Tuesday, January 29, 2008

1/29/08 First Day in Kyoto

The afternoon of January the second was our first day in Kyoto.

Kyoto(wikipedia, wikitravel) has a special place in my heart. It was the first Japanese city that I stayed in for any serious amount of time, and on my second trip I studied Japanese for a semester in a university there. That said, Kyoto is a bit like the ugly sister I never had.

It is a jungle of concrete cubes and power lines not that unlike Ashikaga, only with bigger gray cubes. The little green patches surrounding the temples are like an oasis in an urban desert. Hidden among the building-boxes is the where the romantic city hides. As I hear cited over and over, Kyoto is the only large Japanese city spared from allied bombings in World War II. As a result, it has an abundance of pre-war wooden buildings, temples, magic.

Our lodging was quite near Kyoto Station, so it wasn't long before we had dropped off all of our gear and were out exploring. We had seen a sizable place that looked important during the cab ride over, so we started off in that direction. While I have lived in Kyoto for some time, there are so many bazillion temples and shrines that many of the places I explored with Angelica were new to me. Anyway..

Higashi Honganji is a giant temple dedicated to someone or something important. One thing about Kyoto is that the ridiculous number of temples really brings down the level of importance in my mind of any one of them. Long story short, there are two very large twin buildings on the grounds. I didn't bother trying to take any pictures of the structures themselves as one of the temples was under renovations, and it was enclosed in airport hanger-looking structure, mammoth in both size and out-of-placeness.

The fountain here was a pretty excellent dragon. This gentlemen is preparing to wash his hands and gargle in a little cleaning ritual done before one prays. When he is done with the little ladle he is holding, he will hold it vertically, letting the remainder of the water wash his fingerprints from the handle. Now that's clean.

This picture has unfortunately got some super glare going on, but I felt it needed to be addressed. Its a big rope, at 68m in length and 375kg in weight. The rope had a very informative sign, which read:

This is one of the many ropes , specially made of the hair of followers who wished for the success of the hall's construction in 1895. As normal rope, at that time, was of very low quality, hair was preferred. They were used in transporting and hanging the huge beams which you can see today in the main framework of these two halls.


Well Angelica had really been wanting to see Tokyo Tower, which I added a nice picture of a few posts ago. Unfortunately by the time we had wandered over there, it was already closed. So when she spotted the Kyoto Tower, it became a must-see. I'm not real impressed with the tower, but I figured the view would be nice and maybe we could spot someplace else that we wanted to check out.

Several crab restaurants have these massive crabs clinging to the walls. I'd say I've seen at least five of them during my Kyoto days. Some of the fancy ones even move their massive claws and legs.

So Kyoto Tower was the very next place that we went. The base of the tower is the height of touristy. Having lived in Japan in someplace other than a big touristy city, I could spot the things that were made solely for the enjoyment of foreigners. I bought I couple little things though, one fun thing was a little key chain of Spiderman hanging off the top of the tower we were about to enter. Junky, I know, but it looks cool.

I also took this opportunity to buy some yatsuhashi for Angelica to try. It is one of Kyoto's famous foods. Its basically a sweet dough made from rice. I bought Angelica some of the raw version which is sold wrapped around a dollop of anko, or sweet bean paste. It was as delicious as I recall. The other version of yatsuhashi has been baked, and has a taste that reminds me of ginger bread.

The base of the tower was a bit too much tourist for me. I also felt like the entrance to actually ascend into the tower was a bit under emphasized, perhaps to help you forget why you entered the madness in the first place, therefore wandering and buying more junk.

The elevator ride to the top had much the same feel as the shinkansen ride had earlier in the day. Lots of super polite people in uniforms. Lots of unnecessary bowing. The view from the top ended up being pretty nice, and it was high enough that we could even see the outskirts of the nearby city of Osaka, a major metropolitan center.

This view of Kyoto from the tower illustrates my perception of the city as a pile of gray boxes. Note the large gray airport hanger in the center of the picture. This was what the temple we visited earlier was sitting under.

Breathtaking. Angelica and the view were nice too.

I think this person's name is Ms. Tower. Pretty shameless anthropomorphic little creature. Nice dresser, though.

So the tower definitely serves a sightseeing purpose, but I hear that there is a bit of controversy about its existence. It is way taller than anything around it, except maybe the massive Kyoto Station from which it stands opposite. It is a giant, bright orange and white thing reaching for the sky. This in a city many look to as the cultural an historical heart of Japan. I vividly remember reading the brochure handed to me at the elevator entrance. It featured a picture of the interior of the tower, with two geisha walking proudly inside. It went on to explain that the "candle-like shape of the tower blends in well with traditional Kyoto". Something along those lines. Pretty much a joke for anyone with eyes.

At the risk of breaking time continuity, here is a nice night time view of the street in front of Kyoto Station. Kyoto Tower can be seen, well, towering.

I figured we had had enough sightseeing for one day, so I took Angelica to the more modern shopping area. Its pretty nice. Not only are there department stores, but several of the streets full of shops are completely covered, making viewing possible no matter the weather.

One of the many covered streets that intersect each other. Many people were still on their new year vacations, so things were quite busy, as you can see.

This colorful little shop was selling quite a large selection of chopsticks. It was one of those places that is so small and filled with merchandise that I was worried about turning around, lest I knock over something expensive.

Not even a walk through a glitzy business district means that you will escape the temples. Occasionally they can be found among a full street of businesses, seemingly unaware of the clash, or just unwilling to move. This one had a pretty cool Buddha statue in it. It had a nice incense smell to it as well.

Another thing to keep in mind with Kyoto, is that tourist attractions all close around 5ish, so you pretty much either have to go eating or drinking, or go home.

Any time of day or night, if Angelica saw a temple bell, she was going to ring it.

We wanted to get the feel of the Japanese ryokan for a night, without getting the feel of a public bathroom for four days. A ryokan is a traditional inn that is especially prevalent in Kyoto. While they do have a bit of romance to them, they lack many of the amenities that modern lodging provides. Ours was a pretty typical example. It was simply some bed rolls laid out on the tatami mat floor. I think we both appreciated the atmosphere, but neither of us complained when we were packing our bags the next morning to move to the real hotel.


  1. The Higashi Honganji is I believe one of the major branches of Buddhism in Japan, maybe the largest, so that is probably one of the more important temples in Japan.

  2. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Me parecen muy cheveres las campanas en los templos, lo acepto. It was fun to ring all the bells!

  3. Yeah, I mean, no disrespect to the religion or anything. I had the same feeling when I was in Rome. One important church is awesome, two is pretty cool, but by the seventh I would rather just sit on the steps and wait for the tour group to come out, you know?

  4. Anonymous2:05 AM

    I am trying to find a english teaching job in japan. Any advice? Please send to taftjoe@hotmail.com
    I have one year of experience teaching in Korea.

  5. I'll send this to your email, but I figured I should write it here too in case anyone else is interested.

    Well if I were you, I would check out the JET program website first if you haven't already. In my experience they offer the best pay and benefits. After that I don't have a whole lot of personal experience, as I am in a sister city program. I think that private companies advertise on Monster.com quite often, so you might want to check there as well. Some common advice that I hear is that you should always ask to speak with a current English teacher beforehand, just to make sure everything is legitimate.

    And how about yourself? Have any advice for someone looking for a job teaching in Korea? Where in Korea were you at?