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Japan Tour – Kyoto, Japan

Thursday, October 21

On Tour
On Tour
This is the day we went to Kyoto. Kyoto is the second capital of Japan. It was the home of the family clan who came into power after Nara. We board the Shinkansen,bullet train. The ride over open countryside is nice. We see lots of bamboo. At one point, Ichiro breaks out a package of monaka, sort of cookie or bean jam-filled wafer. As he passes these around, when he comes to me, he says, “Sorry, Tom, this is for ladies only!” Right away, I get out my notepad and start writing about what I now think is some ritualistic custom on the bullet train allowing only ladies to get some sort of treat.

To be sure I’ve got it right, I ask Ichiro to spell monaka. I see a perplexed look on his face that says, “What in the hell is he doing or thinking?” I tell him what I have concluded – and he and some of the ladies start laughing. It seems that Ichiro simply was sharing some cookies and, at first, he wasn’t sure there would be enough to go around. That’s when he said, “Ladies only!” Realizing there were, in fact, more than enough to go around – and as if to assuage my bruised ego – Ichiro offers me one. The joke’s on me! I’ll chock it up to, “Lost in Translation!”

We get to Kyoto and to the El Inn only to find that we can’t check into our rooms until after 2:00 p.m. We go to the station and purchase a two-day bus pass and proceed to see the sights of Kyoto. After a short bus ride, we find ourselves walking along what is called the “Philosopher’s Path.” It is a stone-lined walkway alongside a stream that comes from the mountains and is a little over a mile long. The canal and walkway are lined with nice shade trees and there are numerous shops and boutiques along the way. Such an idyllic setting – it is with mixed emotions that we then hear that 23 people were killed in the aftermath of the typhoon that passed just north of here during the night.

We arrive at the bottom of a steep hill where there is a temple at the top, which is on our agenda. Esther invites Lil to accompany her on a rickshaw ride with a driver whose name is Yo. I am assured that Yo will deposit the ladies at the entrance to the temple at the completion of the ride. I decide to sit this one out and it is only later that I hear from Lil that Yo was the neatest thing since sliced bread. I think she would have taken him home with her if it were possible. Yo had a real gift of gab and spoke English pretty well. Lil and Esther toured the temple garden area and Lil really led me to believe that I had truly missed something special. There were, among other things, many beautiful and well manicured gardens and sand sculptures. And there was lots of moss – something Lil is especially enamored with.

We finally go back to our hotel and get checked in. The baggage has arrived from Osaka (remember – we had our bags shipped to Kyoto and took overnight bags to Nara), and all is ok. Ten minutes later, we are headed back to the downtown area for dinner. Since this is going to be the last place some of us will be together for dinner, we had previously agreed that it would be a nice gesture if we chipped in and paid for our hosts’ dinners. Toward the end of our meal, Kees stands up and gives a wonderful and very eloquent impromptu speech conveying our sentiments and the fact the dinner is on us. Everyone was very touched and there weren’t many dry eyes.

We then go to Gion Corner Theatre. This is traditional Japanese theatre arts. This includes bunraku (puppet shows), gagaku (courtly music), koto and shamisen music performances, ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), kyogen (classic comic dramas), tea ceremony and dance – the full gamut of Japanese stage arts. This lasted a little over an hour and by now the effects of yet another long and full day were beginning to tell. We got back to our hotel and were glad to take a shower and hit the sack.

Friday, October 22

Riding in Style
Riding in Style
After our usual Western breakfast, we headed out for a subway trip to Nijo-jo Castle. This is the place where some of the movie, The Last Samurai, was filmed. The place, features specially constructed wooden floors that have a design feature that causes them to squeak (hence, the nightingale sound) when trodden upon. The purpose of this was to prevent enemies from sneaking into the place and being able to mount an attack or surprise anyone. Another impressive feature at most of the temple and shrine sites was the massive stone blocks that were often used in constructing foundations, walls and barricades. These limestone blocks often weighed several tons and were sculpted with such precision that they fit together without the need for mortar.

A couple of amusing things happened this day that I would like to share. At one point, K C and I were taking a break at a temple. We were seated on benches at a wooden table in an open area that was under the balcony of a building. All at once, I heard K C chuckle as he pointed to a sign on the table which read, “Please do not feed a pigeon.” I think we had just undergone an arduous climb to this area and I must have been in need of some comic relief. At any rate, reading that sign really tickled my funny bone and I started laughing out loud.

A while later, we were walking somewhere and I was bringing up the rear in our procession as we were kind of straggled out at that point. Lil was just ahead of me and I think I was concentrating on something ahead in the distance – remember now, everything we were seeing was new to us. It was raining lightly and I was only dimly aware of a Japanese fellow as he walked by me from the opposite direction. Just as he passed from my peripheral vision, he snarled and barked at me – like a dog! I was so startled that I actually jumped a bit. As I turned to face my attacker, I noticed that he had a small dog in his coat pocket – one that had obviously taken an instant dislike to me. By now, Lil had come back to see what the commotion was and when I told her that I thought this guy had barked at me – well, I think something just snapped and we both started laughing hysterically. Gosh, I only hope now in looking back that that guy with the dog didn’t think we were nuts! Oh, well….

I forgot to mention that, at the beginning of this day, we had stopped at a deli store and purchased sandwiches, etc. for our lunch. This was so that we could later attend a parade that we now found ourselves heading toward in downtown Kyoto. A short distance from the subway outlet, we found ourselves a good vantage pointm, and settled in to watch what proved to be a two-hour long plus parade – the purpose of which was to commemorate Kyoto’s earlier days as the national capital. As parades go, this was a good one with lots of color and bright costumes. And having the sack lunches also hit the spot as it was well past lunch time by the time the parade began. There were horses and characters dressed as ancient Japanese warriors, princes, etc. There were also ladies with white facial makeup who seemed to command much attention.

Standing to watch the parade, while fun and entertaining, was tiresome. So we were glad to finally get back to our hotel room and rest up. We did some laundry using the coin operated facility that was conveniently located near our room. I also visited a nearby Internet Cafe‚ and sent some messages home to assure our kids that we hadn’t been affected by the typhoon. From here, I made arrangements to have our main baggage sent on to Tokyo and we just took a change of clothing and overnight stuff with us to Hiroshima.

This actually brought an end to the formal S-W gathering – although most of us had arranged to extend our stay in Japan and many of us actually traveled together. Thanks to our hosts, several of them accompanied us on this extended tour (as I have often said, the courtesy, helpfulness, and unselfishness that Miki, Mitsue, Ichiro, and Toshio each extended to us was simply mind boggling – and it certainly was greatly appreciated).

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Girls in Uniform
We said our farewells to Kees and Kekou who were leaving to go to a place south of Osaka, where they were beginning a lengthy pilgrimage hike. We didn’t spend a lot of time with them. However, we did talk to them on the train one day. Kees told us about his comic book shop in Amsterdam. As he talked while looking up over the top of his reading glasses, his hair a bit disheveled, he reminded me of Geppeddo in the story of Pinocchio. And then Kekou told us all about their parrot, Daantje, and how she finally rigged up a portable cage so that he could accompany them on some of their many hikes.

By now, I began to realize that K C had left our ranks and had headed back to Hong Kong. I felt badly realizing we wouldn’t be seeing him again and hadn’t said a proper goodbye – all the more reason for us to resolve to make the trip someday to Hong Kong and visit you, K C (wink!).

This completes our tour of Kyoto. We head for Hiroshima and then Tokyo – those will be other chapters.

(NOTE: I belong to a private International e-mail list server group for seniors called, Senior World, or S-W for short. My wife and I attended a gathering of this group in Japan in October, 2004. We had just spent the previous several days in Osaka & Nara.)