The First e-mail from Japan

Kyoto Travel Blog

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Me and the giant Torii at Miyajima
So I survived the 13 hour flight into Osaka, after throwing up at LAX, Delta food always makes me sick. It was somewhere over the international dateline that I wondered why there are flourescent lights in airplane bathrooms, I had been flying for 8 hours and had 5 to go, I looked ROUGH, I am sure the Japanese wondered who the American guy was with the enormous pores. The sun rose on me at 6:30 am in Atlanta, and when I landed in Osaka it was just going down 21 hours later -- it was a long day. Flying in I saw Mt Fuji, it was an appropriate welcome to Japan, very beautiful. It was easy to transfer from the airport to Kyoto and getting to the hotel wasn't bad, there are three Kyoto Tower Hotels and I went to the wrong one, but luckily the right one was a five minute walk away. My room is smallish but clean and comfortable, and the ceiling in the bathroom is exactly 6 feet tall, which means I just fit in the shower. Sunday, I was up by 8 am, and had breakfast with the professors and got my schedule for the week -- pick up the students that afternoon, do 2 dry runs for Nara and Hiroshima to see times and costs and then go on those trips, also I was to try and get reservations for Katsura Imperial Village here in Kyoto -- it sounded easy. Sunday afternoon, I went back to Kansai airport to pick up the students who were arriving from New Zealand, it was all going so well, until our bus driver was half an hour late, a snow storm blew in for about 15 minutes, and a Japanese pop band arrived to make the airport crazy -- glitches seem to be a way of life here, as I am sure you will see. The bus driver arrived, the luggage fit on the bus, and we were off into the snowy night. It was a fast and easy check in for the students and I went with some of them to McDonald's for dinner -- the bacon, egg, and cheese burger, not very Japanese but cheap. Monday was my attempt for tickets at Katsura and the dry run in Nara. Probably one of my most frustrating days ever. I took the bus to Katsura, which is an imperial villa on the outskirts of town -- about 20 minutes from the bus station, and the busses only head out every 30 minutes, I got there and walked around trying to find the entrance -- by the way, in older parts of towns there arent sidewalks so you have to walk with the cars and this was a busy road. When I found the gate, it was closed with a sign that said tickets had to be secured from the Imperial Village Registration Company in Kyoto, so fearing for my life on the road and having a pressing 1:50 train time, I grabbed a taxi (where the doors open automatically for you) and headed back to the hotel to find out where the registration place was located -- not too far from the hotel at all, just five subway stops. I made it to the office by 1pm when it opened and was told that I needed everyones passport numbers and that I could only book 4 people -- I had to book over 50, job one, failed. I jumped on the subway and made it back to the station just in time for my 1:50 train and was off to Nara 45 minutes away. I had to map a route to 4 temples and shrines. After getting to the tourist agency and getting lunch (KFC tempura chicken strips, still not doing well on Japanese food) I made my way to Hujiyama Temple, which was closing when I got there, so I asked about getting to the next temple on the bus, but the busses had stopped running there, so it was back to town, where I got a walking map to the last shrine -- job two, failed. I made it back to Kyoto had a ponzu covered hamburger at one of the restaurants we have meal tickets for and then found Professor Medina to tell her my limited progress, we planned the day for Nara, which the students went on today and then I talked to Prrofessor Cottle about what he wanted to see in Hiroshima. Yesterday was my trip to Hiroshima -- I left on the bullet train at 8:20 in the morning and was in Hiroshima in under 2 hours -- its pretty cool to be travelling that fast -- Japan rushes by. Japan isn't particularly beautiful -- it more like pockets of enormous beauty surrounded by crazy industry, skyscrapers, houses jammed together and pachinko parlors. It amazes me how many people there are everywhere and at all times, and it amazes me that many of the young girls still wear leg warmers. So I got to Hiroshima, and it was a great day, I managed to get everything I was supposed to do, done, well except get the cell phone to work. I started off at the A-bomb dome and Peace Park. The museum there was amazing and really powerful, it was filled with peoples clothes torn apart, burnt and bloody from the explosion. There were lunch boxes wehre the food had turned to charcoal, a shadow left in marble of a victim who was vaporized by the blast, every room was filled. It was hard to believe I was standing in a place that less than 60 years ago had reached a temperature of 4000 degrees celcius, and where the wind was blowing at 400 meters per second. It was really depressing, but equally amazing and powerful. The park is filled with memorials, the childrens memorial is the neatest, as children from around the world send paper cranes and there were probably a million of them there. After the museum and park, I walked up the shopping alley (Mom, they had a store called the country cat, that was all American craft items, you would have felt right at home). I finally found a Vodaphone office where someone was able to speak English and tell me why the cell phone wouldn't work (they are on their own very special frequency). I figured that was a success, becaue now at least I could stop pushing buttons on the phone and praying that it would work. I then hopped a train for Miyajima,™@which is a sacred isalnd near Hiroshima. It is considered one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan, and it was very beautiful. It was a ten minute ferry ride away, but it was all old and historic and looked like what I thought Japan would -- pagodas, shrines, torii gates, and lots of deer.™@Deer are sacred here and are allowed to run free -- they are very tame and hungry it would seem. They were in the ferry station, in the shrinees, on the beach, they were a constant. I had deer poo all over my shoes. One of the most famous sites in Japan is the the Torii gate seen from the floating shrine. The shrine is built on an inlet of the sea on stilts and the gate is another five hundred feet out in the water, it is beautiful... except that I was there at low tide, so the shrine was on stilts over mud all the way out to the gate, and the deer were out there where the water was supposed to be. It was really beautiful though, and it was a great way to cap off the day. This was day number four here and the first time I took pictures and bought souvenirs, the travelling had begun. I went with the students back to Nara today and the day went really well. It was nice to see the inside of the shrines, I saw the oldest wooden structure in the world, it was built in the 700s. I had a fantastic Japanese lunch -- rice gruel, molded wheat gluten, pickled vegetables and mushrooms, eel, and a salad with things like fiddlehead ferns. I am not joking when I say that it was amazing, every dish was on beautiful plates and was presented in beautiful ways. The meal was modeled after the food monks eat, which was appropriate as it was just before my trip to see the worlds largest sitting Buddha -- it was so cool. Legend has it that if you can fit through Buddhas nostril you will reach enlightenment. They have a cut out through one of the pillars supporting the roof of the nostril, with some pulling and pushing -- I made it through. I also bought a roof tile for the renovation and wished my family and friends love on it, we are all part of the protection of Buddha now. After that I walked back through the deer park -- yes more deer and Nara, it was back on the train and to one of the conveyor belt sushi bars -- only a dollar a plate. Tomorrow its back to Hiroshima with the students, it should be a good day. Typing hasn't been to rough here, except the space bar is only about an inch long and the keys next to it, change my typing to Japanese kanji -- thats a little frutrating, but I'm almost used to it. More soon. I'm having a great time. Brett
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Me and the giant Torii at Miyajima
Me and the giant Torii at Miyajima
photo by: ys484