Welcome to the Japan that you know of
I remember hearing some noises from the morning prayers, but I eventually woke up from my ‘morning call’, an old Japanese lady who slid the wooden door open, found me still sleeping and awkwardly said ‘Gome!’ before quickly closing the door and running off. I’d miss out on the morning prayers ‘and’ stopped a lady from doing her morning chores. It’s only a matter of time before great dishonour will come to my family because of my actions.
The breakfast that was presented to us tasted almost exactly the same as our dinner the evening before. As in, barely any taste at all. There was a mix of shock and laughter when I told the group about me being locked out last night. I still couldn’t shake off the awkward feeling of that experience, though I did settle with the thought that the worst that could have happen to me, was that I had to sleep outside for a few hours. And heck, it wasn’t that cold at all in Koyasan for that time of year.
We thanked the owners of the Shukubo several times before heading out. After going back down with the diagonal ropeway I became happy as a clam when our guide started handing out our tickets for the next Shinkansen ride. Our ride to Kyoto was going to be a lengthy one, but I didn’t mind as I was gonna sleep through it all the way.
Seriously, the best sleep I had in Japan was always in a Shinkansen train. I woke up groggy just a few minutes before we arrived in Kyoto, but I quickly got a boost of energy when I looked around in the main hall of the train station. It’s another marvelous gem of modern architecture. With our own gem back in precious Belgium, better known as Antwerpen-Centraal railway station, I’m already used to glorious train stations but Kyoto station is some hefty competition against Antwerp. That’s why our guide suggested for the next few hours to spend some time getting lunch in the station and look around. The place is so big you could probably spend an entire day in it, with all the shopping at your leisure. After lunch we went on the escalators to go all the way to the top of the station. There you can get a first view on the massive city that is Kyoto. You can venture further through small hallways build within the construction of the spectacular roof.
Quite an amazing start to begin with in Kyoto, and if that wasn’t enough to begin with, we went across the street of the station to visit the Kyoto tower. I wasn’t a fan of this idea, because I feared we would waste too much time standing in line to go all the way up, to gaze at the view for a few minutes and then head back down. For some reason, this was anything but the case. There wasn’t any time wasted at all. We paid our entry fee, went up the elevator, and there we were in mere minutes. About 100 meters up. No waiting what so ever. It was more interesting than I original thought it would be. This is because you get a clear 360° view and on the glass there’s the name of the location you’re starting at, printed in both Japanese & English. As if you’re standing in a living map. The view was amazing from any angle, making the view of the rooftop of the station feel like a mere glimpse. I dare say that the tower is a must-visit if you’ve just arrived in Kyoto as a tourist. There’s a huge touch screen where you can swipe across the regions you’re looking at, and tap on locations to see what to do there. If you had a notepad with you, you could set up your whole day/week here. After we walked around in circles several times, we knew we would be spending far too little time in Kyoto to see all we wanted to see.
After we were done staring in awe at the skylines of Kyoto, we regrouped back at the station. There our guide explained the bus system, as it was the easiest method of getting around in Kyoto. Just get a day pass for a few yens (yeah sorry, I totally forgot how much it costs) and you can hop on any bus all day long. We then put this into practice by getting on a bus heading to the Kiyomuzudera Temple (another wonderful mouth-full).
The bus ride took longer than expected (get use to that!) but it didn’t matter. I stared in awe through the windows at the streets of Kyoto. This truly was a whole different beast all together. The streets were filled with a mix of temples, shrines, old shops and then some skyscrapers and shopping malls. The blend of old and new was so unnatural yet…cool! Yeah, that’s the word I’m gonna use to described my first impressions of Kyoto: Cool!
…I’m not a clever writer.
Once off the bus, we had to walk up through a street filled with all sorts of little shops. Our guide advised us to hold off on checking out these shops for now, because another street on the way back down would be way more worth our efforts. I was amazed to see many Japanese people all dressed in traditional clothing, but apparently it’s a trend in Japan to rent such clothes for a few hours. Ha, Japanese culture…you gotta love it!
A lot of people asked me when I returned from Japan about whether or not I experienced any culture shocks. I believe I didn’t, as I welcomed anything that Japan threw at me with open arms (except closed doors) but the closest thing to a culture shock was surely when we arrived at the Kiyomuzudera Temple. So…many…people. It was nuts. All of a sudden you’re crowded by a horde of tourists, locals, school kids and those bloody hipsters who wanna take up all the space with their expensive photography equipment (I don’t count them as tourists). You feel lost for a moment because you can’t even see where to go anymore. This was the experience of the big Japanese cities that I’ve heard so much about, but I’m happy have to say these packed locations aren’t everywhere in Kyoto, far from it. I guess the Kiyomuzudera temple is just…really, really popular?
I was probably also uncomfortable with the massive crowd because of the insane different it was compared to Koya-san just the day before. If you visit a temple in Koya-san, everything is silent, you barely see any people and respect is shown to the monks and temples. Here in Kyoto? Madness as people run through the shrines, souvenir shops ‘inside’ the temples and monks who walk around with a face as if they are wishing for death. As glorious as the Kiyomuzudera Temple may be, it became so devalued by the tourism of it all.
So yeah, the impact of the temple was lost to me due to the amount of visitors (I can’t even recall how the view was from up there), but seeing the ‘Otowa Waterfall’ nearby was fun though. Located at the base of the temple, you can get in line to drink from any of the streams that flow out of the waterfall. Drinking from any the streams would bless you with good fortune, mostly for either success in school or in your love life. So of course I got in line! One can never be enough blessed with love. In front of me was a huge line of Japanese school kids, each getting a cup of blessed water from their teacher. It seemed mandatory for them to be blessed or else great dishonour would fall upon them and their families. It was fun to drink the water, though I’d doubt it would improve my love life anytime soon.
There were many groups of school kids at the temple, and amazingly enough some kids even approached me. They had an assignment to talk in English to foreigners and ask about stuff like ‘where you’re from’ and ‘what do you like about Japan?’ ‘do you like the food?’ etc. It was almost stunning to see how well English these 8-years old spoke. Again though, they did stare in confusion at me when I said I was from Belgium. Don’t worry kids, It’s not a country worth knowing.
Our guide was right about waiting to visit the local stores. In the other street on the way back to the bus stop, there were so many shops for all your Japanese desires. All the souvenir shops were fun as hell, though I didn’t buy anything yet because I didn’t want to drag all the gifts around for the remainder of the trip. What did I do was something that I mentioned all the way back in my very first post about Japan. I’ve found my perfect Japanese fan!
There was a shop dedicated solely to the purpose of selling fans. It was awesome. Crazy enough on the left side of the shop you had all sorts of fans for men (dark, neutral colours), and on the right side fans for the ladies (very bright colours with lots of details). The deeper you go into the shop, the more fancies and therefore more expensive fans will be on display. I spend a little over 2000 yen for a wonderful fan, and I also bought a ‘uchiwa’ because why the hell not.
Once out of the street, I didn’t know what to do. There’s so much to see and do in Kyoto, that all I decided to was…to go to the hotel. Sorry, but for the remainder of the afternoon I just walked to our hotel and relaxed at my room. The travelling had already taken a toll on me. I wasn’t used to all of this. Plus I was still very tired from the night before, when I didn’t sleep at all in Koya-san. It’s a shame looking back at it now how I’ve ‘wasted’ several hours just resting on a bed in a tiny hotel room in this wonderful city called Kyoto, but I needed to recharge my batteries.
It was already dark outside by the time I regained my strength and ventured back out of the hotel. The Kawaramachi area came highly recommended, so off I went. It’s a famous shopping district of Kyoto, most noticeable for the roofs that are build between the streets, giving it a feeling of being inside a massive mall while in fact, you’re still outside. I discovered now that while taking the bus to get around in Kyoto is indeed effortless, it also takes forever. You’re constantly stuck in traffic jams so the bus is moving at a slow pace, and you’d be much better off taking the subway. By the time I arrived in Kawaramachi, most shops were already closing. I did lucked out with a nice manga shop that was still open, where I’ve bought some Japanese treasures in comic form (well, a Deathnote comic for myself and a one-punch man comic for a buddy of mine). Wandering the streets of Kawaramachi felt very peaceful around this time, for there were barely any crowds to be had.
After a tasty dinner in a restaurant that felt more European than Japanese (lots of space and lots of pasta) I set out to find that which was the main reason I came to Kawaramachi: the A-Cho Arcade. Jup, I can’t get enough of them videogames and I didn’t want to miss out on a Japanese arcade in one of the most famous cities of Japan. Also, it was there where I reached another goal that I originally set out to do in Japan, play some Street Fighter. And so I did. Street Fighter III 3rd strike to be precise for all you hardcore fans out there. Again, the stories of the Japanese arcades are worthy of their own posts, so maybe just maybe some day that post will appear… maybe.
After exploring the arcades, my evening already came to a close. I don’t know what it is about Japan, but the nightlife does seem sort of hidden there. Kawaramachi soon looked empty as ever around 23.00. What gives, Japan?
And with that I alas end this post. My first day in Kyoto was more to take a breather. So much to see and so little time to do it, it does something to your body. Well, my body at least. Maybe that’s why Joriss.com isn’t a travelling blog. Imagine if that ever happened…ooooooh…
Join me next time for our second day in Kyoto, which is gonna be a lot more productive I can assure you.
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