3rd April 2016
There is a four day stint of us staying in places beginning with the letter N. Last night was Namba, tonight Nara, then Nagoya followed by Narita. If this was a card game I'd be winning hands down.
Due to another late night we had a slower than planned start to the day. Gladly, it only took ten minutes to get to the station this time around. We had around half an hour to spare until making a connection, so pulled in to 'Italian Tomato cafe' for a bite to eat. I don't know if it's by sheer volume of people, but there always seem to be people eating and drinking any time of day.
In contrast to Europe, it is okay to smoke in restaurants and cafes (many of which have a designated area, or even room). You are however, generally not allowed to smoke on the streets.
Around eighty percent of the cafe's clientele were smokers, and there was mellow jazz music playing in the background which may well have been the best music I have heard all trip. I have to say that I have been sorely disappointed with any music I have heard so far in Japan. I'm aware there is a massive Beatles fan-base here, and that some decent bands play here regularly, but apart from John Denver's 'Take me home country roads' resonating from a Karaoke bar one night all I have heard is cheesy jingles played at train stations and via random adverts out on the street.
I am not sure if it's in the pop charts here, but I have heard a saccharin version of Doh Ray Me (is there another kind) a few times now, playing in shops. I listen to music a lot back home, and this is troubling my punk/indie/Rock/house deprived ears!
I did muse to Samuel that maybe we are a bit too cynical back home, and how I like music with a bit of bite. Maybe we should roll back the sweetness, and allow for a bit more cheese. You decide!
En route to Kyoto we jenned up a little on the city, and chose a few places to attempt to see in the roughly six hours we had. We are now on a 'one-place, one-night agenda' as Samuel likes to call it.
This wasn't all intentional, but with difficulty finding accomodation, and the not-knowing if and when we might come back to Japan I figured we should try and get as much ground covered, whilst getting a feel for the country. Lugging twelve kilos of camera kit around most days might not be the wisest idea, but there are worse things to be doing!
Kyoto train station is a destination in it's own right: fifteen floors of steel & glass, with tens of escalators carrying locals & inquisitive visitors to various locations around the station. A sound-system boomed music and voice from somewhere in this cavernous hub.
Our first task was to locate the lockers, so we could leave our cases and lighten our load. We found a room containing more than 300 lockers of various sizes. We were not alone in our quest, and so started a game of cat and mouse. There were a few groups and individuals who were seeking somewhere to store their baggage, and awaited other people to come and claim theirs, freeing up the space. Soon, a group of girls were swapping baggage for a free hand, and the same with an older gentleman. We needed the biggest sized locker, and weren't striking lucky, so I went to investigate the baggage storage that I had noted a sign for before. I left Samuel with 700 yen and wished him good fortune. When I got to the baggage room there wa a sign saying it was full, so they were suspending the service for a while. The thought of dragging around our suitcases for the day was not working for me, so I headed back to Samuel with no change on the situation.
Just then, two men approached the locker room, and proceeded to empty a large locker. They gave us a knowing smile and we eagerly stuffed our cases in and went to explore the station in more detail!
Ascending several floors, Samuel and I took the skywalk from one side of the building to the other: there are two viewing platforms offering a panoramic vision of the city. Impressive stuff. On the 11th floor there is a tight collection of eateries - all with queues of people eager to chow down!
As we climbed further we could see a wide row of around eighty steps that served as seating for the stage below: this is where the noise was coming from, and as we glanced over our shoulders we could see a group of five dancers performing a fusion of traditional and street dance.
There was a flow of performers ranging in style, and we chose to sit down just as it went a bit crazy!
Around twenty teenage girls appeared, wearing kimonos, then the same number of guys in traditional dress. This was followed by younger children, to the point there must have been a good fifty in total. They proceeded to perform a collection of somewhat comical dances, and encouraged audience participation. Around ten western tourists joined in, but it seemed nobody really had a clue what was going on, including us. It can best be described as something akin to heads, shoulders, knees and toes!
Leaving the station, apart from going on a wild goose chase to find a revered shrine, we spent most of the remaining time in Kyoto at Nishiki Market, a wonder-world of strange and intriguing food. I bought some broadbean biscuits, but the skewered octopus didn't tempt me. There is so much food in Japan that I have no clue about. I am sure they could do a good version of the Bush Tucker Trial in most restaurants! One thing that has been a sad surprise is the lack of fruit readily available. We are probably so used to all the imports, that maybe they work on the seasonal-fruit model. I shall have to investigate.
On to Nara...
I left a sleepy-boy dreaming whilst I rearranged the bags and went to the lobby to finish some postcards and drink a freshly ground coffee; the first in some time. We left our baggage at Ugaya guesthouse, and set off to explore the area.
Nara was Japan's first capital, established in 710. Thirty years later construction started on Todei-Ji Temple and it's adjacent buildings by order of Emperor Shomu.
We decided to follow a route mapped out by lonely planet and spent a lovely afternoon walking through ancient gardens, quiet roads and through swarms of crowds at Todai-Ji which holds an almost fifteen metre tall, 500 tonne image of the Great Buddha.
The Daibutsu-den Hall which holds the Buddha has been rebuilt three times due to fire and earthquakes. Now standing at 48 metres tall, a third smaller than it's original size, it is still the largest wooden structure on earth. Scale is everything!
Nara-koen park is populated by deer, once considered messengers of the gods. They are completely at home amongst the crowds and sniff around for food, leaving some tourists aghast at their behaviour!
As we walked from shrine to shrine we witnessed a devotee coming out to chant his prayers. Further on there was a whole load of wooden hearts hanging across beams and within a little shrine. This is where young women have written their hopes & dreams of finding a suitor. Probably just as effective as Tinder and the like, not that I'd know!
We strolled back to town and found a restaurant for dinner, where I had quite a feast and finally got around to sampling the Sake - I could take it or leave it.
We collected the bags and headed for Nagoya to our first and only hotel, which is where I am writing this from now. It is coming up to 2am and the boy is sound asleep.
Tomorrow we are set to go to a huge railway museum, which I will explain about more in our next posting.
A & S