Day 11 - Kyoto

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Dave


Hello.

 Sorry that it's been quite a few days since my last blog update, I've been having such a great time in Japan and Hong Kong it's been difficult to set aside the time to write.  Fortunately though I have managed to speak to some of you through Skype (if you want my username just send me a message via Facebook).

 Right, a lot to catch up on so I shall do my best!

 Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is known as the spiritual heart of Japan loaded with temples and Buddha’s.  I arrived at the impress Kyoto station after about a two/three hour train ride from Hiroshima.  The station is amazing and is pictured in all the guidebooks.  It has a huge shopping center integrated into it as well as several floors of deli food areas and an enormous hotel attached to it.

The hostel was just down the road from the station, which made finding it pretty easy.  It's a great hostel (as they all have been) with a good size living room and kitchen, there were comfy beds in this one too and the beds had privacy blinds around them.  I then dropped my bags off and went for a walkabout around the area.  I ended up heading back towards the train station and getting drawn by the noise and lights of a store called Yodobashi.  Now if you're a lover of shopping then Japan is certainly the place for you.

 This shop is huge. I'm talking each floor is about the size of a Tesco Extra or giant ASDA.  And each floor caters for different electrical and domestic needs.  So you have a floor full of cameras, camera equipment, lenses, filters, camera bags, memory cards etc. etc.  So if you wanted to buy a camera you'd have a 1,000 to choose from, compared to say 20 to 30 models in Curry’s.  The entire market is saturated with products making a challenge to pick exactly what you want. On the audio floor, apart from 10,000GBP mixing decks (which you can play with which is awesome!), you have a near acre full of headphones to chose from.  He knew they made that many headphones.

Here is another extreme example.  Lip balm.  How many different types of lip balm are there around in Boots.  4 maybe 5 (I’m no expert so I really wouldn't know); but here in Japan in this single shop about 80 different types.  Crazy.

 Now I have to be honest, I think I spent more time in that store than I have at any other site or museum in my life; it was brilliant.  The fact that you could play with everything ranging from a coffee making machine (nice free coffee) to 60" 3D TV or the 3D Nintendo DS (which is quite weird how it works) and best of all no alarms go off when you go near it like they do in Curry’s - and better still no one comes and bugs you every 2mins.  I would seriously make this place a tourist attraction and charge a fee for entry.

 After the excitement of the store I headed back to the hostel were I met two fab people; Duncan from a fishing town on the west coast of Scotland (its name escapes me) and Sarah from Adelaide I ended up spending the rest of my time with these guys and we had a great time.

That night we headed to a restaurant literally around the corner from the hostel; even though we debated for a while exactly where it was the food was great and afterwards we grabbed some beers from the 7/11 and chilled out in the hostel planning our adventure the following day.

We decided to head out to see the largest Buddha in the world and also the largest wooden structure in the world in a place called Nara (the former capital of Japan in 710 - 784).  Departing the train, we got our bearings and headed up a shopping street towards a lovely lake, and our first temple.

Around the whole area are loads of dear who were very friendly and made every attempt to find food out of your bag.  Purchasing some deer treats I clearly made some friends for life and had to jog away from some very keen dear.  It was strange how they were everywhere and just didn't care about the people around them.  The three of us took every opportunity for some good photos.

Navigating through the park we arrived at the temple housing the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world (the temple itself, T┼Źdai-ji, was the largest wooden building in the world).  The place, considering its cultural significance wasn't very busy or at least not as busy as I expected.  So taking a good spot I took some photos of the place - then suddenly I hear someone shouting my name from across the gardens. At first you think surely that not shouting me but as it turned out the three Americans I crashed with in Hiroshima were there too. 

Leaving the temple we headed off for something to eat as the snacks that Sarah brought had nearly all been eaten so we were starving!  We found a nice little Japanese restaurant and decided to sit at the traditional Japanese tables.  Looking around, not many Japanese do the whole sitting on the floor businesses, at least not in the restaurants we've been heading too - and I can see why; it isn't the most comfortable of experiences but still pretty cool that we did it.

Jumping back on the train we took Duncan’s advice and decided to head to a place called the Fushimi Inari Shrine where we will hike the 10,000 gates.  But whilst on the train something really odd happened.  A group of school kids ran into our carriage and sat down across from the three of us whispering something.  At the next stop they said "see you later" and we all waved back and said goodbye and then went crazy with excitement.  Perhaps they don't see many tourists on this train, which I don't blame other tourists, as it was an awfully slow train.

We got to the shrine at around 3pm and began the climb up the hill, which at first I wasn't looking forward to, as I was a shattered - but it was well worth it.  Each of the 10,000 gates (or tori as they're known) along the 4km trek was donated by businesses across Japan in hopes of wealth and prosperity for the god of industry.  It's a really peaceful and spiritual walk up the eternal steps with the redness of the gates standing out in contrast to the beautiful woodland and giant bamboo.

Arriving at the top leant for some amazing photo opportunities of Kyoto, and we started to turn ourselves into amateur photographers; each spotting good locations and angles for pictures to be taken with our small compact cameras - none of us really knew what all the settings do on our cameras but 'Auto' was the most used and often brought the better results.

We then took our newfound amateur photographer group (the Kyoto Amateur Photographers Backpackers Association, KAPB, the first of its kind in Kyoto I believe) to Kyoto train station and to have a walk round this amazing building before heading off for some food, a few beers at the hostel and then sleep after an amazing day.

Early the following morning I had to get my flight from Osaka Airport to Hong Kong via Taiwan. The previous day I had purchased my train ticket to Osaka City, meticulously working out the timings o I'd know I'd be there on time for my flight.  And boy did I get them wrong.  You see, I originally and foolishly thought that the trip from the city to the airport would be about 10 minutes.  In fact it was over an hour with a 30-minute layover at Osaka train station (you see I was going Kyoto to Osaska, about an hour, then Osaka to the airport).

Arriving at the airport with a little over 30 mins before take off I rushed to the gate for the lady to give me my ticket and take me through the staff entrance of passport control and the staff entrance for customs and ushering me onto the front of the queue for automatic transport shuttle to take me to the airport.  I have to say I was thinking, oh bugger I could miss this one.  But as always it turned out okay in the end.

The Earthquake and Tsunami

I didn't really find out about the earthquake until I landed in Hong Kong.  It was a text from my friend Liz who was checking to see if I was okay after the earthquake.  I replied that I was fine and that it happened two days ago.  There was a 5.8 earthquake in the same region a couple of days ago and I thought she was referring to that.  Then about five minutes later or so, after clearing customs, another 10 text messages came through asking similar things including please call me assay.  My phone then started ringing from 'unknown number' to which I ignored at first as I thought it was marketing calls; but it rang back several times over.  I then decided to switch my data roaming on and check the news.  Soon as the data came on 40 emails popped into the inbox - what on earths going on.

I then saw the news...

I quickly checked-in on Facebook (as I thought that would be the best way to get a message of 'I'm safe' to everyone) and also emailed the FCO (the UK's foreign and commonwealth office - you see I'm registered with their Locate services which is for ex-pats and travellers to advise the FCO of your whereabouts and in the event of a natural disaster or political unrest they can get hold of you (and if necessary ship you out, like what they've been doing in Libya).  They had sent a general email out regarding the quake so I emailed to confirm that I'm out of the country (I've registered the dates that I will be in each country).  It's probably good to point out now that if (and I hope not) anything similar happens on my trip that I'll do the same two things, Facebook and FCO - and if the mobile and internet is out, I'll contact the FCO and also contact someone to post on my Facebook wall.

My next thought was that of my friends that I left in Japan so got a quick message out to them to check that they were safe and well, which thankfully they were.

Like everyone else, I'm truly shocked about the disaster and that (at time of writing) 2,414 people are confirmed dead (with at least 10,000 more that may have died), three trains are just 'missing' and there's an 20km exclusion zone around some of their troubled nuclear reactors with a third explosion at their Fukushima reactor.  The Japanese are by far the nicest people I've met.  The level of respect and courteousness they have to each other and foreign visitors is amazing.  Even the small things that this community do, whilst seem trivial shows that their way of life is one of peace, respect and a 'what's the rush?' attitude.  A few examples are traffic crossings.  Not a single person that I have seen or others that I have spoken too have seen anyone cross when it's not on green - no matter how busy the road is or not.  You'd think I'd see the odd one or two, but no, nobody.  There's no pushing or shoving getting on and off the trains, it's done with tremendous respect (and quite different to London and Hong Kong - more on that shortly). 

For the blind, all their streets, shopping centers, transport stations and many office buildings have road brail / yellow brick road lines which are raised bumps for blind people to navigate the city.  The crossings have specific tunes to let blind people know when to cross and how long they've got.  When you go underground another bird tweeting noise is played so they know they're underground.  And the majority of consumer food and beverages (have I mentioned already the hot cans of coffee in the hot fridges at every store - brilliant) they all have braille impressions.

You may have seen Japanese people wearing masks around the city, or even in the UK.  This isn't because of the pollution (of which there really isn't any that I've noticed), it's because that that person is ill and they don't want to pass on the germs to anyone else.  And with the disaster that has besieged them, many companies have switched from production to emergency relief sending workers, aid and goods to the hardest hit regions.  So they really are a bunch of selfless and incredibly respectful people and my thoughts are with them.

I will visit Japan again in the future and I highly recommend it to anyone.  Right, day two in the Phillipines so going to head out to some bars and then a club (it’s 2230 here).  I'll drop an update about my party filled trip to Hong Kong, including taking a picture that I had wanted to take for years of a poster in my brother Daniels room and also try and fix this photo upload problem.

Dave :)

7 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you're ok Dave. Japan sounds truly amazing... so amazing in fact that I'd changed my own travel plans to go there with H in July... not anymore sadly! Will for sure be heading that way when the infrastructure is back up and running. My heart goes out to everyone affected. Have fun in the Pines!! Caroline x

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  2. Brother,poster's cool but the real thing's a lot cooler.Dan

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  3. It sounds like you're having so much fun, couldn't you have fit me in that bag of yours? It seemed to fit a lot of stuff in it as it was, I'm sure I wouldn't have made much difference...

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  4. Really enjoyed reading about your travels, keep them coming ! Take care, Helen Birks (Bedale).

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  5. Waiting with baited breath for the next installment ..... xx

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  6. Hi Dave, Good to see and speak to you again. How's the hangover? Looking forward to seeing the photo's you took and reading the next chapter.Take Care. Love, Mum Dad.Daniel.xxx

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  7. Hi Dave,Just had another look at the recent batch of photo's,they are really good, suffice to say you would make a very good photographer.
    Hope you enjoyed the wrestling.See and speak to you soon.Have fun.Take Care.Love,Mum.Dad.Daniel.xxx

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