Our Japan Rail passes have expired, so I’m writing this on a staggeringly expensive bullet train bound for Hiroshima, having spent the last three days in Kyoto. It’s a beautiful city, with hundreds of little pockets of oldness – teahouses, shrines, temples, alleyways, canals… we walked along the Philosopher’s Walk on the first day, which is probably more impressive when the cherry trees are in bloom, but was still really cool. We also visited the Imperial (Summer) Palace Gardens, and the Silver Pavilion, which was covered in scaffolding for renovation – unfortunately a common theme in Kyoto. Yesterday we went to the Higashiyama area, spotted a monk at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who was talking on his mobile phone, and spotted some geisha who were taking photos of each other with digital cameras. It was overcast and somewhat rainy, but our hostel lent us free umbrellas, and we rented bikes for only 500 yen a day; Kyoto is a pretty small city, and easy to cycle around. At least I think it’s small. There are no skyscrapers there (presumably they have some kind of DC-style legislation against it), which makes it SEEM quite small, but when you climb up some mossy old stairways into the temple-speckled hills around the city and get a good view of it, it does indeed seem large enough to host the most important international treaty of our time.
Tokyo and Kyoto are equally impressive, in different ways; Tokyo is a colourful neon hive of commercialism and thriving, pulsing humanity, whereas Kyoto is a quiet, ancient city with something pretty around every corner. And while parts of it are as touristy as Nikko, a lot of it is just a normal city, where people live in places that just happen to have the kind of beauty that only age can bestow.
I liked Tokyo, but I couldn’t live there. Kyoto, on the other hand, would be a wonderful place to live if I wanted to settle down in Japan.
Last night we checked into a ryukan (traditional accomadation) on the other side of town for the night, and the similarities between it and the Black Diamond Lodge were striking – right down to identical key tags. We paid through the nose for something we’s sort of already experienced. On the plus side, they did provide us with kimono-style dressing gowns.
While Chris went off to get a tattoo of a fox, Jamie and I bought some red wine from the local Lawson’s, downed a bottle each, gathered the others and set off to hunt down the Zappa Bar, a fabled backalley watering hole that’s reputed to be an old haunt of David Bowie. Jamie had hunted high and low for it the previous night, fruitlessly, but with the aid of Google Maps (God bless the 21st century) we were able to track it down – stand at the intersection outside Kawaramachi Station, face north, and it’s the fourth alleyway on the right, after passing a FamilyMart at the third alleyway. We headed down that alley and stood outside a place called “Bottle Bar” arguing about where it could be when a man emerged from inside and said “Zappa Bar crosed!”
“Forever?” I asked.
“But… was this it? Used to be?”
So we headed in and had a beer. Jamie was crestfallen. I’m satisified that we found it, or at least the place it used to be, but it probably wasn’t worth it. We scribbled down a note on the back of a receipt to leave in the guestbook, then jogged back through the streets to make it back to the ryukan before midnight curfew. I’d left our bedroom window open so that if push came to shove we could go into the alley behind the building, throw Jamie’s trench coat over the barbed wire and scramble in through the window, but as it turns out the curfew was based on an honour system and we strolled right in the front door, to find Chris with a successful fox tattoo watching episodes of Lost on my laptop. I managed to grab the first episode of 24, incidentally, and it was terrible. So far my predictions about a superficial facelift where nothing about the show is changed except the location and the terrorism-fighting agency seems correct; there was fifty-five minutes of sitting around and talking followed by five minutes of Jack threatening to torture someone, HAVEN’T SEEN THAT BEFORE. Granted, the premiere was a two hour block and I’ve only seen 8:00 – 9:00, so maybe it gets better in the second one.
Woke up this morning, had a traditional Japanese breakfast (frankly not great food to be eating first thing in the morning – tofu, rice, some kind of gooey yellow block) and then headed to check out the Golden Pavilion. This was a group decision. Personally I would have preferred to go to Hiroshima ASAP, so we could check into our hostel and go to the war museum before it closes at 5. Plus I’m sort of templed-out after Kyoto, and the Silver Pavilion, encrusted with renovation scaffolding, didn’t really whet my appetite for more.
I was more or less right. After a ten dollar, fifty minute bus ride we arrived at the pavilion, with it’s hefty entrance fee and swarming hordes of tourists. It was picturesque, certainly, but I would have preferred more time in Hiroshima. As it stands now we’re probably going to have to visit the museum tomorrow morning and cut down on the time we spend at Migashiyama, an off-shore island host to the famous floating torii. So little time!