Kyoto 2013-04-07

The first order of the morning was to be able to pay the hotel - not as easy as it sounds when your credit cards aren't working and you're on the far side of the planet from your bank. Figuring out how to make a collect call to Canada involved A) a substantial amount of work by a hotel staff member that never did bear fruit, B) some work by a woman at the tourist information bureau, C) actually finding one of the few remaining pay phones in Kyoto station, and D) being redirected to another service because the one the woman at tourist information had put me on was discontinued. Fortunately, B, C, and D all spoke English reasonably well. And finally, on a pay phone in Kyoto station, I talked to someone from my bank. Who went to great lengths to tell me that the people at the hotel were clearly incompetent because there was no problem with the card(s). I have to admit that I suspect he was fixing a problem with the cards while telling me that, but I'll never know - it all left me a little disenchanted. I withdrew a great deal of cash on my debit card in case the credit card still didn't work and finally felt a little more secure.

One of the things I noticed at the Tourist Information Centre was that the Imperial Palace was open for viewing - without previously securing permission from the Imperial Household Agency. Apparently getting permission isn't too difficult, but you have to show up at their office on a weekday between 9 and 4, fill out a form, and then go at your assigned time to the Imperial property in question. Not difficult, but not quite the same as walking right in - which was available this week for the Palace. So off I went. The Imperial Palace enclosure is about 400 by 600 metres in central Kyoto, definitely prime property. The grounds seem to usually be open to the public, but a large and enthusiastic crowd joined me in touring significant parts of the inner enclosure. There were some nice classical Japanese wood buildings, but it was again the gardens that caught my attention, just lovely.

photo: Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden

worn arched wood foot bridge in a beautiful garden

After a quick lunch I got on the Eizan line, a very weird little Japan Rail line that doddles off to the northeast of Kyoto. Kyoto is in a flat basin, but as is generally visible on a clear day, it's surrounded by hills on just about every side (Trine says it's lethally hot in the summer because it's so blocked from the wind). The Eizan line runs on electricity, and runs only one or two cars depending on which branch of the line you're on. For the Kurama branch, it's two cars. I don't think this thing ever got over 30 km/h and kept stopping at stations every 500 m with the entire run from one end to the other taking about 45 minutes - but you aren't in Kyoto anymore when you get off. You're in the woods, in the town of Kurama, population 300 (? I'm guessing), at the base of a very large hill with a really famous temple on it. There's a cable car funicular running up the hill, but I figured I was making a pilgrimage, so I walked. Besides, Lonely Planet said the walk up is beautiful, and they're right. Their phrase was "old-growth cryptomeria," without which I would happily have referred to them as "really huge trees." Small shrines abound on the climb up, and the forest is incredibly peaceful (smells good too) - on a walk like that I often wonder why I visit the cities when I could be doing this instead. The temple at the top of the climb is lovely, and contrary to what I said about "no more cherry blossoms," there were plenty to be had both at the Imperial Palace and up at Kurama-dera. I sat for a while in the main temple and listened to the monks chant. I took the cable car/funicular back down partly because I love funiculars, but also because one of my knees had decided descending stairs was no fun (climbing was still fine, go figure). The funicular is very steep and quite fun.

The weather had been cold and drizzly all day, so I headed back into Kyoto and had dinner at the very Japanese "Falafel Garden." (The staff are very Japanese. The falafel are very good.)

Back at the love hotel the credit card worked. I found that they had, as requested, not cleaned my room. But they had come in to turn on all the lights and the mood music, and also to leave the door unlocked. <sigh> I've requested they not do that - but had to do it in writing because ... no one speaks English. Not their failing - I'm just not sure the request will be understood.

I haven't described the room. Let's start with this detail: my entire room at the Toshi Center Hotel in Tokyo could fit into the bathroom of this room. Even by American standards it's reasonably large. No windows. It has a great deal of electronics I won't touch (in part, as mentioned, because I can't read the remotes at all - but also because I'm here to see the city, not watch TV) including a large flat screen TV, a full gaming system with two remotes, a karaoke system for two, and a massage chair. And yes, there's an industrial vibrator beside the bed (I'm thinking of trying it on my back). Otherwise, it's a pretty normal room: no "Hello Kitty" theme or anything, nice sofa and coffee table where I'm writing. Good sound insulation.