Wednesday, September 15, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 4: Chugga-Chugga... Chugga-Chugga... Choo-Choo...

Find the iPod hiding exactly where it was supposed to be though somehow tucked inside the leather. Packed and good to go I head out of the hotel - almost walking off with the ethernet cable they provided and also being chased to the door by a helpful owner bringing me back for an umbrella who I had to disappoint by getting the one I had from my bag.

Hitting the JR Line to head to Tokyo during rush hour for the first time I begin to realize that the crowding reputation might be tied to the trains more than the metro as they move more commuters in from the equivalent of the suburbs there. It's pretty packed, though not OMGWTF packed, and people are basically filing out just to see their spots replaced. Upon arriving at Tokyo Station again I grab a sandwich - they like to chop their bread into nice squares and remove the crust - find out which track my train is at, and head up to wait.

I'll be taking a Shinkansen to Kyoto but not the Shinkansen. The newer Nozomi lines - which are the newest trains and express lines - aren't covered under my Rail Pass so I'll be travelling on the older Hikari lines. 15-16 cars long with plenty of seats (13 aisles, 5 seats wide), these critters are designed to move people and move them fast. If you can, watch one of these trains coming into the station as it's last stop. Crews will be waiting there for them to speed clean the cars- they move from one end of the car to the other wiping down all the seats, changing the head rest coverings, and rotating the chairs to face the new direction in teams of two to three. Anyways, once these trains get going they move along at a good clip - I tried to get a video of two trains passing and in the time I was able to see the other train, hit the button, and record the passing I only grabbed like 1-2 seconds of film.

The train trip from Tokyo to Kyoto these days is like driving from Toronto to Hamilton on the QEW only with tunnels through the hillsides and occasional rice paddies in place of farms separating housing and factory space that's now Japanese in construction and/or signage. There's some nice background scenery as the hills are covered in wisps of the overcast but it's hard to shoot with posts and buildings nearby flying into view as you shoot past - damned Newtonian Physics.

Arriving in Kyoto, I grab a beef and rice dish for lunch which is pretty good. I then hop the subway to my Hotel here and find I made a much better choice the second time through - I'm smack dab in the middle of Kyoto's entertainment and shopping district, one stop from the Subway line hub, and there's no shortage of places to eat just about anything you'd want to grab here. I spend some time walking through the Open Air mall here and receive another reminder as to why they're awesome...

Seriously, I want to open a store in the Eaton Centre selling these shirts. Wait, the "It Store" went bankrupt so I probably shouldn't...

I browse through there until a little after check-in at the hotel and then grab my room. It's nicer than my one in Tokyo, with a view of the Buddhist Graveyard for the temple out my window. They also do this little trick I'm torn between calling annoying and cute and make you use your key to turn on power to the room proper so you'll never lose it - it's in the wall by the door. No free internet in my room here though.

After a little foot rest, I head out for the Gion district - one of the last remaining Geisha districts in Japan.

The thing you notice upon entering is how all the all the buildings on the street have bamboo curtains over their windows for privacy. You can't actually visit these buildings because Geisha are a combination of entertainers in the artistic sense, and professional hostesses in actual practice; not prostitutes. Because of this, trying to get into a Geisha house uninvited or without proper introduction "to see the show" is a good way to get your ass kicked and tossed in jail for trespass because it's profoundly rude. I do manage to see a couple Geisha, or perhaps Maino trainees, traversing the street to their buildings though am leery of taking photos less I violate personal space.

In the back of the street there's an Art House called Gion Corner dedicated to Japanese arts with a subset focus on those that are of interest to actual Geisha work. It's a bit expensive to see the show there but it's a nice little set whose only real problem is the opening act where the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, and traditional instrument segments overlap each other and force you to choose between watching either the Flower Arrangement or Tea Ceremony in full. Also, people, really... you don't need flash when shooting performers working on a 360 lit stage. Turn it off. Especially you in the first row 2' away...

Heading back, I wander up a riverside walking corridor past ultra-expensive fusion restaurants and fine eateries looking for a Sushi place I saw in the guide. Failing entirely after a while I stumble upon a TGIF, listen to my stomach, and just go "Fuck It". That actually turned out really well 'cause I had what was probably the best, if a bit expensive at ~1500 yen, Cheeseburger I've ever had anywhere. Thick beef patty cooked to perfection, and with huge slices of red onion, lettuce, and tomato as toppings it makes me want to see if there's one in Toronto and they're just as good there.

With dinner out of the way at about 9, I head back to the hotel and call it a day.

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