Kyoto – Japan!

19 08 2011

First time in Kyoto (9 – 12 June), and since I was there for only 4 days mainly focused on Aikido and traveling, at the end I did not see much. Kyoto is known for the several temples, but the only one I actually visited is probably not famous at all and the only reason I went there is because it was on the way to Kyoto Budo center where we practiced Aikido!!


Kyoto sky after storm

But here I want to just spend a couple of words about my trip back to Japan, after the IAF Aikido experience back in 2008.

I realized I had really arrived in Japan only on the express train from Kansai airport to Kyoto. Looking outside the windows my mind made a jump back in the past, that far September 2008, on the train from Narita to Tokyo. I am not really talking about the details of the landscape, but just a rush of emotions got me.. I was so happy to be there, even if tired for the trip and the night at Hongqiao airport.

Kyoto bus

coin exchange machine

Once in Kyoto since I had quite a good time on my schedule before the first Aikido session, I decide to take the bus from the train station to the hostel where I was staying (and the price difference, bus-taxi, is quite big!!!). First time I took a Japanese bus as well. And I had no idea how to handle the ticket purchase. Entering the bus there are two machines: one typical for bus cards and another one dispensing some paper tickets with a number on. Then I read on one of the bus monitors that according to the number the price can be slightly different. In my case it was 220 yen. So it came the second problem: I only got 1000 yen notes. How to change? A girl, after I try to ask her for change, made me understand that close to the bus driver there is a money change machine! Brilliant!! Inserting 1000 yen you get back a 500 yen coin, 4x 100 yen coins, 1 50 yen and 5x 10 yen coins, so you cna pay the exact price of the ticket! Brilliant!!

Black rabbit

Okazaki shrine (岡崎神社)

The tiny hostel, Roku Roku, were I stayed was actually perfect, and the dormitory room practically empty: only 2 other boys from Taiwan, that were attending some conference. So they used to go out in the morning and come back only at night. I used to go out before them and a couple of times come in at midday for a short rest between classes (while my uniforms were washing/drying in a very convenient place, just few minutes walking!).

On the road from the hostel to Kyoto Budo center I passed 3 relevant places:

  • a typical Japanese store called Lawson, with everything from food to laundry soap, magazines and more. I love these 24 hours open shops everywhere in Japan. Also they got my favorite ever drink: Skal (from Norwegian/Danish Skål that means “cheers” when toasting) that is a milky drink with CO2 bubbles! I love it!
  • the one and only shrine I spent some time visiting, Okazaki shrine (岡崎神社),  that I found out to be quite special because of the pregnant black rabbit statue. Okazaki Shrine is believed to hold the god and goddess of easy childbirth, the rabbit since ancient times has been considered the servant of the gods and represents childbirth because of its prolific breeding. So everywhere around the temple there were several rabbit statues or small miniatures.
  • one of the several Tozando martial art shop!! Located just on the side of Kyodo Budo center, I had a chat some people there and bought a new summer thin Aikido jacket, new zori and a saya for bokken.

After practice, I managed to have some night life experience as well. The first two nights in company of Aikido people, the third night I went around by myself, mostly because of a tight traveling schedule the last day in Kyoto.

Food in KyotoThe first night I followed around Gaute, a Norwegian friend that used to live in Kyoto and now lives in Tokyo, best friend of my previous Aikido trainer from Oslo Aikido club, Erik. Together with him, Didier from Shanghai and a few other “Japanese” people, mainly gaijin, we went first to a nice restaurant and then to have some good drinks in a Spanish oriented bar, called Jampack on Kiyamachi-dori, 木屋町. As usual the Japanese food experience was wonderful, even if Kyoto is not a place special for sushi or sashimi (but I had a small portion of raw fish that I enjoyed as well!).

KyotoSecond night was spent with a more French company.. French-Singaporean company I should say! We had a very good dinner again and after we head back to the same Spanish place, where also other Aikido people ended up. Seemed like a small place Kyoto!

Both these nights the hang-out areas where extremely full of people, walking around, enjoying the several restaurants, bars, or just enjoying the mild weather and themselves. I think the whole are is called Pontochō,  先斗町,

When the last day came, I had to adapt my schedule to my living choices: since I shared a room in a dormitory with other 2 people and Sunday practice was quite early, I decided to wash and dry one uniform and pack all my stuff right after the last Saturday afternoon session. Therefore I told to my French friend, Didier, that I would have not meet him and the other Aikido friends for the night.

In Japan most of mobile phones do not work, unless they include the special Japanese telephone standard. Therefore it is basically impossible to organize a meeting at some time somewhere, unless one knows extremely well the places. So I did not even try.

KyotoWhile waiting for the uniform to dry, half way packed (managing also to insert the saya diagonally inside the luggage!) I went down to the railway station in order to buy the train ticket forthe day after. I enjoyed the bus trip to the station, and notice that it was actually cutting through the very lively area where we ended up the first two nights: Sanjo Shopping District, crowded of people, especially young people! Also the bus passed a bridge over the river, I think called Kamogawa, 鴨川, and along the shore it was full of people, just hanging out, and a band playing, with instruments, loudspeaker and all.. It seemed an extremely lively and nice area.

Once got to the railway station I realized it had been an extremely good decision to go there that night and not on a hurry after practice the day after! From the bus stop to the ticket office it was a bit messy indeed: by following a couple of different escalators and a bit confusing set of signs took me about 20 minutes before finding the ticket office and automatic ticket boxes. I gave up trying the boxes after a few seconds: not easy to find the ticket to Osaka airport for the time I wanted it (same line I used to come to Kyoto) so I went to the ticket office. Even with not so much English-Japanese skills, it went extremely smooth buying the ticket (not like in China!!).

During the bus tour back to the hostel I decided that if it was not too late after finishing packing it would have been cool go to have a look at that area on Kamo-river, where so many people seemed to enjoy music and freedom in the warm Kyoto night..

In fact I went there for another amazing night, of which I will tell you later.. in another post!!




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