I cannot begin to describe to you my initial love of Kyoto. It’s my kind of town. The first night we stayed here I wasn’t feeling this way though. We stayed in this little guesthouse that had a 96% rating on Hostelworld. I’m pretty convinced now that the people writing those reviews were either on drugs or felt bad leaving a shit review (kinda like I did even though it was really bad!). At the premise, it seems like it will be an ideal place to stay – it’s in a Japanese style building, the photos look welcoming & the owner has a dog; we were hooked. It wasn’t in the best area but it looked close enough to the action and besides, we were only there for one night before we went to Koyasan anyhow. Turned out, the cute little Japanese building is exactly that – little. It seems that the owner had the brilliant idea to put bunk beds in two of the rooms and call himself a hostel. I mean seriously, we were bunking down in a room so jam packed with bed that there wasn’t any where to put your backpack at all – Shona had to sleep with hers in her bed. The mattresses were paper thin (we have slept on futon on tatami mat that was more comfortable than these!) and the ‘blanket’ we had to sleep with, was an oversize towel, I shit you not. The room was walled with traditional sliding doors, fitted with plastic panels though, not paper but they were still paper thin, you could hear a mouse through them. This is not even the best part though. The best part, is the 50cm wide hallway down to the toilet, the toilet so small your knees touched the wall when you sat down and the 40cm opening to get into the shower. Seriously, if you weighed 70kgs or more, you wouldn’t be having a shower that’s for sure. But apart from all of this, it may have been bearable if not for the owner. He was a complete weirdo. He was nice, but fucking weird. The poor dog (who was gorgeous) seemed to have some kind of rash similar to when dogs are allergic to something on the inside of his hip. I asked the owner about it and if he had taken the poor thing to the vet but all this did was spur him on to grab and touch at it (despite the dogs clear objections to him touching anywhere near the area). Then, he started pulling the dogs man bit aside to look at it properly, making Shona, Tida (the dog) & I clearly uncomfortable. Several times I almost said to him that perhaps he should avoid grabbing and pulling at this poor dogs penis it was so uncomfortable. In the end, I got up and went to bed if for no other reason that to take the focus off the dog so he would leave the poor thing alone! We were pretty glad to be out of there the next day, let me tell you.
The following day (Saturday) we journeyed up to the small mountain town of Koyasan for our night in a Buddhist Temple. 3 trains, a cable car & a bus is what it took to get us there but it was worth every minute of the 4 hour journey. It’s a town filled with Buddhist Temples, Shrines & Okunoin, the Mausoleum of Kôbô Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan) that is surrounded by a cemetery containing thousands of graves. It was an incredible night, we stayed in traditional tatami lodging and was served a vegan dinner by the monks at the temple (Rengejoin). The room had a kotatsu, which is in other words a table heater. We were quite amused by the drawn explanation on the welcome card of simply sticking the bottom of our futon under the table should we get cold (you can see in the picture below that the table contains a doona that you scoot under). In the end though I just lifted up the doona to allow the heat to permeate the room instead! In the morning, we we woken at 5:45am for the 6am morning ceremony, which we participated in by burning incense. We were served a similar set of dishes for breakfast after the ceremony and then checked out, ready for our day of exploring in Koyasan. Now those of you who know us, know that Shona & I have been night birds for the past few years so I don’t need to explain to you how bizarre it was to be awake at a time we have been known to be just retiring to bed at. It felt even weirder when we had done our first museum by 10am. The museum was awesome, some of the statues it contained were over 1300 years old. What was completely insane, is like most places in Japan, it was housed in a wooden building. I find this quite hilarious, when I am constantly told of precious buildings being lost in fires. But oh well. I hope it survives. The good part about being up at the crack of dawn was that we then had plenty of time to see Okunion as there is a hell of a lot of it to see. They aren’t sure how many graves lie in Okunion, only that it’s a hell of a lot. It was awesome to see the different headstones, most covered in moss standing between the giant cedar trees. We trekked up through all the graves to the mausoleum & then back to town before making the long journey back to Kyoto.
There is not much to tell you about Kyoto. We are staying in Gion in the most awesome position ever, right near Shinbashi Dori which is said to the most beautiful street in all of Asia. Gion is also most commonly known as the Geisha area, and we were lucky enough to see two hurrying to an appointment last night as we left the restaurant where we ate. I have spent the last two days just wandering around, soaking it all up. It’s an incredible place – it reminds me a lot of Melbourne with it’s wide streets and tiny little lane ways where all of the best stuff is hidden away. It’s also built around a canal that doesn’t contain much water but which runs over thousands of cobblestones mimicking a creak. It’s most pleasant to listen to as you stroll the alleys looking for food! On Thursday we leave for Hakuba and the Japanese Alps and while I wish I could stay here in Kyoto it will be nice to get up into the mountain air and do a little hiking to work off all the food I’m eating here!
Oh, and the title of the post? It’s incredible how many Japanese people nap here, and they nap everywhere! It’s crazy! It is a frequent discussion between fellow travellers we meet – I got a picture of a lady really having a snooze on the train, just for your enjoyment!