Showing posts with label Cherry Blossom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cherry Blossom. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 April 2018

7 - Cherry Blossom & Onsen

(Sunday 1st April, Arashiyama)

Woke up early with no sign of rash or bug bites so it's looking like my concerns about the bedding was thankfully unfounded. Beginning to appreciate the guest house for its location as it opens up right onto one of the main streets and is a can of Asahi's throw from the main cherry blossom part of the river.

Today was the day my wife was to meet her friends so I was on son duty, and decided to take him to the onsen (hot spring) which wasn't due to open until midday, so we spent the day wandering around and playing his Beyblade arena in a small park. 

We had a healthy and delicious breakfast in Musubi again - including two huge onigiri (rice balls), which kept us full for most of the day.

The hot spring was great, and since this was our son's second visit to one he was now an old hand at it. There were four baths and they were all quite quiet as most people I assumed were out enjoying the cherry blossom and would come in for a bath later. Inside was the regular bath plus a kind of white milky one. There were sakura petals floating on both, which bathers had brought inside with them from the two baths outside - again a normal one with natural stone decoration, and the obligatory freezing cold bath that I never have the guts to go into after the 60 degree heat of the others.

We had a nice coffee and chat with two of my wife's friends in the cafe near Arashiyama station from about 3pm until 5:30pm and then after saying goodbye set off across the river to find a place to chow down, only to discover that most restaurants seemed to have their minds set on closing at 6pm. Surely it would make more business sense to stay open until 8pm at least if you're a restaurant in a tourist district at high season? I just couldn't fathom the logic, and after walking half a mile on nothing but the two large onigiri we'd had for breakfast, I was fathoming it less and less. 

Bladerunneresque steam erupts periodically from this chestnut stall
Finally we came back to our side of the river and found a place that was still serving food outside. We were next in line and the guy said, "Just a moment, please," while hustling around bringing food to customers. I had my eye on a big steaming bowl of Nishin Soba, when the guy came back and without looking us in the eye, announced, "Sorry, we're closed!" I stared on in hungry disbelief, my mouth hanging open. Closed? But you just said wait a moment? How can wait a moment lead to closed? Those are not two naturally progressive steps in any known logical sequence ever. I knew I should have been angry, but the truth was, I wasn't. I was too content to be angry. I wasn't even disappointed. I wasn't exactly overjoyed about it either - just pleasantly dumbfounded. Closed? It's 6:45 on a Sunday night and the place is heaving with tourists. Do you not have a kitchen? Do you not have tables? Do you not have food? Do you not have hungry tired customers who have nowhere else to go? Staying open an extra hour would be a killer move over the competition, dude, stay open! 

People concerned they might not be using the toilet the right way can rest assured instructions are provided in most locales.

Or perhaps it was because the sakura was earlier than expected and they just hadn't prepared for the rush. Maybe that was why. Not enough staff or food. Who knows.

Anyway, to cut a short story long we ended up eating dinner outside Mini Stop, the convenience store near the station. I had fried chicken on a stick, a can of beer, and something called an American Dog which is the only thing that hits the spot when you get the cravings for a hot dog wrapped in a donut. 

This is now the half way mark of our trip.

Read Day 8.

(Text & Photos © Chris Young 2018)

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

6 - Sumoto Castle & Guest House Shock

(Saturday 31st March, Kyoto)

After enjoying my first full night's sleep since arriving in Japan I left the condo for my daily morning coffee ritual, looked up at Sumoto Castle on the nearby hill and thought, "Well, we're leaving in a few hours - if I'm going to see that castle up close it's now or never," so off I went.

Isn't it funny how past experiences shape our perception of the present and future? As I made my way between buildings towards the foot of the hill, I knew this would be exactly the route I would take if I felt an earthquake, or happened to look out to sea and see a huge, towering tsunami roll its way towards the shore. Up. My family were still in the first floor apartment. They could go up too. Just climb the stairs to the the roof and sit out the maelstrom. Like the chaos from which Japan was mythically formed.

We didn't really plan to come when the cherry blossom was due to bloom. Summer too hot, winter too cold; actually I'd wanted to come in autumn as after a few years in Japan I'd suddenly developed hay fever - an allergy to the ubiquitous Japanese Sugi tree, often used as the building materials for houses. But in autumn I usually have much work to catch up on, so spring just seemed the best option and after pumping my system full of anti-histamines I would hope for the best. Every day I've been taking a little yellow pill and it's been working pretty well thus far. 

So the cherry blossom being in full bloom is kind of a bonus.

But if you stop to think about the intransigence of beauty it can bring a tear to your eye. So I try not to dwell on it too much.

On the approach to Sumoto Castle
Sumoto Castle
The town of Sumoto from the castle, facing north
The journey back down the mountain 
About an hour later, we caught the bus from Sumoto to Maiko, and the train to Kyoto, where we met up with some more friends in the catacomb-like department stores underground, where wifi drips sparingly from the ceiling like drops to a thirst-quenched man.

Kyoto Tower
After our meal we got a train to Arashiyama, via Katsura. When we arrived it was getting dark and the cherry blossom was blooming in earnest. There we checked the map and hunted down our Arashiyama guest house, which apparently might 'not be that great' according to some online reviews that my wife only found after booking.

It turned out that 'not that great' was the understatement of the day.

The moon pokes through the blossom
I should have taken a pic of the room when we opened the door, but I guess I was just quite taken aback by the situation. There was no staff there to greet us as we let ourselves in via the pre-emailed door code. Basically, if I remember rightly, there were a couple of futons and sleeping bags strewn across the floor, there was a pot noodle on the counter, the windows were closed and the air was stuffy with the unmistakable scent of someone else. The doors didn't lock and who knew how long ago the mattresses and room had been aired. The expression 'complete dive' sprung to mind. I instantly regretted leaving the booking of the accommodation to my wife, and headed out to find alternative digs. First hotel - full. Second hotel - full. Business hotel - full. At least I'd re-learnt the Japanese for the word 'full' (manshitsu) The fourth one I went to the guy outside guiding the cars didn't even bother to check a book. Translating what he said into cockney : "Yer 'avin a larf incha? Cherry blossom in full bloom (mankai) and this being a Saturday night? 'Course we're bloody full you twit! Nah clear off, 'fore I kick yer dan the bleedin' apples!"

When I returned to the (in my mind) insect-infested sweat-pit, my wife had done her bit getting the woman (a non-Japanese (but what difference should that make? )) in charge to clean up the room and give us a key, and I had to admit that after a bit of a tidy up the room wasn't that bad after all. We opened the windows and went out to find a bite to eat while the place aired. After the high of the morning I'd been emotionally clotheslined, but I still intended to get exhausted and good and drunk before lying down on those suspect bedclothes. At least we had a roof over our head. Our son, bless him, must have sensed the change in our moods, as he had become quite subdued himself in his behaviour.

Musubi Cafe, Arashiyama : Great food and decent business hours 
We had a very nice meal in the Musubi Cafe, wandered around and let the alcohol and cherry blossom lift our spirits.

When we returned the room seemed fresh, the bedclothes changed, and all was good with the world.

Read Day 7.

All Photos & Text © Chris Young 2018