Kyoto, Tuesday April 9

In Tokyo I had trouble with "Asakusa" vs. "Akasaka," although they were far apart physically and significantly different in character. I was relieved to find Trine suffered from the same problem. In Kyoto I'm confused by some of the subway station names: Shijo, Gojo, Kujo, and Jujo - all on the same line.

I tried Calpis Soda. It's kind of like Sprite - if they'd dialed the taste back from "10" to "2." I've since seen reference to it being "lactic acid soda" or similar, but in very bad English so I'm not sure if I should believe it or not. I've been finding other drinks I like, my favourite so far being a lemon soda.

Did you know Tommy Lee Jones is pimping Boss cold canned coffee over here? Apparently it's a big thing: Hollywood stars don't want to do ads in the U.S. because it'll ruin their reputation, so they come over here where they get paid boatloads of money and their fellow Americans don't notice. Ah, the sweet green smell of hypocrisy.

I was going to say "I haven't seen a single American car since I arrived in Kyoto," but of course within an hour of deciding to write that down I saw one. A Ford Mustang - parked right next to a BMW new Mini. But 99.9% of the cars on the road here are Japanese. Honda (and other companies) sell a number of box-on-wheels type vehicles that we don't see in North America. Things like the "N One" that make the Nissan Cube look downright sexy.

I started the day at Ginkaku-ji at 0900. At 1700 the night before, hundreds of people were pouring out - things were much quieter first thing in the morning. Although I have to admit that I found it something of a let-down with the prestige it's given by the guidebooks and the shear number of tourists attending. Not to say it wasn't nice - it was really lovely. But so were most of the other temples I've seen in Kyoto.

photo: Ginkaku-ji

sand garden with a huge sculpted truncated cone partly obscured by a blooming plant and a rock

I then grabbed a cross-town bus to the Arashiyama area that took a bit over an hour. Not the best planning, but I had wanted to get to Ginkaku-ji, and preferably in the morning. Arashiyama is strange: it's part of Kyoto, and yet it feels more like a rural community - even the "main drag" feels like a rural community just catering to tourists. And once you're off the main drag, it's very peaceful and slow-paced despite the tourists.

My first stop was Tenryu-ji, another (big) temple and garden complex. It was nice but uninspiring - am I tired of gardens already? Right next door is the Arashiyama bamboo grove - if you've seen "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" you know what I'm talking about. I overheard a guide talking to some other tourists saying that bamboo grows 30 cm every night (a figure I seem to recall hearing somewhere else years ago), and it's "ready" in three months. Ready for what I didn't hear, but I suspect that this is a "working" bamboo grove, in the sense that they cut the trees down regularly and use them for garden railings, fittings, vases, scaffolding, you name it. It's very beautiful, and would have been hugely peaceful if it weren't so heavily trafficked.

Next was the Okochi-sanso Villa, which immediately answered the previous question: no, I'm not tired of gardens yet. This one is a masterpiece. Thirty years work by a silent movie star who was a huge fan of Zen Buddhism and gardens in a large space overlooking the city of Kyoto. No ponds or running water (I like the water, so I missed that a little), a fantastic path that seemed to go on forever in the best possible way. Great views, tiny corners, dozens of people there and yet you'd think you had it to yourself. Fantastic.

Another temple followed, called Jojakko-ji. Again, it's on a hillside. Nothing hugely special about it, and yet it was a wonderful place. Peaceful, nice views, nice garden.

On LP's recommendation I went to Rakushisha, a poet's hut. He had lived there more or less in seclusion, and it was interesting to see the hut and how he lived, but of course a fair bit of it was about his poetry which I can't read and thus missed out on. They had translated some of it, but ... poetry in translation rarely works because so much of it is about playing with the language itself.

The last tourist site of the day for me was Gio-ji - again, a temple-and-garden. This one had only a very small garden, but I loved it: they had a sea of moss, and in it were islands of another kind of moss. I doubt I can describe it in a way that would do it credit, I'm hoping the photos will convey how nicely done it was.

I went back to town by another electric rail/streetcar line. The company in question is "Randen," and they are barely acknowledged to exist by my guidebook despite the fact that they significantly improve transit times from Arashiyama to downtown. Much better than the bus the guidebook recommends. So many confusing transit options.

I had dinner at Musashi Sushi, a semi-famous kaiten sushi place that charges ¥137 for every plate. It was really good. My favourite was the seared fatty salmon, but the surf clam salad was really good too.

You haven't heard as much about food as usual for one of my trips because I've been eating on the run and/or just being boring. I'll let you know if I manage to have any more interesting food.

I had a half hour walk through downtown Kyoto at night after that. After visiting Kurama-dera yesterday and Arashiyama today, I think I can be forgiven for getting a bit of small town feel from Kyoto. Kyoto may not be as crazy as Tokyo, but it should NOT be mistaken for a small town. That's one big and busy downtown, it might even have enough shopping to satisfy those dragged out of Tokyo before they had finished their shopping list.