Tuesday, October 12, 2010

J and S's Grand Adventures in the East Part 3: Kyoto, part 1

We just left Kyoto and are on our way to Nara now. Let's backtrack a little bit...

Jon and I got train tickets for Kyoto leaving in the afternoon. We had to check out of our (awful) hostel that morning and planned to leave our luggage at the Tokyo train station while we did some last minute sightseeing in the city. Unfortunately, when we got to the train station there was an enormous line to use the luggage lockers. Whether something had been canceled, it was an inordinately busy day, or it was just a normal occurrence for Tokyo, we didn't know. What we did know was that there did not seem to be any available lockers and it would take us hours to get through the line.

With little else to do, we headed back to the ticket office to trade in our afternoon tickets for earlier ones. Since we couldn't leave our baggage at the station, and we didn't want to lug it around with us while we saw stuff, we'd just have to leave early. There were seats available in a smoking car on an earlier train so we grabbed those and headed to the platform.

Despite the change in plans, we were still really excited to take the Shinkhansen train down to Kyoto. We climbed aboard, stowed our luggage in the luggage area, and took our seats. They have mini-flumes to suction out the cigarette smoke and there were few people smoking anyway, so we didn't really have to deal with smoke. I quickly nodded off.

Before I knew it, we had arrived at Kyoto station. I have to admit, all I really knew about Kyoto before arriving was that it was historical; it had been the old Japanese capital. And that was it. Everyone in Tokyo who found out we were going there nodded approvingly saying that it was a great place to see old Japan. So I suppose I had a certain image in my head of a low-tech, but beautiful town. Kyoto station definitely shattered those illusions.

In reality, Kyoto was another quintessential fast-paced city. Sure, it was no Tokyo, but its train station was fantastically futuristic. There were escalators going up 8 stories to an observation deck from where we could see a view of the whole city (and evade paying for the same view at the top of Kyoto Tower. Japan: 0 Me :1)
We weren't the only ones enjoying the view.
We went straight to our hostel: a clean, fun, and very professional place called K's House. Everything we'd lacked in Tokyo, we suddenly had in Kyoto. It was surprising how much of an effect on my mood having nice accommodations had. After checking in and putting our things down, we relaxed for a bit and inquired about the Gion, an area where the geisha were known to frequent. We were given directions and headed out there in search of one of Japan's lost artists. 

The Gion was a busy street, but we didn't see any geisha. The main drag was filled primarily with youths and tourists, but after taking a turn down a side street, we stumbled across that old historic Japan we'd heard about. The buildings appeared to be residences and the streets were more like cobblestone alleyways. It was quiet and dark, and without the aid of lampposts we were unable to make out many details.
We later joined up with other tourists and found a canal down an old-style backstreet.

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