Kyoto, Japan
from the foreign female perspective
Day : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

We had no choice but the check out of J-Hoppers this morning, as they were booked solid from that point forward well before I was able to make a reservation. Luckily there were three open beds at the Utano Youth Hostel, which, despite being a 40 minute bus ride from the station, appeared to be nothing short of a miracle given the over-crowded city stuffed with tourists trying to see the sakura.

After a leisurely breakfast of double-strong tea for me and ramen for the boys in the cozy lounge, we bid farewell to Evan the Australian and made our way downstairs. The owner gave us permission to leave our luggage in the storage room until later in the evening, which saved us that previously mentioned 40 minute bus ride, and we chatted with him for a little while before finally setting out for the day.

With our trusty 500 yen all-day bus passes in hand, we boarded the nearest 202 and were on our way to 二条. Despite boasting "nightingale floors" that squeaked incessantly with the heavy visitor foot traffic, we were not impressed after having to shell out 600 yen to see the thing. We wandered through the Palace section, admiring the paintings on the walls and trying to find a way to appreciate the over-simplified pine trees that were smattered along most available flat surfaces. The coolest part of the Palace was the plethora of red-tasseled sliding doors, ornate enough to be fit for the shogun himself, behind which his bodyguards were hidden.

Unfortunately the gardens were mostly blocked off, including the elusive Island of Eternal Happiness situated in the middle of a huge pond. But it was a gorgeous sunny day and it was hard to stay mad.

Our next stop was only a few bus stations away, the 京都御所. The grounds were massive and covered in a smallish grey gravel, which became uncomfortable to walk upon after half an hour or so. We hit up the nearest vending machine for caffeine and wandered around the enclosed areas, finally discovering that it was necessary to have a permit to get past any of the guards.

Thankfully we found the Agency of the Imperial Household and were able to obtain said permits, which appears to be nothing more than a ritualistic formality (much like the majority of paperwork in Japan), during which we were required to write down our passport/alien registration numbers, get a stamp, and join an English-speaking tour. No one cared to do a background check on us to see if we had a history of killing Asian emperors or hiding bombs in secluded corners, so it felt like a waste of effort.

The tour was ridiculous. The guide appeared to speak English effectively enough, but her pronunciation was enough to leave even the most forgiving ears burning. For those who are not familiar with the Japanese accent, it involves a process I call katakanaification, which means all syllables are broken into consonant/vowel pairs regardless of their true pronunciation, which quickly turns the English language into an ugly, incomprehensible (to those who aren’t used to it) mess. If I had to hear the word "pa-ra-su," "i-zu," or "ro-ya-ru" one more time, it would have been the death of me.

Not that I claim to speak Japanese perfectly, mind you. But I’m not a professional tour guide either.

The tour was filled with strange looking people who less sensitive souls might call freaks. One middle-aged spindly woman had buzzed dark hair with a streaky, bright blonde, shoulder length braid dangling over her right ear. Her companion was a much younger, albeit grey-haired, mullet ponytailed man with an impressive beer belly. But these two paled in comparison to the strangest tour member of all : German Barbie. She was a stout woman with hair dyed a ridiculous white-blonde, crimped into straggly nastiness, and held back with a wide pink headband. Her face was covered in a mask of makeup, her eyes like black pits, but it was her outfit that cinched the deal. Pale pink pants, a white frilly dress shirt stuffed under a tight bright pink sleeveless sweater, all of which were obviously and painfully too tight and small. Her purse was akin to a pink bowling ball with straps attached. Her companion was a shifty looking dude with a video camera who kept grabbing her behind and smiling lewdly.

The palace was nice enough. It was good to be able to actually go into the inner compound, which is impossible to do in Tokyo unless it’s the Emperor’s birthday or New Years. The entire place had the air of an abandoned museum, and it turns out the current Emperor has only ever even visited his Kyoto Palace three times in his entire life.

I wish I were so lucky as to be royalty with a huge palace in every major city regardless if I actually needed to use them regularly.

We wandered through the garden areas a little more before leaving. The sakura were beautiful, of course, and everything was crowded. The boys were fiending for lunch, so we hopped on a bus to (Ginkakuji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) and ate at a little restaurant near there. The temple was perhaps the best one in Kyoto, I think. There were huge gardens of sculpted sand, extensive gardens consisting of traditional flora, and a beautiful moss-covered ground beneath everything. There were many flowering trees, and where the blossoms had fallen, it looked like they had been carefully arranged around the base of the trunk in a perfectly random pattern that drew the eye like a magnet.

Kyle decided to tarnish the serenity of the area with a massive bout of flatulence directed towards the shrine of Ashikaga Yoshimasu, the shogun who had built and lived in the impressive house before it was converted into a temple. This led to unceasing giggling, outright laughter, ridiculous smiles, and an overall spectacle that didn’t coincide with the atmosphere of the place at all. But it was fun.

It was starting to get dark at this point, and Aaron wanted to run back to the Gion/Kiyomizudera area to buy some souvenirs. I knew one of the main goals behind the mission was for the boys to obtain another set of matching wristbands, so I played along.

Aaron bought a necklace to match Kyle’s engraved "Kyoto Kowboy," an "Ichi-ban" shirt to match Kyle’s Ichi-ban headband purchased back in Tokyo, and I can’t even recall the rest. Those boys think along similar lines, or so it appears.

We took the bus back to J-Hoppers to pick up our luggage, talked with the owner some more, and made it all the way to Utano a little before the check-in cutoff of 10:30pm. As we approached the building from the road, not only did we marvel at the secluded silence permeating the atmosphere, but also at the oppressive stench wafting from the general vicinity. Upon entering the building, we discovered it to be a huge, crowded, and sadly very dirty place.

We were also separated by gender, which meant I had to unpack my things from the suitcase Aaron and I were sharing and stow my stuff away in a wooden box attached to the ceiling above my top bunk bed in Room 3 of the women’s quarters on the first floor. Aaron and Kyle had to go up to the second floor, an area I never saw. My roommates were all Japanese and, naturally, assumed I couldn’t speak the language without even asking. They said hello as I entered, which I amicably returned, but then they immediately began conversing about how massive my suitcase was, how big I was, and other things directly related to my presence that were a little bold. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I could understand, as this has become an expected occurrence, and immediately left to return the suitcase to Aaron and read in the lounge. I wasn’t gong to waste the energy wondering why overweight Japanese women still call me fat when I am half their size despite being two feet taller.

The three of us were disappointed that night.

Day : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6