This morning on a walk I saw three people dressed in traditional Japanese garb bidding ado to a guy in a taxi. They bowed, then bowed deeper, then more deeply as the guest pulled away from the curb. They continued bowing and looking after him as he drove away and was out of sight – – which allowed me enough time to get up to them, take a photo without them knowing it, and interrupt their bowing time since they were on the side of the road, right where I was to walk. Interesting behavior and I’d like to learn more. Also, would like to know more about why the Japanese traditionally sit at little tables either on the floor or on little chairs? So much to learn…
I’m sorry to keep doing this to you but I have more toilet stories. Well, really just one. The ryokan we are staying in has the most ingenious toilet. Aside from the normal sprays and heated seat found on most toilets, this one has a sink on its tank with a little spicket. So when you flush (press forward for #1, backward for #2 to allow flushing capacity and water in the tank accordingly), the water comes out of the spicket on the top and flows down in to the tank! So you are able to wash your hands (no soap, cold water) in the water coming from the spicket whilst it fills your tank! A nice idea and touch, I think!
Ryokan are traditional Japanese lodgings. They are interesting wooden buildings with traditional tatmi-mat rooms and futons for bedding. Ryokan range from ultra-exclusive establishments to reasonable priced places with a homey atmosphere. Ours is expensive and homey, with the option for a breakfast in the morning and a dinner made in your room at night. We will most likely plan for a dinner in our room for one night as it is not inexpensive – – about US$85. But still, it’s the experience of it all makes it seem worthwhile and it will be Thanksgiving, so why not?
Upon arrival at our ryokan, Watazan Ryokan, near the ever elusive Starbuck’s that we have yet to see, we were greeted with a deep bow and an even deeper bow after we bowed back. We were told to select a stick from a container that had a certain color on the bottom of it. Mine was black and so I received a special gift of blotting paper. Susan’s was black and so she received a special gift of a writing pen, much to her excitement because she collects such pens from all over the world – – she has them from every hotel room she has stayed in on this journey and carries them with her. Considering how economically packed she is – – and how organized and pared-down – – it made me laugh when she pulled out fistfuls of pens from all over the world!
We were taken to our room on the 2nd floor by a Western-looking woman fluent in Japanese and dressed in kimono. It was an odd juxtaposition until you heard her speak Japanese! She showed us our ~800 square foot room (!) and described which slippers are worn for which situation: the green ones are to be worn around the hotel only but not in the room, the gray ones with the man/woman figures on them are for the water closet only (and ours is literally a closet). There are other slippers on a shelf for use in our room. She then asked if she could make us tea and describe the hotel to us. We sat at the small table on the floor and watched whilst she made tea! What a delightful room and situation with it’s shoji screens all around, mat flooring, and small table!
We enjoyed our tea and took a look around. Then made a plan for the rest of our evening while Susan “skated” around the room on the smooth mat floor! We decided to take a walk and see what’s around us and then grab a bite to eat. We are a few blocks from the night market, as luck would have it! It’s a wonderful place filled with people dressed-up for the evening, including men in traditional Japanesee gowns and women in traditional garb including the socks with thongs! It’s colorful and beautiful and full of good smells. I plan to go back tonight for more photos. We meandered around and took photos, looked at such things as octopus on a stick, bins of slippers made from beautiful silk, piles of fish, marzipan made from bean curd, etc. It was a lot of fun as I loves me a good night market!
Continually asking one another what we should do next, Susan asked where I was with hunger on a scale from 1-10. Maybe a 5, I said. She wasn’t that hungry either, so we continued to walk. And then suddenly, our hunger o’ meter shot up to 10 when we smelled the most delicious smell coming from a beautiful little door. Looking at the fake food display in the window and smelling the food-smells wafting toward us, we abandoned all other thoughts of doing anything else and slid open the shoji screen and stpped in. Stepped in to paradise! It was a tapenyaki place where the food is cooked on the hot grill on our table. And actually, after receiving a brief lesson about how to cook the food, are instructed to cook it ourselves. I ordered the pancake with shrimp and beef, Susan the vegetable w shrimp, oyster, cuddle fish, and squid. Yum to both! We immediately decided to share whatever we ordered and ordered ourselves each a big bottle of Kirin beer. Heaven, we thought, and snuggled in for a wonderful night cooking, posing for photos, and talking! It was a lot of fun and the food was delicious.
It was important, we learned, to make sure to cook and eat the food appropriately because other the soup-Nazi waiter would say, “No!” or ‘More! More!” when I was too frugal with the sauce (I’m not a sauce person but had no choice but to become one with her around!)
We reminisced about the Antarctic and some of the people we met there and generally re-lived how we met. Through Susan’s blogging I have learned a lot about her and have come to know her friends through Facebook and through comments made on her blog so it seems quite normal to discuss our lives with one anther even though we have never stepped foot into each others’ real lives or homes.
Not feeling the greatest and extremely tired, we headed back to the ryokan where we were greeted with our newly-made up beds on the floor! Tatami are futon mattresses on the ground with duvets on top. We were also given kimono dressing gowns so after the shower of my life (hot water, great pressure and yummy-smelling soaps) I donned the kimono and relaxed in my tatami for the night. Susan stayed up later working on her blog (I blog in the morning, she blogs at night) and then went to bed a bit later. Noticing her stirring in the night I found out that she has come down with an ear ache and is not feeling well at all – – she slept about 3 hours the entire night. So we are postponing our geisha dress-up date for this morning until tomorrow to allow her to sleep in.
I have taken a walk, talked to friends from home, and blogged this morning. It seems as though North Korea has attacked South Korea but I don’t know any details except there were a couple of deaths. Anxious to find out about that since I am only 2 hours’ flight away from Seoul…
Ohio means good morning. And I am in Kyoto, so good morning from Kyoto!
Yesterday we had hoped to go to the Tokyo fish market, the Tsukiji Fish Market. Turns out Tuesday was a national holiday so we scrapped that idea and had breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. It’s there that they serve the American breakfast: an egg, ham, hash browns, and toast (or rice), or a hotdog! Susan had the latter, I the former, with rice. And I am here to tell you the hash browns were the best I’ve ever had! Crispy and brown, just how I like them.
Then back we went to the hotel to gather our belongings to head back to the train station for our shinkansen ride to Kyoto. We had planned (and prepared for) the 11:03, the non-smoking train to Kyoto on the Hakari line. But after a snafu with our own realization of where on earth we were, we were made late by our frantic running around figuring things out. We were departing from Ueno, intended to get on the shinkansen. But one can only embark the shinkansen at Tokyo station – – not Ueno. But having asked the attendant which platform we were to stand on for shinkansen, we transposed that to the Ueno station and therefore were hugely confused. Finally realizing our error (at almost exactly the same time) we rushed to the correct gate to head to Tokyo. And all this with a huge pack on our back and a smaller but heavy pack on our front. And about 70 extra pounds because of the packs. But we pressed on.
Two Americans approached us and talked about how we were carrying our packs. Seems that one of the girls (from LA) is traveling around the world via ship and ther other friend (from Chicago) decided to meet her at her port of call in Japan. Not unlike Susan and I! We happily chatted for awhile and shared experiences and got some advice about Kyoto (it’s hard to navigate, we should get a bus pass, and we should visit the Golden Temple if we do nothing else) then parted ways. It was fun to run in to them and to talk a bit about home (the one from LA goes to Ohio State and mused that “they” had played “us” recently…).
Susan and I were off on a foot race to make it to our platform – – or what we thought was our platform. Turns out we were wrong. Our train had “departure” the guy told us and we must wait for the 11:33 (a smoking train) or the non-smoking one that left after noon. That gave us some time to get reserved seats on the new train and to have a few minutes to relax, take our packs off, and have a Royal Milk Tea – – or in this case, a Georgia Milk Coffee (they were out of milk tea). We continue to ooh and ahh over these warm coffee/teas in a bottle from a vending machine. Absolutely amazing and delicious!
We boarded our shinkansen with glee and immediately settled in comfortably for the 2+ hour ride to Kyoto, stopping in between at a few towns to gather more riders. We rode along the countryside often with the ocean on our left and some low mountains (Mt. Fujis all, we assume) on our right. Absolutely beautiful!
Our train station woes did not end when we left Tokyo. No, they continued to Kyoto. So we arrived in Kyoto and figured out where we had to go in order to make it to our ryokan in the city. But that train and its platform did not look like a JR platform so we worried we might not be able to use our JR passes. With no attendant at the post of our entry, we squeezed passed the closed gates – – this is probably never a good idea but what was done was done. Therefore, when we arrived at our stop and were faced with a decision to go to the exit to the left that was staffed w an attendant, according to the sign, or go to the right, where it was unstaffed, we chose (slyly) the one that was unstaffed. Again, we had to squeeze through the exit as it had no attendant. But when we got through and I realized that I had to climb a vast staircase in order to leave the station, I was like ‘no way!’ I was overly heavy-laden, exhausted, and couldn’t face so many stairs – – especially when Susan spotted an elevator! Of course I went toward it like a moth to a flame, ignoring all reason and logic. Seeing that the lift was only accessible through the other side, we found orselves suqueezing back through the unmanned gate again and severely pressing our luck. Coming back through was where things went wrong. Realizing we couldn’t use the elevator after all, we attempted to go back through the closed gate again. Oh no we didn’t! ‘NO’ yelled the loudspeaker. Yikes! We jumped back and looked all around: up, back, left, right as if wondering where this harsh yelling was coming from. Susan was halfway through and stood still for a few moments before just coming back through again. We were not on a JR line and had not bought a ticket and therefore had no right to exit the station. We were now in conflict with The Law. Deciding to just act stupid (not difficult for us after this day!) we proudly showed our JR pass at the next exit only to be halted again. The look on our faces was as innocent as we could muster as if we were really saying we’re-just-two-Western-girls-trying-to-make-our-way-through-a-strange-land. We finally understood that we had to pay 210Y each for the ride we had just taken. We coughed it up and headed on our way out of the train station – – and up a huge flight of stairs. My bad.
Out of the station we headed one direction hoping we were headed the right way. After seemingly going upstream for quite a ways on a busy street, I started feeling like we were going awry. I do have a strong sense of direction and when I rely on it, it generally steers me right. This time was no exception because it turns out we were heading the wrong way. So we trudged back to the station and turned a different way and proceeded again down a path unknown. Tiring quickly in energy and patience, I asked to stop and figure things out before proceeding. I’m all about taking walks and exploring but not with huge packs on my back whilst trying to reach a specific destination – – after an already long day of running around crazily. Plus, we are each armed with more electronics than NASA that we were not tapping into. We Google-mapped our location and found we were about 8 blocks away so continued our hike. I had originally wanted to hop in a taxi and let them figure it out but knowing we were now within reach of our destination and that we knew where we were going, I was willing to rally on.
We walked down quintessentially-Japan streets and I was in awe of the world we had stepped into! It was beautiful and quaint and bustling! We finally found our ryokan and got settled in our room. I will continue with the story in the next entry…