Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

Monday, 12/8

Royanne took a little extra time getting in to work to escort us by taxi to Tokyo station where we were meeting everyone for our side trip to Kyoto.

We had enough time to have a snack breakfast: Royanne had French Toast bits in a cup (yum!) and I had sweet potato dough ball, which was purple on the inside, like Grimace poops.  They were so awesome.  Susie disagrees, which is why her mouth wasn’t purple for the next hour.

Jason and Noriko were there on time, but my mom and sister didn’t show up until 10:15, about 75 minutes late.  We went to buy tickets for the bullet train for Kyoto, and found out that a) such tickets are about 13,000 yen one way, and b) the trains leave every 15 minutes or so.

That’s a lot of trains, and each one is really long, with maybe 20 cars, each holding 100 people.  So that’s 2000 people possibly going to Kyoto every 10 or 15 minutes, at peak.  Not shabby, eh?

We shot out of the station bound for Kyoto, taking only a short amount of time to buy a tiny hot can of coffee for my mom. I admit it: I was showing off that I knew something cool about Japan that she hadn’t seen yet.

The train ride was super hot—the sun beating through the windows forced me to take off about 4 layers and still I was lulled into a hot sleep.  We shared a bento box full of oddities, that I bought mainly for conversational interest, not because I was hungry.  They sure do amazing things with fish paste here.

Sadly, either Mt. Fuji was missing, or we missed it as we zipped by, dozing and talking.  Or perhaps it was shrouded in clouds and mystery.  Yes, I’m sure that’s it.

* * *

In Kyoto train station, we stashed our bags in a locker, and headed by subway to Nijo Castle, which is in a neighbourhood far from anything else to see.  We took a decently relaxed walk around the grounds and through it itself.  It was a second residence for the shogun, and was never built as a formal defensive fort, so it’s a little more open than the usual castle.  Still, it wouldn’t have been easy to attack.

For one, a large moat surround it.  For another, the structure itself has “


nightingale floors”: floors built to squeak (quietly, trillingly) on every step so that no one could sneak up on the emperor.  What, he’d never heard that ninjas come in via the roof?

There was no photography allowed in the entire building, so I could only sneak a few shots.  As annoyingly, there was no sketching allowed.  I guess that’s for crowd control, but still, dang.

In the gift store, we bought post cards and throwing stars.  More of the former than the latter, because they are cheaper to mail.

Headed back to the train station.  Realized that yes, we did in fact leave our bags in lockers on the INSIDE of the fare zone, which meant it was a little tricky to get them out again, but Jason and Noriko’s mad Japanese language skilz once again saved the day.  They’re the heroes of this trip.

* * *

After a quick pow-wow, we decided a city bus and not two taxis was the best way to get to the hotel.  Finding the right bus, and bus stop to exit at, was easy.  More interestingly, Noriko called the hotel at that point and was told, head down the street, when you get to the right, you’ll see a huge stone gate, turn into that, and go up/down the hill there.  But at that intersection, there were in fact TWO huge gates, one on either side of the road.  Only in Kyoto, land of too many huge stone gates.

The inn is truly something to behold.  It’s tiny—about 8 rooms, I think.  You take off your shoes at the entranceway, and put on slippers to walk up the stairs to your room.  At your room, you take off those slippers, and step up on the tatami mats (woven from rice stalks).  The room has:

* three areas, separated by two sliding wall doors
* a low table
* two floor chairs with no legs
* two teas and two small cakes on that table
* a rack to hang coats
* a phone
* small alcove with a scroll on the wall and some flowers
* an air conditioner
* a small open box with two robes and two robe covers
* a small ledge with kleenex and moisturizer and makeup remover and a mirror

That’s pretty much it.  Later, when we came back from dinner, the table was moved and two futons were placed on the floor.  But it’s totally minimal, and purely delightful.

* * *

Changing into the robes, we decided to have a bath.  Baths are a main reason for the inns, and are a ritual and activity and function all their own.

You head into the bath room. Baths are divided into samurais and geishas—just kidding.  It is actually guys and girls, but since there was no one else using them at that time, we did one with Susie and I, one with Noriko and Jason.

You get out of your robe, and put your clothes in a small basket.  You have a small bag with a washcloth and toothbrush.  You head into the inner bath room, naked.  In this room, there’s a HUGE tub, and several small stools, each with a cedar bucket, near a faucet and sprayer.  You sit on the small stool, and turn on the sprayer.

You soap up and wash really really well, shampooing, hen wash your entire self again.  You want to be entirely clean.  Once this is done and you’re all rinsed off, only then can you climb into the hot tub.  And the hot tub, it’s HOT.  Like, cook ramen hot. Like, 15 minutes and your heart kind of explodes hot. Like open the oven when you’re making cookies hot.

Get in the water super quick.  Let the pain sear you like ahi tuna, and then hold really still.  The stiller you are, the better you feel.  Don’t turn your head or splash.  If you get really too hot and you want to last a few more minutes, take the cloth you were washing with, which should be very rinsed out, and also it’s very long, more like an extended but thin towel, and wrap it around your head without wringing it out.  The cold water in it will cool you slightly and make you look only a bit like a monkey.

Then, get out of the tub.  Shuffle slowly back to the outer room, dry yourself off, and pamper yourself with the many many lotions available.  You can shave with the razors provided, comb with the combs provided, brush your teeth with the toothbrush and toothpaste provided, do what every it is you do with the cotton pads provided.

Then, once you’re all 100% pretty, head out of the baths, thinking kind thoughts about this wonderful nation.

* * *

For dinner, we went for okonomiyaki again.  This time, they cooked it for us in the kitchen, which was too bad—I liked the cooking it ourselves.  But hey, it was still awesome.  There was a photo shoot going on two tables over for a magazine spread.  Much beer was drunken, but not by me: I was trying some shochu, which is a plum wine that’s popular in Korea and can be really delicious if you’re not drinking the cheapest possible bottles.  I didn’t, and so it was: delicious.

The restaurant was located in Gion area—a warren of confusing streets, and one of the few areas where geishas roam freely around Japan.  We saw two: one before dinner and one after. It’s really surreal to think that there are still women being trained in this era to do all the things that it’s important for a geisha to be able to do.

Getting back into the hotel was interesting—they lock their doors at 9 p.m., and we had to ring for entrance.

Boy, just typing this out makes me tired again.  I can’t wait to go to bed, and I couldn’t wait this night either, so I did.


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“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

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