Japan on a Friday: Kyoto, Temple Central
Well, not yet, but soon. My 6 dorm-mates at K's Hostel are sound asleep and I don't want to rummage in my stuff for the third time to get out my SD card reader.
Today started out in a most inauspicious fashion. I left the Bickel's idyllic semi rural retreat in Kakegawa and caught the bus across the road to the train station - 20 mins away. I got off at what I thought was the station, but it turned out to be the hospital - two stops too soon. note to self: when you arrive in the dark, things may look different in the cold light of day.
Now, this is when I started to realize that Japan is hopelessly difficult when you don't speak the language. The only words I seem to remember reliably are "takai" = expensive, and "yasui" = cheap. I spent a good 20 mins gesticulating with locals, poring through my Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook that devotes whole chapters to pick up lines and getting drunk. Eventually they "got" that I needed to get to the station. The bundled me onto a 100 yen bus and I was finally back on track.
Note to self: Make sure you learn basic phrases. Unlike most other places I've been, people speak practically no English at all. mind you, they can often write whole sentences and read them, but it seems that there is almost no emphasis on conversation in their curriculums.
The Shinkansen train too 2 hours to get to Kyoto, during which I communicated with my seat buddy - an engineer from Shin-Osaka (the 'new Osaka') in Lonely Planet Phrasebookese. We passed it back and forth between us, he thumbing the Japanese-English dictionary, me doing the opposite.
Kyoto Station is behemoth. In fact, you think from the guidebooks you're going to land in templ heaven, but it's another seething metropolis, and you need to jog over the impressive weedy river to suddenly be cruising the quaint, traditional but gentrified Gion area.
I am staying at K's Hostel, a very clean, new, IKEA-furnished Backpackers Inn a stone's throw from the station. It got good reviews and for around $US28/night to share a dorm with 5 others between crispy clean sheets, it's not bad. Unlike the awful Budget Inn Hostel, who refused to let my folding bike in the building, they cheerfully stow it in the baggage room.
I spent this afternoon tooling around the narrow and restaurant lined streets of Kyoto's east and west river areas. I had a nice dinner in mind, but my curiosity got the better of me. I sat out on a little stool in front of a streetside griddle and ordered a 200 yen Okonomiyaki or "Japanese Pancake" - basically a batter with cabbage, egg, onion and a bit of pork cooked on a griddle. For the price it was great, and certainly more palatable than "Om Rice" - which I am told is popular with kids - rice tossed in tomato sauce, topped with egg omelette, with a brown gravy - basically a food combiner's nightmare.
For dessert - a black sesame ice cream cone, no doubt the product of weird science.
I'm tikiting around temples tomorrow, then popping by Nagoya to visit Richard Gregg of http://www.worldcycle.org fame. Then steeling myself for Hiroshima ...
More at http://www.galfromdownunder.com/japan