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24 September 2015 @ 08:30 am
I could just feed cute animals their snack time foods all day every day, that'd be alright with me  
DAY 8 could also be titled: Kyoto is really old.

So – what even day of the week was it. Monday, apparently! So on Monday our plan was to visit some old temples and castles and stuff in Kyoto, because there are a LOT of temples and at least two castles that can be visited.

We got ready for the day and were putting on our sandals at the front of the Ryokan when one of our hosts stopped by and asked where we were going today. We told him, and he was like “Oh – if you're interested, there's a flea market at Toji Temple today only. It's very popular with Japanese people. You might like it.”

My father couldn't have known that at these words an almighty flame of purpose lit within me. HELL YES I WILL GO TO YOUR FLEA MARKET, SIR. This is probably the closest I'll get to a festival, and I'll TAKE it.

So we walked to Toji Temple, and into the flea market – which had a whole bunch of handcrafted goods for sale as well as some random knicknacks and a ton of food. At first when we walked in I was like “Oh yeah this is cool, we're going to find some good food here” and then as we started wandering the pure scale of the thing hit me. There were THOUSANDS of stands. More food than I could possibly eat and realistically more things for sale than I could even look at in the four hours before it closed.

But we did wander! There was pottery, and really nice clothing, lacquer bowls, and toys for sale, among many other things. We also got to eat Takoyaki (yum) and I got some peach flavoured shaved ice (yum!), chicken karaage (the deliciousness doesn't stop), and some taiyaki – dad and I split two, one with red bean and one with custard. I ended up leaving that flea market stuffed full of food.

From there we headed to Nijo Castle, which was a castle set up by one of the most famous Shoguns who apparently ushered Japan into an era of peace (so sayeth the version of history dad's reading). In order to get there we had to walk a ways and then take a bus, which was going to cut the trip from 40 minutes down to 20.

I mean, I guess it did technically get us down to like 25, 28 minutes but I'm not sure the bus ride was worth it. We climbed on and got packed in like sardines. There was no room to move. Once, I leaned over so an old woman could pass me, and a person stepped in and stood on either side of my feet so I couldn't straighten up again. I was stuck hanging from the bar, all my weight supported on my arms for like 4 stops. I guess it saved our feet the trouble, though.

So we got to Nijo castle, bought our tickets, and started inside. Dad struggled with his audio guide for a while, and then we went through this huge, gorgeous gold-trimmed gate. It led into a really pretty garden and up to the castle, which I wasn't allowed to take photos in. Or wear shoes in. So we joined a bunch of strangers in our bare feet and walked through the castle. It was really huge and the ceilings and wall paintings were really elaborate. But if you want to see it you'll have to go there yourself! Sorry! I admit that because I am a bad person who sucks at museums the coolest thing about it was feeling the super old floorboards on my feet! They were all smooth from having so many people walk on them.

Then we left the castle and wandered the gardens some more. There's a viewpoint you can climb up to and look around Kyoto from, and some vending machines and a seating area. But – because Japan, people were smoking in there. So we fled, and ended up finding a cafe which was open to a super beautiful traditional garden and we sat on tatami mats and ate yet more shaved ice- with mango juice and fruit. Soooooooo tasty! And beautiful.

While we were eating there the castle actually closed, so we left after a quick tour around the souvenir store – actually, wait a second, I need to talk about the souvenir store. Okay so souvenir stores around Japan are kind of similar to all souvenir stores in that every souvenir store in one country seems to hold the same stuff. Except Japan's all have the same stuff, but themed based on the area they're from. So like- okay, my personal favourite is the Attack on Titan merchandise they carry, which features the colossal titan climbing on a local landmark, like – Mount Fuji, or Nijo Castle, or a bunch of other things. There are also different themed Pikachus, Luffys, and other anime fandoms to celebrate.

So, not wanting to brave the bus again, we started the walk home, and I suggested to the fatherly unit that we stop by a giant temple that we waited for the bus by on the way there. It was called Nishi Honganji and it was really impressive! Incredibly huge, with huge wooden doors (and steel gates to reinforce them, badass) and again more old wood for us to walk on in our bare feet. There was also one monk just standing in a yard hitting a block of wood with a hammer repeatedly. Dad claims it's part of his training. As a Buddhist monk do you have to just do pointless tasks for hours until you find meaning in it because otherwise you'd go nuts? Because that's the only logic I can see there.

Then we went to find a place to eat dinner and – given that things seemed to be full yet again, we decided to look for something a little different and ended up stopping into an Italian place to figure out what Japanese people did with pizza and pasta.

The answer: they made them goddamn delicious. They served us an antipasto amuse bouche, a house salad and carrot salad to start, and I had a spaghetti carbonara and fatherly unit had a Romana pizza. Everything was incredibly good. Have I called out France yet for its undeserved reputation as the best food country? Japan wins that contest hands down. Oh, speaking of, we also had dessert, where fatherly unit had a creme brulee-type thing which was actually a little frozen square of the dessert which was reeeeeeeeally tasty. I got a Panna Cotta which was extra creamy. In general: italian food in Japan – A+.

We went to Lawson, which is our fave convenience store brand over here, and I tried to pick up some figurines I... thought were for sale? There were like 40 little boxes with figurines pictured on them and I figured you could buy them, but when I brought them to the counter the teenage girl working there got immediately flustered and tried to figure out how to explain to me that I evidently could not purchase these things. She showed me this little ticket, which suggests to me it's a raffle prize or something? But she mostly flapped her arms and went “Eh!? Eh!? Eeeeh??” as she tried to figure out the English to tell me what the hell was going on.

I just apologized and told her it was okay! She apologized profusely as we left and seemed to genuinely feel bad? Not like it's her fault!

Then we went back to the hotel – sadly too late to watch our Sumo – and after a while of just chilling out we went to sleep.

DAY 9. Oh Glob this is gonna be one heck of a blog.

Okay, so on Day 9 we went to Nara, which is a town about an hour outside of Kyoto. This involved waking up early, got lunch at the train station (cold soba is MY FAVE) and finding our train, which was a nice, not-too-busy trip out into the countryside. Beautiful countryside, too! Lots of mountains, bamboo groves, and farmland to look at.

Nara itself is pretty obviously a tourist-based town. From the time we arrived, we were clearly directed towards Nara Park, which was where I wanted to go! I wanted to go entirely because I'd heard about the deer there. They were considered sacred deer for a long time, but now they're just a dedicated national treasure. And they are EVERYWHERE in this park. We walked in and it wasn't long before we saw one (sadly injured) deer, and then another deer, and then another, and then like 20 of them – and from then on we just saw them everywhere. Does, Bucks, and fawns, of a couple of different species at least, all wandering around amongst the people, flopping down and having a nap, chilling in the ponds and in the woods nearby.

I bought so. Many. Deer crackers. You can buy little bundles of crackers for 150 yen and feed them to the deer, which is pretty tough up by the front of the park where the deer are too damn full and will ignore your attempts to feed them, but is the easiest thing in the world in the back of the park where the deer will crowd around you and actually bite at your shirt/jeans if you take too long to feed them the damn crackers. I learned this from experience. I smacked that national treasure right in the face after he bit me.

Other than the deer there was a Shrine (Kasuga Shrine, up the mountain) which you could visit and get lots of deer-related charms at, and featured a wisteria tree which apparently appears in scrolls from the 1300's (whaaaaaaaaaaat) as well as a Taiko drum team that was playing a full concert. They were very cool. Drums are an intimidating instrument when they're played by a group.

There's also a temple in the park called Todai-Ji which is huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge (at least one thing I read claimed it was the largest wooden building in the world, and I believe it) and contains one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It's very beautiful to look up and strangely has a gift shop in it, which doesn't feel very Buddhist to me but WHATEVER you do you, Japan.

Then we headed back on our train and stopped in to the Okonomiyaki restaurant I'd tried to go to earlier in the week but couldn't because of the dang holidays. Turns out we got there just in time because I'm pretty sure we got into the only un-reserved table (same thing happened at the Italian place, actually) and then we were handed a totally Japanese menu.

So THAT was an adventure. By the time the waitress checked back in with us I'd managed to figure out (more or less) what we could eat and was ready to ask for it... and then she spoke some of the best English we've encountered on the trip! Geez, lady, way to let us waste 30 minutes on the menu you could have explained to us.

Luckily the Okonomiyaki made up for it. This is a food I love and rarely can persuade somebody to join me in ordering (hot scoop, the Okonomiyaki at Kishimoto on The Drive is totally delicious and holds up to what you can get here). As the waitress explained, they offered two different kinds at this place- the classic kind and a noodle-based kind. We both got the noodle kind, me with pork and udon noodles and dad with squid and (Chinese, the waitress pointed out with great import) soba.

Stuffed full of meat pancake, we headed back to our Ryokan and – yet again missing the sumo – flipped through the channels and watched random crap until sleep times.

DAY 10.

MONKEYYYYYYS

This day we went to the Arashiyama Monkey Park! I'm getting my fill of adorable animals on this trip.

Fatherly unit went out to purchase a bunch of pastries, so that's what we had for breakfast, and then we took off for the park. We were looking for a particular bus, and Google lied about where it left from, so we had to wander over to the bus station and search for one that left for it. We were waiting for the bus we knew went to the right place, when I spotted a bus that had the characters for Arashiyama on it and we got on that one instead!

This is normally where a story might end in disaster but NOT FOR THIS GIRL, I don't get lost, sons! ...Not yet, anyway! ...except in Bruges. But that place is a dumb maze!

ANYWAY.

So we pull up in Arashiyama, which is actually a super scenic mountain range with a river running through it, which I did not expect to be so pretty. We crossed the bridge, bought some drinks from a vending machine and bought our tickets to the monkey park, and then were faced with the hugest uphill climb. Stairs, slopes, and curved paths, oh boy. Dad and I were both super winded and passed grandmas carrying their grandkids on their backs, so they must have been really exhausted by the time they made it.

Up at the top of the hill you could see a panoramic view of Kyoto, which would probably be worth climbing up to all on its own but FORGET THAT OMG THE MONKEYS.

There were so many monkeys! Grandpa monkeys, momma monkeys, tiny baby monkeys. They're macaques, and they have red faces and butts and are the most charming creatures. There's a house you're allowed to go in and buy food (bananas) for the monkeys and feed them from inside. The older monkeys will take a piece and then rip off the banana peel and eat the fruit within seconds, but when you give a baby monkey a piece you have to peel it for them or they give up and drop it, and if they're REALLY small you also have to break it into small pieces and squish it a little so their useless baby fingers can grab it and hold it while they try to shove it in their face incompetently.

Babies are the most useless, dumb things and the way baby monkeys scramble around kind of convinces you they might not be dumb and useless but then they can't eat. Luckily their idiot faces are so endearing you can't even be mad.

So we wandered around and took pictures of all the monkeys and fed them all the stuff. And also overheard THE MOST AMAZING ARGUMENT where this couple (who were... Australian? Some sort of English-speaking but with a weird accent. Maybe South African) were getting married soon and the bride had set deposits for the venue and dress but now she had to cancel them because just the day before she FOUND OUT HER HUSBAND-TO-BE WAS STILL MARRIED TO HIS PREVIOUS WIFE so now they have to delay everything while they deal with the lawyers and WOW I was glad to be a fly-on-the-wall for that one.

Eventually we had to leave the monkeys, and I was super-sad to do so because I love those little guys. As we walked down the hill this little girl came barreling past us at a run and her dad (who was in full business attire, gah, he must have been boiling) came hurrying after her, and I managed to be like “She's got a lot of energy, huh?” in Japanese to him and he just laughed in an exhausted sort of way and ran on. Poor guy. Sign that kid up for some gymnastics classes.

So then we went down into Arashiyama and were hunting for a renowned Unagi place – so we wandered through the town, got briefly confused about what the hell Google maps was trying to tell us, and found the place. There was a line! We got into it. The waitress came out and closed the line – a full hour before they were due to close – and then told us that from where we were, it'd probably be a 90 minute wait.

I watched the line move for a while and figured she was probably overestimating the wait – not knowing there was a whole other line inside, so she was DEAD ON.

But we waited! And the fact that the food was what I would judge as worth it should be pretty impressive to all of you because I am normally anti-waiting when it's more than like 30 minutes.

So by then it was already like 3:30, and we hopped on our train back into town, which was getting pretty packed full. I ended up on the other side of the train next to a girl with curly blonde hair all up in a ponytail and some crazy freckles – and a black nametag. When she spotted me she got all excited and was like “Excuse me! Do you speak English!?” and I was like “Yes”, and she had me talking through the whole train ride. Turns out she'd moved to Japan in February from Melbourne and was going to be there until next July, and was teaching English locally and volunteering for her church. Turns out she was also there with her partner, who she hadn't met until she did training.

“OMG I'M TALKING TO AN AUSTRALIAN MORMON” went my brain, that tragically only recognized this story from the Book of Mormon musical. But she was actually super sweet and just wanted to talk about where I was from, what I had been doing, and I asked her what she'd been doing, and told her I had been to Melbourne a lot and so she talked about how much she loved the beaches and was so impressed I'd been so many places and could read some Japanese and I was like “man it ain't that hard to read the alphabets, I'm sure you could figure it out”. And we identified with eachother about how counting words are some serious bullshit because despite the fact she doesn't know how to read anything yet, she's pulling together some vocabulary and Japanese is HARD.

And then she heard some Australians on the train and were like “YOU'RE FROM AUSTRALIA! Where are you from!?” And the person replied “Adelaide” and she had palpable disappointment and some disgust in her voice as she said “Oh.”

Nobody Likes Adelaide: An Australia Story.

So we got off the train, returned to our room, watched some Sumo and got a couple of rice balls from the convenience store for dinner because we had such a late one. I hung out in the lobby to use their Wi-fi and found a delightful grumpy cat there napping and was thrilled. Then – again with the sleep times!

DAY 11.

On to Osaka! Which is where we now are.

We woke up, checked out, but left our bags there so we could do some shopping. I'm afraid I must here redact the types of stores we went to in certain cases so as to not spoil what we were shopping for, but safe to say we spent some time wandering around a shopping arcade filled with food and I spent WAY TOO MUCH MONEY in an anime-themed store.

I COULDN'T HELP IT YOU GUYS THEY HAD ACE ATTORNEY MERCH. DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE THAT IS? Of course you don't, nobody is obsessed with it as I am.

I also got a Digimon, Sailor Moon, and Haikyuu fig, which I had varying luck on. I got Agumon for the Digimon, who makes a good fig but is – as much as I was in denial about it at first – totally the worst Digimon. Then I got Sailor Uranus for my Sailor Moon fig, and while she is definitely a super cool scout, she's also probably my favourite now that I've seen the virtues of Sailor Jupiter thanks to the Crystal remake. But then, Uranus hasn't appeared yet. I MAY BE CONVINCED. ...But I wanted Saturn. And then I got Hinata, who was like – the best choice out of the questionable choices they made for which figs were available. God damn it I love that inspirational volleyball anime.

Then we had some hot (and iced, respectively) cocoa and took a bus back to our Ryokan to pick up our bags, went to the station, hopped on a train to Osaka, and got here trouble-free.

Then we checked into our hotel (I got yet another compliment on my suitcase key earrings) and watched our Sumo and went for dinner, deciding to do a cash run on the way...

...And then we discovered that my credit card was still locked after they issued a fraud scare when I used it to get cash the first time, despite me calling and explaining that yes, I WAS in Japan, and yes, they should remove the blocks...

WELL IT'S STILL BLOCKED, so far as we know, and it's the only card that's worked for us to get cash here, so that's gonna be fun times. I have about 200 bucks worth of yen left, and we've got four days left. Time to get creative!

...And call the credit card company again in the morning!

SIGH!

Tomorrow we go to the Osaka Aquarium – and hopefully my card starts working again!

And it's nearly 1am!

I PUT IN SUCH AN EFFORT FOR THESE BLOGS I HOPE SOMEBODY READS THEM.

Three days left! I'm going to miss Japan a lot. I wish I was a Mormon staying here for a year and a half!

...Well without the Mormon part, anyway.

Sorry, Sister Steere! You were such a sweetheart and probably have very well-meaning intentions, I shouldn't make fun of your religion. You wouldn't want me anyway.
 
 
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