Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off to Kyoto

Back to Tokyo to catch a train to Kyoto – trust me, it's faster this way.

Here's what wasn't fast, nor easy – trying to communicate that we wanted to get to Kyoto. I'm used to Japanese people knowing basic english, or enough that I can say a city name and have it all work out. Not so much here. So we tried to talk some basic Japanese, and use a english to Japanese dictionary.

Suffice to say, mistakes were made.

Here's what I thought I was saying, “We want the fast train to Kyoto.”
Here's what I was saying, “We want you on the train where you don't eat, to Kyoto.”

The thing is I continued to stress the point that I wanted to fast train, “Fast, fast, fast.” I was telling him over and over that he should not eat. Stupid two meanings for the word fast!

Somewhere else, other parts of our group were talking about how they wanted to be on the Shy Train, using a synonym that I'm sure made sense in English, but of course meant nothing the same in Japanese.

Eventually we had tickets, and all was right and well in the world. Then it was off to Kyoto, chairs fixed in friendship mode for easy conversation, no need to climb over seats to get at people.

This was another beautiful day. Blue skies, sun out, and after all the cloud it was welcomed. So of course we spent the whole day on the train. Of course we did.

By the time we had checked into our Kyoto place, and made our way to the street, the sun was nearly down. We moved as fast as we could but when we got off the train near a castle, the sun was all but gone. Making our way through the town was a little disappointing. People tell you Kyoto is a beautiful city. They say it's old Japan. They are wrong! It is a city like all others. It has a giant neon tower that makes the CN Tower look almost normal. Sure there are some parks, but it's all Family Mart, Lawsons, Circle K, and Sunkis just like the rest of this country. There are no wooden houses, no special environments. No nothing. It's just Japan as it is everywhere else: Urban sprawl.

Still there was a park in the centre of town, and we headed straight for it. Walking there at night was a wonderful experience. Stew said he didn't want to go in unless there was a Master Sword inside (a la Zelda. ) I told him that as this was once the home of the emperor, I was pretty sure there actually would be a master sword within. Fair enough, and off we went.

How could I know this would soon spell doom for us all?

Right as we were about to leave the park, and I spotted a sign with a creepy military alien holding the hand of a pregnant little girl (go to the south end of the park in Kyoto – it's white with blue background – you'll know it instantly, with his weird Mr. Fantastic arm) I head a cry from behind me.

When I got back to the group the girl whom Japan had been trying t kill, was finally put out of commission. It seems that a curb sprang up before her, sending her flying, and injuring her ankle.

The next hour or so would be spent by people fetching ice for her, and carrying her on their backs to the train station where she could be put on a car with Stew, ever the gentleman, helping her get back to the room (as he had helped me only days earlier.) What alovely self-sacrificing gentleman. Still, it meant he would miss the few moments where Kyoto actually looked as it had been sold to us.

Once the injury hubub had settled we walked off to the Geisha district. We saw none. Not even the tourists dressed up to look like Geishas (the ones most tourists have pictures of, thinking otherwise) and then wandered down by the river. As we walked under the darkned sky the restaurants seemed to be such forbidden locations, offering such culinary treats at prices that put them far beyond our reach. Still – there they were, reflecting off the water, designed in the old way, something foreign and different to me.

The walk from there to the station took us under Cherry Blossom lined roads, lit perfectly in the dark, and past a large temple that I told myself I should return to, knowing that I would never have the time to get back to it.

From there it was on the train back to the hostel, where plans were made to get out to some of the more remote areas of the city. There were bamboo forests out there, and by mercy we were going to see them!

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