to get much out of it besides the nice view from the top.
Continuing my non-Japanese food thing, we had Subway (as in, the American sandwich chain) sandwiches for lunch. It was like heaven!! Normally, it’s soooo hard to get a good sandwich here! They’re all wimpy little white bread with no crusts, and you can’t even buy all the ingredients to make a good one. So Subway was great, I even had guacamole on mine. :D Afterwards, the five of us took some purikura (little sticker picture things), explored the city a bit more, and parted ways with Katie and her friend.
Joe, Chris, and I had one last stop to make for the night → MEXICAN FOOD! When we got off the subway to go to the restaurant there was this great band playing on outside the station! They had two trombone players and their music was fun, fresh, and funky. We liked them so we bought their CD and talked to them after their set (and took a picture!). Very fun. Anyway, our Mexican food was delicious (after being in Japan for 2 or 3 months, my standards have lowered), and we had a good time. So, full, sleepy, and happy, we said good bye to Joe, and Chris and I took the train back to his place in Maibara.
The next day (Monday), we took it easy in the morning, then headed to Hikonejo (Hikone Castle). Off the beaten path, this was one of the coolest things I saw on the trip. Of course it wasn’t as crazy huge as Osakajo or magnificent as Niijojo, but it’s been preserved in its original state. We actually got to walk around in this old castle and go up and down these stairs so steep I practically crawled up them (I thought I was going to fall, break my neck and take out the tourists behind me at any moment). The grounds were nice, too, and I got to see Lake Biwa (biggest lake in Japan) from the hill the castle’s on. (I don't know how to rotate the pic, so turn your head!)
It started drizzling a little bit, so we went to a nearby shopping center thing to pass the time, and I had another Subway sandwich before catching my train home.
Oh! Actually, there was the part where I almost got stranded coming back. I was supposed to transfer trains Fukui at 8pm, but somehow I got it in my head that it was 9pm (even though I checked my ticket about 20 times), so around 8:45, I was started to wonder why they hadn’t announced my stop coming up. I looked at my ticket again, realized I was an idiot, and ran panicked through the train to find a conductor (who laughed when I told him what happened). I thought I must be doomed and I was going to have to spend the night in some unknown place and... yeah. But, as it turns out, to my good fortune, the tracks were still running parallel, and if I got off at the next stop, I could still catch my sleeper train back to Akita. So I did just that, and I arrived back home at 6:45am Tues – and went to work!