After my well needed night stay in the capsule hotel I packed up and left ready to leave Tokyo and go to Kyoto, probably the most popular destination in Japan for tourists due to its abundance of cultural heritage and historic temples. I had agreed to meet my next couch surfing host in Kyoto before 3 o clock as he had stuff to do after meeting me. I got a little bit worried that I would not get their in time as I spent ages trying to find my stuff I had locked up in Ueno station, but luckily the Japanese railway system is so efficient I managed to get there with plenty of time to spare as I used the super quick Shinkansen (AKA “Bullet Train”), which got me from Tokyo to Kyoto in just over 2 hours. The Shinkansen really is luxury and puts all British railways to absolute shame.
I managed to meet my host, Yosuke Ando (or Andy), with relative ease as he met me at a bus stop not far from his house. He showed me around but said that he had to leave as he was going to a music festival for a couple of days. So I basically had the house to myself, which I thought was far too kind and trusting, but he said he would be back to party later and I was grateful to have a nice place to stay. He also said that I could borrow his bike, which later I did and went to meet Steven, my Chinese traveling buddy, at Kyoto station. At first glance Kyoto is not what I expected, I thought the whole place would look untouched like some kind of feudal Japan, but of course Kyoto is a big city, the centre looks as bright and bustling as any other. After I met Steven we tried to find something to eat as it was quite late. This was not so easy as most places were out of our price range. We got rejected from this one place by a group of businessmen whom were having a private party, they all gave us very dirty looks until we left. We settled for a modest place that sold Chinese and Japanese food. Steven thought it was still funny comparing the prices to the Chinese food sold in China. We tried some “yakiniku”, literally meaning grilled meat, which is a popular dish in Japan. When we were finished with dinner we left to head to our respective couch surfing hosts as to get a good sleep for lots of sight seeing the next day. Although as I had the bike I wanted to have a little explore and get my bearings a little. I was trying to find a place I could go for one drink just to find some locals to get a feel for the place. After walking around for a while I decided to go into this one place. However once getting it I instantly knew it was not the place for me. It was a small private looking karaoke bar with middle aged men surrounded by the lady bartenders. Once I had my one beer and asked for the bill, I was shocked to see that they wanted to charge me ¥5000. I asked them what the hell for and they just replied, “service”. I realised that it was a so called “girls bar” where you pay for the women to pretend they like you. I reluctantly paid and left, feeling cheated out of lots of money. It was definitely not worth the money as none of the girls gave me any special “service”.
The next day I met up with Steven and we set off to be typical tourists. Throughout the day we managed to get a good taste of sights in Kyoto. First we went to Kinkaku-ji, the iconic golden temple of Kyoto, which is beautifully set on a open Japanese style lake. After that we grabbed some lunch then went for our guided tour around the Kyoto imperial palace. Again this was really stunning. It definitely exceeded my expectations of some of the sights to see. Although we were going picture crazy like everyone else walking around in the group and it started to feel a bit superficial being there, but me and Steven actually found this hilarious. We met a French girl that was on the tour with us who is studying Japanese, although she could not speak great English we strangely communicated by me speaking my crap Japanese and Steven speaking the french he knew. It was a surreal combination of nationalities speaking mixed languages. Later we tried to get into Nijo castle although it was closed, which really annoyed me as I wanted to see at least one Japanese castle on my trip. So instead we went to Nanzen temple, more a complex of temples rather than just one. This was really stunning as it was set in the hills on the edge of the city and it felt like I had initially imagined Kyoto. The entrance gate was also really impressively big. By then it was getting late so we decided to cease our sightseeing for the day. So we headed into Gion, the central part of Kyoto where city life is bustling around the shopping parades, restaurants and izakayas. This area is really nice and you be entertained just by walking around the mysterious alley ways and along the canals. We settled for an nice izakaya to have some food and drink. I was ravenous and ordered near to everything on the menu, including, “takoyaki”, fried octopus balls. After filling up I returned back to Andy’s house, to be greeted by him, stilled hyped from the festivals he had just been too. So we stayed up getting to know each other, drinking whiskey, which he said was free unlike the “girls bar”.
The following day I was left to sight see on my own as Steven had go for a day trip to Osaka. It was a pretty miserable day as it was raining quite heavily but I still managed to be a reliable tourist by visiting Kiyomizu temple and Fushimi shrine. Kiyomizu is really spectacular. It is set really far up on a hillside and to get there you can walk through the mass of graves that fill the lower regions. Once standing in the temple you get the spectacular view of Kyoto. Fushimi shrine is almost a maze of “torii” (shine gates). Literally hundreds are lined in different directions creating paths that lead to one shrine or another. I walked around Fushimi until it got dark and I got fed up of the rain. Back at Andy’s house, his housemates were having some fun upstairs, drinking and eating, so Andy asked if I wanted to join, which I could not refuse. It was really funny to get a taste of how Japanese students live it up. Not much different to my student life so I felt right at home. Everyone introduced me to the one joker in the group, who they said was the “Japanese sheep”, and they kept telling me hilarious things to say in Japanese to him. He tried his hardest to retaliate but passed out and later suddenly awoke in a explosion of sick, which everyone of course found hilarious. It was good to have some good old banter, Japanese style.
I met up with Steven again the next day and began our final day of sightseeing in Kyoto. We went to western Kyoto to see what it had to offer. Before going to any sights we ducked in a local eatery, which served “okonomiyaki“, a Kansai style food that is similar to an omelette and includes loads ingredients, but is served to you on the hot plate takes up the middle of your table. Simply delicious. Later we visited Tenryuji temple, which was nice and had a beautiful garden but the real star was the bamboo grove that it led onto. I have never seen so much bamboo in my life, I was impressed. We spent much of the rest of the day exploring the area around Arashiyama bridge, which is just like a little Japanese honey pot but also a bit of a tourist trap. After agreeing to finish sightseeing we went back into central Kyoto to meet Andy and his two new Finnish couch surfers. Andy took us all to a arcade to play some games and go to プリクラ (or “print club”) to take some wacky group photos. The photos are designed to make you look strange and cute and you see girls outside straightening their hair and putting on make up. Before you take the pictures you can adjust how white you want your skin to look. Once taken it enlarges your eyes to a freaky size so you look like an manga character. Afterwards you can write silly messages and put cute pictures all over the photos. It was all a bit weird but also so extremely hilarious and very Japanese. After our fun in the arcade Andy invited us all back to his. I cooked some dinner and we all drank beer and played games having fun until late in the night. Everyone had come together through couchsurfing.com, which I thought was simply amazing as we all barely knew each other but had such a good time together.