Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kyoto part 2: The adventures and the almost-adventures

So in our two full days in Kyoto, we had very little by way of a schedule. Mostly a "hmm, let's walk around and see what's neat and do that, and see what's tasty and eat that." It wouldn't work for me in most places, but Kyoto was so laidback, well-organized and just plain enjoyable that it worked quite well here.

Initial impressions:

  • It's not nearly as tall as South Korea was. Of course there are tall business buildings but the majority of the buildings are 2 stories. This really surprised me since I thought land was basically as expensive due to scarcity and difficulty building around the mountainous terrain as Korea.
  • However, the buildings have much more character, generally speaking. Most streets we walked through had at least one shrine (Shinto) or temple (Buddhist), and while the colors tend to earth tone, the architecture of the ceilings and signs and gardens really make each street uniquely beautiful.
  • So friendly, so clean. We didn't get any sort of response from the many foreigners we saw, unlike in South Korea where we started conversations with quite a few foreigners that seemed glad to see a fellow whitey. I wonder if they feel more at home here and thus don't feel the need to form connections simply based on the chance that we speak English. But the Kyotans were very friendly and in every restaurant we visited, they were more than willing to help us order and make sure we enjoyed ourselves.
  • Wah no more magpies. Instead, we have crows. Big black raucous crows like Vicious wears on his shoulder in Cowboy Bebop. I prefer the 'pies, meself.
  • Rainy season, yes indeed. It rained off and on throughout our stay. When it wasn't raining, it was extremely hot and muggy. If you come here, start your day early and plan to camp somewhere for most of the day until the sun goes down around 5pm (so early! Darn lack of daylight savings'.) and you can venture back out.
  • The subway system is very logical, cheap (an all-day pass for approx $6) and easy to navigate. Taxis aren't ridiculous but not really necessary. Pack light--little did I know what good advice this was, but I learned quickly.
  • General niceties go a long way. Bow to everyone. Sumimasen - excuse me. Arigato - thank you. Onegai - please. We gave a gift of local sweets to our machiya hostess and she was delighted and gave us gifts too (beer miso for the boys and rice face mask stuff for the girls). Always remove shoes before entering a house. Opt to be the polite foreigner, not the boisterous foreigner. (One of us is having some trouble with this part.)
  • Ohmygosh, are these some fashion-forward girls! I have no idea how many hours a day they spend doing their hair, makeup, clothes, shoes and accessories, but my hat's off to them. (I'm not wearing a hat currently, and if I were it wouldn't be nearly as kawaii as the hat that THEY would be wearing, but the intention is there.) I also feel very bad for their feet. It's about equal to the envy I have of their footwear.

After getting the lay of the land, we intended to do a couple of things. Some of them we actually got around to doing. Others....not so much.

Almost adventure #1: walking the Philosopher's Path. This is a long and very beautiful walk that gives you a great view of several shrines. We had walked a pretty long time just to get here, so by the time we reached it, we meandered a bit.....and then followed the path of many philosophers and decided that food was more important.

Almost adventure #2: the Imperial Palace. Again, we'd walked extensively before getting here, so by the time we arrived and saw that we had to get a pass to walk through, we went "mehh" and strolled through the Imperial park on the way out.

Actual adventure! Tavis and I bought kimonos! Well, yukata, which are the more casual, cotton/linen style that many women wear around town just cuz. We both got fitted and picked out lovely sets of yukata and obi. I am so so so happy with mine, and Tavis looks quite dashing. (I can tell he's itching to a) accessorize, preferably with a sword, and b) throw many Asian-themed dinner parties so he has an occasion to wear it.)

Actual adventure #2! We had our first authentic Japanese noodles. We had udon, which are the thick wheat noodles; ours were in a broth just made for slurping with green onions on top. Quite satisfying. Afterwards, we ventured next door to a dessert shop because of their ridiculous, garish and absolutely delectable plastic parfait models. May I just say, if any country does over-the-top better, I should not care to see it. James had a coffee jelly parfait and Tavis and I split a strawberry/chocolate one, which also had layers of mango and cherries.

Oh, two notes of interest to my video game brethren:

  • Tanooki, as in Tanooki Mario from Super Mario Bros 3? He's a trickster/magician deity! He is a raccoon dog and there are statues to him everywhere on the street and in restaurants.
  • Kirin, as in the Kirin esper from FF3, appears to be some sort of flaming gazelle/goat/deer thingy. I don't know anything about him except that he's a popular beer brand. Oh yeah, beer is sold in vending machines here and is pretty cheap.

That's all I got for now!


Rosie Posie said...

Thought you'd like to know that you SO did right in giving food as a gift to Yumi-san. Marc told us later that whenever you go to a Japanese person's house you should always bring a gift of food with you, and pretty much anytime someone gives a thank you gift it is food. So good on you!

Megan and Tavis said...

Ohhhhh GOOD. That is valuable information for future trips and I'm feeling mighty awesome now.

Miss you guys! Can't wait to share this wacky city with you!