This morning, I Facetimed with mom and dad. They were especially happy to see little Evan; in the absence of a grandchild of their own, they delight in whoever's kid they get to make faces at :) I'll call them again in a couple of days - mom's b-day is the 7th. Mom continues to mail me a plethora of reminders, including remembering to clean up my hair from the shower area every day. *sigh* I'm surprised she hasn't told me to remember to wipe my butt :)
Today I originally intended to head to Hiroshima and Matsuyama, but I got started pretty late (partially due to the call), so I opted to spend the first of multiple (non-consecutive) days in Kyoto. I somehow ended up on what I swear was a Rapid train but eventually ended up as a Local, so I didn't get to Kyoto until around noon. The Kyoto rail station is huge; after picking up a toy Shinkansen (bullet train) for my 5 year old nephew (who is currently in a vehicle obsession phase) I went to one of the upscale department stores in the complex and ate at one of the food places on the top floor - recommended by Lonely Planet. I had the tonkatsu (actually, it was a smorgasbord of deep-fried food; my doctor [or I] will have a coronary).
[Aside: I forgot to mention that all rail station lines have their own little distinct jingle at the beginning of the announcements; one of the lines here uses "I've Been Working on the Railroad."]
The tourist information area was swamped, but I managed to get a bus and subway map, after which I sat down with my Guides and spent way too long trying to decide what to do. Kyoto is huge, and it's two cities smooshed into one - old structures and modern, all in one. I opted for a temple complex of Daitoku-ji (24 different subtemples) on the North end (the oldest Zen temples in the area), the interest being that this week is one of the only times during the year that they open some of them (3, to be exact) to the public. I figured, after this, I'd work my way back to the train station, going up to the observation deck of Kyoto tower and spending some time at what's supposed to be a fantastically weird market. Would have also liked to see Gion (old-town, basically. It's renowned for their geisha, but usually the performances and interactions are around dinnertime), but not much interest in the International Manga Museum, nor (and I'm sure the SCAdians reading this would smack me upside the head, as would Laura) the International Textile Museum.
Unfortunately, because I took the bus instead of the subway, it took forever. I got there around 3PM, which gave me an hour until they closed.
The complex is pretty amazing. Firstly, it's bizarre how well-hidden it is. Here you have tons of modern (and older, classic Japanese-style-roofed) buildings very close together, and then, all of a sudden, there's a long wall and temple entrance. I took a couple of pictures outside to show just the contrast.
I managed to make it to all three sub-temples (and, when paying, show off my incredible ability to count to 6 in Japanese). The first, Obai-in, is the largest of the three; one walks along a slightly raised wooden walkway overlooking the Zen rock gardens and connecting several buildings (kitchen, shrines, living quarters, etc). Tons of Japanese maples resplendent in their fall foliage, and moss covering the rocks and part of the grounds.
The main attraction of the second, Korin-in, is a rock garden whose main rock formation resembles a specific vista elsewhere in Japan (unfortunately, I don't recall the location). A guide was talking quietly with a couple of English-speaking guests, but I got the sense it was a private tour, so I didn't intrude. After I sat in quiet meditation (mainly picturing Laura sitting beside me enjoying the tranquil setting), I moved on to the third, and lamented that it was now 3:55.
Because this is Japan, they didn't close early. In fact, 4 o'clock may be the last available time to enter, but it's not the close of the grounds itself - anyone in there can stay until the particular tour is finished. In this case, the grounds consisted of a sprawling graveyard (impressive, though not nearly as huge as the one in Koyasan a few days ago) and a shrine near which we sat on tatami and were served tea - I missed the bit where they brewed it by a large well outside. One of the patrons noticed me in the graveyard and asked if I spoke English. Turns out her son is working for a pharmaceutical company in LA. She shared with me what she'd learned about the graveyard, then acted as translator during the tea and shrine lecture from the docent. Afterwards, she was kind enough to help me get from the bus to the subway back to the train station (the subway is much quicker than taking the bus all the way). She waved goodbye to me from the subway (she got off a couple of stops before mine), and I realized I'd never gotten her picture. I did get her name, though: Keiko. M&B mentioned how friendly and helpful they've found the Japanese to be, but they'd also mentioned that Kyoto tended to be the exception. Fortunately, that wasn't the case here. (Reminds me of parts of the Midwest, or the South; certainly not the general behavior in New England :) )
Since I ended up on the local heading out to Kyoto, I took one leg of the Shinkansen to get to Osaka, then took the normal rapid/local route for the rest of the trip. Due to transferring and time between trains (even though that's not that long a wait), the time was probably comparable.
Now, time for dinner. Carnitas!