Kansai trouble06 March, 2011 by Chad
After last night’s disappointment, you’d think that things might pick up the next morning. Unfortunately, I would meet with great misfortune during today’s visit to Kyoto. It seems that for almost every trip, there was going to be one day which you end knowing that it could possibly be the worst day yet.
Neither Wilson nor I had plans to visit the tourist capital of Japan. Wilson already spent a week there with MJ some time back, going from temple to temple. Despite not having its own airport, Kyoto ranks as the second most visited city in the entire Japan, just behind Tokyo. And millions flock to Kyoto each year to fulfill their gaijin fantasies of Samurai and Geisha. But one of Yan’s goals was to visit the Ryoanji temple here as part of a spiritual pilgrimage.
It drizzled a little in the morning, so we brought along umbrellas but they would become unnecessary moments later and we ended up lugging them around pointlessly for the rest of the day. The trip from Osaka to Kyoto took about 15 minutes via Shinkansen. In Kyoto, the transport system wasn’t nearly as forgiving and we’d have to take a 40 minute bus ride just to get to the temple.
We had been rushing from place to place the entire week and there wasn’t nearly enough time for rest, so all commuting time was spent unconscious. Awaking moments from our stop, I rushed down the bus only to realize that my wallet had fallen from my pocket. Apart from my ID, there was about $700 bucks cash inside and a couple of plastic, losing the wallet was not an option.
So the next few hours was spent trying to retrieve it. First, was to take next 40 minute bus back to the station. I felt pretty bad about having to waste Wilson and Yan’s time since we were right at Ryoanji but they were pretty cool about it.
Back at Kyoto station I explained my plight to the woman at the JR bus counter there. The funny thing about Kyoto is that despite being a major tourist destination, no one understands any English here. Which meant that the woman at the counter didn’t attempt to communicate in broken English, thus saving time getting the message across.
Based on the bus timings, she pinned down a couple of the possible buses that we could have took. She called up the first driver, no luck. But after calling the second, asked for a description of the wallet which she tallied with the driver. The wallet was kind of orange, kind of red but we eventually settled on checkered. She finally remarked that she had found it…maybe.
Yan went to a ramen restaurant upstairs, while Wilson and I waited around for about half an hour, when the bus would loop back at Kyoto station. Together with the clerk, we met with the driver at the opposite end of the terminal. Here he passed us what was thankfully my lost wallet. After urging to check in great detail if anything was lost (nothing was missing), the driver, with great pride handed me some forms to fill up. I thanked him profusely. Had this been Singapore, I’m pretty sure the driver would had probably been the first one to snatch up the wallet.
After receiving our thanks, the clerk made a mad dash back to her post. The counter was like 100 meters away and she was in heels but she disappeared in an instant. I swear, I couldn’t run that fast even in sneakers. Uncanny dedication. When we asked to take a picture with/of her, she covered her face and squirmed that she was too shy. She looked kind of like an older, dorkier Aibu Saki.
With that crisis over, it was back to Ryoanji Temple for Yan’s enlightenment. Entry into the temple grounds cost 500 yen. From the map here it looked pretty impressive but we would soon learn that these kind of maps were hardly to scale.
Ryoanji used to be just any wealthy residence until the death of its owner, when it was willed to be converted into a temple. It definitely wasn’t the grandest or oldest temple in Kyoto and in fact as far as temples go, it’s pretty new. But it’s claim to fame comes from being synonymous with the image of the classic “Zen Garden”.
The rock garden turned out to be much smaller and less impressive than it did in photos. 15 stones were laid out within the garden but some of them were hidden behind the larger ones so you could only see 14 from any single position. There’s a whole legend that states that only those who have reached enlightenment would had been able to see all 15 at once, so visitors camped here for the longest time counting the stones.
Over the years, countless hours (and funding) have been put into research to find what the layout of the rock garden represents. But like any other abstract representation, everyone returns with a different analysis. In fact, no one is quite sure how the garden came to be either but evidence suggests it was just constructed by the workers who built the house.
Call it blasphemy but I would prefer a garden of plants to one of pebbles any day. Tons of tourists and school kids having a field trip here did little to add to the atmosphere.
There really wasn’t much else to see at the temple, so we headed outside where another gift shop was located. About half of the shop was taken up by a store selling pickled vegetables. Tried some and it was really good. Yan ended bringing some home.
Next we were to head to another zen temple, the adjacent Kinkakuji. Adjacent in the sense that it was about 2 kilometers away by foot. Along the way I grabbed some Mango Calpis from one of the vending machines, my pilgrimage was to try every flavor.
The initial idea was just to catch a glimpse of the famous Golden Pavilion from far but the view was obstructed by a gantry. This meant two things, that the building was pretty tiny and that we’d have to fork out the 800 yen ($12) it cost just to enter the temple grounds.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple) was the former retirement home of a shogun that was converted into a zen temple after his death. It gets its name and draw from being coated in real gold leaf paint. It’s the most visited tourist attraction in Kyoto next to Kiyomizudera.
While we were taking photos from here, the security guard said something about how all them tourists take photos from the same spot and that he personally preferred the view from this other spot.
For obvious reasons, you couldn’t get up close to the building so the only thing to do was to walk around the garden where the building resided in. The whole path spanned a couple hundred meters at most. A few meters beside the temple there was a charm shop selling the usual assortment of charms, as well as some more generic stuff.
Beside the path, there were a few statues where people actually threw money at the statues in hopes of good fortune. The path lead to an elevated area where you could see the temple and surrounding area.
Barely 20 meters away from the first was another identical shop, in case you didn’t already purchase anything from the first shop.
Then a short flight of stairs down to an area, with you guessed it. A whole lot more souvenir shops!
Now I’m all for donating money in preservation of historical sites. But WTF Kyoto.
We returned to the city area for a late lunch at a really old soba shop that Wilson had looked up. Did I mention that Wilson loves his soba? Owariya was famous for being a soba house that used to cater to emperors.
The owners brought us a little gift at the start of our meal, some confectioneries that they made. Owariya started off as a failed confectionery shop, though they’ve since specialized in soba, they never quite got past that dream. The round thin long packets contained buckwheat crackers and the round ones were azuki bean buns. The snacks were good but maybe soba snacks weren’t the in thing centuries ago.
Yan went with the egg soba with a separate order of tempura. Prices here were affordable, with single dishes costing only 600 to 700 yen. They also had more elaborate seasonal dishes for roughly 1400 yen ($21).
Having come all this way, Wilson and I decided to try their original dish, Hourai Soba. Wilson also chose a slightly pricier option that came with additional appetizers at the start of the meal.
Hourai soba was cold soba served in 5 small portions, stacked together in modular plates. They were served with a separate assortment of different garnishes to the side.
The concept was unique to Owariya so the meal came with printed instructions in Japanese and English. But basically you just poured a small amount of sauce into each tiny plate and ate the the noodles with whatever you wanted from the selection of sides (radish, shredded eggs, mushrooms, seaweed, sesame, wasabi and shrimp tempura). I personally felt it was most enjoyable with the eggs, seaweed and mushrooms. The tempura was a little soggy.
Perhaps I was expecting more, from a shop that attended to the emperor’s taste. Don’t get me wrong, it was really good. Just not mind blowing, as we’ve eaten comparable soba at Hakone. Still, Wilson and I left the place feeling satisfied. It was a unique dish that we could only experienced here. Was it something I’d ever eat again? You can bet…if I’d returned to Kyoto.
On the way out, Wilson grabbed some of those buckwheat crackers from the shop.
Perhaps the only locale at Kyoto that I could look forward to visiting was Kiyomizudera, Kyoto’s oldest temple. The grand Buddhist temple was also located atop a hillside with views overlooking the city, making it the principal “must visit” destination in Kyoto. Alas, the screw-up this morning meant that it was already 4 PM, the closing time during winter.
So back to Osaka it was, where we stopped by our hotel first to unload some stuff and for Wilson to check out the previously mentioned bike shop. Went online to check if I’d won any normal NMB48 tickets but my hopes weren’t up. The stupid thing about NMB48’s online ticketing system was that while you could apply for tickets any time in advance, you’d only know if you won after 12 PM on the day of the show itself. Sure enough, nothing.
Next we walked around the shops at the the Shinsaibashi area but the closing timing of stores at Osaka was pretty ridiculous. Despite it being only 7 PM, the only thing open was Tokyu Hands and even then they were already chasing people out of the store.
I grabbed some sort of award winning crepes from outside Tokyu Hands, which Yan would later identify as the same franchise Minegishi was eating in 600secs. The crepes here were super light and fluffy.
We walked around for another hour and by then pretty much everything had closed so we decided to get dinner and retire early for once. Ended up at a Yakitori store opposite the Uniqlo building.
Even just entering the place, we weren’t off to a good start. Sensing our gaijin-ness, the staff insisted that we store our belongings at the coin lockers they provided. Everyone else had their stuff with them.
Yakitori was served in sets of 5 sticks here for 400 yen. To counter that, each stick was ridiculously tiny which was disappointing since you could get a full sized stick elsewhere for 100 yen.
After the meal, Wilson and I headed to the nearby Mister Donut. It would be the only time we were early enough to still see the Shinsaibashi store open on our way back to the hotel.
Today we decided that there was to be no more rushing around madly without sleep.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.