2004-07-08

Kyoto Adventure

I don't have any recent things to post about now, so I'll share the events of an interesting day I had while in Japan. On that day, I went to Kyoto and back (from Tokyo). It's going to read like scribbled personal thoughts (which are in parentheses) and journal entries. I basically modified the stuff in the journal I kept, adding descriptive and helpful details.
Warning: It is quite long. Seriously, it's really long. Read it when you have 5-10 minutes to spare.

December 12, 2003. The temperature in Kyoto was about 17 degrees Celsius during the day and 11 at night.

1 - Departure

6:00 - Alarm rings. (Why the f**k is the alarm blaring at -- oh, right!) Got out of bed around 6:10 and took a shower. Ready to go at around 6:30, checked and then double-checked my Shinkansen tickets, digital camera, packed a few mikans (clementines, I think), then left.

6:40 - Walking to the nearest JR train station, Mejiro, in light rain. (Hope it won't rain in Kyoto!) Got to Mejiro half-soaked at 6:55 and hopped on the Yamanote train bound for Tokyo Station [ed. note: Well, from Mejiro they're all bound for Tokyo. All roads may lead to Rome, but all railroads seem to lead to Tokyo :)].

7:30 - Arrived at Tokyo Station. Took about 20 minutes to find the Shinkansen platforms. (Man, this place is huge! Way too many levels below ground...) Found out I missed the scheduled train, so have to wait until 8:30 for the next one.

8:30 - Got on the train. Nobody seems to care about your ticket; they don't check it, ever. The line is called the Nozomi Express, which roughly translates into "Hope Express". Making stops at Shinagawa, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, I didn't want to miss my stop, which is Kyoto obviously. (Started getting sleepy though, guess I should have slept earlier last night...)

9:30 - The train arrives at Nagoya. Nagoya doesn't seem to have any distinctive features. It seems to be a smaller, grayish version of Tokyo. (Maybe it was the grey weather) Fully awake now, I'm trying to comprehend the Japanese news stories being displayed on the wall LCD (they're flashing across the wall at unrealistic speeds, of course :P)

2 - Arrival

10:10 - Kyoto at last! And it's sunny here too! Got off the train, and saw quite a sight in the station lobby: Hundreds if not thousands of uniformed high school students waiting with their teacher/tour guides. [note: Kyoto and nearby Nara were ancient capitals of Japan and they have high cultural and historical significance] Asked for a tour map from the station office, and received a nice and detailed one for free. I set out to explore.

10:20 - Exiting the station, I became quite disoriented. (Where's north? Darn tourist map seems to have everything in order except for directions!!!)

3 - Orientation

10:30 - Found my location on the map, sat down, then started planning out the best method of exploring the city in a day. (The railway system seems to be on par with Toronto's. Oh my. Guess I should just walk... at least that way I'll see the most of the city)

10:45 - With course plotted, I set out on the longest and most memorable trip of my life. The generally circular course chosen was highly efficient, (with no knowledge of C&O too :P) consisting of nearly 41km of walking [note: measured at home the next day, using a real map this time :D] and a two-station hop on the Kyoto subway.

4 - Exploring Kyoto: Temple Visits

10:55 - Reached Nishi-honganji temple. (Wow, amazing!) The temple gardens are meticulously maintained. Not many people seem to be visiting. (I wonder where all the high school students are...)

11:10 - Reached Higashi-honganji temple. (The gardens here are even more beautiful!) Groups of high school students are now flooding into the temple.

11:15 - On the way to the next temple. Became slightly lost [note: please don't ask me what 'slightly lost' means :P] and received help from a local. (Very nice guy I think, I mean, he had to listen to my Japanese)

11:20 - Passed by some heavy construction. (Looks like they're building a much-needed and welcome extension to Kyoto's railway system) Opened my knapsack only to find half the mikans squished and some of the juices soiling the digicam case. (Oh crap! My uncle is going to kill me!) [note: the 6-megapixel digicam was bought only a week ago]

11:35 - Third (group) of temples. There are four in the area all situated around Kyoto Park Hotel. Took more photos and headed north, toward the temples at the base of the eastern mountain range.

11:40 - Roads started to become hilly. Quite taxing to walk/climb. [note: It's not that bad...climbing is unnecessary] About 5 minutes later, I ran into another huge mob of high school students. I was wearing a navy blue jacket that looked like a school uniform, with buttons, a high collar and all that, so I actually mingled into that mob quite well.

11:55 - Arrived at and explored Kiyomizu temple. Quite large. Found out the xD memory card only had room for 60 more photos. [revelation: 6 megapixels means less pictures] Started deleting some old photos and rationing the precious leftover bytes.

12:10 - Passing through and briefly touring two more temples since I may not have enough time before the sun sets around 5 PM. Heading towards the famous Gion Corner. There's a Kaburenjo theater here as well, although there was no performance going on when I was there.

12:20 - Reached Gion. It's a really small place, but crammed full of goodness. Took many photos. (Getting hungry, gotta find a place to eat...) Headed for the large Maruyama Park complex of temples.

12:30 - Passed through Yasaka shrine along the way to Maruyama. Crossed the busy Higashioji-dori Ave. (Cool chirping at the major intersections are quite useful for the blind. It seems that the north-south streets have different sounds to distinguish them from the east-west streets.) [note: Mississauga and Richmond Hill also have sounds at some intersections but do not have separate sounds for N-S and E-W streets.]

12:40 - Reached Maruyama Park. Passed through 3 temples, and reached the Miyako. Headed north towards the famous Heian Shrine. Met some Maiko girls and took some pictures. [note: I didn't know that they are called "Maiko" until I was back in Tokyo. There, I was asked by my aunt whether or not I'd seen some Maiko, and mistaking the term for "Michael", I was quite confused. I finally figured it out after a day or so.]

12:55 - Passed by several old but well-maintained museums and reached Okazaki Park. Heian Shrine is just a minute away. The small Okazaki lake/pond is quite nice. [note: much better than Columbia Lake at Waterloo. Columbia was drying up last year...] Starting to head westward towards Kyoto's main subway line, the Keihan-Ohtoh Line.

1:15 - Walked through 3 more relatively small temple gardens. Bought two o-nigiris at a local convenience store. [note: an o-nigiri consists of a delicious inner core - can be kalbi, ume, salmon, etc. - and rice wrapped around it forming a small triangular shaped meal, with nori wrapped around the triangle's sides.]

5 - Exploring Kyoto: Kyoto University

1:30 - Finished eating and reached the subway. (The station is really small, just like Toronto's!) Traveled north for 2 stations and got off at the northwest corner of Kyoto's university complex. There are many medical buildings just to the south of here. Headed east towards Kyoto University's main campus.

1:50 - Arrived at Kyoto University. Explored the campus for a while.

2:00 - Went into the Foreign Student Affairs Office. [note: I'm just translating the names here, don't know if they're really correct] Inquired about the university's graduate programs and such. Found out they have many Waterloo grads studying there :) I was told by the office staff to go to the Main Administrative Office and talk to some people there. (Okay... I might be in over my head now: Is my Japanese sufficient or will I end up making a fool of myself? I'll probably never know, but at least the people here are really nice) They also told me that Kyoto is Japan's most selective (implying) best university. [note: I was later told by my family in Tokyo that, well, the University of Tokyo is Japan's #1 university. Oh well, go figure :P]

2:15-ish - Went into the Main Administrative Office and received more information. KyotoU doesn't have a faculty of mathematics [note: few universities do] but they have faculties of science and information technology [note: again, translated by me. I'm pretty sure "science" is translated properly, but "information tech" is probably better translated as "comp sci", now that I think about it]. (Well, I guess comp sci is offered here, although they don't exactly go by that name) The staff here were even nicer: One of the office ladies offered to escort me to the Information Tech building to meet one of the professors there. (Okay, sure why not...I'm feeling foolishly brave today!)

2:25-ish - Arrived at Prof. Nakamura's office. He welcomed me in, I thanked the lady, she bowed slightly and left. (Left me alone to die! Ah!!! I don't know what to say to this prof. I've finished 1 year of undergrad and know nothing! uh oh...) Well, he started asking me about my interests and I did my best to reply. He ordered some coffee for us, and he talked about the programs at Kyoto that are related to mathematics. After a good 20 mintues of talking, I learned about the various things I have to do in order to study there, like taking [and passing] the Japanese Language Proficiency Test - Level 1. He told me that one of his current graduate students is a comp sci grad from Waterloo. (It seems like they respect UW's comp sci program, but I couldn't tell if they had the same feeling towards math - well, they don't exactly have graduate math. I don't know if I want to do comp sci though; although I do okay in the course and love the theory, I suck at the actual programming projects. Well, back to the topic...) We exchanged business cards, I conferred my thanks, bowed, then left.

2:50 - Exiting the campus, I headed east, towards one of the most famous sites in Kyoto - the Ginkakuji Temple. The sky was clouding up, then it began to rain for about 2 minutes, and then stopped. Miraculous. It became partly cloudy by the time I reached the base of the Ginkakuji hill.

6 - Exploring Kyoto: Ginkakuji Temple

3:25 - After a long walk, I arrived at Ginkakuji. This temple is famous enough to demand an entry fee. I paid the 500 yen (about $6), received a colourful brochure, and walked through a long, green and leafy corridor to enter the temple complex. It is situated at the base of a hill, and near the top of the same hill is a "big" mark, called Daimonji.

3:30 - While exploring the temple grounds, I found and photographed several neat things: a natural spring, the main temple itself, a Mt. Fuji sculpture made from gravel, a panoramic view of Kyoto from the mountain, and several fascinating ponds. I also met several tourists from Hong Kong and Shanghai there.

7 - Exploring Kyoto: Kyoto Imperial Palace

4:10 - Left the Ginkakuji's temple grounds. The sun is starting to set already. Heading for the Kyoto Imperial Palace now. (I wonder whether it'll be as majestic as the Tokyo one)

4:50 - Crossed the Kamo bridge. A nice, far, and clear view of the north and south can be obtained on this bridge. The Kamo bridge also overlooks a fork in the main river running through Kyoto: the Kamo River. Very scenic.

5:00 - After a long walk, Kyoto Palace at last. It took another 10 minutes to get near the inner areas of the compound though. Walked through the nice gardens at the palace: peach (momo) garden, sakura (cherry) garden, and the fish ponds. They were not in bloom of course, but were still quite beautiful. Most of the place is public, unlike Tokyo's Imperial Palace.

8 - Nijo Castle and Mountain Sunset

5:30 - Dusk. Arrived at Nijo castle but it was closed already. So, I took out my camera and took a few pictures of the outside. Headed southeast into the heart of downtown Kyoto.

5:50 - Beautiful sunset over the mountains to the west. More spectacular however, was the sun's golden reflection off of the mountains to the east. It was very breathtaking. Kyoto is lucky to be surrounded by mountains. (I think it helps stop the rain too, like before :P)

6:00 - I arrived in downtown Kyoto looking for a place to eat. (After all that walking, all I want is food! FOOOOOOD! Not wanting to spend to much money, I settled for a high-end fast food chain. No, not McDonald's. It's like a Wendy's equivalent, but I think it's better.)

6:50 - After sitting at the restaurant for over 40 minutes eating pizza and reading the various documents from KyotoU, I left the table and walked back into nighttime Kyoto.

9 - Exploring Kyoto: Kyoto at Night

7:00 - Walked along the brightly lit streets of downtown Kyoto. It's a very busy place like Tokyo and the people walk very fast, though not quite as fast as the folks back in Tokyo. (I think they are nicer than Tokyo-jin though :) I have yet to see Osakans walk - I heard they are even faster than the people in Tokyo. Maybe they're even faster than co-op students at Waterloo :P)

7:20 - Entered a few department stores here and there, but found nothing extraordinary. Started making towards Kyoto Tower and Kyoto Station. I walked down an avenue lined with colourfully illuminated water fountains along the sides and on the island in the middle. Soon, the shining lights at the top of Kyoto Tower became visible.

10 - Kyoto Station and the Big Department Store

7:40 - Arriving back in Kyoto Station, I gave my family in Tokyo a call to reassure them that I hadn't got myself lost somewhere or died of exhaustion. (My train leaves at 9:20, so I still have plenty of time...) I went to explore the department store on top of the station.

7:50 - Holy shmikes, the store is huge! Its design has an almost boastful nature to it: The escalators are arranged in a row so that you can see the very top from the very bottom. Surely, no department store in Tokyo has this much spatial luxury! (Looking diagonally upwards from the 1st floor to the 9th makes you seem very very small) I toured the store for an hour, browsing through some expensive things I couldn't afford, checking out the nice marble washrooms, and finally reached the top floor.

8:55 - Upon coming to the escalators again, this time going downwards, I looked all the way down to the first floor. What a breathtaking view! I left and started looking for the platform where my only way back to Tokyo was.

9:20 - The Nozomi Express impeccably departs at exactly 21:20:05. [Note: my watch is always a couple seconds fast]

11 - The Homecoming

11:11 (~ish. Just to make it look cool :P) - While the train was nearing Tokyo Station, I used the cell phone that was lent to me by my friend and called my aunt and uncle. They'll meet me at Ikebukuro Station.

11:45 - Home sweet home! Back in Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro [note: known as the working man's Tokyo, to distinguish it from tourist sites such as Roppongi and Akihabara. Ikebukuro has two large department stores: Seibu and Tobu -- Sei meaning west and Tö meaning "east" -- but with Seibu located to the east of Ikebukuro Station and Tobu to the west. Interesting (fushigi) eh?].

12:20-ish? - Arrived at the house. Back in my room, plopped onto the futon and fell into a deep sleep.

12 - The End!

With 41km in Kyoto and 3km in Tokyo, I walked at least 44km today! I could've finished a marathon :P Many thanks go to my boss, who arranged and paid for me to go on this trip before my term was over. Doumo arigatou gozaimashita! ^_^ Also my thanks and my amazement go to all who read through this long post!

6 comments:

Bao said...

show us the pictures :) ^^

That sounded like a wonderful trip. Wish I was there.

Jason Yu said...

Sure. I should probably burn them onto a CD then.
Here's a link to a map of Kyoto. It'll come in handy if you want to see where everything is and stuff :)

Kyoto tourist map

Ambrose said...

That does sound really fun, and besdies the train tickets, all you spent was 500 yen on entrance fees. So everything was like...free!

So what are Mikao girls? Are they some kind of robot or something?

Makes me think that it'll be nice sometime if we all took a trip to Europe or Japan or something, just walking around and sight-seeing. But I believe that a guide is needed, so either we need someone who's been there already or join a tour or something. Maybe we should do that when we grad or something...but we grad at different times, kinda...eh...

Jason Yu said...

Maiko girl: The Wikipedia entry here is pretty helpful.

Yeah, that's a good idea. I want to visit Europe the most, but I wouldn't mind going on a trip to Hong Kong or Singapore either...

Alan said...

Same with me. Actually, I'd be pretty much interested in going on a trip to anywhere, since I've never been outside of North America. =(

Jason Yu said...

Hey Alan! Are you back from your retreat, or are you just blogging from the campsite? :P