Kyoto, Spring 2012: Days 0, 1

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The Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within seven days. For many Japanese people, it is longest vacation period of the year. I have never traveled in Japan during Golden Week before, but I decided to take advantage of the national holidays and… my Aunt Jan came to visit! We had quite the adventure.

Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture: April 28-May 3
Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture: May 3-May 9

Day 0: Friday, April 27th

The Friday before our epic adventure is worth mentioning because of my stroke of good luck. I had a school visit at one of my favorite far-away schools and I was not supposed to get back in to town until 4:30pm. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t packed yet and I still wanted to get to the gym and get all this other stuff done…

I taught 2nd period which ended at 10:25am, after which the vice principal told me:

“You can go home and prepare for your trip.”

I was ecstatic. (I could have hugged him, but I didn’t want to show that I was too enthusiastic about leaving, haha.) I got to take the soonest bus back to Hirosaki, go to the gym, clean up around the house, get my sister’s graduation party invitation finished, make dinner… Kyohei came over later in the afternoon, we had dinner, I packed my suitcase, and then we watched “Last Holiday.”

I stayed up stupid-late because I was nervous and antsy. I always get that way before a trip. Oh well!

 

Day 1: Saturday, April 28th

Woke up at 4am to leave the house before 5am. I took the very first train out of Hirosaki station at 5:16am. It surprised me how many people were on the train that early, but then again, it was Golden Week (super-high-season). I rode the Hayabusa shinkansen (again!!) from Shin-Aomori to Tokyo. (Had to change trains in Tokyo to get to Kyoto.) The first bullet train ride was interesting because I sat next to a Japanese gentleman from Tokyo who had been living in Hakodate, Hokkaido for 8 years. The rest of his family (and wife!!) were in Tokyo, but he had to live in Hakodate for work.

This situation is called “tanshin-funin” and it really confuses me. I heard someone translate it as “Business Bachelor” and I think that is pretty correct. An employee (usually a husband) gets transferred to another office and leaves the wife and/or family behind. My host dad has been living in Kobe (while everyone else lives in Tokyo) for many many years. I don’t think this sort of thing would work in the US. You just don’t hear of families being split apart for years and years. When my dad got the job in Minnesota, he went ahead and moved up there before we did for several months. But that was only until the rest of the family could come join him. But it’s normal in Japan.

After our chat, he gave me his business card, contact info, and said to let him know if I was ever in Hakodate. He also gave me a tiny sample-size vial of perfume that his friend had made. It was called “Samurai,” haha. Strange, I know.

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The ride from Tokyo to Kyoto was shorter and more uneventful. I ended up watching Legend of Korra and Say Yes To The Dress episodes on my iPhone. I also snoozed a little.

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I arrived at 12:01. The sun was shining and it was blazing-hot like summer. I was in heaven.. I could hardly believe it. I worked up a sweat walking from the station to the Yahata Guesthouse between Gojo and Shijo. No staff were available at the time and the main door was locked, so I just sat in the genkan area (entryway) for a while and poured over the tourist guides that I had picked up at the station. Once I had rested and cooled off, I ventured out again, heading back for the station unburdened by luggage. It was so hot and sunny that it almost felt like Texas.

As I was walking around the city, seeing Kyoto in spring for the first time, I began to feel a kind of culture shock. The tall buildings, the throngs of people, the mass of foreigners, the heavy traffic on the roads… It was so strange to be walking around a city in Japan where I was not the only foreigner. When I see a non-Japanese person in Hirosaki, I usually know their face or have seen them before. But in Kyoto it was like a sea of non-Japanese faces that I did not know. I no longer felt like a minority. Well, I take that back… I still was the minority, but it was a larger minority than in Hirosaki, that’s for sure. It was weird. What will it be like in July when I go back to Texas for a couple weeks? Who knows how I will feel then…?

In any case, it was certainly weird to go from all those months in Hirosaki/Aomori to big city Kyoto. I don’t think I have ever felt like that before.

With my free time, I wandered around the station and the Isetan department store. (I love Isetan. It always reminds me of Singapore.) I saw a bazillion chopsticks and bowls and cookware that I wanted, but ANYWAYS…

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When it was time, I went back to the Kyoto City Tourist Information Center to wait for my aunt. Aunt Jan had arrived in Tokyo the night before and had checked into the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, where I actually stayed with my dad once. (He always used to stay at the Shinagawa Prince when he was in Tokyo for business. My dad has been to Japan many, many times since the 90’s!

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(Us at the hotel in 2007)

My aunt took the shinkansen to Kyoto from Tokyo on Saturday too, but was later than I because that was the earliest available train that she could get with her fancy JR Rail Pass. Her train was set to arrive at 15:47 and we arranged to meet at the tourist info center on the 2nd floor of the station. Awesome idea, me!

After 4pm I began to worry a bit as I waited, standing outside the center. But… Soon enough, she came walking up, luggage in tow!

At first our meeting was kind of surreal. I could not believe that I was actually seeing my aunt in Japan. But, there she was! We had not seen each other in 11 months! We gave each other a big hug and I said, “You’re here!” This was actually the third time for both of us to visit Kyoto, but Aunt Jan had not visited for many, many years.

Now that I think about it, it was probably a good thing that she arrived later in the afternoon, because check-in for our guesthouse was not until 4pm. We took the subway instead of walking in the afternoon head/sun.

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Aunt Jan surprised me by covering both of our room and board fees for Kyoto, saying that it was a gift from her and my grandmother. That was so sweet of them and much appreciated!

After a minor issue with Yahata’s credit card machine… (After trying 3 cards it was revealed that the machine was simply out of paper. Whoops!) …We checked into our cute little room for two. It was a tatami room with futons for sleeping. I had stayed at the Yahata Guesthouse before, but that had been back in February 2008 with my friends Sam and Zandra. We had stayed in the dormitory-style room with beds at that time, so it was fun getting to see another type of room. I worried about not being able to sleep on the futon (but later these fears did not become reality!).

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We rested in the room for a while, just talking and catching up on life.

Then it was time for dinner and I suggested that Ootoya might be a good choice for my aunt’s first night back in Kyoto. Ootoya (Ohtoya) is a chain restaurant all throughout Japan and I have a lot of history with it. Zandra first took me there near Keio University in 2007 with a bunch of her friends. Ootoya serves fresh Japanese food that it always yummy and affordably. I can always expect to eat a good meal there, even as a vegan. Plus, they serve multi-grain rice, a welcome change from the white rice they serve everywhere else.

So we walked up to Shijo where the nightlife and restaurants were. We got a table for two right away in the busy restaurant and attacked the menu. Aunt Jan got a grilled chicken set meal with this great ume sauce, soup, and rice. I got the same thing I get every time: tofo salad (without the dried fish topping o.o), and a spinach-black-sesame-with-black-soybeans side dish. Delicious as always! Yum-o. Aunt Jan was pleased with her meal as well!

After dinner we wandered around Shijo/Teramachi st. for a while. We found mochi.

I suggested we walk across the river and go by Gion for old time’s sake. So, we did and we saw some real maiko/geiko in the area.

 

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It was well after 9pm before we headed back and it may have even been around 10pm by the time we got back to Yahata. We stopped at a grocery store along the way so I could get some foodstuffs to eat for breakfast the next few mornings.

We both went to bed around 11pm when it was lights out/quiet time at the guesthouse.

Zzzz…

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3 Responses to “Kyoto, Spring 2012: Days 0, 1”

  1. So enjoyable to read! I want so much to come with Tori next May. We will try!

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