Saturday, September 14, 2013

On To Kyoto

It is early Sunday morning here in Kyoto, and Mark and I are sitting in the lobby of our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), listening to it rain. It will probably rain all day today, but we are not complaining. Other than a couple of very light showers, we have enjoyed good weather - albeit hot and humid at times - since we arrived in Japan ten days ago.

Yesterday marked the start of another adventure. Every time we leave a place, we leave what level of comfort and familiarity we established there. This has made me apprehensive and anxious at times, but yesterday was much better than previously: I have learned that I don't have to have all the answers of how to do everything at train stations, what to do where, etc. - because there is usually someone in some type of uniform whom we can ask or who will set us straight, er, point us in the right direction.

I meant to include this in my last post. As we were walking back to the train station from our tour with Ken,
we came across this sign. It struck me as so incongruous that I had to take a picture of it.
Who knew? Amish food in Kamakura, Japan. Ken said he and his wife will have to go there sometime.

Such was the case yesterday. We took a train from Kamakura into Tokyo in order to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. We found the gate ok, but our tickets didn't go through the machine properly. There was a uniformed man there, however, and he looked at our tickets, manually stamped them, and we were on our way.

Shinkansen Station at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo

Waiting lounge. The woman at right is wearing a dark green hat that said
"LONGSILENT" over the word "GOODSLEEP"

Japanese babies and little children are SO cute

The train that we took, the "Nozomi," is the fastest train in Japan. It took us two hours and ten minutes to travel from Shinagawa to Kyoto, a distance of approximately 470 kilometers, and that included stopping at two stations along the way, making for a speed of about 185 kph. 

Upon our arrival in Kyoto, it was hot and humid, but the temperature went down during the course of the afternoon in advance of the rain we are now having. We found our ryokan on a little side street about a 20-minute walk from the station, and we were immediately very impressed and pleased with the selection. The manager welcomed us in excellent English and showed us to our room, which is a traditional Japanese room with a little garden off a small deck.

In front of our ryokan

After getting settled in our room, we walked a couple of blocks to one of many World Heritage Sites in Kyoto - the Nishi-Hoganji Temple. (For those who may not be aware, Kyoto was Japan's capital for approximately 1000 years, the seat of the emperors of Japan.) We were immediately impressed by its sheer size and the space around it. While there, we were able to witness some sort of ceremony which we suspect was a funereal service or remembrance. A number of people were admitted beyond a "barrier" and as four monks chanted, each one of the 20 or so people there went up to put incense in a small burner and offer a prayer. That was pretty cool.

Detail of massive wooden gate

Detail of wooden steps leading up the Buddha Hall

The wearing of shoes inside the temple precincts was not allowed

Detail of screen in part of massive wooden gate

After visiting this temple, we made our way to a local sento (public bath) that had been recommended by the manager of our ryokan. It wasn't far, but it took a bit of looking because many of the streets are very narrow and look more like alleys than streets.

This was our first time at a real "public" bath. It was interesting to say the least. We walked in, rented a small towel, then went in past a curtain to the changing area, which was not large, in which lockets were located. There were at least a dozen men changing in or out of their clothes and at least that many inside the bath area. Located there were dozen or so seated areas in which to shower. 

A man next to me, who was there when I arrived, showed me which bottle was shampoo and which body soap. He motioned for me to pump the shampoo bottle several times, but I didn't need that much shampoo - or at least I thought I didn't. But when it came to the body soap, he took the bottle, motioned for me to hold out my hand, and he pumped five or six times, releasing a large pool of soap into my hand. I lathered up and rinsed, but I noticed five or ten minutes later that the man was still seated there, lathering and washing. I felt that my cleansing job was extraordinarily insufficient.

In the bathing area, there were hot tubs and cold water tubs, jetted tubs and non-jetted tubs. We tried most of them. In one that Mark got in ahead of me, he stuck out his hand in the water, then yanked it back, saying, "There's electricity in that water!" A couple of older men around us smiled, as others had done before that, seeing these two North Americans using their neighborhood sento. 

One of the men motioned for me to some over and sit in front of what was obviously the emission point for the electricity, smiling. I did so, and it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life so sit in electrified water. But with my back to the electric emission thing, there was a massaging effect. I smiled at the man and said, "massage!" He nodded, smiling and saying, "Yes. Massage." Even so, I could only take so much of that. It was just so weird.

Another noteworthy image from that experience was of a boy, around 10 years of age, who was sitting on the edge of a ofuro (raised tub), surround by all these old men. The image was striking. It reminded me of this painting by Flandrin. The Japanese boy's pose was almost exactly the same.

After finishing at the bath (vowing to bring our own towels from the ryokan next time in order to dry off), we stopped by a grocery store to pick up a few things, then headed back to the ryokan for cocktails before venturing out for dinner. It had been a good first day in Kyoto. Today, we are off to Nara for a day trip with a guide.

Outside the sento

At the grocery store with the cute little basket they had

In our room

Today's Engrish-ism

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