August 28 - 31                       More Kyoto

Shinkansen Bullet TrainThe best way from Tokyo to Kyoto is by Shinkansen, or "New Trunk Line".  This is a second generation train, capable of speeds up to 260 kph which really seems to fly through the Japanese countryside.  We took the (Hakata Super Express) bullet train to Kyoto station, and all along the way, we had a view of the industrial Japanese countryside.  Amazingly, there seems to be little organized zoning here, with homes wedged between huge factories and rice farms.  Despite the industry and the pouring rain, the ride was truly beautiful.  The countryside, even in the more urban sections, is green and lush, and in the distance are jutting mountain peaks, wrapped in midday fog, like scraps of lace drifting on the wind.  After 2 hours and 40 minutes (exactly) of this scenery, we arrived in Kyoto.

Heian ToriiKyoto is everything Japanese that Tokyo is not.   Tokyo is modern, rushing into the 21st century with eyes open and turbo powered transformer back packs on full ahead!  Kyoto is the cultural center of traditional Japan, and walks slowly, looking back at its 1000 years as an imperial city, disdaining the modernity and haste of Tokyo.  Kyoto is kind of a combination Vatican City/ New Orleans to Japan.  Vatican, in that it is the religious headquarters of hundreds of sects of Japanese buddhism, and New Orleans in that the city is like an old french mistress, sleepy and demure during the day, but raising her skirts to welcome all as the night descends.  (Also willing and able to take all of your money, if you are not paying attention.)

Side of Heian ShrineIf you like temples and shrines, they've got them here.  The guide book said hundreds of temples and shrines, that's probably conservative. Down practically every street, you can see the distinctive upturned curving roof of a shrine.  The tourist maps have dozens listed, and it seems that they are more ubiquitous than the beer and melon soda vending machines on nearly every corner. The photos are of the Heian Shrine and its Torii, built in 1895 to honor the founding of Kyoto, as well as two early emperors.  The building shown is a side gate of the courtyard, all part of a reduced scale representation of the original imperial complex, which must have been truly impressive.  Just for comparison purposes, during Kyoto's heyday, Europeans were living in stone and mud huts, dying by the millions from plague and starvation.  Here, some of the highest achievements of Japanese culture were being created.

The Freshest SushiDinner tonight was in a traditional Japanese restaurant.  Chris ordered the Kaiseki, which is an 11 course selection of various foods served until you pass out from exhaustion, or vomit from overeating.  He took the cowards route, exclaiming "Not speaky japaneso"  which seemed to work, until a chef came out of the kitchen with what looked like a small axe, apparently asking in japanese "please, who is the bozo who won't eat any more of my food excuse me."  He looked like quite an expert with that mini axe so, discretion being the better part of valor, Chris quickly swallowed the rest of the freshly killed raw fish (see photo), and smiled broadly, until he returned to the kitchen.

View from Hotel Miyako

We found the rooftop observatory of our hotel around sunset, and spent some time and film watching the sun go down.  The view of the fog surrounding the far off mountains, and a faint pink sky was spectacular.  I am afraid that the picture this time does not do it justice.
As a sampler of what it is like to travel in Japan, here are some random thoughts and observations:
-- Apparently, Black Sabbath is an important cultural influence here.
-- Some hotels play tapes of chirping birds and cicadas to sooth their guests as they roam the halls.
-- The Japanese say please, thank you and excuse me about every 7 and 1/2 seconds.
-- Riding a bicycle with an umbrella up is not only possible, but common.
-- Platforms shoes are a must.  (You can tell an American by their sneakers.)
-- Taxi drivers wear white gloves and so do the seats of their cars.
-- Beth is as attractive to Japanese mosquitos as she is to American ones.
-- 85 degrees at 100% humidity is actually great weather.

By the way, the winners of our trivia contest are our friends Dana and Susan (the only ones who knew who T.I was)  They win the super big grand prize award, to be described in a later submission.

And aside from learning that our friend Stuart is commissioning a My Little Pony/Mime/Klown/Unicorn mural in our apartment, the winner of the best e-mail regarding our site is our friend Al, who submitted the following  Top Ten Problems with this Website .  It was good for more than a few laughs.  For his efforts, Al will receive his choice of an "I'm with stupid (in japanese characters) t-shirt", or the classic, "My friends went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."  Or maybe just a spell check for his word processor.

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