I had briefly dropped by Kyoto for a night during my pass, but then shot off again to make full use of the free travel, but not without the plan of ending in Kyoto and having a proper look around.
Kyoto is Japans number 1 tourist destination, and one of the main must-see destinations in Japan. A combination of temples (lots and lots of temples), and allegedly what most people think of when they think of Japan - and no, in this case, I don`t mean either David Sylvian or Ninja turtles - it was somewhere that I had deliberately left until the end. At the start I wasn`t sure whether I would like Japan or not, and as such decided that i`d leave the best until last, to save me getting disapointed after seeing it and just leave. And so, it was the obvious place to end my pass and spend a good few days. Especially with the excellent Irek happy to let me kip on his straw.
Zen garden, Kyoto
Admittedly It turned out that I actually loved Japan, but I sure as heck didn`t know that at the time, and by the time i got to Kyoto, It was there that I was expecting to be the let down. But it wasn`t. Without wanting to sound like some sort of stat freak, i thought i`d shamelessly steal this overview from another website, called "Kyoto website", or some such, and paraphrase it, very badly. It was the Japanese capital for over 1,000 years, and the heart of culture and politics. Kyoto is mostly unique (i know that it can`t be mostly unique, but i want to say that, so I will) within Japan in that it was virtually untouched during World War II, leaving a myriad of temples, shrines and a castle intact. Admittedly it was only the shortlist of 4 to have the atomic bomb dropped on it - and Nagasaki wasn`t - but was removed near the end for reasons that excape me now. The legacy has been recognized by UNESCO, which has designated seventeen separate sites within Kyoto's borders as World Cultural Heritage sites. In addition, 20% of Japan's national treasures and 15% of the country's cultural properties can all be found in Kyoto, whilst half of all Japanese Nobel Prize winners have been Kyoto University researchers (and no, i don`t know how many there were. But 1 person from 2 would still be half of all of Japans winners).
That was just a waste of space and filler, really, wasn`t it?
Flame throwers and fire performers, plus Irek and the guys drumming by the river
In all honesty, i didn`t really even do all that much in Kyoto. Staying with the excellent Irek - who some may remember as being one of Ala`s Polish companions who i spent some time with in Siberia - I just wandered for most of a week. More than maybe anywhere else bar Harajuku, Kyoto is great for people watching, and I spent hours just trawling around some of the central areas watching the locals. I even saw some true honest to god geisha`s on their way to appointments (or white girls going to fancy dress parties is possible, I suppose) in some of the back alleyways around Shinjo.
Byodo-in Temple in Uji City, near Kyoto
I did make an effort to see a few of the most famous sites. During my pass i had spent a few hours in Uji, a small city south of Kyoto, and home to the lovely Byodo-in Temple, which because of my timing I had pretty much to myself which was great. I spent some time around the Jisho-ji Temple, also known as the Ginkakuji Temple or Silver Pavilion (despite not being silver because they forgot), and wandering around the grounds and through the autumn leaves, changing into a multitude of colours, and for which the Japanese are real suckers for. And of course, visited one of the most famous places in all of Japan, the Rokuon-ji Temple, also known as the Kinkakuji Temple or Golden Pavilion (and in this case, which actually is covered in gold), which was certainly nice if not mind-blowingly amazing and filled with more Japanese tourists than i think I have seen in one place outside of Oxford...
Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion
With my normal immaculate planning, I had also cunningly timed my visit to coincide with the visit of some American Bushy chappie. I must admit I would have loved to have seen the expression on his face in the Kyoto state guesthouse - where he was guest of honour at the opening of a new wing - when he was shown his traditional room, completely with tatami (straw) on the floor and thin wispy paper decorations and scrolls, and thats about it. Bush and I have a bit of a history, in that he periodically decides to hold summits or meetings in places where i`m just arriving, and obviously all hell breaks loose. Protests and marches are the norms, as are crazy numbers of police, road and attraction closures, and secutrity checks. Makes life miserable. In contrast to one of my last encounters, in Roma a couple of years ago when he was visiting Pope John Paul II, this time wasn`t quite as interesting. I got stopped by so many police for ID checks that you would have thought that I was going to meet him face to face rather than just get home somewhere a few Kilometres away. In Roma, Together with a few random - oddly enough, Japanese - tourists (i think this was after Tina had left, but i could be wrong. Btw, Helloooo Trondheim), I managed the not unimpressive trick of walking out of an alleyway into a square being guarded by about 6 deep police and hoardes of protesters and welcomers. It took a few minutes before i realised what was wrong. Everybody weas looking away and we were in a calm-ish square gap. And then a helicopter came in to start to land. Yup, we had actually walked entirely unwittingly and without being challenged inside the police cordon. Getting out was trickier, and not the odd policeman gave some extremely strange and startled looks at being passed by a half dozen tourists trying to get out from the area that they were carefully guarding against any entrants. So I suppose many ID checks are not a bad thing. Especially as everybody i seem to meet quickly concludes that i`m almost certainly a spy.
And I even managed to hook up with my first TPer of the trip. And so poor old Zags is unfortunate enough to join a list containing the likes of Raven, GretaGarbo, Yerman, Lil J (most of whom dissappeared shortly afterwards. I swear it`s a coincidence) and our esteemed leader, the I am. You all have my deep sympathies, but in honesty, it`s all your own fault. Zindy - Zags - is great (unlike most of the rest of you lot...) and we spent a few hours just wandering around at random, watching Japanese people and being bemused.
After almost a week in Kyoto, i took the slow train back to Chigasakai (or rather, many slow trains. But it was dirt cheap) to stay with the wonderful Soness for the last time, for what felt like a home coming. I may have already said this (i can`t remember what the hell i`ve already writen) but Soness`s place has actually felt more like home for some unknown reason that anywhere i`ve actually even lived in donkeys years, let alone visited. Despite Nibbles confirming that i`m allergic to cats and making me stream everytime I visit. Most odd.
I then headed up into Tokyo for the last time to hook up with a couple of people and take a final wander around. Spent 3 nights, and mostly just wandered at random, firstly with Liz, 2 days into her 7month RTW trip (Heck, even i`m jealous, and I`m already on a RTW) from TT. And the deliverer, god bless her, of a new supply of teabags. We took in a Kabuki theatre show, something I had wanted to do, but hadn`t gotten around to before. The show actually lasts for about 5 hours, but tickets are also sold for single sessions, mostly for stupid gaijin like ourselves, who just want to watch but don`t have the faintest idea what is going on. Kabuki is a traditional theatre style, performed entirely by men - originally it had been entirely by women, but some law was passed by somebody relevant a few hundred years ago and so men took over. (That`s why you read this utter drivel, really, isn`t it? My continous cutting edge attention to detail and factual information). Exactly what happened, we don`t really know, but it was the last act, was the ending of a love story, and some people wearing facncy costumes died miserably. Definitely worth a visit.
Took in the metropolitan towers at night again, for another great night view over the city (no Fuji, but at night, i`ll let it off), and spent a day trawling around Harajuku, Meji, Shibuya and other assorted sites, including assorted tiny Galleries in Ginza where Liz got to dress up in traditional Kimono (photos follow) before in collusion with another girl, Mary, and the Hawaiian ambassador (Dwaine - who I managed to talk into heading out clubbing in Roppongi, despite being warned about my Kiki experiences. Which reminds me. That girl is Seriously nuts, and still bombarding me with emails. Even reporting her address as Spam hasn`t helped. If anybody happens to want a not unattractive japanese wife within the next few days, let me know and i`ll arrange for you to get together) decided that we should probably do the cooking thing, poison most of a hostels worth of guests - anybody who ive ever cooked for or seen my attempts can attest at that - and buy what is not, in fact, a large bottle of white spirit, but is in fact a 4litre botlle of Sake. Yup, a 4litre bottle of 25% alcohol for barely 10gbp. And they wonder why this country is full of alcoholics?!
Before I left, I also spent a day wandering around aimlessly with Jon, my old Rugby drinking pal from Copenhagen (watching the world cup in 2003 was not pretty. Time differences and living in a non rugby area mean`t a 4.45am rise, to get a 5.15 train for 2 hours to another country to go to a pub to watch rugby and start drinking by 8am. It dawned on us that it was getting a bit farcial one morning drinking at 7.30am - a Welshman, Scot and Kiwi watching Fiji-Italy with French commentary in an Irish bar in Denmark and loving it). Tradition dictated a trip to the Dubliners for breakfast - my first fry up in many months, and whilst not a classic, the first bacon i`d seen in 5months went down extremely well - although despite it being an autumn international day with some interesting games, we were both too knackered to stay up late enough to watch. I fancied a cup of tea instead. I really am getting old.
And with that, time was running short. And so, I`ve just made the long trek by bus back to Nagasaki (interesting delays in Tokyo due to the arrival of yet another head of state, M. Putin on this occassion), to sort some cr*p out, and tomorrow i head to Fukuokoa/Hakata to leave Japan.
It`s definitely time for me to leave.
And immigration will happily atest to that.
Hope all good, and a few more pics to follow when i`ve left.