Friday, July 16, 2010

Kyoto - First day

Today we set out to discover Kyoto. Since it was our first day in Japan it took us some time to get organized.

In the end we managed to find a place for  breakfast in a coffee shop in the Kyoto Station (which is right next to our hotel) and then we bought a bus day-pass. Here we encountered one of the strange Japanese cultural behaviors. Every time you enter a store everyone working there says "Irashai-masen" in a singsong intonation. The central ticket office is in the same space as a coffee shop, so for everyone who enters, the girls beyond the counter go "Irashai-masen" in a high-pitched voice. When we were there people entered every few seconds and initially we thought this was a machine.

Another thing that struck us as strange is people dressed in traditional cloths. We thought these were used for special occasion, but at least here in Kyoto we saw a lot of people going about dressed up like this.

We chose a trip from one of our tourbooks. We took the bus a bit out of the center, and climbed a hill on which stands the Kiyomizu Temple. The temple is a large complex that overlooks the city from a high vantage point.

The road to the temple is narrow and lined with shops and small shrines.

At the point we got to the temple (before 9am) we were all sweaty and red. It was clear that it was going to be a very hot day.

The temple itself consists of several large buildings, each with shrines and gongs.

There are various ways of praying in the temple, hanging a note on a wooden slate, tying a written note on a special rack, and many others.

One of the attractions were water fountains that you can drink from to absolve your issues.

In Japan, cleanliness is all important.

On the way out we met a local monk who prayed for people who donated to his collection bowl.

From Kiyomizu we walked down stairs and narrow lanes that were packed with local establishments (mainly restaurants and stores). This neighborhood is old and had special character.

We meandered down to Maruyama park where we saw ducks, large carps, flies and even ravens.

From the park we strolled past Yasaka Shrine, a large complex with many shrines.

Here people come to ring a bell, throw money into a collection of baskets, say a prayer, and then clap twice and bow.

We then walked through Shinmonzen St., which is an arts center. To our disappointment, this meant high-end galleries that didn't have anything that seemed striking to us. We did wonder through nice streets and saw the local people behavior.

At this stage we were soaking, disgustingly wet, and very tired. So, we took a bus to the hotel to shower and change clothes. We rested a bit and then set out again. This time we went to the International Manga Museum, which was supposed to be a center of Manga. The museum was a bit of a disappointment as it was mostly a big library of Manga, with a lot of people coming in to sit and read different Manga.

While we were there, a thunderstorm started brewing, and by the time we got out it was already raining cats and dogs. We sat down at a cafe that was right next to the Manga museum. On the cafe walls there was an array of drawing made but various Manga artist that, apparently just came in and drew wherever they wanted to.

After coffee, the rain has subsided and we decided to walk to a nice lunch place (although it was already close to 5pm). The book recommended a Soba restaurant a few blocks away. It took us a while to find it, and we had to ask for directions, as the small streets did not have clear signs, but in the end we found a small non-assuming house that was the restaurant.

This was the first place where we had to remove our sandals to get in, and there was a bit of confusion as to where we were supposed to leave them. We were saved from the low table and given a small table with chairs in a room with traditional mats. We had soba-maki (think sushi roll with noddles instead of rice) for appetizer and soba noddles in soup for lunch. It was tasty, but a bit bland.

After late lunch we continued walking and hit a local covered market full of small stores.

It connected with the local food market -  a street with many stalls of various kinds of foods stuff. Some of it exotic and some more common place. We came at an hour where many of the stalls were starting to close. Nonetheless, it was a sight to see.

We reached the main street and found ourselves in the middle of activities for the Gion Festival. This festival involves a procession of floats around the main part of the old city. The evenings before the procession the floats were stationed around this neighborhood and people came to see the floats and their ornaments up close. The streets were packed with people.

All the main streets were lined with stalls selling foods stuff. Some of them were weird things we didn't expect, while others were more western like.

Yael bought a serving of fried noodles, or Yakisoba as they are known in Japanese. She asked for them without the fried egg on top, and they were actually quite tasty.

After a while we became very tired and headed back to the hotel.

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