Friday, March 2, 2001
Woke up, ate pancakes, and it's off to Kyoto. The four of us drove over to Shin-Yokohama and Tom and I validated our train passes, then we all reserved seats together for the shinkansen (bullet train). Tom bought a bento on the train. A bento is a boxed lunch containing assorted freaky Japanese "food" items. There is no picture of the contents on the wrapper, so it's a bit of a surprise when you open it. And apparently they need no refrigeration, even though they typically contain such items as fish, chicken, and beef.
Man, those bullet trains are fast. It's like riding a torpedo. They travel at up to 300 kilometers per hour. We got to see Mt. Fuji out the window on the way there - awesome!
It took two hours and 50 minutes to get to Kyoto, then we hopped in a cab and headed for our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). We stayed at the Nakahara Ryokan near city center. It wasn't yet check-in time when we arrived, but they let us drop off our bags, and we went to explore.
What's this about?
We had decided from our guidebook to do a walking tour of southern Higashiyama, which is a cool old area of Kyoto about a half hour from our inn by foot. Just as we got to Higashiyama, we saw guys pulling rickshaws - how Japanese is that? Of course they were pulling tourists, but that's beside the point. We'd still never seen it in the States.
Lazy Japanese Tourists
As we were walking, we came across a Japanese cemetery. It was really interesting. All the gravesites were really small and close together. I'm assuming the remains were cremated? And most of the headstones had incense holders. The graves just went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
This is where the dead people live.
Then we walked up a tremendously steep hill and came to Kiyomizu-dera (temple). This Buddhist temple was first built in 798, but the buildings there now are reconstructions dating from 1633. The buildings were really impressive, and it is one of the most famous landmarks of Kyoto.
On the hill down from Kiyomizu-dera is street after street lined with shops selling Kyoto handicrafts and souvenirs. We had fun looking at all the tiny, cute things. The Japanese love tiny things. There's no room for big stuff in that country - except of course for temples.
We saw bunches of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and tiny cute Japanese stuff till we thought our heads were going to explode! And besides that, it was getting darn cold, so we got a cab and went to check into our ryokan.
Back at Nakahara Ryokan, a maid showed us to our room and gave us slippers. Then a team of three maids made out our futons in a bluster of activity. Good thing they did it for us; we couldn't figure out what we were supposed to do.
We relaxed at the room for a little while, then Tom stayed back at the ryokan to try to recover some from the jetlag and Australian rum of the night before while the rest of us went out in search of some dinner. And I do mean search. Just because you can identify something as a restaurant doesn't mean you'll be able to go in and successfully obtain food there. And you want to be sure you're not going into a place where all they serve is fish eyes or something.
After very much wandering around, we were lucky to find a shabu-shabu restaurant. Shabu-shabu consists of thin slices of beef and vegetables cooked by swirling the ingredients in a light broth and then dipping them in sesame seed or other sauces. The waiter brought out a big bowl and a major-league hotplate to the table, and when the broth came to a boil, we all started throwing the food in. You use one end of your chopsticks to eat with, then you turn them around to dip in the cooking pot. They gave us Kobe beef, mushrooms, onions, etcetera, and it was all you could eat, so they kept bringing more. The food was cooked nearly as soon as it hit the broth, so we were busy all the time putting food in, taking food out, doing the actual eating of the food of course, and skimming the broth into a container they'd brought so it didn't get all fatty. There was a lot to do!
We left there fat and happy and stopped in another place right by the ryokan and had one last beer. That was it for me; now I was exhausted too. When we got back to the room, Traci and Mark went down to the communal bath area and said it was very relaxing, but Tom and I were no more good.