Japan, 2006

The plan was for Cris to fly out to SF to visit with his parents while I finished up work (I had a business trip to San Diego, returning the night before he flew out to SF). I flew out to join him for the night in SF, and then we flew out to Tokyo together.

The sketchy plan:

Return to NRT 11/10 to fly out in evening to fly to SFO (arriving before we left Japan, thanks to the international dateline), then use the last half of our BOS-SFO return tickets to get back to Boston that night.

Amazingly enough, things pretty much went like that (barring an unexpected overnight in Hakata). :) It was my first trip to Japan and I'd been taking beginner Japanese lessons all summer to try and prepare for it. I'd wanted to go for ages, and it was an amazing experience.

Click here to see a map showing where we went.
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Mon Oct 30, 2006

Home to SF

I woke up before my alarm, made breakfast with food that would go bad while we were away (kitchen sink omelet), put out the trash, made more trash and put it out after lunch, ate while on the computer and ended up rushing out and missing the 71 by 15 seconds or so. I didn't want to run and start sweating already, and luckily another bus came by fairly soon. The charlie card stations at Harvard are operational now, so I got a one way ticket (second card worked), then tried to use it with my left hand (right was pulling the suitcase) and got confused that the gate didn't open. *sigh* Caught the red line train that was in the station, it took me to South station quickly, but I just missed the silver line bus to the airport. Was trying not to stress out, but also went to the wrong check in point for US Airways and had to haul down to the other one. I'd gone through my stuff and put all the necessary items in a zip lock, so I was able to carry on the roll away and not check anything. Short hop (1 hour) to Philly, and a bit of a dash to the second terminal over to catch my United flight (there a US Airways flight from the gate I arrived in going to SFO at the same time as mine...). They started boarding soon after I got there, but there was a bit of a delay with the plane coming in. I filled up Cris' Nalgene bottle from a water fountain and got some trail mix for the flight. I was miserable. I had stomach pains from the pressure changes, cramps, and knots in my back from climbing that seized up enough to make me almost stop breathing. :( And they showed The Lake House again. The other movie was Cars and that took my mind off my misery and was heartwarming (one huge plothole, but otherwise entertaining - Owen Wilson was perfect as the jerky racing car). Bought a Maui chicken sandwich that was decent and listened to music and read more - finished first book rack book (Lost in Translation by Esther Friesner) and started Wild Cards (ed by GRR Martin). I'd lucked out that both flights were sparse and was able to put my roll aboard sideways - the plane's overhead bins sloped down too much to get it in far enough lengthwise.

Texted Cris as I landed, and he was waiting for me as I came out of the security area. To the truck and decided to skip on meeting with his sister and David Sedaris, and instead drove over to Pleasanton in about 45 mins. Then his mom insisted on feeding me salmon (much nicer than mine came out!) and asparagus and melon. My stomach protested again, but settled soon enough. Took a much needed shower and got Cris to work out a few of the knots in my back and was asleep by midnight.

Tue Oct 31, 2006

SF to Tokyo

Woke on our own at around 7am, I lazed in bed a bit until Cris finished his shower and then took another one to wash my hair. Cereal and toast and tea for breakfast (from Upton), and my tummy stayed quiet, thank goodness. Finished repacking stuff and then his mom drove us to the airport at just after 8. Missed most of the traffic, and arrived before 9:30. Navigated the check in line to find out that Cris was upgraded and I wasn't, or vice versa, and that he'd have to pay $100 to change his ticket to business class, and the United manager that eventually tried to sort it out couldn't get at my Aeroplan account to get at my miles to upgrade me so I'd have to pay $500 one way to get to business class, so we gave up. Through security fairly fast, though Cris's laptop got wiped down. Our gate was right there, we picked up water first and I grabbed an alkaselzer just in case. I tried calling Air Canada to get my return ticket upgraded, but they said to call aeroplan who said to call Air Canada for changes in tickets and then I couldn't get to an agent, so I gave up and determined to talk to a person in Tokyo. We were among the first in after first and business (*sniff*) and we'd taken two seats by themselves at the back of the plane in the upgrade attempt (row 60). No one in front of us until we were in the air and someone blagged the seat. My pack went up by itself in a bin, I'd checked my suitcase on the assumption it wouldn't get lost on a direct flight. Got a meal (lunch or supper - no meal request in evidence, need to fix that for the return as well). Slept a bit during, guess what, "Lake House", but. watched My Super Ex Girlfriend (dissolved in giggles at Eddie Izzard saying "neutral, like Switzerland"). Typed up notes. Now Prairie Home Companion is showing. Need to nap at least one more time, will read for a bit more and hope get sleepy again. Mp3 player going great guns - only one song was skippy, and it was a Loop Guru song so it may have should been like that. :) Over half way there. Trying to stay on Tokyo time all flight, we land mid afternoon. Cris has been planning stuff out, he got us tickets for the Ghibli museum (needed to be done here, with passport number - remember to bring that with me).

We landed a little early, and the airport looked disappointingly mundane, almost like the San Diego one. Following baggage signs led us to the immigration control line (quick, no questions, just took the form I'd filled out and let me go), got our suitcases as they came by when we walked up to the carousel, and passed by customs no problems either. And then we were in Narita. Cris found the airport limo and bought us tickets direct to the Imperial Hotel from the cash that his mom had given him, and then we waited a bit. We were able to use the drink dispenser to get bottles of water (I was inordinately proud of myself :) ). There were buses every 5-10 mins to Shinjuku but we had to wait 30 mins for our bus to Ginza. The babble of speech around me would part occasionally to reveal a familiar word, but I was getting sleepy. I wanted to keep awake on the coach bus and see Tokyo as we approached, but I nodded off after we left the airport environs (which were quite green still, and we spotted some rice fields through breaks in the trees (lots of conifers)). I woke up as we were crossing a bridge and going up onto the third or fourth level of an elevated highway. I tried not to look down too much, but I did see someone turning on a light and then closing a shoji screen across a window. The bus driver announced a detour due to a traffic jam and we took a bit of a scenic route. Our hotel was second, and the hotel staff took our suitcases in to by the check in stand. We got upgraded and sat while they assigned a bellboy to us, he wheeled our cases upstairs and turned on the lights in the room for us. We had just started unpacking when another man came, housekeeping to turn down our sheets. The view from the window looks over the Imperial park, though in the dark it was hard to see any details (we took the bus from 4pm to 5pm and it was dark by the time we got to the hotel).

The many option toilet almost defeated me (it flushed automatically the first time I lowered the lid, but we had to find the flush handle - it looked too low tech :) ). We then went out to forage for food. We walked along the street the hotel is on, then turned down a block to get to a couple of office buildings with food courts in their basements. We had a goal but weren't able to find it due to not bringing the name in kanji with us, and settled for one called Dindon, which did really good grilled skewers. We got the 6 mix option, with eggplants, scallops, big green onions, beef, two chicken (the pesto sauce was yummy), as well as water and croquettes and some tomatoes with a salty gelatin like sauce. I was asleep on my feet as we headed back, through a bustling alleyway filled with people heading home and to dinner, lined with restaurants and neon signs. Back to the hotel and crashed out.

Wed Nov 2, 2006

Tokyo - Tsukiji, Ghibli Museum, National Museum

Woke up at 4:30am. Oops. Took a nice hot shower, used the room internet to email my dad to let him know I'm safely arrived, and planned out our day - Tsukiji fish market and then the Ghibli museum, and dinner at Mon Cher Ton Ton (in the Syrana complex that Cris' parents like).

Very odd to be up and ready to go before 6am.

We walked down to Tsukiji, keeping an eye open for coffee shops that were open, but no luck. I started to get a bit light headed and demanded food after we had poked around a few alleys and almost gotten run over by delivery scooters. We were looking at menus in the restaurant section when a guy came out and invited us in, the prices looked okay for sashimi and unagi so we went in. It was fun, he was born in Hawaii but moved to Tokyo when he was 5 and is running the family restaurant now (150 years I think it's been there). He gave us Japanese lessons and drew a diagram of a tuna showing us where the fattiest bits came from. He took a picture of us and had Cris sign the guest legal pad. :) The unagi was really good, and he complimented me on my chopstick skills (and on my pronunciation, lessons are paying off I guess :) ). After that we dodged more bikes and scooters and delivery carts to wander the shops. We saw a cart piled high with frozen tuna, steam flowing off of them. We saw a truck bound for the airport being loaded with fish as well. We headed toward a park but it was closed, and meandered our way back to the hotel as the sun cleared the buildings. It was getting colder, and we both wanted to pick up another layer of clothing and we planned our route to the Ghibli museum, looking up subway and JR train fares.

We walked back to where we had supper last night and got on the JR trail, directed by the ticket attendant to the automated ticket machines. Some cross referencing the romanji and the kanji characters between our map and the route display gave us the fare that we had to buy (380). We transferred to the Chuo line and took it out to Mitaka. From there, we walked down from the station to the street level and followed the signs for the Ghibli museum. It was just over a km's walk, along a blvd divided by a wooded stream. Lots and lots of bike riders around, most on the narrow sidewalk with us. Lots of bikes parked, few with locks, as well. One turn as we reached the park, and we found it, growing roundly out of the earth in coloured swoops. A brass green stair case spiraled up out of the side of the building to the roof, and a giant stuffed totoro guarded the fake ticket booth. We went around to the main entrance and traded our ticket vouchers for the admission ticket (with three frames from different movies on each ticket), and went in to explore. The first floor permanent exhibit had a carousel of maquettes illuminated by strobes as they moved so that they were animated, and a three-d effect of birds flying up around the robot from Laputa. Aardman animations had a special exhibit, Grommet and the evil penguin were rolling back and forth on a train track, and we could see the armatures under the were-rabbit and other creatures. Back out in the main gallery looking over the entrance, there were sketches from the new Earthsea movie. There was a neat workspace recreation with tons of sketches and reference books. The giant plush catbus had kids climbing all over an inside it, and one kid was rolling in a pit of shadow balls. We climbed the spiral case up to the roof and found the giant robot from Laputa. Awesome. :) I almost picked up the Art of Laputa at the gift store, but restrained myself. Our tickets came with a free movie screening, so we joined the horde of families waiting for the next one. The Saturn theatre had low benches racked up from the projection screen, and the oval window shades went up to block the light automatically as the interior lights were dimmed. We saw a short movie about the variously sized catbuses, from a tiny kitten just able to carry a small girl, to the ancient one filled with forest spirits, who had so many legs that he looked like a sea creature undulating as he flew (triple or more decker, looked like an ocean liner).

We walked back toward the JR station, and stopped in along the way to get some soup at a Pho place. We put our money in a vending machine which spit out tickets with our choices on them (I had the tofu and peanut) that we gave to the staff woman. She directed us into the back to sit down and she made up the bowls and sent them back with a man we didn't see earlier. I liked mine, it was warming and crispy and soft where it should be. The sun had gone behind a cloud as we walked back. Back into the station and we again scored perfect in buying tickets to Ueno Park. (first in Japan) This took a while, we had to transfer and then loop around a bit.

There we went out the park exit and walked past the zoo to the National Museum. There was a special exhibit of Buddhist carvings, a tonne of them were one-block ones, and we looked at those first. 100 yen deposit lockers were available, which was good as it was warm inside and we wanted to stow our coats. I got a slew of post cards, not sure I want to part with any of them - the series of carvings were amazing, and one was so detailed and lifelike that I expected to see his foot start swinging. It was neat to see the different carving techniques (there was a step by step exhibit at the end), the chisel marks in the one style made them look like lego. But, there was only so much I could admire carved draperies, so we moved on to the Highlights of Japanese Art exhibit. It was literally the highlights from 2000BC to 1900AD, and when we went to see some more rooms after, it felt like a refresher. Kimonos, ink paintings, screens, tea ceremony paraphernalia, katanas and tachis, and more carvings.

We were both starting to wind down about now, it was 4pm. I bought a bottle of water and dumped a pack of emergen'c in and drank that as we walked back to the train. We wanted to take the metro, not the jr, back to our hotel, so we followed the signs away from the JR station, past the Ginza station, to the Hibaya line station and paid our 160 to get back. We stopped in at the Concierge desk to get a dinner reservation, 8:30 at Mon Cher Ton-ton, and Cris got directions to an ATM. He went off to find that, and coffee, and I went up to the room, made myself a big thing of tea and did the next Pimsleur Japanese lesson, ironically enough about finding Ueno Park and station and asking about when and where to eat. Cris came back just as I finished, and we reviewed each other's pictures, then I caught up on notes, and now it's time to get gussied up to go out for our nice meal.

We took the hibaya line (after a bit of a walk from A13 entrance) onward to Roppongi, and got almost turned around before finding the little alleyway just right from where we came out at exit 5, that led to Mon Cher Ton Ton. We were right on time and the hostess led us to our pair of seats along the arc of the grill. We had a young chef, he seemed to lack a bit of panache as Cris noted, his flipping was tentative and his stacks tended to collapse. Cris got the Chateaubriand and I had the scallops and we both had assorted veggies (lotus root, new potatoes, asparagus, onion) and the garlic chips (huge!). Lady's treat was the chilled cream of pumpkin soup that I had wanted to try - very creamy, not very pumkiny nor was it spiced at all really. Lots of salt was sprinkled on the grilled goods, and pepper, soy sauce and oil were used. The food was good, but not quite up to what I was hoping for at that price point. We moved to the lounge for dessert, a decent green tea cake for me, and a half of a fresh papaya for Cris. Quick trip back, we were both tired. Vague plans to get breakfast and then check out and store our bags at Tokyo station while we sort out our JRail pass and itinerary to Kagoshima. Beds were turned down while we were out and they brought a power adapter for Cris's computer.

I noticed that a lot of men were wearing Fluevog style shoes - long squared off tips. A lot of women were wearing tall boots, most with skirts, but a few with shorts, and the former style still doesn't work for me. Most of the younger people look very fashionable, though. Some school teens at the museum had stand up collar suits, very sharp.

Friday Nov 3, 2006

Tokyo to Hakata

Woke up at 7 I think, and headed back to Tusk for breakfast again. It was very quiet, the Culture holiday kept the warehouse low key, and most of the shops were just opening up as we got there at 8am. We found a place where we took a bench next to another English speaking pair (father and son, maybe), and had some wonderful sushi. I ordered different nigiri, and Cris had the chirashi. Even if it was a day old due to the holiday, it was some of the best sushi I've had.

We walked over the bridge and got some views of the city (not the recommended view, that was further out), and then headed back to the hotel via subway again. To get down into the subway, we ended up going through a pretty big bike parking garage, complete with a ramp next to the stairs so that you could walk your bike down into it.

The front desk was able to cash my traveller's cheques, but made a mistake - they put an extra zero on the end! I was counting it out in the room, and realised that I had way more money that I thought I'd taken out of my account, I got 400K instead of 40K. Ooops. I ran back down and returned the extra 36K, then back up to finish packing. The room was pre-paid via hotels.com, so Cris just paid for his dry-cleaning bill.

We pulled our suitcases over to Tokyo station, with multiple rest stops for me (backpack was heavy). We were able to exchange the JRail vouchers for passes, but when we tried to reserve the sleeper car, found that it was sold out. We were able to get a pair of trains down to Hakata (aka Fukuoka) but would have to stay overnight there and go on to Kagoshima in the morning.

We weren't able to find an empty big locker, so put our suitcases and my backpack in stored packages and then walked over to a department store to try and find lunch (it was 1pm, train left at 2:35). All the basement restaurants had a line, so we got takeaway one floor up. I got some shrimp dumplings and Cris got a lunch box. We weren't able to find the park that the map swore was near by, so we ended up having a little picnic on an abutment in an alley. :) Cris's box had a tear and heat up element to warm things up but I just had mine cold.

Back to the station and we tried to get a reservation at the JR Hotel in Hakata for that night - no luck, sold out. Ran to get our suitcases out of storage and to find our line, got there in time, and claimed our seats. No on in the window until the next stop. Despite my best efforts to enjoy the scenery as we sped down the east coast at 100mph+ (saw some hills and glimpses of the sea), I conked right out and slept most of the way. I woke up to change trains in Osaka, then slept again on the way to Hakata. We totally lucked out in Hakata, finding a large luggage locker to store out suitcases with no problem, and then finding a vacancy at the first hotel we passed (a Comfort Inn, actually), for a decent price. (77k) Up to the ... efficient room, then back to the station for our cases, then back out again o the subway line to Taijin to get ramen. We passed a couple of carts but explored more into the nightclub district (a fabulous theatre show looked to be about to start). Lots of lights and people, but we ended up doubling back to the first carts to get bowls of pork ramen. By the end of the meal, the four salarymen around the end were giving us Japanese lessons and asking where we were from (they liked to ski). Got more money via the Citibank and then a bit of a detour on the subway as we missed our connection back to Hakata. Just made it before the subway stopped running at midnight. Cris stopped by the free computers in the lobby (beside where our free breakfast will be) to check on the ferry schedule from Kagoshima, and I caught up on writing. Shower and then bed, asap, as we have to be up by 6am for the 7am train. Thank goodness we're literally across the street from the JR station.

Saturday Nov 4, 2006

Hakata to Onoeida, Yakushima Island

Woke up before the alarm, as seems to be usual, so just got up at 5:45. Repacked quickly and went downstairs to check out at 6:20. Waited a bit for the breakfast service to start (ie saran wrap to come off the croissants and the rice balls, and the lights to come on) and then had a salmon rice ball with pickled something in it, plus a sweet bun with bean paste inside. Gobbled it down and then rolled our suitcases over to the station and found our track no problem. The first train that came by was out of service, it had a very cute temple-boy on it, and the private cars looked very neat. Turned out that our train had similar private cars, with red tables and black wooden seats. We were in a regular compartment though, with big comfy seats. I asked the train conductor about our 3 minute transfer at Shin-Yatsushiro and he said that we just had to cross the platform to the next track over. The minor tension kept me awake though the train tried it's soporific whiles on me. The ratio of traditional houses rose as we went on. Plus we got more into framing country as we went south. It was a limited express so we stopped more than yesterday, but we got to the transfer station on time and walked over to the super express. This car had formed wooden seats with pads on them, very comfortable, though the high backs made it hard to see the announcement scroll at the end of the car. Turned out that the led screen was behind us on the first train. This train went a lot faster, and since the terrain got very hilly, we were going through lots of tunnels. Cris and I both tried taking pictures, but the gems of valleys would disappear behind us as we'd go into a tunnel just as we decided to try and snap a shot.

Kagoshima-chuo finally came up, and we grabbed our stuff to exit the train. We had a bit of time before the ferry to Yakushima (or so we thought) so we joined the short line and got our return train tickets to Hiroshima. By the time we got near the subway entrance, we only had half an hour before the ferry, so I convinced Cris to spring for a taxi. It got us there in about 15mins, and I think the driver was pointing out a smoking volcano, and we were able to get a ticket each no problem. We explored the terminal a bit, on the third floor was a bright lounge and exhibit hall showing the thousand year old tree. We boarded from the second floor, but walked down two flights with the other passengers, and should have just taken the escalator back down. The Jetfoil was very smooth, we were able to write post cards while we were "on foil". The LED showing our speed stayed at around 78-80kph.

We passed down through the arms of the inlet and then crossed open water to another island first, and then approached Yakushima, seeing the peaks appear from behind the misty air. It's a gorgeous island, with multiple peaks rising from the forest, some bare rock faces. We came off in a crowd, and totally missed the bus stop. We went looking for information, but found a nice man who drove us to the bus stop around the corner when our limited language overlap got a bit frustrating. The local island loop bus had small seats, not much room for our suit cases, so we put them in the seats beside us and took up 4 all together. The fare system was neat (if pricey) - we got a ticket with a number showing our stop (30) and as each stop was passed, the driver pressed a button and the lit up display at the front of the bus incremented the fare from our stop. The stops were posted in kanji as well, so I grabbed the guidebook and wrote out the kanji for Onoeida Onsen and waited for our stop to show up. We got to Onoeida and stopped at the JR hotel and then our stop was next. The nice lady at the Shell station gave us directions up the side street, and we rolled our cases up a tiny road toward the interior. It had taken about 45 mins from the ferry stop to here, and another 5 to walk up the street. And then we found a big building that looked like it had a lobby, and who's sign seemed to match up with our idea of the kanji for Ryoso Yakushima, and we were there, 24 hours after leaving Tokyo. We got checked in, enjoyed the amazing view from our room (big mountains and the sea, with a view of the JR hotel on it's point) then went out shopping, after verifying that dinner would be at 6 with the landlord. We did a loop through Onoeido, getting water, mailing my post cards and getting stamps for Cris's, and then walking back along the highway, trying to figure out if we could take the bus to the 7am toppy on Tuesday (probably). Back to the grocery for some water and snacks, and then back. Spiders *everywhere* and big long legged ones too, sitting in their large webs.

A new person met us at the ryokan, a young guy who spoke more English, and he led us down to the onsen, after letting us go up to the room to get towels and new clothes. Two halves inside the two storey open space, men and women segregated, though it was open at the top so that we could talk. I washed up using the taps coming out of the rock then climbed into the warm bath formed from stone. There was only a faint smell of sulphur. The back of the room was a tumble of boulders. Soaked the stresses of the day away, dried off and went back up to the room for a few minutes before supper was served (phone call just as I said that we should go down). A young girl waited on us, she knew a bit of English as well. A group of women who were on the ferry with us as well ate next to us at a long table.

Oh, the food. We came down to a boat shaped table set with sashimi (two kinds), edamame + tofu + picked something, tuna salad, octopus sashimi, and then they brought out the soup (miso with fish head and veggies), and grilled fish, and another bowl with a stuffed crab shell + veggies in a gelatin matrix, and a deep fried flying fish (wings on), and then rice and green tea to finish. Well, I didn't finish, but I gave it a good try. Back up to the room at 7pm, ready to crash out - it's been a long day. The full moon is washing out the stars, but I'll take it. closed up the shoji screens, and they'd put down our futons while we were at the hot spring. They're going to make us up lunch boxes tomorrow for our hikes. Breakfast at 7:30. It's quite warm, we went walking just in tshirts and jeans and were hot in the sun. We need to get a hiking map tomorrow, maybe take the bus to Miyanoura to the info center, or try the youth hostel near by. The local bus only runs once an hour, though, and will probably cost us 1000Y or so to get there. :(

Sunday November 5, 2006

Onoeida to Miyanoura to Anbo to Yakusugiland

More sashimi for breakfast, oh the horror. :) Plus another flying fish (grilled this time), soup with a raw egg (didn't quite finish it, by the time I cracked my egg into the liquid it wasn't hot enough to cook the whites...), rice with seaweed.

The group of women were eating at the same time and we talked a bit, and at the end one gave me an orange. Back up to the room to grab our packs, and found that they'd folded up our futons for us (though left them out, prob since there were more, to keep them straight). Back down and got some directions on which buses to take (got the stop written down by the land lady), but once we got to the stop before 9, we found that we weren't going to catch the connection to the Yakusugiland bus, as we'd arrive in Anbo 4 minutes after it left. The driver apologised to us personally, but we got off in Anbo anyway to explore a bit. The next bus was due at 1:39pm, it was just before 10am.

We found a store selling hiking gear but didn't get a map since they didn't have one in romanji. The woman directed us down the road to catch the bus, but we went around the town the wrong way and didn't come back to it until after visiting the ferry terminal and a Brazilian restaurant and car rental store (we thought about renting a car, but both places we tried were closed). The woman spoke fairly good English and was able to direct us to the bus stop in front of the police station, using the map we'd picked up at the ferry terminal. As we walked up to the stop, we noticed people lining the road and police men directing traffic. Then a road runner went by, with a car that had a bullhorn mounted on the roof, and a voice yelling out encouragement. The people clapped and cheered, paused, and then a minute later more runners went by. We waited at the bus stop for about half an hour for the bus to Miyanoura, as we'd decided to kill time until the Yakisugiland bus by going to the tourist information booth and getting English maps. A couple of backpackers waited with us for a while (not speaking to us) and then gave up and waited on the other side in the shaded shelter. The bus to Miyanoura came finally, and we were on our way. Unfortunately, we caught up to the road race and were crawling along for quite a while. We detoured off the road to the airport (literally a turn through a parking lot 50 feet from the island loop road, we could just make out the JAL plane behind the building). Detour around a bridge in Miyanoura and then it dropped us right at the ferry terminal. We found the info desk in the second building and got a pile of maps from the nice lady, despite a language barrier. We had an hour to kill until the bus back to Anbo at 1, so we took her advice and had ramen in the little shop upstairs. When we came down, we met a guy from Mexico who was 5.5 months into a world trip. Nice to hear some English, and he seemed to be doing well with the Japanese too. Back to the bus and we watched the clock to the Anbo stop were the Yakusugiland bus connected. Luckily it was there (I think we had a minute connection time this time), right where the guy drove us to on our first day. And we were off up the mountain. Straight up, on a one lane road most of the way. The bus had to back up a few times to let other cars go down. We were soon high above Anbo and could see them dredging the harbour with a huge crane. The bus wound along the side of the mountain, climbing up into the interior. We passed a pair of Yaku macaques sunning on a rock, and lots of monkey crossing signs. Often I'd look down from the bus window to see the tops of tall trees below us, the land dropped away right at the edge of the road. We made it safe and sound, though, and went into the gift shop for a second to orient ourselves, then took off down the trail after paying our fee and getting a postcard + entry pass for it. Wow, just wow. We did the 50 minute loop, taking lots of pictures. We saw a suspension bridge (part of the 80/150 minute route), and then went over another one later on (bouncy). We saw the Buddha cedar, 1800 years old and 21.5 m high.We saw a twin cedar, one that grew over the path, a nurse log with new trees starting out from it, tons of streams and of course tons of cedars. Not too many people. Perfect weather for it, I thought I'd be a bit chilly and need to pull out my jacket, but the trail kept me warm, we were descending and climbing constantly. The sun was warm but the shade was cool. We popped back out onto the road near the gift shop and had a good view of the Tenchu-seki stone, balance atop Mt. Ishizuka-dake (1589m) with an isolated cedar growing up next to the sightline to the peak. We ended up finishing faster than expected, so had some time to browse the solar powered gift shop for postcards before the bus returned for us. Anther hair raising 45 mins down the mountain, with more than just the one fellow passenger this time though, as it was the last bus of the day. We saw lots of taxis on the road, we'd considered it but caught the bus instead. We passed a couple of groups of monkeys on the way down, with people parked to look at them (dangerous on the narrow road). We got to the stop shared with the bus back to Onoeida, and waited 20 mins for our connection. A mother and her little girl passed us, both greeting us, the little girl from far back. She had on the cutest black straw sun hat - I think my canvas surplus sun hat has shrunk, need a new one. We watched a guy restock a vending machine as we waited too. Another 40 min bus ride back to our home stop, and we took some time on the walk back up to the ryokan to take some pictures.

Took advantage of the hot spring again and then conquered dinner.
I had shozu this time, a Yakushima Island brand, and I think it helped me get the food down. :) Mackerel and squid shashimi, a whole fish (not flying this time), really good fish soup, cold ramen, cold sweet potato, a half asian pear, some lily stems in a gelatin that kind of squicked both of us (though the woman explained that the lily only flowers on the full moon - we talked to her a bit more, she lent us her English language book on the island and we told her our plans for the next day and found that she's lived here 9 years , coming here from Yokohama near Tokyo to be with her husband). There was also a salad of shaved red and yellow peppers with very lightly seared tuna that was faboo. We made green tea at the end, and Cris had his rice, though I skipped it.

Back upstairs to write more postcards, and to catch up on this.
Hopefully tonight the announcements from the onsen won't echo quite so much, nor will the dog whine. This morning a loud bird was taunting the dog as well. The moon rise over the mountains was gorgeous tonight, we just caught it as we got back (shadows were filling in the valleys as we came down from the interior). No spiders on the trail today,that was great. The guide book mentioned pit vipers, I can do without those as well. :)

Tomorrow, to Shiratani and then hopefully past our onsen to a waterfall. Breakfast called for 7am. It's not even 8:30 now but I'm ready to hit the futon and read then fall asleep - the ryokan curfew isn't being a problem at all, we're tired out by the end of the day.

Monday November 6, 2006

Onoeida to Miyanoura to Shiratani Gorge

Woke up to the dog and bird combo again, at 6am. Lay awake for a while, just being flat, and then got up and got ready for the day. We packed up our day packs and had everything ready to go, and went down for breakfast at just before 7am. We filled up our water bottles from the water and tea machine, and then bolted our breakfast, I'm sure we were rude, leaving so quickly. We dashed out at 7:10 to catch the 7:15 bus and made it with moments to spare.

We rode the bus all the way to Miyanoura this time, and it filled up with school kids and then emptied out as they got to their schools. Each one had a leather bookbag, most with a bright flap on them to make them visible. And baseball caps kept on with elastic bands. They were much less rowdy than the same sized group of north American schoolkids would be. We got off the bus just before the bridge in Miyanoura, and Cris broke a large bill at a convenience store, getting honey cakes and a guava juice for me. We were short on change, if we hadn't found that store, we couldn't get on the bus, as they wouldn't break anything larger than 1000 yen. We hurried down to the stop for the Shiratani gorge bus and it came into view soon after we arrived at the stop. I think we were the only ones on the bus, again winding up the side of the mountains, on a road that soon gave up pretending to be two lanes. Not as much on coming traffic this time, we were on it at 8:25 or so, getting up to the trail head at 9am. There was construction of new bridges and wider lanes as we went up, it was a bit hair raising to squeeze past the obstructions (and the trucks). We had a nice view of Miyanoura port as we went up, as well. We finally came to the end of the road, the parking lot for the trail, and the bus driver pulled around to face out before letting us off. We paid our 300Y to the nice woman in the wooden hut, and were on our way, telling her we would do the 3 hour loop. The pictures will do more justice than any words can. We climbed up and up and up, beside a rushing river, and then up to a pass. We decided to do the 5 hour trail as we got to the two hour point of the three hour trail when the next bus down was leaving, and we had three hours until the next one. This meant taking an out and back trail up to what was labeled as a rock. I was a bit dubious that the climb was going to be worth it, but the approach went through the "Princess Mononoke Forest" and it was gorgeous. Huge cedars, moss covered boulders, and streams that we had to cross on stones. The start of this trail had a hut where hikers could stay over night - fairly big, actually, with squat toilets and a huge picnic table. It was as we got to this point that more people started appearing. We'd greet each person in each group with ohaiyo gozaimasu until about 11am, and then konnichiwa afterwards. One guy hiking by himself, no pack, just flowed past us on the rocky trail. We came to the loop up to the rock, marked by a large cedar, and the trail to the 7k year old cedar (at least two more hours onward). It was difficult, hands in use all the time, scrambling up a barely marked trail. But at the top, we came out on the top of the mountain, on a huge rock with a view over a valley. There were mountain tops below us, we were stupidly high up. The, we had to get down. That was hair raising, there was a continuing path down a different way, as we really couldn't pass people if anyone was coming up. Knotted ropes were tied between trees, and logs were pegged down to help us step down. The sign said 300m down, it felt like twice the distance. Then we doubled back to the hut, and then continued on the 3 hour path, after about 3 hours and maybe 30 minutes of hiking-climbing (the peak detour was supposed to be 2 hours, one there an done back, but I think we weren't stopping as often as we should have been), and with another hour left to go. My knee started really complaining about going down hill all the time, I was sort of okay if I remembered to use my other leg to drop it down to the next step, but that leg soon started shaking from fatigue.

We were on a trail that dated back to the Edo period, when it was used by women to carry out shingles that men would cut from the cedar trunks (they were used to pay taxes). We saw three deer in a group as we were climbing up, and then another one that Cris startled into running away. We finally came back to the maintained paths (all wooden and stone walkways) and I actually had a harder time there, as it was a constantly slopped downhill. Back over a suspension bridge and soon we were almost back to the parking lot. We stopped to rest on a bench by the waterfall for a bit, and then hung out waiting half an hour for the bus to pick us up at 2:10. We'd been munching on honey cakes, pocky and an apple, but it was time to get a real meal. We had both sweated through our light tops, even in the dappled shade under the trees at the high elevation we were quite warm from exertion.

We got off the bus in Minanura, back in an almost tropical warmth. We found an open restaurant at 3pm and had soba with chicken (me) and Cris had yet another type of soup. Mine was quite good, and the staff's kids came in and we tried to talk to them. The bus girl had us show her where we'd been hiking, everyone was really friendly. At 3:30 we walked back over the bridge (there were kids fishing off the next bridge inland) to the last Minaura stop and waited for the bus. We were right in front of a school, and saw kids heading home. Another long bus ride, this time I paid since I'd broken my big bill at supper. Walking once we got off the bus was a bit of a challenge, I'd stiffened up again. Up the hill, up to our room, and then straight into the onsen. Bliss. I took a good 45mins in there, and reluctantly came back up to the room to get ready for supper. Which was another marathon meal:

Some sort of spiced sashimi, seaweed soup, the Japanese congratulations fish grilled, another type of fish breaded and fried, yet another type of fish, full sized and baked I think, with carrots and tofu, and the piece de resistance:
flying fish sashimi (plus benitoro and another kind) with the flying fish head complete with wings splitting the plate in half. Oranges, shaved radish and banana leaves over empty clam shells decorated the plate as well. Oh, and we each had a half crab. Oo Cris had another beer and rice, but I passed on the shozu and the rice. We settled up our bill, it came to lower than expected (no extra charges for the onsen, nor the drive to the port tomorrow at 6am with lunch boxes just the beers and shozu). Wrote up notes in an effort to procrastinate packing. Going to miss it here, it's peaceful (when we're not running for buses).

Tue Nov 7, 2006

Onoeida to Kagoshima to Hiroshima (Miyajima Island and the floating temple) to Kyoto

The landlady gave us a couple of wake up calls at 5:20 and 5:25am, and then my palm alarm went off at 5:30am, so we were definitely up. Changed and packed up the last few things, and were downstairs by quarter to 6. The landlady gave us our lunch rolls (a stubby paper packet with chopsticks tucked into a fold), and we filled up our water bottles at the machine. Our morning ride appeared soon after and she directed us out to her van. We put the suit cases in the back and were on our way, the sun just thinking about coming up out of the sea. We made some conversation as we started out, but general waking-up-ness soon stalled it. It was bitter-sweet driving along the road to Anbo for the last time. We were at the Toppy terminal by 6:20 or so, passing a few other early morning motorists, and she came in with us, which was good as we learned that we might get turned around back to Anbo because the waves were high. Well, probably not good, as I was worried the whole way over to Tanegashima. We bid her goodbye and settled into the rapidly filling up waiting room - it was a popular commuter route, I guess, as it gets to Kagoshima at around 9, or was supposed to. As soon as we cleared the breakwater around Anbo, the waves rose up around us, the wind whipping them into whitecaps. There were a couple of times when the boat slammed down into troughs, but I wasn't sea sick at all - unlike one poor woman that I saw huddled across from the bathroom when it calmed enough for me to go. The normally half hour crossing to Tanegashima took an hour, we didn't get up to the original trip over's 78kph, hovering around 65 or so. We had a bit of calm in the harbour there (passing by the rocket marking the entrance and the water pouring over the breakwater), and I gulped down the orange that was gifted me, but then were back out into the swells until we got into the sheltering arms of the big island. The geography was amazing, sheer cliffs plunging down into the sea. One isolated rock had a cable car going from the land to the lighthouse on the tiny spot of cliff. Two wind farms adorned hills that we passed. Luckily the sea had calmed down a lot and we were able to not lose more time, so we just arrived in Kagoshima half an hour late. An attendant had asked us if we needed a taxi at the terminal and we'd thought that we'd be so late that we'd miss our original train anyway, or early enough to take the subway. It turned out that we took a taxi anyway, since we had just 40 minutes to get to the train station.

The cab was wonderful, white covers on everything, curtains, and a little prayer strip suction cupped to the windshield. He got us there in lots of time and we made our 10:15 train to Hakata - the wooden Tsubame one again first, with a change in Shin-yatsushiro with most of the other passengers -to the same seat on the limited express - we figured that the super express train track was what was supposed to run along the incomplete set of raised structures that we kept seeing. We opened up our breakfast-lunch rolls to find two huge rice balls with some sort of cherry like fruit, and guess what? A dried flying fish. :) It was good, though I ended up making a bit of as mess as I picked out the bones.

We just made our change in Hakata (7 minutes I think, to the furthest track) and settled in for the ride to Hiroshima. We were still retracing our steps from when we came down from Tokyo, but we knew when to look out for glimpses of the sea. We found an English speaker at the information booth and she directed us to the JR train to the Miyajima ferry stop - she asked our nationality and flashed her Canadian flag pin when we answered. We stopped by the JR ticket booth to get our onward reservation, one for around 8pm to Shin-Osaka, where we'd change for an unreserved to Kyoto. Then down to track one where we checked our bags into a mercifully open large luggage locker - Cris had to go buy a rice ball to get change as it only took 100Y pieces, and refused to eat my 500Y. We used our JR rail passes for a free ride to the ferry terminal and again on the ferry. It was a straight walk to the ferry from the train, we just had to go under the street via a ped tunnel which reminded me that my legs were still sore from hiking in Shiratani yesterday. We could see the vermilion (well, it looked orange) tori gate from the dock, and the boat swung around close to it Vermillion tori on the way to the island. Once we docked, I could see that it wasn't just 2 dimensional, but had six legs and stood on it's own (there was an English announcement as we got close). Lots of English speakers around, and a German group, and we'd get engulfed by Japanese school kids on a regular basis. As well as the deer, of course, who were everywhere. We walked over to the floating shrine but didn't go in, instead climbing the steep steps up to another shrine, and the 5 Five storied pagoda tiered tower. Up to a view point, then down toward the shrine again, and into the museum (it included a merchant house, so we were back in slippers again). We took the "nature walk" above the town on the way back, a one lane road with no houses on it. The sun was starting to set now, we popped into a grilled oyster stand for a snack and then headed back to the ferry, and back to the train station. We were surrounded by English speakers (USA, Aussie, France, eastern European), it was disorienting. We picked up another reserved ticket for an earlier train to Shin-Osaka (7:10), but once we got there, the first local train on to Kyoto (half an hour before the express) was packed to the gills. We had curry soup for supper while waiting for the Hitari (a few Nozomi ones were going, we couldn't use them with our pass). No problems getting seats together in the non reserved car, though I queued up as Cris finished eating. 15 mins later (I ate on the train), and we were in Kyoto. We had a bit of a hike to get to the north gate and then walked past our ryokan's street, but finally doubled back and found it. We had to pay in full as we checked in, two nights from my cash supply and one on Cris' card - I need to cash my last traveller's cheque for use in Kyoto.

Wednesday Nov 8, 2006

Kyoto: Golden Pavilion, Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle

Misc. Kyoto Pictures
Woke up to light peeking through the shoji screens, shivering because the comforter had slipped. I was fine under it, but it was a bit too small to allow rolling over while still staying cocooned. We ended up getting up at around 7:30, I wrote up my notes as Cris waited for water for the shower. We sorted out valuables to leave at the desk (the room doesn't lock when we're out of it), and folded up our futons. We ended up getting a semi western breakfast at a cafe near the ryokan. I had a chocolate waffle (well half of one, which was just right, with whipped cream, hazelnut topping, and ice cream, and peaches and sweet beans and an unidentified fruit). Cris had toast with boiled eggs scrambled on top, not a hit.

First order of business was for us to get cash. We went over to Kyoto station, and Cris found a bank of cash machines that took his card beyond the post office. I got stamps for my post cards and then took a number and got my traveller's cheque cashed (I had to provide my passport as well as my address in Kyoto, it took a while to write out the whole thing...). Then we picked up all day bus-subway combo passes (1200 I think) and were off on our tour of the city and it's sites.

First we went to the Imperial Palace Household office to get our permission slips to tour the palaces (got we got slips for the Imperial Palace and Shugakuin villa, but the third one was booked through to Friday and we'd be gone. We also bought our JR rail tickets to Narita, getting the Nozomi line and a somewhat express to the airport. Our Imperial Palace tour (around the corner from the household office) wasn't until 2pm, and it was 11am then, so we walked through the grounds (long wide gravel road through sparse forest, two mothers had their crawling babies playing on the grass at one point, very cute), did a quick tour of one of the surviving noble's houses, and then caught a bus to go to the Golden Pavilion at Kinkakuji Temple. It was quite busy, we had to dodge other tourists to get our photos, Golden Pavilion but very beautiful. The golden pavilion was covered with gold leaf from the Phoenix at the top down two stories and the bottom one was plain. It stood next to a garden pond, and we toured around the grounds as well.

We stopped just outside the grounds at a second floor lunch spot with a view of the hill where they do a fire outline of the Chinese character for great or big once a year. Service was a bit slow (we were after some school kids, there were lots hanging about, even though I just ordered a pita pocket with veggies) and then we went to the wrong bus stop to get back to the old Imperial Palace, so we were jogging behind another group to get to the entrance for our tour start time. There was a bit of a line as a guard checked our names against the permission list and our passports. We got to the waiting room with a minute or two to spare and then the tour guide led us out. It was a huge group, at least 60 people and some would wander away and not listen to the guide. We didn't get to go inside, just peeking in through open screens. Kyoto Imperial PalaceWe could see the emperor's throne and some of the paintings. There was a bright vermilion gate with huge doors, and then paper screens with hooked wooden lattices that could be let down in case of typhoons. We saw a cross section of the bark roof, they were repairing a section - it's very thick at the ends, hundreds of layers I think she said, but it gets thinner at the top - cool in summer, warm in winter. But it has to be replaced every 30-40 years. The baked clay tiles that were on other roofs lasts 150 years or so. Neat to hear her refer to the bark ones having to be replaced often, the buildings are built for the ages (despite having burned down a lot, they've been rebuilt faithfully).

We got out of our tour at 3pm, and decided to make a dash over to Nijo Castle, which closed at 4. We were able to get tickets and get in the gate at around 3:30, but we heard fairly constant reminders over the loudspeaker that the castle was closing at 4 and that people should go there "right away". We toured the Ninamoru palace first, home to a Shogun in the 1600's. We had a better glimpse of the wall paintings here. Apparently this shogun was paranoid - all the floors squeaked so that he could hear people coming (they were actually quite musical and lived up to their nightingale appellation). Panels hid rooms filled Nijo Castle with bodyguards, but we didn't spot any of the secret passages. The best were the rooms with wax figures wearing period dress and posed and labelled according to their functions. The garden was lovely but we rushed through it to get to the castle before 4 (made it with a minute to spare). It has a wide water filled moat around it, and the large metal bound doors reminded me of the ones on George's Island in the Boston harbour.The stones making up the walls had either settled or were supposed to make arcs and patterns. We were just allowed to walk around the buildings inside the wall. As we came around back to the complex entrance, we passed through a set of booths selling food and souvenirs. Skipping them, we paid an extra admission fee (100Y) to see some of the paintings up close that were hidden by the bodyguard's cubby doors in the shogun's palace (this exhibit was specially open in the fall, and open half an hour later than the castle).

We were sort of close to a bike shop that Cris wanted to check out (custom builds) so we attempted to take the bus there but made a few wrong choices (thank goodness for the all day pass). After a bit of a walk and asking for directions, we found the store closed. Cris got me some water and Pocky to get my blood sugar back up and we took three more buses to get to Gion for dinner (changing plans halfway there as the first place was closed on Wednesdays). Ozawa was on a side street across a canal from a lamp lit thoroughfare that was a beacon of serenity after the bustle of Gion proper. We crossed a small foot bridge over flowing water to the traditional restaurant, taking off our shoes and going sock footed into the tatami room. A Japanese couple came in after us, but then a German couple with their kid came in, and the toddler got louder and disruptive as time went on. The staff offered to move us and I took them up on it, so we moved to the tempura bar across from two quietly chatting salarymen. We watched the chef making her magic, putting each piece of food into flour and batter and then carefully into the oil (not too many pieces at once, to keep the oil hot) simmering over a gas flame, and then carefully taken out and blotted. We were served 12 different veggies and fish lightly battered, miso soup, salad, pickles, and rice with more mixed tempura on it. We had plum wine to start, and Cris had the cake and green tea while I had the green tea ice cream to finish. It was wonderful, and the staff were charming and spoke enough English that we didn't have to struggle to remember anything more complicated than "thank you" in Japanese. Service was leisurely, but it gave us time to reflect on our trip so far and plan our last (!) day. Back to the ryokan via the subway (arrived at after walking along a lamp lit stream) and bus, and ready for an early night - 10am tour of the Shugakuin imperial villa (should take us over an hour to get there...).

Thursday November 9, 2006

Kyoto: Shigakuin, Nishiki market, Inari Temple, costume museum

Woke up just before my palm pilot alarm went off at 7:30 and was able to grab a shower upstairs between other guest's use. Cris went next and then we headed into Kyoto station to find our number 5 bus stop and breakfast. The stop was on the island closest to the station, and the bus seemed to be running every 10 minutes. We went into the station and upstairs to find a Cafe du Monde outlet. We couldn't resist. :) We skipped the beignets and had sandwiches and pastries (I had a puff pastry with green tea cream, interesting, bit too much cream though - it was fist sized). Down again and a short wait for our bus, and then an hour on it to get to the north east corner of the city. After we crossed the Kano river and headed north we got into more suburban areas. We saw a baseball game being played at one field, and smaller houses and buildings. We finally made it up to Shigakuin Rikyu-michi (the Kyoto bus stop and street names are more complex than I'd seen before, it's taken me a couple of days to start recognising them). We followed the map that I got with the permission slip and headed uphill along a narrow road that paralleled an almost dry canal for a while. Another group of tourists was going the same way, as usual. :) We spotted the line getting their slips and ids checked and fell in at the end. We were able to borrow audio guides with the English tour information, which was great, as the tour guide only spoke Shugakuin Imperial Villa Japanese. The tour was almost an hour and a half, though again we didn't go inside any buildings, but wandered the gravel paths around the retired emperor's villa. The pine tree lined road led past working rice paddies, and vegetable gardens, and hid the view until we got up to the upper villa's tea pavilion (Rinun-tei, close to the clouds, surrounded by a walkway with groupings of one, two and three stones). From there we could see down to the pond with a pairs of islands that are supposed to look like a swimming dragon, with three bridges connecting the out croppings and the shore. The leaves were autumn bright, and the sun was very warm, it was gorgeous.

We could see a view of Kyoto and the mountains,including some of the bonfire figures cut out of the hills. We could hear the waterfall that was to inspire poetry when the retired emperor was in this area. We wound around the pond, over the wooden and earthen bridges, saw a boat tied up, and climbed back down to the entrance. The middle villa held the Kyaku-den, which contains shelves that are considered amongst the most beautiful in Japan - they evoke rising mist.

We got back on a different bus line, the 31 I think, to go to the four block long covered market, Nishiki. We were assaulted with smells - sushi and other fresh fish, pungent vegetables, and a tea stall pulled my nose around to it. We went the length, stopping in at a knife shop to gape at the expensive knives (you could see a wave pattern in some of the blades), and then doubled back to go to a small restaurant for lunch. I had glutinous rice bars with various toppings, they tasted a lot like marshmallows, esp the ones that were charred just a little bit. Cris had a bowl of udon this time, it looked good and he seemed happy with it.

Back out to the main street with the shopping arcade, Shijo I think, to a subway stop and back to Kyoto station where we transfered to a JR trail (last day of our pass) to Fushimi Inari to go to the shrine of a thousand toris. It was right across from the train stop (three stops from Kyoto station) and I'm really glad that we went. Fushimi Inari The toris just kept going as we climbed up, starting spaced out a bit and then not more than a foot apart. The tunnel formed by the bright orange gates split at one point and then came back together again. As we climbed, they looked pretty plain, but when we looked back we could see that the uphill sides were covered with kanji. Numerous small shrines appeared in breaks in the arches, foxes paired to the side of each one and small tori leaning against the altars. We could hear the wind sighing through the pine trees and could occasionally feel it. Water trickled down the hill and birds sang in the bamboo forest that surrounded the path. It was very very peaceful. Not many other people were there, either, so we could take our time and drink it all in. At one point we passed a workman with a can of orange paint and later passed the gates that he'd just touched up. Some tori were missing, the broken stumps still framing the path.

We eventually made it back down and to the station, and headed back to Kyoto station. We walked from there, north and west, to the costume museum. It had a quarter scale model of Geji's house filled with dolls showing costumes and activities from the Tale of Genji, as well as prints of panels illustrating the tale. There was a side room with two full scale wax models, and a room to change into a costume yourself but I passed on that (and kind of regret it now...).

After that, we split up, Cris to take another stab at getting to the bike store from last night, and me to wander through the Porta underground mall for a bit. I looked at skirts and boots but the flat boots that I liked were out of my budget and the skirts were all woolen and I didn't end up buying anything to wear. I did give in and get some snacks at the French bakery - a pumpkin brioche and a five bean bun. Back to the ryokan to re-hydrate and relax and write up notes, and most importantly, give my feet a rest. :) My legs are almost recovered from Yakushima's mountains, but all the walking we've been doing has done a number on my feet and they can use a rest. Plans to go out to the restaurant that was closed last night for our last dinner - rumours of a Buddhist temple set meal at a reasonable price are drawing us there. And the tomorrow we head back to Tokyo and fly home, through SF again. It's been an awesome trip, but I admit that I'm ready to sleep in my own bed (though I've got some vague plans about buying some tatami mats, I can do with a thicker futon than I've been sleeping on for most of the trip), and see familiar faces again. I thought I saw someone I knew in the tourist crowds and had a flash of home sickness. I've not had to struggle with the language nearly at all in Kyoto, it's very English friendly. Admission prices are very reasonable for everything (the imperial ones are free, nothing was more than 600Y). But despite historic buildings scattered throughout, it feels too westernized and I miss the "authentic" Japan that we saw in Yakushima. American fashions are more visible here (the 80's comeback) and Starbucks and Mcdonald's are visible on many streets.

On my way to the Porta mall (where I basically went into stores with young women already shopping to try and find the current fashions - I suspect that on the street I'm seeing the last of the summer-fall ones and the stores are carrying winter stuff), I detoured through the courtyard of the temple near our ryokan - it has the largest wooden building in the world, but I didn't try to go in as it was getting late and I assumed I'd be rushed, again, a bit of regret, but I saw the dragon fountain at least.

Cris came back with "perfect tires" after finding the bike shop, and we headed out to procure dinner. Bus up north a few major blocks and then wandered the streets trying to find Mukadaya,but no luck. We tried one other place, but no English menus were available, so we fell back to a French place. We were able to order in French, though the explanations for the prix fixe options were in Japanese, so we sort of winged it. It worked. :) I had a pumpkin soup, a crab bisque, a mushroom soup, and broiled lobster and a cheese plate to finish. Despite a couple of small shell pieces in the crab bisque, it was all delicious. We were the only customers, it was kind of eerie, but the waitress only spoke Japanese, so we were able to converse fairly freely in English (well, we think). The chef came out at the end to thank us. I wonder if their lack of customers was due to the tables not being visible from the door, plus being on a small side street. It was pretty posh, though, cloth napkins and tablecloths and a whole host of silverware. Back via bus again,standing room only on the 5, and managed to nip into the shower just as someone came out. I stumbled on a gutter as we were coming up to the restaurant and felt a stabbing pain in my back, but the Gewurztraminer seemed to help, as well as the hot shower just now. Hopefully the thin futon won't make it hurt again.

While we were waiting for the train after seeing the Inari shrine,we saw lots of kids coming out of school. Some of the teen-aged guys look like anime style heart throbs - razor cut hair with highlights, pointed shoes and sleepy eyes.

Friday Nov 10,2006

Kyoto to Tokyo to SF to home

The start of the longest day of my life. :) We were up at 7:30, Cris grabbed a shower while I packed up the last of my stuff. We headed into Kyoto station to get breakfast, ending up at a place near the subway that served pancakes and coffee - we're not getting very adventurous with breakfasts in Kyoto,though it was good. Cris stopped in at a 'net cafe on the walk back to look up some last postal codes, and I came back to the ryokan to brush my teeth and sweep the room for any missed items, it's still a bit early,but I think we'll go back to the station to wait for the Nozomi to Tokyo, since we should pick up a box lunch either there or in Tokyo before heading to the airport.

We were early to the station and waited in a mini lounge for a bit, reading (Cris wasn't able to get onto the wifi network). The Nozomi super express is wider than the others we'd taken, three by three seats. We were in the window and middle, and Cris had a bit of a hard time getting our suitcases up in the rack over the guy in the aisle. We ate our lunch boxes (I had a good nigiri combo box, wrapped in leaves, mackerel and salmon strips on big rice logs) with the other travellers, speeding toward Tokyo. Only 1 or two stops before the terminal, it was a fast trip. Then we had to pay a bit extra as it turned out that the woman who gave us our Narita tickets issued them for the day we bought them instead of the 10th. We got to the limited express platform for the Narita train with some time to spare, and I had my last vending machine juice, peach this time. I love the recycling containers that are almost always right next to the vending machines. We could see the pollution haze over Tokyo as we were moving through the city.

At Narita, I tried to get my ticket upgraded, but the Star Alliance clerk wasn't making an effort to be helpful as the SFO one was - no possibility of reissuing the ticket with the upgrade. So, we checked in Economy, and wandered around the duty free shops, spending the last of our yen. I found myself, during a bathroom break, avoiding the western toilets because the Japanese ones seemed more sanitary. :) The plane that took us back across the pacific We were in window and middle, and I didn't get up to stretch nearly enough. Dinner, then "Cars" again for the movie, I watched some of it w/o audio, but mostly read - finished two books by the time I got to SFO, between the trains and the plane. The sun came up as we were getting close to landing, and they fed us breakfast. Getting through Immigration at SFO was painless, though I had to fill out an I94 card (give that one up on departure, hold onto the one that came with the H1B) on the spot. Our bags took ages to come out, and then appeared side by side. We transferred over to the domestic terminal and found as we checked in that we could confirm on an earlier flight, leaving in an hour, for $25 each. The kiosk gave us seats next to each other so we went for it, and transitioned from leisurely wandering with 4 hours to kill to stepping smartly and arriving at the gate as they were boarding group 1. We were in group 4 so had some time to spare. We were across the aisle from each other, and I had a brief moment of panic as I saw my seat filled, but it turned out that one woman was a row further than she should be and the woman in my seat just hadn't said anything. Said woman was a bit chatty, but let me (try to) sleep when I closed my eyes - I dozed a bit fitfully, watched "Pirates OTC: Dead Man's Chest" ("Lake House" was, of course, also playing) and read a bit, but mostly was really dazed for the flight across to Boston. Once there, we had a bit of a wait for our bags again, and then got on the Silver Line, Red line and the 71 bus home, and had pizza for supper. Cris went to bed soon after supper, but I'm still fairly awake, and fear that my body is still convinced that it's mid day tomorrow. We got home at 9:20pm Boston time, still Friday November 10th, but my Palm Pilot was still set to Japanese time, and it said we arrived at 11:20am on Saturday November 11th, after about 26 hours of being in transit.

Two amazing things about the trip: we had perfect weather all the way, and I didn't get sick - thanks to Airborne and Emergen-C. :)

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