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Archive for the ‘ Travel Stories ’ Category

2
19
Oct

Kyoto Part 5 of 6: Monday

I was awake before 8am. I snuck down the creaky bunk bed ladder and, after a shower, I decided I would devote my morning to visiting Nara, a small city thirty miles southeast of Kyoto.

While Kyoto is the basin of Japanese history, Nara is its quiet religious counterpart. After Kyoto was built in 794, in importance, Nara always lagged behind its northern big brother but remained a steadfast home to Japanese Buddhism.

While it isn’t nearly as large and hasn’t nearly as many tourist sights as Kyoto, Nara’s age is astonishing alone. Most consider the Nara region to have held the original Japanese civilization. Kofun burial grounds existing from well before the mid-sixth century are still on view within the city limits. Nara also holds two particular sights that I wanted to see. So, I bought a 1,200 yen ($10 USD) round trip ticket and returned once more to Kyoto Station.

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0
18
Oct

Kyoto Part 4 of 6: Sunday

It was still quite dark, the smell of fresh dough, seeming distinctly un-Japanese, wafted in the air, reminding me of an early morning or two I have met in Philadelphia over the years. I decided that a nice way to greet the sunrise would be along the reflective and apparently serene Tetsugaku-no-michi, or Path of Philosophy, so I turned my rudders towards its shores.

It took more than an hour of deliberate steps forward, uninterrupted but for a quick stop in a konbini, convenience store, to buy a breakfast of egg and apple juice, for me to arrive at the path’s simple, stone-worked entrance. (See Photos in Kyoto Photo Album)

The path was nothing to inspire awe. It was a tiny stone path buried by patches of small trees and untamed bushes diverted by a neighborhood shrine and some of the last remaining old style Japanese wooden homes in the country.

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0
17
Oct

Kyoto Part 3 of 6: The Night

The Kyoto Station is, in a word, enormous.

After Nagoya, Kyoto holds the country’s largest train station, along with a shopping mall, a department store, a hotel, a movie theater, and local government facilities all under its fifteen-story roof. With an overwhelming glass front, its modernism and futuristic style is impressive on its own, but is difficult to rectify with its role as being the portal through which the world finds Japan’s historical heart. It opened in 1997 after being built to commemorate Kyoto’s 1,200th anniversary. Nearly 250 feet high and more than 1,500 feet wide, the plans for the station were begun after hundreds of proposals were rejected, including several that included traditional Japanese architecture.

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0
17
Oct

Kyoto Part 2 of 6: The Road

I woke up to the bright sunlight of a glorious Tokyo Saturday morning. It was the weather that manages to find your doorstep just once every other week this time of year but is well worth the wait. It was before 8am so I lazily sauntered around my apartment, making breakfast, packing a lunch and scratching what needed to be scratched.

I ordered the apartment, locked her up to be empty for the next four days, and walked the 15 minutes to the Jiyugaoka train station. Ten weeks ago on the third day I was in Tokyo, I had some trouble finding my way to and home from Shinjuku, the busiest train station in the world. If you saw my first episode in Japan, you know that. Shinjuku was my destination, but on this day, there was no trouble. I knew it was easy then, I proved it was easy on Saturday.

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1
17
Oct

Kyoto Part 1 of 6: The Plans

There are 15 national holidays in Japan. Last Monday was Taiiku No Hi, or Health and Sports Day, to commemorate the opening day of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It was an important day to many Japanese, a sign that their country had recovered from the destruction of World War II. To me, the day was motivation, not reflection. You see, the undergraduate program at my school took Tuesday off as well. This meant a four day weekend and therefore necessitated something particularly exciting to continue my devotion to travel at each week’s end. I have not failed you.

In my first two and half months in Japan, I have had a great deal of difficulty getting out of metropolitan Tokyo. About this I have lamented before. I went to Yokohama, supposedly the country’s second largest city, but the Japanese laughed at this. I went to Kamakura, a former Japanese capital, but they told me no. I have been to Shibuya and Shinjuku, with populations and infrastructures and even histories that made them capable of being large cities on their own, but, they suffered the same fate at Kichijoji, where I watched a fall festival.

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2
13
Oct

Leaving for Kyoto

Well, I have been granted a long weekend. Monday is one of Japan’s many and varied national holidays, Taiiku no Hi or Sports Day, and undergraduates at my school were given Tuesday off. What does this mean? It means a four day weekend. It means I gotta run.

So, I am heading to Kyoto, the historical imperial capital of Japan with 1,800 temples and hundreds of shrines. It is widely recognized for maintaining some traditional Japanese urban life, with ancient buildings and legendary sights.

To get there, I have to make it to a bus station near Shinjuku, the WORLD’S busiest train station (remember my Fuji experience?) Saturday morning to take an 8 hour bus trip southwest to the Kansai prefecture, and more specifically, Japan’s seventh largest city, Kyoto.

I am spending three nights there. On this whim I managed to book a cheap hostel for two nights. Let me say that again, I’ll get to Kyoto Saturday night and don’t have a place to stay until Sunday night. THERE IS NO WAY THIS CAN’T WORK OUT!

Get ready for some great photos and plenty of stories. I’ll get back to you next week, wish me luck. A lot of luck.

1
12
Oct

Mitakesan Buddhist monastary

From a train to a bus to a tram car up a steep mountain incline, into a ramshackle wooden home set back off a dirt path, sat the Tendai Buddhist monastery that I would be staying the weekend.

Combining Shinto and Buddhist tenets, I ate well, relaxed, practiced concentration sessions with another five guests, all of whom were Japanese men, and, on the final morning, put on a very light robe and followed two priests and the five other guests without much understanding of where we were going.

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1
12
Oct

My Bicycle’s Name

I had asked for your suggestions on a name for my bicycle. The suggestions came slowly and uninspiredly. Perhaps that is because I have three and a half readers.

But, as democracy must do, I will plow on, with enough votes cast or not.

The finalists for my bicycle’s name, chosen from reader suggestions, are as follows:
1. Ethel – “bikes should be named after old women”
2. Handle Bars and Stripes “it’s clever and overly patriotic – like you”
3. Uncle Sam – “it can be nicely shortened but loves the USA”
4. The Widowmaker – “the bike sounds dangerous”
5. Bearcat – “if you ride anything, it better be ferocious”
6. Newton – “when I hear the name, I think genius (Isaac) and pride (your hometown)”

Please, cast your votes for the final decision. …And by cast your votes, I mean post a comment, let me know what you’re thinking. All I know is that if I am going to ride this bicycle, I need to have a name so I can stop using article and noun, the format of ‘the bicycle,’ gets old.

Alright, let me know.

0
11
Oct

Capsule Hotel

There is nothing vicarious about this entry. I did not sleep in my apartment last night. There is nothing explicit about this entry. I slept in someone else’s bed. Nothing inappropriate.

Rather, I simply got the chance to check off-completed something else I promised myself I would do while in Japan. A few hours’ bicycle ride from home, I walked through a sliding door, handed over 4,000 yen ($34 USD) and rented my very first capsule hotel room.

Its name may be enough for you to know what I mean. For others, you still may be waiting for me to clue you into what a capsule hotel is. You’ll have to wait. Follow the chronology.

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0
3
Oct

Bicycle

I made a purchase ten days ago. Ten days is long enough for me to decide that the 9,999 yen ($85 USD) I spent on that hill-clobbering, three-geared, two-wheeled Japanese bicycle was well spent.

(SEE PHOTO ALBUM)

I closed my Tokyo bus school-commuting tenure after a month of slobbering on those wide, tinted bus windows as I stared at the skyline above. After finishing my bus pass, I find myself wheeling through those very skylines.

Now it’s me that is swooping past hand-holding couples and ringing my bell at slow-moving elderly men, always with, “sumi ma sen,” excuse me, floating over my shoulder. The ride to school is a hilly trip, which always hastens a sweat on my forehead, even with the increasingly cooler winds of a late Tokyo September riding along my side.

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