Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Friday, 6 April 2018

8 - Return to the Golden Temple

(Monday 2nd April, Kyoto)

Another beautiful cherry blossom-filled day. 

In much the same way Awajishima is blessed with so much sunlight it can't use it all, Arashiyama is blessed with an abundance of sakura, so much so that you sadly reach a kind of plateau of happiness after about 36 hours. This is how it must have played out. A hundred years ago a guy decided to himself to plant a row of cherry trees along the river. "This is gonna look great, trust me," he told the other town planners who listened with polite but unconvinced expressions. "And it'll be great for the local economy too. People will come from miles around just to see this effusion of pink against the blue/green backdrop of the river."  They all sat doubtfully around the table for a moment, unsure. "For just one weekend a year?" They pause in hesitation. Then anther guy chimes in, "Yeah, but that weekend we'll all be able to knock off at six!" Thus the deal is sealed.

We retraced our steps across the bridge to an old traditional train station only to find that most of the tickets for the day had already been sold; we'd need to wait hours before being able to ride it.  
The unmistakable but very literal glass ceiling of Kyoto Station
Instead we moved on to Plan B: Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple). We got a train to Kyoto and found this nice kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant in the catacombs, where you order in English by iPad, once again negating the need for uncomfortable human interaction.

Order via Ipad to avoid pesky human contact 
This left me in a strange predicament. I knew the name of my favourite sushi but only in spoken Japanese, not written. So I had no choice but to blurt out, "Sumimasen, shime saba arimusa ka?" to the chef for which I was rewarded for my efforts, like a seal, with some delicious vinegared mackerel.
Maguro, or raw tuna. The price of the dish is indicated by the colour of the plate

Job done!
An eye-popping variety of popcorn flavours 
From Kyoto station we took a bus to Kinkaku Ji (The Golden Temple - not to be confused with Ginkaku Ji, the Silver Temple) which I'd seen a few times before. We thought it would be an important part of our son's Japanese heritage and cultural education to show him it this holiday.
Kinkakuji - The Golden Temple

There were a lot of other tourists but we did our best to enjoy the garden for the beautiful spot it was meant to be. I imagined coming across the place by accident hundreds of years ago and the sense of awe that must have instilled. (I'd been stumbling through the undergrowth for days - my face, arms and legs gnawed to the bone by insects - when suddenly I fell into a clearing and rubbed my eyes. Hey, is that a golden temple?)
Shop til you drop : A mall stretches off to infinity
We took the bus back to Kyoto station and after searching for miles for a place to eat finally found an almost deserted Okonomiya san. I couldn't help wondering why it was so empty, but by then we were so exhausted and our feet so tired we threw caution to the wind, sat ourselves down and ordered a delicious meal.

Okonomiyaki is a kind of fried seafood omelet with fish flakes, sauce and mayonnaise

When we got back to Arashiyama we headed straight for the onsen, where I, feeling like the old hand professional and wanting to show off to my wife said, "Leave this to me, dear," and deftly purchased the tickets from the machine for 'weekday adult' times two plus a 'weekday child', only to be told that we had to use the more expensive weekend tickets. "Eh?" I said, "Isn't this a weekday?" but the guy insisted (without eye contact) that today we were to use the more expensive button. We looked back at the machine and sure enough there was a large hand-drawn arrow pointing at the 'Weekend ticket' button. Whether this was good or bad business sense only time will tell, but nonetheless, a good hot bath was had by all.

Read Day 9.

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)

Sunday, 1 April 2018

3 - Coffee in Japan

(Wednesday 28th March, Sumoto)

Upon finally dragging my bone-weary Rumplestiltskin-like carcass reluctantly out of bed around 10am I discovered several things: there is indeed a kindergarten right next door; it was bright and sunny; cherry blossom is blooming; we really are in Japan.

Another can of hot coffee!? Well, two in six years ain't bad I guess!
After having a few pieces of fruit I went downstairs for a walk around while my family got themselves together. Next I went directly to this vending machine and bought a hot can of coffee. Only someone who's lived in Japan for several years and been away for several years can appreciate these cans of hot coffee as much as I did this morning. It was like the honey milk and golden nectar of the gods. With caffeine. The third thing I did was stumble upon a beach I'd known nothing about a stone's throw away (had our balcony been higher up and facing the right direction) with a small wood of trees growing out the sand.

Gates to Japanese shrines have always held a special fascination 

Outside the nearby school I was chatted to by a group of the school soccer team in cheery English, reminding me of the good old days when I used to teach in JHS and HS.

Trees growing out of sand

In the centre of Sumoto are two large department stores - one called Aeon, which is like a completely enclosed ecosystem where you could survive indefinitely if it were underground and there had been a nuclear war - and the other called Edion, which would provide all your conceivably necessary electric and electronic appliances should there be a nuclear holocaust and the two be connected by an underground tunnel. In Aeon you'd barter for ramen and coffee, haggle for trendy pouch bags, and trade whatever you managed to scavenge from your destroyed abode for time with robots and playing House Of The Dead 4 killing zombies to take your mind off the threat of being attacked by zombies. In Edion you'd exchange bottles of only slightly radioactive water for USB 3.0 adaptors to edit your apocalyptic music video and Bayblades to keep your kids' spirits up.
Original Bayblades - Only available in Japan
'Are you talkin' to me?'
Bayblades are these futuristic spinning tops that feature in the TV anime Bayblade Burst. You fire them off in an arena and they kind of battle it out until one of them either stops spinning, gets pushed out or explodes, sending shrapnel in all directions at high speeds - hence the protective guard. You can get defence types, attack types, sustain types and mix and match sections to experiment. Actually pretty interesting for kids. Even in Edion sales are restricted to one per person.
Happily Japanese letter boxes are still Heinz Tomato Soup coloured
In the evening we had dinner with my wife's friend and her husband who we met last night and I had to fight back the irrational desire to apologise for the poor quality of my Japanese, even though that was the only practical way to communicate. As it turns out I'd had several conversations with my family last night that I had absolutely no memory of whatsoever, so I started off by enquiring of the husband what he did for a living sure that I'd already asked him and forgotten, and concluded (by way of youtube videos and electronic dictionaries) he was a Seaweed Paper Inspector. I think I would have remembered that. I may have misunderstood but I think he said it was a very deep job, he was under a lot of pressure and working flat out.

This guy!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

2 - Sleepless in Japan

(Tuesday 27th March, Sumoto) 

We (along with 4 other Japanese dudes) got the ferry from Kansai Airport across to Sumoto, Awajishima at 1:25pm (5:25 am UK time) and arrived at 2:30pm, but I was so out of it due to being up for 24 hours I took the opportunity of catching 40 winks stretched out on the seat until we arrived. If you've ever tried to have forty winks on a ferry you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Our (almost) private ferry
The wait in the foyer of the Condo until 4pm check-in time (8am UK time) was the longest ever. Sitting on those comfy leather sofas in that beautiful, luxurious foyer with luggage scattered around us trying to keep my eyes open was a losing battle, and I was conscious (just) that we were an untidy family cluster, but I had neither the will nor the inclination to do anything about it. Eventually a big official guy came along and efficiently swept us up in the check-in procedure and out the front door.

The main building is a hotel but they bought a few apartment blocks  nearby for self-catering. So once we got our key we drifted across the street like tumbleweeds up a flight of stairs to a nice clean two-bedroom apartment with a Japanese-style tatami room, dining room, TV, one hob kitchenette, shower, balcony, and most of the windows glazed due to such proximity with next-door apartment buildings. 

Rather disappointed to discover that my nice international electric adaptor I bought from Boots years ago doesn't seem to work. Now there was no way to charge my laptop or any of our USB stuff. Through the haze I was dimly aware the best way to combat jet lag was to stay awake until early evening at least, so after unpacking I stretched out on the bed with the curtains open doing my best not to plummet into a deep, bottomless sleep. Then we went out for some reconnoitre of the local area to hunt down some supplies. 

Matching retro mod con set

It was great to be back in Sumoto again after 7 years. It's a funny yet pleasant feeling to have such vague, murky memories refreshed after so long. The temperature was warm, the day still bright and welcoming, the heat rising from the pavements from the day, as we walked up and across towards the main shopping district. In Edion, the first of the huge stores, we bought my son an enormous Bayblade Arena, which he'd been looking forward to getting for the last few weeks, and now it was up to me to carry the damn thing around while half asleep. My wife succeeded in purchasing a UK-Japan plug adaptor, so that should be that problem solved. 

Lost in translation: A selfie sticker booth for young people 
In the second giant department store we met one of my wife's friends and her husband and I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of having to converse on a social level in Japanese after being out of the country for so long. When we got back home I just about had enough energy to have some supper, read a few pages of Lord of the Rings to my son (making up delirious sentences here and there) before we both crashed out and knew no more... 

... except for the distant drunken singing, which my subconscious recognised to mean that we were located downtown and probably near and above a karaoke snack bar.

... and the unmistakeable sound of countless tiny Japanese children shouting and learning and having fun, signifying that we were probably near and above a kindergarten and that it was already (by someone's yardstick if not my own) morning. 

Read Day 3.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Japan Day 1 - Going East

(Monday 26th March, Kansai International Airport) 

Well, here we are in Japan after quite a long but relatively pleasant trip.

We left our house by taxi at 6:30am on 26th March, and caught a plane from Edinburgh to Helsinki, Finland from 9:30am for a couple of hours. This plane was about half full and quite small, and the take off and landing seemed to be a bit on the steep side, but I managed to catch a few Z's and my son had a bit of earache but we made it in one piece.

We had lunch in Helsinki at a restaurant and managed to successfully navigate the passport controls (twice) only to find out that since we were transferring there we shouldn't have gone out of the secure area in the first place! Ha ha! It was the same guy who showed us out as showed us back in again.

A few hours later and we boarded a plane to Kansai which was a good few sizes bigger. Here are the in-flight films I watched in order of merit:

Three Billboards 
Bladerunner 2049
Splash - Sorry, no - The Sound Of Water - no, apologies again - The Shape of Water

Had a delicious dinner and breakfast. My son was sick a couple of times (due to travel sickness) but apart from that I think he loved the films and the games and caught a few hours of sleep. I didn't sleep at all, keen as I was to catch the ending of Bladerunner 2049 before the plane landed. I was pleased to recognise the unused opening storyboards from the first Bladerunner (given as examples in the book 'Film Art') used to start off the sequel : a good sign that the filmmakers were keen to remain faithful to the original.  2 hours + 9.5 hours is much better than 1 hour + 10.5 for sure, which would have been then case if we'd changed at Heathrow. 

We touched down at 9am Japan time (1am UK time), and my wife and I had our first holiday argument at 9:05. She wanted to carry a small bag of vomit off the plane with us and though Arrivals. I was against this idea. I asked her several times to leave it on the plane for the staff to deal with as it was their job, but she (very Japanesely) didn't want to upset them. Fortunately we compromised and she left it in the first bin we came to after disembarking, so we didn't need to stand in line at customs with it. "Anything to declare?" "Just this small bag of vomit.

It's actually really good to be back in Japan after all this time. Difficult to explain to people who've never been. Just something about the place. Services are very customer orientated. Everything's nice and clean and on time. People are smiling and friendly, and I get to use my Japanese again, however rusty it may be. The weather's mild, and I didn't even resent having to get my fingerprints taken at immigration, which we navigated without mishap or separation and in relatively good time. Dotours is still here, and hundred yen coins still work, so that's all good. The exchange rate is currently £1 = 150 yen. 

Actually makes me wonder if I could get another English teaching job here, as they've given me a three month tourist visa!

It's been almost exactly six years since we were last here. We moved to Scotland in May 2012, a few months after my father passed away and a year or so after the massive 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, and just haven't had the funds or the opportunity to return since then.