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Tuesday, 12/9

Susie and I slept in a little.

This was a crime.

The inns of Kyoto serve breakfast for their visitors at a particular time.  This is so that the things they’ve made are hot, soaked just long enough, fresh, not soggy, etc.  So our 8 a.m. breakfast really should not have been eaten at 8:25 like we did.

For our first breakfast, Noriko had arranged for us to eat something very traditional, and I sadly did not bring my camera in my out-of-bed-stumbling.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it: it was odd.  Tofu, which you combined with a sauce and fresh shredded ginger and chopped green onions, was the highlight of breakfast.

Tamago (thinly cooked, layered, sweetened egg cake) would have been really tasty, but I had two bites and my morning egg issue reared its head—I came close to throwing up.  I had some salted sea monkeys to wash the egg taste out of my mouth, then some smoked pickled bamboo to wash out that taste, then some chrysanthemums to deal with that mess. Something that looked like yogurt with jam turned out to be the skin off of vats of tofu (like pudding skin, kind of), with that sauce you get on mooshu pork pancakes.

At this point, the only thing left to cleanse the palette was brown rice, which turned out to have been cooked in green tea, and was also colder than it ought to have been thanks to my lack of an alarm clock.  No, wait, there was one last object: thinly sliced pickled tiny cucumber, which did actually get rid of every other taste.

Right outside our hotel—like, literally at the end of the block—is the best pagoda in Kyoto, and thus perhaps in the universe.  It rose tall, towering over the site/sight that was even closer to the door of our hotel: a small shinto shrine.

Jason showed Susie and I how to pray for luck: throw a coin (5 yen is best) into the coin catcher, ring the bell in front of the coin catcher several times (not 4 times, that’s bad luck) to wake the gods and get their attention, clap your hands together into prayer form, and make your wish.

I wished for good weather, free wifi and something tasty on a stick…

Into the little shrine courtyard came two young geishas, along with a photographer and assistant.  I got all excited, especially at the one who smiled at me, but Noriko told me later that these two were actually ordinary tourists who had gotten specially dressed and made up at a nearby tourist service that let you dress like geishas and took your photos.  They were very convincing.

* * *

Tangent: One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about Japan is the lack of significant eye contact here.  It’s not like I was a big flirt back in North America, looking at others.  And it’s certainly not that I was getting any major second glances in Vancouver.  But considering how often people get the chance to look at, and make eye contact with, someone else in this crowded country, in these crowded cities, there’s very, very little in the way of significant glancing that does happen here.

And I’m comparing it not just to Canada but to lots of other cities I’ve been on: the subway in Paris, the crowds in Kuala Lumpur, the buses in Lima, the beach in Hawaii.  In all those places, yes, people had on their ‘city’ face (i.e. a blandness and inner separation from the crowd), but there was also a frequent sense of being appraised, even if it was followed with a “not interested” look away.

Here in Japan, I get the sense that everyone is, as The Beatles say, simply looking through me, and I’m not there.  Susie says the same thing.  And I don’t see any signs that Japanese people are checking out each other, either.  It’s all very chaste and fascinating.

* * *

I could tell you in minute detail about the two-hour walk up the hill to Kayomizu-Dera Temple.  But suffice it to say, that we could have made better time in a gunny sack race.

We stopped at each wonderful little store, picking up bowls, looking at rice paste candies, buying all sorts of little things to eat and adorn ourselves with.  And, I almost got all my wishes!

Virginia found a free wifi spot outside a store, and we all checked email.  The weather was just superb.  And so I decided to be bold and try ordering something on a stick.  But what it turned out to be, was mochi (a mashed sweetened rice substance) balls, wish liquify a bit when heated on a grill, covered in a substance like molasses, covered again with a dusting that looks like cacao powder, but tastes like ground-up soy beans.  Because it *is* ground up soy beans.


* * *

The temple is huge, sprawling, attached to the side of a hill and packed full of visitors from tour buses.  The smell of incense is everywhere. 

You can get your fortune told here, but we’d already gotten ours done, earlier.  Oh yeah!  I forgot!  Yeah, so you go to the fortune teller and she has this large tall box with a small hole, like a milkshake straw dispenser.  You tip it and pull out a chopstick with writing on it.  This stick has a code.  The code matches one of about 36 fancy fortunes all written out that she has handy, and she hands it to you, and you hand it to your interpreter.

Noriko told me mine was great: I’d get healthy again quickly if I got sick.  I’d avoid the police if I broke the law (i.e. I’d get away with it).  I’d have good luck shopping.  I’d live a long time.  It’s a good time to buy a house.  I should to go Canadian Tire and buy some hobby things. And money would come easily to me. I know what I want, and anything I tried to do with a positive attitude, would end up well for me.

The bad news: it was a fortune for 2008, so it’s only for the next 20 days or so.  Ah well.

Once you get your fortune: If you like it, you tie it to a rope next to the fortune teller.  If it’s a crappy one, you throw it away and it doesn’t come true. (Virginia’s was the worst one.  She tossed it.)

* * *

Lunch: was a quick bowl of udon and beef.  Nothing special.

After lunch, we split up.  Jason and Noriko headed back to the hotel and then in and around the area.  I headed over to the Golden Temple with Susie, Virginia and Mom.

Then: adventure struck.  Noriko had given us instructions on how to get to the Golden Temple on the other side of Kyoto. It involved:
* taking any bus to Gion, very close by.
* buying a day-pass for the bus, on the bus
* in Gion neighbourhood, switching to the #12
* taking the #12 across the city

So, we walked to the closest bus stop, and a bus came along, and I got on, and the women hesitated because the bus wasn’t the number they were expecting (206 or 12 or something) and the bus doors closed, and I went quickly involuntarily away from them.  Two women sitting by the door saw what happened and said “Sayonara!” to me.  I laughed—what else could I do?

I took the bus to the next stop, bought a bus pass, and waited a few moments for the next bus to go by.  When that didn’t have them on it, I walked back down towards a larger intersection so I could see if the next bus after that would turn or go straight.  They eventually passed by on another bus, and I walked back up the street to round them up.

They had sadly not bought bus passes due to the confusion. Still, we were all together again, crisis averted.  We jumped on the 12, and took a long, slow ride across town.  I think I’d avoid the bus in Kyoto in the future—far far better to spend your time in a temple, and not in the middle of the city which is quite modernized and generic.  No, not generic—lovely, actually, but like other big cities, not like the charming wood buildings of the wonderful kyoto neighborhood of our inn.

The bus driver with the super deep voice took us right to the temple, and we got off just in time for a heavy rainfall.  There were many, many school kids at this temple, but the crowd in general was fairly manageable.  The temple truly is a bright gold, and despite the rain, it reflected off the lake and shone out amazingly.

I can only imagine what it would be like in the sun, in the fall with red leaves around it, or in the spring with blossoms.  I really think that Kyoto, for all its beauty in the winter, ought to be visited several times, to see the change of the seasons and the moods of the city.

From the temple, we wanted to go to the nearby Zen garden called Ryoku, but time and daylight had run out.  So instead we went on a quest: the search for the soy sauce store.  It was a long, wonderful walk with several stops to ask directions: gas station attendants, police officers and convenience store grandmothers all helped us arrive at our final destination, which was a little store and factory that made lovely, lovely soya sauce which I dearly hope will not leak all over my bag and this computer on my way home 😊

One more bus ride, two if you count the transfer at the huge bus terminal, and we were back in our “home base” neighbourhood.

Noriko and Jason met us at an enormous shrine, and we walked over to a nearby donburi restaurant—rice bowl with chicken and egg, or rice bowl with shrimp tempura.  Out of the kitchen, the chicken and egg came first.  But the restaurant’s last call was 7:30, and by the time we left, around 7:55, it and almost everything else in the neighbourhood was shut down.

Jason and I wanted dessert, so we went to the local 7/11, where I bought ice cream, ring chips and a can of whiskey and water—yes, this is an awesome country.  Susie, meanwhile, decided she needed to do a bit of work, so we asked the ladies running the hotel about a nearby Internet caf?.

There was no such thing—the nearest Internet was about 1.3 km away.  So instead, we headed back up the hill with my laptop to find the free wifi zone again.  Susie squatted in someone’s driveway and messed with HTML templates, and I used my iPhone to check my email.  The streets were as quiet as a library, and as shiny as black obsidian with the light dew and leftover rain.  Several photographers with tripods and warm gloves stood patiently taking pictures of the local pagoda.

It was a really, really wonderful moment, and so even though I’m not thrilled with having to work on this vacation, if it wasn’t for our clients, we would have missed both a spectacular night walk, and the wild feeling of being able to fix Web sites from literally the middle of a deserted residential street in Japan.  Amazing.

Back at the hotel, Susie and I charged what needed charging, and I caught up on my blogging.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“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.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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