Monday, December 6, 2010

Kyoto: Day 1

        Allie and I woke up in the morning and left our hostel for the aquarium. There were statues outside of the aquarium that looked like some sort of fish with feet. They were so stange. We went inside – every ticket stand is automated. Japanese people trust each other a lot and there’s a big sense of security everywhere there. All tickets are acquired electronically because they trust that you’ll push the “adult” button and pay the adult admission. So different from America where people rip tickets to check your age.
        Anyway we went in, took pictures next to an enormous shark head in formaldehyde, saw some funny lookin fish and shopped a little in the aquarium gift shop. We bought little squid keychain things that kiss magnetically and each of us took one from the pair. We walked out the back of the aquarium and there was a dolphin show going on, but we missed it. :( There were also all sorts of little carnival rides – the whole aquarium turned into a water-creature themed park. It was awesome.
        We left and jumped on the train to Kyoto. It was only a 20 minute ride on a Shinkansen, which is the speed/bullet train that Japan is so famous for. We got onto a bus at the train station and rode it for a bit until we got to Gion, the district where our hotel was. The bus was SOOO crowded, it was so hard to move – especially with big, heavy packs on our backs. We jumped off the bus right in front of a little boutique that had geisha socks! They were socks that had a section for a big toe, and then a section for all the rest of the toes – like mittens for your feet! Needless to say, we each bought some.
        It was already twilight by the time we got to Kyoto, and we wandered for a bit until we found our hostel, A-yado Gion. Gion is the geisha district in Kyoto. There were some geishas walking around, although some women like to appear as geishas so they’ll rent the clothing and walk around and pose for pictures in their free time. We took naps and woke back up to head out to an illuminated temple that we had passed on our way in. It was called Chionin-ji (“ji” means temple in Japanese), and it was beautiful. It was all lit up with colors of gold and red, and had the classic architecture of flipped rooves. It looked perfect with the moon hanging above it, too. There were a lot of people there, and there was a choir of women singing such random songs at the entrance in both English and Japanese. We walked up and around the property until we came to a large temple. The paths leading to the temple were lined with luminaria with Japanese lettering on them.
We had to remove our shoes, which makes me think it was a Buddhist temple, and went inside. The inside of the temple was lit with candle light and there was a light hum of one or two monks behind the altar praying. People would come inside, wet their fingers on the altar in the front, hold their fingers in front of their mouths for a moment, wipe them on something on the altar and then fold their hands in front of them in prayer. The whole back/seating half of the room was covered in bamboo-mat floors, and there was a short wooden gate separating the ritual/prayer places behind the altar, where a big statue sat surrounded by candles, various gongs and decorations. It was so peaceful and beautiful and one of my favorite parts of Kyoto.
        We had planned to meet up with a bunch of my friends at our hostel at 7:30 pm. At 8:15 they showed up, and we were off. We went out to sushi for dinner, but it was SO expensive. $10 for 1 piece of a sea urchin roll. Wowza. Anyway after this, we wandered around for a while. All the streets are narrow, mostly one way, and the buildings lining them are built vertically, much like they were in Kobe. There were signed outside of  each building stacked on top of each other in the same order of the properties inside that buildig. Anyway, after walking into about 20 different little “bars” or “clubs” and finding only private parties, we found 1 bar with karaoke. There were two men sitting at the bar singing, and we sat at the only table in there and ordered some sake. They brought us an English song-selector, so we started off with Yellow Submarine, Uptown Girls (Corey’s pick, and yes he knew all the words without the teleprompter) and a few Queen tunes. Then we left and walked around until we found a British pub called the Pig and Whistle. I drank some Hoegaarden (sp?) and taught my friends how to play darts. It was so fun to have Allie there with me too and I’m happy she got to meet everyone. :)
        At the end of the night, Allie and I headed back to our hostel and my friends went back to theirs. We stumbled around the streets trying to find our way back to A-yado, but it took a long time even though we hadn’t gone very far. It was still a great night and I loved every minute of it!

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