Friday, 19 November 2010


Friday 19th November 2010

MP3 track of the day: Ronin - The Last Samurai

Weather: Cold in the mornings, warm in the middle of the day

My alarm was set for 6am; however, once it had gone off, I made a quick decision that I didn't need two hours to get ready for my train journey and so I extended my alarm for another hour. When my alarm went off for the second time, at 7am, I did have to get up. Still I had bags of time and I made it to the train station with forty minutes to spare.

I waited for my train to come in and I then boarded; being at eight-thirty, in the morning on a working day, the train was packed. Still with the big seats and loads of leg room it didn't really feel it and so I got down to researching about Kyoto and eating the snacks that I had brought for breakfast and lunch.

The train trip passed without incident and I even managed to change trains correctly until I reached my destination. It was quite sad to step off the train as, with my rail pass expiring at the end of today, I knew that this would probably be my final rail journey within Japan. The train system here, as you would imagine, is punctual, quick, clean, spacious and well run. The only slight complaint would be the view along the south-western routes.

Now I say that this is probably my last rail journey however I still have to get back to Tokyo in two days time. A few days ago I had pretty much decided that, on this coming Sunday, I would take an over-night coach back to Tokyo, from Kyoto, instead of the train. This provided me with a few major benefits; firstly as the bus would leave around 10pm / 11pm it meant that I would have another full day in Kyoto (whats more, as it arrives in Tokyo at 7am, I would get a full day their too). Whereas because the train is so damn efficient (it only takes three hours to get to Tokyo, from Kyoto, by rail) I would have leave Kyoto at, say 4pm at the latest, to get into Tokyo at 7pm to get to a hostel in the dark. Also the train ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo costs around 12,000 yen (nearly £100 for one trip … glad I bought a rail pass) plus I would have to book a nights accommodation at 2,500 yen (£20.00) in Tokyo; Whereas the night bus only costs 5,000 yen (£38.00) and that includes a nights accommodation making it £82.00 cheaper … a no brainier really. Also, to make the most of my second day in Kyoto, I would check out of the Ryokan early and take my luggage to a key locker at the bus station; I would then leave my luggage there to go sightseeing and return near the time of my bus ... perfect. All I need to do, when I arrived in Kyoto, is check out the lockers, book my night bus to Tokyo, in two days time, and make sure that my directions to my Ryokan were correct.

My first port of call were the coin lockers to work out how they operated and how much it would cost to hire one for a day. The first bit was easy however I couldn't find the cost; I looked all over the place but all I found out was that the machines took 100 yen coins. Whats more, 99% of lockers were spoken for and this could present a problem for me in three days time. I therefore went to the information office where a lovely lady, who spoke English, first of all pointed me in the direction to where I needed to go to purchase my bus ticket and then secondly told me that the coin lockers cost 600 yen (£4.50) per day and that my directions to my accommodation were good, but she gave me a bus map just encase.

After paying 5,000 yen for my over night bus in two days time (the first bus departing Kyoto at 22:30 was fully booked so I went for the 23:50 bus and booked there and then just encase that bus became fully booked too.) I caught a local service bus that would drop me off near my Ryokan; the ladies in the tourist office had been very kind and they had written my bus stop, at my request, in Japanese so that I could show it to the driver to make sure I was on the correct bus. This also helped when a local gentleman, on the bus, took an interest in me and decided to help. When I arrived at my stop the gentleman let me know and I thanked him. I got off the bus and proceeded in the direction I thought my Ryokan was. I went around and around and around in circles trying to find my accommodation. I knew I was in the right area, but the roads are so small that it's like a maze and none of the locals, who cycled passed me, offered to help (still I didn't ask them either). In the end I went into a local shop where a nice lady took the Ryokan address from me, looked it up on 'Google', phoned the Ryokan, and found out that it was on the street behind the one that I was on. I thanked her and went to the street behind to find that I had been down that street already; I went down it again and I still couldn't find the damn place. I went into another local office where a lady predicted what I was going to ask and she walked me to a building that I had been passed four or five times.

Looking at the building there was only one little English sign located on the floor, near the plant pot ... I was not amused. As I went inside my attitude changed when I saw what I had booked. A Ryoken is a old style Japanese house, inside I had to take my shoes off and I was showed around by the owner; first of all I had to go up a giant step, onto a straw mat, that lead to a sliding door and into my 2-bed dorm. When I say bed, this is a traditional Japanese house where you sleep on the floor (my bedding was in the corner, folded up). Continuing along the straw mat path I reached the common room area with traditional small tables, pillows to sit on, a traditional little tea pot and a glass sliding door leading to a small traditional Japanese garden.

Outside there were three room which lead to a shower and basin, a toilet and a Japanese toilet (which I won't be using). The owner then smiled at me and said enjoy your stay. I recapped for a minute; I'm in a beautiful traditional Japanese house, in the middle of Kyoto (the prettiest and oldest Japanese city) all for around £20 per night … I had struck gold, solid gold and I was so excited about the experience that was about to follow I took some photos of the place straight away (which you can see on Flickr).

As I had just spent 5,000 yen on my overnight bus to Tokyo, 5,500 yen on two nights accommodation here money was low. I therefore headed out and got some cash out before having a look around the local area. As it had taken me longer to find my beautiful Japanese guesthouse than I originally thought, it was starting to get dark. I had time to look at two temple complexes before heading to a supermarket to by some tea and then finally head back at the Ryokan.

For tea today I had purchased something new which was a take-away noodle meal that, I thought, you only needed to add boiling water to before you ate it. Whilst the water was boiling I opened the package to reveal a few smaller packages inside; one contained meat, another noodles, another vegetables, another sauce and finally one with a spice of some-sort. I panicked a little as I didn't know what went in first and for how long etc to make sure the whole contents was fully cooked. I then realized that I was being out smarted by, what is the Japanese equivalent, of a 'pot noodle' and I therefore decided to chuck the whole lot into the boiling water at the same time and hope for the best … it tasted okay.

With that I chilled in the common room and worked out a plan of action for tomorrow. As I did this I read the drinks price list and noticed that they had Japanese Sake for sale. Now I don't drink alcohol, not for any religious reason it's just a) I don't like the taste 2) my parents never really had alcohol in the house when I grew up, therefore I never got a custom to it and d) after seeing the affects it can have to some people after a night out (my youngest brother at my sisters wedding for example) I'd rather not thank you. However how often are you going to try Japanese Sake in Japan? I therefore asked the guy if I could try just a very small amount and began to hand over the asking price of 300 yen. As I was only after a little bit he didn't charge me yet he gave me a full short of Sake in which I drank in two parts. It tasted like nothing, I suppose the most similar thing I can relate it to is whiskey but it had a alcoholic volume of 20% and a little kick to it. The owner laughed as I took a deep breathe in after emptying the cup.

Tonight I shall be having a early night as there isn't much to do when it's dark. So I'm in a old Japanese house with a day ahead looking at old magnificent temples … what could be better than this? Well actually, it would be nice if the little child in the room next to me would stop crying ... these walls are only made out of thin wood / paper.

Toodle Pip!

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