One thing I find a bit amusing about Japan is the amount of English you see in use all over the place. I’m not talking about the way signs and stuff are translated into English (or at least romaji) but rather how much random English just pops up all over the place. On T-shirts, in product names, as songs lyrics. In the vending machine at the Miyajima ryokan, I saw two coffee cans by the same manufacturer labelled with English words formatted like a title and subtitle – “BLACK: The Strong” and “BLEND: The Sweet”. Seeing people in a T-shirt covered with Engrish is not at all uncommon. Japanese abounds with English loan-words, and they’ve even got a whole separate character set used almost exclusively to transliterate foreign words. In Australia, if you peppered your speech with random Japanese words – even if they’re the correct words in the context – you’d just be seen as annoying or snobbish. Here, on the other hand, peppering your speech with English is seen as cool, even if it’s nonsense English.
Today, we packed up and moved out of our hotel in Kyoto, and headed to the train station to find a locker to stash our luggage in. We caught a bus to the station – we’d remembered to buy tickets yesterday. Unlike in Hiroshima and Miyajima, where it was convenient to leave our luggage at the hotel and come back later, in this case we wouldn’t be passing anywhere near the hotel on the way to the station, so this time we took it with us. We wanted to see one last temple and shrine in Kyoto before we headed back to Tokyo in the afternoon. We managed to find a locker easily, and booked our tickets (so we wouldn’t have to do it later), though the ticket man was a little surprised we were booking it so far in the future. While we were there, we had a bit of a wander round the station. One side of the main concourse has a huge slope of stairs and escalators going up eleven storeys to a garden on the roof. There’s even an elevated walkway that goes right over the concourse to the other side, but we couldn’t work out how to get there.
Our first destination today was the Kiyomizu Temple in the Higashiyama (East Hills) area, the opposite extreme in Kyoto from the Arashiyama area we’d visited yesterday. Literally, the temple was the eastern-most building in the area we were in. The Kyoto bus map told us we could catch either the 100 or the 206 routes, but while we were lining up for the 100 bus, an old man came over and told us the 206 bus would probably be the better option. While on the bus, a local who’d been living in America for a while asked to borrow my map (she hadn’t been back long) then told us the best place to get off for the temple. Locals seem really nice in Kyoto.
We got off at the appropriate stop. I wanted to visit this temple because it has got a spectacular view over most of Kyoto, from the dance stage that juts out from the main building. It was quite a slog up the hill from the bus stop, but the view from the top really was spectacular. I have to admit I did find the building itself a shade underwhelming, but the view and surroundings were great. We looked around for a while, then headed back down the hill. The hill to and from the bus stop is lined on both sides with shops – food shops, souvenir shops, even shops that sell nothing but fans. In some places, the air-conditioning from the shops was so powerful that it was cool even in the middle of the narrow street. I bought a choco-banana Japanese-style crepe, and James decided to follow suit with a sweet-bean paste one. In Japan they basically fill half the crepe with food, fold it in half then roll it into a sort of wedge – I’ve been wanting to try one for a while. I found it quite tasty.
Crepes finished, we hopped back onto the bus for Kyoto Station. Our next destination was the Fushimi Inari shrine. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s the head shrine for some thirty thousand Inari shrines throughout Japan. Inari is a harvest god, represented by fox spirits. I mainly wanted to visit because Inari shrines typically have long lines of red tori gates, and I’d heard Fushimi had something like four kilometres of tori-lined paths. We could use a JR train to get there – a JR station (ironically called “Inari”) is positioned literally right at the shrine’s entrance.
As we headed in, the shrine building at the entryway was swathed in scaffolding and construction screens, which had us a bit worried, but it turned out it was just the building at the front. Once we were past it, the rest of the shrine complex was untouched. We just managed to catch the end of some sort of ritual in the shrine near the start, then we headed off to see the tori gate paths. They were every bit as impressive as I’d hoped – all it really needed to make it ideal was a bit less heat and humidity, and a bit more eerie misty atmosphere. We wandered through the paths for a while, until we realised we were starting to hike up a mountain. At which point we headed down and made our way back to Kyoto Station. We had lunch at a pasta place there – it was kind of interesting seeing the Japanese-style pasta sauces and toppings, but I wound up getting carbonara with a poached egg on top. Forgotten what James had.
We retrieved our luggage from the locker room and sat in the waiting room for an hour. The trouble with booking our tickets first thing was that not only did it force us to make sure we got back before a certain time, it also meant we had to kill time if we were done sooner. Whoops. Eventually the time came, and we hopped on the train. The trip all the way back to Tokyo was going to be two hours forty minutes on the shinkansen – our longest shinkansen ride so far, and most likely our last this trip. It was pretty empty when we got on, but filled up over the course of the trip. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Fuji-san – it ought to be visible from the shinkansen – but we were sitting on the wrong side of the train, and good ol’ Rayleigh scattering obscured most of the more distant mountains. Plus, the clouds rolled in at one point, I wasn’t even sure when I should be looking out the window, and how far I can expect to see it from. So, no Fuji-san sighting.
We made it to Tokyo Station, and transferred to other trains to get to our hotel. Our train-directions-finder-website suggested we change to a JR local train and go one stop down the line, then change to a private subway and go two stops up the line. We arrived at our hotel fine, but I caught sight of a map on the wall, and it looks like Tokyo Station is actually within walking distance of the hotel. Granted, it’s probably an unladen walking distance, not a walking-with-suitcases distance, but still…
We’re in the Sakura Hotel in Jinbocho – our room is up on the fifth floor. All the twin rooms here have bunk beds, but one wall of our room is slanted under the roof – makes me wonder what the sixth (and top) floor looks like. This is very much a backpackers’ hostel. There’s no internet in the room, though apparently we can pick up wireless in the lobby, so I’ll be heading down there to post this. They gave us a pack to plug in to get internet in the room, but some part of it didn’t work; we’ve no idea which. We headed out to get dinner. Jinbocho is apparently a big bookshop area. We did see a couple of bookshops while wandering to find a place to eat. Might even be worth browsing a few, if they weren’t all in Japanese. =P We wound up getting sushi for dinner, cause we haven’t had any of that yet.
Tomorrow’s plan currently stands at visiting the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower, but that’s just not going to fill a day. James wants to visit Akihabara (the location of Electric Town) and a few other areas look good, like Shinjuku and Shibuya, but we’re just not sure what to do to fill tomorrow and Sunday. We’re off to the airport for home on Sunday evening, aww.
In any case, I’m a bit sleepy, so off to bed. Only two more nights here…
Today’s photo count: two hundred and twenty-one.