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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Sleepless night in Kyoto

JAPAN | Monday, 29 September 2014 | Views [655]

Sara Wall indirectly said "you sleep on a train and you get your butt to Kyoto." Well, those weren't her exact words but in other words she was telling me I cannot miss Kyoto. For my next trip to Japan I have a laundry list of places to see and things to do: the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Imperial Palace (in Tokyo) and then I want to go to Hokkaido for a few weeks and spend time many other places. Hitchhiking to Kyoto was a bit of a mission. Getting out of Mima was easy but I got stuck in Tokushima for awhile. At the tourism office they wrote me a sign for Osaka in kanji (Kyoto is a short train ride away). It was hot, and I've already stood in the sun enough without sunscreen or a hat. At around 3 PM a young couple named Daiske and Run (sounds like a cartoon title) picked me up. They were headed to Kobe. They spoke little English, but I've discovered that most Japanese translate easily using their iPhone. After no luck finding a lift at a service area on Awaji Island we crossed the bridge and then made our way to Kobe. Note that the pronunciations for Kobe (Japan) and Kobe (Bryant) are different; the former is Ko-BAY (with a stress on the last syllable) and the latter is KOH-bee (with a stress on the first syllable) yet Kobe Bryant was named after Japan's most famous beef. We drove to the train station in Kobe, and Daiske shouted me my train ticket to Kyoto! I really wanted to hitchhike but I had a bit more time to explore Kyoto. Two trains and two hours later I was in Japan's ancient capital. Japan as we know it is the world's oldest current country, being founded in 660 BC. By contrast, Egypt became a sovereign country in 1922, even though civilizations have existed there for thousands of years longer. Greeted by the bright lights, I made my way toward Gion with all my gear. I couldn't find a CS host so I decided I was pulling an all-nighter. Kyoto is regarded as one of those cities, along with London and Rome, that you have to see at least once in your lifetime. At a hotel by Gion I spotted free lockers where I could store my bags whilst I did a geisha search. You simply deposit a ¥100 coin and it's returned once you open the locker again. Geisha are best spotted in the evening, and many tourists gather each night hoping for a glimpse. Minutes later a lady, appearing as if she's a doll, emerged from a dwelling. She's a real geisha! The geisha you see during the day are "tourist geisha" who have paid to be made up as geisha. They're easy to get photos of, but real geisha are usually on a very strict schedule and don't have time to pose for photos. Lucky for me, she had to cross at a crosswalk and I snapped the perfect photo! With a bow, I said "arigato" to her. According to what I've read in some travel guides, some tourists are very persistent and some have even grabbed the geisha's kimono to try and stop her to pose for photos. Such behaviour will cause the geisha to not want to be outside at all. 

Geisha are entertainers who perform a variety of entertainment for male clientele, including music, dance, and so forth. An evening spent with a geisha can easily set you back ¥300,000 or more! Whilst I wasn't up for entertainment and don't have a wallet that thick, I was content with a masterful photo. From there, it was a matter of sipping coffee and pulling an all-nighter somewhere. The hotel has free internet, so I quietly whiled away the hours there chatting to friends on Facebook. For an early stroll I visited a Shinto shrine and two temples. Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 of them, so it would take a lifetime to see them all! For now I had to cherish what little time I had in Japan. There was enough time to thoroughly visit one temple, and on the recommendation of another traveller I visited Sanjusangen-do. Built in 1164, the temple is massive and there are 1,001 golden buddha statues inside!

Photos aren't allowed inside, and I nearly had a tear in my eye as I slowly wandered through. Ancient Japan at its finest! With all my heavy gear, it was time to travel from the past to the future: on the shinkansen that is! These futuristic trains have a top speed of more than 300 kph and experimental models have gone much faster! If I had a Japan Rail Pass I would have ridden on the shinkansen to Osaka from Tokyo. The ride from Kyoto or Osaka (or vice-versa) is perfect if you only want to do one shinkansen ride in Japan. The normal train takes about 30 minutes whereas the shinkansen takes only about 15 minutes. In front, the shinkansen looks like a giant duckbill.

It was hard leaving Kyoto, and I feel sorry that I don't have more time. Kyoto definitely merits more of my time and I'll be certain to come back and explore many more of its ancient temples and colourful gardens. Though I've spent the majority of my time in Japan away from tourist sights, I've managed to do just about all the quintessential bits within a short bit of time, and the shinkansen is the icing on the cake to a wonderful time in Japan. When I return (notice my emphasis on "when" not "if") I'll definitely either work here or stay a lot longer. 

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