Thursday, April 22, 2010

Arashima, Kyoto

Oh, so this the Kyoto that people show pictures of. I understand now.

Once you get out of Kyoto proper, and pull yourself from the fantastic glass roofed main train station, you can find yourself in all sorts of old worldy looking places. Arashima is once such location.

If you go to Kyoto, it's really here that you're going. You may not know that yet, but you'll eventually figure it out. This is the Kyoto that people talk about, and if you miss it you'll be wondering just what they were smoking as all you'd have seen is office tower after office tower.

Here you have the small wooden houses, and the shrine after shrine. There's lakes, and trees, and back alleys to explore. And there's the bamboo forest. That's where we headed first. I think this may have been the first thing Tonia saw that she wanted to. Again, I think girls would love to see shop after shop of anime figures, but apparently that's just not the case. They want forests. Of bamboo.

On our way through the towering trees we were told about real-life ents (trees that moved.) A quick check of the internet on someone's blackberry proved this to be sadly false, but the moment still called for quiet reflection about the world in which we're living. Here I was in the middle of a bamboo forest (with a paved path through it taking away any feelings of wilderness, but not awe) I was able to use a hand held device to check the internet – a repository of human knowledge, and disprove something. Sure we don't have flying cars, but we have the complete ships computer of the starship Enterprise in our back pockets. If that's not future – then I don't know what is! How's that for juxtaposing Kyoto.

It also made me a little sad.

Half way through the forest we came to a shrine for lovers. Mike and Tonia sat on the steps basking in each others true awesomeness. It was cute enough to make you hurl. Curse them and their happiness. I wish them only the best – but still, cute enough to puke,.

Back to the forest!

As we came out of bamboo we found ourselves on a road to the shrine at the other end of the city. Doll shops, with said items hanging from trees, and granite hello kitty tombstones made our walk a more surreal experience. When we finally reached the shrine we shrugged and thought, alright time to head back.

However this would not be the case. Mike persuaded us to pay the four dollars and go in. And indeed we were lucky to have done so. How can one come to Kyoto and not go into any of these fantastic buildings? We'd been passing them up all day. But here we were at one of the best in the country – so in we went.

But not before a baseball team ran by, en mass. And not before a number of girls with messed up knees from pigeon toed walking (which is a status of beauty here) wandered in front of us.

I understand ninja video games so much better now.

Look, I know this shouldn't be my first thought at entering such a serene location, but it was. A number of buildings with mat floors were connected to one another by wooden walkways suspended off the ground above moss-covered statues, ponds, and small shrubs. This is where you fight every enemy in every ninja game since the beginning of time.

I thought these were just artificial locations, or things thought up, digitalized from the past. But no, here I was, standing in just such a location. It was truly awe inspiring. Yes there were beautiful kimonos and flags with intricate stitch work, not to mention the great displays being set up for an important visitor of whom we never really learned. But to be inside a game. Well that was something else.

I know, I know, I'm sorry. I like culture too – but I've seen so much culture over the last great many months that it's nice to feel something else as well.

Once the area was explored Mike, Tonia, and I headed down the street to walk around a lake that our ticket allowed us access too. It was here that I was told I needed to see Horton Hears a Who (We are here, we are here, we are here!) and then discovered that Tonia is the type of person, who like me, will sing Disney songs at top volume. Wonderful!

The pond was also beautiful – as you can guess, reflecting cherry blossoms. Yes, there have been a lot of them, but they haven't gotten old yet. Still impressive!

When Alan showed up it became a little worrying. Alan and Tonia have the only phones. We stick with one of them at all times, lest we are lost forever. Where were Nick and George? (Stew was gone, back to Tokyo with she who hurt her leg the night before. He would be coming back at night, but for her – this trip was at and end. Japan had truly won.)

After our circuit of the pond we found Nick and George. They were none to happy to be left alone, waiting, for who knows how long. But there was no time to dwell on this. We needed to eat ten different meals all at once. Ten course meals – before three is for chumps.

This meal, a step up from even that of the onsen, was something to experience. Served one dish after the next, we barely had a chance to finish eating before more food was placed in front of us. At one point it was heard screamed out, “Stop coming so fast, I'm not done yet!” We'll just leave it at that.

The noodles, and meats, and fishes, and vegetables, and – everything – were fantastic. There was but one part that made me queasy. The squid and the octopus. I'd already eating a full squid last time I was here. Seeing their tiny body and knowing I needed to eat it? This was not what I was looking forward to. But Japan would not let me escape without jumping through this hoop again, it seemed.

The worst part? The saw they explode and gush in your mouth. Ugh – really? Really squid?!

But once that was past through, everything became a treat once more. And after that – the octopus? Not bad. Actually quite good. Sure it looks weird at the end of your chopsticks, but hey – those suckers are for winning!

Back at the hostel I was able to borrow one of my buddy's magic long distance cell phones, and call my grandmas. Because I'm a sweetie.

Stew also returned – I think he road a train we were not allowed to, if the schedule made sense, but he returned no worse off. And all the sea food in the big meal would have just killed him anyway (literally) so it's for the best, I guess.

Tomorrow? Good-bye Kyoto, hello Kobe.

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