My very first Shinkansen ride brought me to Kyoto just about 2 weeks ago. The ride was incredible and Kyoto held many wonders. The Kyoto central train station is truly something to behold.
Day 1 (first full day)
We woke up early and headed to Nara and the famed Tōdai-ji temple. The deer, long believed to be divine messengers have free run of the area around the many temples and are nothing short of the cutest thing ever. We fed a few and I pet a few and I got several snouts and antlers shoved up my butt, but we all know I love that hot antler action. The temple was crowded, but the crowds were overshadowed by the enormity and history behind Tōdai-ji. Truly a wonder to behold. Dragonflies danced in the air as we walked around.
Let us not speak of Universal Studios. The trauma is still too recent, the feelings too raw. No, there were certainly wonders to behold there and we ended the day watching a spectacular One Piece live show, but I struggled with the heat and the crowds and the consumerism.
We stayed in Kyoto for our third day and visited Nijō Castle. The floors inside were built to squeak to warn of intruders. The ancient wood massaged my feet as we walked around looking at amazing gold leaf murals. I saw a monster snake swimming in one of the garden’s ponds and relaxed to the ever-present sounds of cicadas all around me. After a good deal of time at the castle we took the subway back down to Nishiki Market – a narrow walkway in the heart of the city that runs several blocks. It is filled with wonderful little gifts and homemade local foods. And just a block over from that is another walkway with more shopping and arcades and restaurants.
On our fourth day in Kyoto my friend and I endeavored to get away from the crowds and headed to Ohara. It worked. The bus drops you off across the street from a bamboo forest. The path turns narrow very quickly and winds along a little creek on one side and quaint shops on the other. I really found bliss here walking the curved pathway and looking at the locals and their wares. The Sanzen-in temple was so gorgeous, but the gardens and forests around it really inspire. We spent a great deal of time wandering mossy pathways and taking in sights I can’t even begin to describe. It is almost as though I didn’t know what green was until I beheld Sanzen-in. While there we also enjoyed some special tea made with seaweed, nettles, seasalt and gold leaf. On the walk back to our bus I bought and ate the world’s greatest pickle. No joke. The best pickle of my life. We also encountered two of the cutest middle school boys who needed our help with their summer break homework. This day could not have been better.
On day 5 we met my true love, Osaka. I’m not really sure how to even describe the feelings I had there, but I felt welcomed and at home. Sometimes a city’s energy will speak to you immediately and this was the case with Osaka. The place had a grittier feel than any other place I have experienced in Japan. It also was the first place in which I saw many people with tattoos and a funkier style. I enjoyed shopping there and the coffee. It was like each store I went into was more welcoming and more amazing than the last.
On day 6 I got to see my dear friend weep tears of joy as we took in Hemeji castle. She had been dreaming of visiting for many years and once you see the place you can understand being overcome with emotion. As we started the long walk through town to Hemeji Castle my thoughts were we would be able to explore the grounds outside and take some breath-taking photos, but I was not prepared to be allowed to go inside, and not just go inside, but explore every floor, all the way to the top. The history here is a bit overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. I wish that I wasn’t focused so much on the hole in my sock, but it gives me a chuckle now to think about walking around inside a beautiful piece of history and cursing my sock and feeling that everyone is looking at me and judging it, but…look – at least I’m honest.
I get a bit confused remembering everything that we experienced and when because I feel we crammed quite a bit in 3 weeks, but one night we sat on the river in Kyoto with many locals and looked at fireworks and caught Pokémon and walked a glorious alley filled with lively people and restaurants and dodged bats.
We saw the golden and silver temples in Kyoto and I was a sweaty sardine on a bus and a woman crammed her umbrella into my left testicle so hard that I saw stars. But then my friend took me back to Osaka and I forgot all about it because Osaka.
I think there was a day 8 too and I got mixed up. Where am I? So, on the 8th or 9th day we headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen and I saw the hottest cop in the whole world. (Japanese men with muscles make my head spin around)
We had three more days in Tokyo and got to hit most of our favorite spots, but the beauty was – we were back in Shinjuku and both feeling a little more comfortable with the area, with the language, (me just a tiny bit) and feeling a lot at home. Our hotel was beautiful, and we were on the top floor of the Hotel Century Southern Tower. Our view was spectacular and the staff was phenomenal. Words can’t even describe the glory of the all you can eat buffet in the lobby restaurant either. I would write a song about it if I could write songs. We got to visit our friend Maiko and her nee bundle of joy, Skye… And we come to the end, to the return to the United States and louder, ruder people, to streets NOT filled with anime ads, to misbehaving children and coffee that is good, but not perfect. Look, I get that it is annoying to hear about this stuff when you’re my friend and American, but once you fall in love with Japan and its people, there is no going back. My friend told her co-workers of her love and loss regarding Japan: “It’s like you only get to see your spouse every 8 months” – but he still sees other people. Sometimes people you know even go and hook up with him and you have to see it on social media and you aren’t hurt. You understand and know that you’ll be reunited soon.