Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 07

We had a bit of time after breakfast this morning. We took a short walk from our cottage down the neighbourhood street. Most of the buildings were houses, large ones; we passed a huge compound with the house nowhere in sight, but only with rows of trees and a small farm.

The flowers were really beautiful, though. It was a sunny day, and most of the sakura (the ones that were still alive, anyway) were in bloom. There was also a delightful breeze, and the overall effect of the falling petals and swaying leaves was nothing short of beautiful. A landscape becomes so dynamic once it has seasons (and of course, trees).

That's Bryan's artistic shot of Mt. Daisen with a cap cloud.

Inoue-san was putting a table together out on the neighbouring tennis court, and we went over to chat to her while some people were getting their luggage ready. She seemed very impressed that Bryan and JX were heading to London for university, and she mentioned that her daughter was studying there as well. As she drove us back to town, she mentioned that she was an architect by trade, and she was married to a teacher.

That's Inoue-san in the front row.

At the station, Xi Min's hat got blown of by the wind, and it landed in the middle of the tracks. And instead of being intelligent about it and asking station staff for assistance, he daringly risked his own life and climbed onto the tracks to save his own dear cap. I'd say he narrowly avoided being electrocuted by the third rail, but Japanese trains run on the overhead power lines. We then proceeded to buy Xi Min better life insurance.

The train rumbled by mere minutes after he reached safety.
Most of the uneventful day was spent travelling to Kyoto, our next destination. No interesting delays, no exciting mishaps, no unorthodox adventures. Just a normal train ride through miles of beautiful countryside, most of which I think I slept through. It's something I noticed I tend to do on moving vehicles: if I have nothing else to distract me, I will fall asleep. The swaying of the carriage, the rhythmic rumble of the wheels and the blurred landscape passing by is like sleeping pills and lullabies to my conscious mind.

Farmland and suburbs and countryside.

Any more bento pictures and this is going to become a food blog.
We got lost trying to find the hostel when we reached Kyoto. After a week in small towns and countrysides, city life was a minor culture shock. Like, wow, roads! Junctions! Intersections! People! We wandered through the streets for a bit, mostly because we were navigating with an atlas not a street directory, and stopped to ask for directions twice. What I noticed about these large city streets is that a lot of them are narrow one-way paths that go through the backs of buildings and stuff, but there are shop fronts and car parks and doorways all along them. They're like sideroads and alleys, and they are a twisty, confusing maze to the uninformed tourist. But we managed to find it in the end.

One of the best non-hotel experiences you can ever hope to have.

The hostel, Khaosan Kyoto, is a small quaint place near one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto. The staff at the reception were friendly and spoke good English. They even had a lucky draw for a free drink; Bryan was the only one who didn't get one.

This is the kind of reception which would play Final Fantasy music in the lobby.

The bags were duly dumped and we traveled to Pontocho Street in search of a ramen restaurant recommended by the hostel staff. It's not a very big street, but it was busy with office people and full of nightclubs, bars, and other assorted restaurants. We were lost on the labyrinth of shops for a good hour, looking out for that ramen shop which had an "iichiban" in its name, but that was all we could remember because we didn't write it down.

It would be a lot easier if we knew what iichiban was in kanji.
Eventually we ended up trying a random ramen place. It was one of those hole-in-the-wall types, where the owner does everything: he's the cook, cashier, and waiter, just like in a Flash game. It was a delicious bowl of hot steaming noodles, and tasted even better after a cold hour wandering the streets.

All right, five stars! Now here's a tip and clear out my plate because the next customer can't sit down before then.

That night was the first time I slept in a hostel. The room was very narrow and the beds weren't very thick, but the quilt was fabulously warm, and overall it was better than anything the army could come up with. There was free Internet on the ground and fourth floors, which I gratefully capitalised on, and there was also a kitchen and living room on the fourth floor, which housed the only television and most of the sofas. We met a guy there who was taking a year to travel the globe; he was almost done and had travelled to Scotland, Africa and Russia, where he met his girlfriend. Hostel living is a wonderfully unique experience, and I definitely recommend it next time you travel.

A picture of our cozy bunk, overlayed with Bryan's crotch.
*All pictures in this post courtesy of Bryan.

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