Japan Days 1 to 5

Japan. Days 1 to 5. November 29th – December 3rd 2008

My brother Michiel, is finishing his ‘Artificial Intelligence’ Studies at Osaka University in Japan and my parents and me have decided to visit him when I have time off in November-December so we can celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ together.

DAY ONE:We fly with Japan Airlines to Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX). The flight was really nice, the Japanese food on the plane good and the crew very polite and helpful (3 London based crew and the rest Japanese). Lots of snacks and drinks throughout the night and a very advanced entertainment system in which you could choose any of the many films or series to watch and even pause or fwd/rwd. You could also watch the ‘birds eye view’ camera just by the nose wheel of the aircraft, which was particularly nice and interesting to see for take off and landing.

in the JAL 777 plane

in the JAL 777 plane

Just as well we had the fantastic entertainment system as the seats were uncomfortable for sleeping and how ever tired I was, I only slept for about an hour tops. I watched 2 series, 2 films and then realized they had a few (quite a few, about 20!!) pre recorded radio stations, where you could go into their play lists, select songs and create your own playlist with the favourite songs! pretty nifty, so I made a playlist and chilled for a bit. The free magazines we picked up at the gate in LHR I didn’t even look at as I was too busy playing with the entertainment system!!

mum, me and Michiel at KIX airport

mum, me and Michiel at KIX airport

After a long long journey (12 hours) and a long long time awake (flew to Japan the same day I worked through the night, flying back from Barbados!), we arrived in Japan, where we got picked up by Michiel.
The journey to the guesthouse in Kyoto was very interesting, lots of different undergrounds and trains and another nifty system to buy your tickets. Luckily we had Michiel there to explain how it works!Look on the map where you want to go, the number behind it indicates the price, you put that money in the machine, select the correct price and collect your ticket! then make sure you get on the correct train line and try and disembark at the correct station. It sounds simple, which in effect it is, but we had to change quite a few times and it’s difficult to concentrate on what is going on if you have been awake for about 48 hours!!!
When we arrived at the Guesthouse Yahata at about 6pm local time I was ready to crash, but I managed to stay up for another 2 hours in which we had dinner, luckily around the corner from the Guesthouse. This is another experience. Most restaurants so far have had menu’s with pictures, so you sort of know, or at least think you know, what you are getting, as trying to read the Japanese is just not happening! But the food so far has been really great, so I am not complaining!!!

Nishi-Honganji Temple

DAY TWO: The next day, after 11 hours sleep and a lovely free continental breakfast, we were ready to explore! First stop: Nishi Honganji Temple. It’s a massive complex and we even get to listen to a service. not that we could understand, but it was still interesting to see.
Even the Kimono clad Japanese are amazed by the autumn colours (look at the mobile phone taking pictures.. they must be pretty damn good as not many people seem to have an actual camera, and most use their mobile for photographs)

Even the Kimono clad Japanese are amazed by the autumn colours (look at the mobile phone taking pictures.. they must be pretty damn good, as not many people seem to have an actual camera, and most use their mobile for photographs)


What you need to know about Kyoto, is that it is renowned for its amazing autumn leaves in autumn. lucky for us this is right now!

We accidentally come across a garden, which is the first real taster of the autumn colours. We also bump into some Kimono clad Japanese girls. These are not to be confused with Geisha’s, or as they call them here in Kyoto: Geiko’s or Meiko’s (apprentice Geiko’s) which are Japanese entertainers. We are not sure who or what the people in kimono’s are, they could be tourists who’ve hired the kimono for the day, or traditional Japanese who like wearing them in public. Either way, they are treated as a bit of a celebrity in Japan, by tourists anyway. On the way to the Kiyomizu-dera temple we saw a few walking around and the flashes were going off constantly!!!

Japanese meaning for Hokoku-jinja Shrine

Japanese meaning for Hokoku-jinja Shrine

Japanese (Kanji) for Station

Japanese (Kanji) for Station

Before we get to the temple, we passed by a Shrine first. an interesting fact here: the Japanese word/sign for Shrine can be somewhat offensive to people who don’t realize what it means as it looks a little too familiar…

Another handy word to know is the Japanese word (in Kanji) for train station, especially when trying to find a train station!! :

As we then preceded to walk to the Temple we wanted to see, the Kiyomizu-dera temple, it got busier and busier. So much so that eventually policemen where waving jedi-type swords (they really did look like it, lit up and everything!!!) towards us, telling us where to walk as not to cause a walking traffic jam. (Little did we know that on the way back it would be 10 times as busy and we actually did get stuck in a walking traffic jam!!!!)

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

The temple was absolutely amazingly lit in the midday sunlight, and the forest on the mountain backdrop behind it even more so, with it’s autumn colours on show.

A few Japanese youngsters addressed my dad and told him they were English students and to practice their English, could they please show us around the temple for free? Well how can you say no to that? So we did and it was a pleasure :-)

our student guides

our student guides

They told us a few interesting facts about the temple, such as the wealth god where you can pray for wealth (really? yes, really), the ‘bad forecasts’ that are tied up by many temples in the hope that they will be blessed and will not come true and the massive iron stick weighing 120kg: if a Japanese boy can lift it, he is very cool for Japanese girls. Off course we all proceeded to try and lift it, but none of us could, it is almost impossible. They do make it hard for us though as they positioned it in a wooden thing, making it very awkward to get to so you can’t use your full strength.
The waterfall was the most interesting, 3 streams of water coming out of a waterfall, each meaning a different thing: love + beauty, wealth + wisdom or health + long life. You can choose one of the streams and drink from it, which one would you choose? I would go for health and long life, although the choice is hard, don’t we all want all of them? Japanese people certainly do, we saw many drinking from all 3!! There was a massive queue though, so we didn’t bother giving it a go.
After the tour we had our picture taken with our tour guides and said our goodbyes. As said, we got stuck in a human traffic jam, but it was totally worth it :-)

view of the river on the way to the bamboo forest

view of the river on the way to the bamboo forest

DAY THREE: Today the plan is to go on a scenic tram ride in the mountains/along the mountain. As we get there (which was a little miracle, because Michiel had gone back to uni and my parents and I braved the train system on our own!) there is a massive queue and a man shouting in Japanese. Oh dear…

People in the queue go: “Hai Hai Hai” (yes yes yes) and stretched out their arms to the man. We tried to get his attention, but sadly he didn’t speak English so we had no idea what he was going on about. When we got to the ticket desk they didn’t really know any English either and just managed to tell us that the next 3 hours the train was full so we bought 3 tickets for the next available train and sat outside to cook up a new plan for the next 3 hours.

the bamboo forest

the bamboo forest

luckily there is so much to do in Kyoto that we had no trouble to fin something and we strolled past another temple, past a river and another mountain back drop (Kyoto lies between 3 mountains: Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains), Kitayama (Northern Mountains) and Arashiyama (Stormy Mountains) in the west – these were the Arashiyama). On the mountains there were again the beautiful tell tale autumn colours and the road busy with the tell tale tourists. We walked straight into a bamboo forest, whilst listening to loud monkey screams. Sadly we didn’t actually get to see a monkey, but it was nice to know that they where there. The bamboo is very high indeed and I was half expecting to see some Panda’s chomping away but I didn’t.
Standing tickets

Standing tickets

In time we got back to the train station and excitedly we waited, took our seats and off we where! at the next station however, many more people embarked, and got told by some Japanese people, that we were in their seats, we showed them our ticket to ask where we were sitting and to our horror he said: Standing ticket! So this is what the people were shouting about….We don’t normally mind standing but in this case it is a shame as it is very hard to look out the window to see the amazing views!! Cheeky little buggers for not trying to explain the difference… Oh well, we made the most of it and we alternated the standing spot by the only free window, with a lovely Japanese couple.
Amazing views despite the standing ticket

Amazing views despite the standing ticket

Did I mention yet by the way that Japanese people are very polite? Very humble and obedient almost. You have to tread very carefully and respect their culture as to not to offend them. Not that you wouldn’t anywhere else, but more so here, as they are so humble.An example of this is after we disembark the sightseeing tram, we get distracted by the sunset and the effect it has on the autumn forest on the other side, that by the time we want to walk to the station, their is no more crowd to follow. We ask a Japanese man the way to the train station. Sadly, he speaks no English, but bless him, he summons us as he will walk us there, we try to tell him its ok, just tell us the direction. but it all gets lost in translation and he walks us to the station anyway..
at Kyoto Station we have a little look around the shops before retiring back to the guesthouse….
me pushing Kyoto Tower

me pushing Kyoto Tower

DAY FOUR: Today we decide to rent some bikes and explore Kyoto like we Dutch are used to do: cycling! We cycle to nearby Kyoto Tower and ascend up. At a 100m high, the view was great, but the orange bars in front of the windows did restrict the view a little. The orange bars are there to help the Kyoto Tower look like a lighthouse “to illuminate the landlocked city of Kyoto”.
Kyoto Station as seen from Kyoto Tower, with the lovely orange frame work

Kyoto Station as seen from Kyoto Tower, with the lovely orange frame work

We then get into Kyoto Station Building to find the observation level. We can’t see much through the clouded windows, but the journey up there was pretty impressive, long long looooooong escalators up to the 12th floor, with a massive x-mas tree in the middle section. On our way down we go past the glass corridor that goes high above the main concourse (11th floor). Sweet views of the Kyoto Tower and as my dad gets snap happy and whilst my mum and I wait, we take a few pictures of me ‘pushing’ the Kyoto Tower.
Then we cycle along to The Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine. The shrine was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. A pathway wanders 4km up the mountain and is lined with hundreds of bright red torii (shrine gates) . There are also dozens of stone foxes everywhere. The fox is considered the messenger if Inari, the god of the cereals. the key often seen in the fox’s mouth is for the rice granary.
The Torii of The Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine

The Torii of The Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine

Tons of people com here to pray, you can also buy a wooden fox head on which you can write your wish, hopefully it will then become true!!
The fox's heads with wishes on them

The fox's heads with wishes on them

After this we are a bit cream crackered so we chill for the rest of the day.

A few Japanese things we have learned (or trying to get in our heads) so far:
Konichiwa-Hello
Mata Neh-Bye
Domo Arigato-Thank you very much (or in Kyoto: Okini)
Hai-Yes
Iie-No
One Gajshimas-Please
Sumi Masen-Sorry/Excuse me
Doi Tashimashite-You’re Welcome

DAY FIVE: We are a little templed out, so we go for a hike/walk we found in one of the guide books, named: Tetsugaku-No-Michi (Path Of Philosophy).

Tetsugaku-No-Michi (Path Of Philosophy)

Tetsugaku-No-Michi (Path Of Philosophy)

The path takes its name from one of it’s most famous strollers: 20th century philosopher Nishida Kitaro, who is said to have walked this path every day to keep fit and keep his brain healthy by thinking.
But it seems we just cannot get away from the temples here in Kyoto, as the parth of philosophy is lined with temples and we cannot resist.
in the garden of Honen-In

in the garden of Honen-In

The first one is Honen-In. As many of the other temples, this also has a beautiful garden that looks just stunning the fabulous autumn colours with a little Buddha tucked away in a corner. Next in line is Nanzen-Ji which has a fully blown aquaduct!! Weird to see in Japan, as it feels like going back to Roman times seeing it, but it is very impressive indeed. Not only could you walk under it and be amazed by the autumn foliage around it, you could also go up and see the water flowing over the people below. How the Romans ever invented this is beyond me. Very clever piece of work.
Within the complex is a gate called the Sanmon, it symbolizes the three roads to Buddhist liberation and is well knows as one of the three biggest gates in Japan. The gate is in true Zen style, with a gabled roof of baked clay tiles and with 5 pillars and 3 entrances. My parents don’t want to go up so they wait downstairs as I go up. The view is amazing and can see all over the mountains and over the temples. The photo’s do not do it justice.
Kinkaku-ji or Rokkuon-Ji-The Golden Pavilion and the Kyoko-chi, mirror pond

Kinkaku-ji or Rokkuon-Ji-The Golden Pavilion and the Kyoko-chi, mirror pond

None of the photos really do to be honest, you really have to see it to believe it!!!! The stairs up and down are very VERY low, silly mini Japanese people! so there is a massive sign saying Mind Your Head. a little different from Mind The Gap, haha!

The view from gate Sanmon in Nanzen-Ji temple

The view from gate Sanmon in Nanzen-Ji temple

After this, we decide to see another temple on our ‘to do list’: Kinkaku-ji or Rokkuon-Ji-The Golden Pavilion. The 2nd and 3rd floor are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer and the roof is thatched with shingles. The pond in which it stands is called Kyoko-chi, which means mirror pond. A name I can understand it having as it served as a mirror, its almost as if you see double!
As the sun was setting, it let an fantastic light on the temple and again the photo’s do not do it justice. I was hoping for a glorious sunset complete with pink, orange and red skies but unfortunately it was cloudy and there was none of the sort. Never the less a fantastic day which ended with a beautiful pizza (yes I know!! no Japanese food today :-) )

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