Tuesday 7th October / Wednesday 8th October 2014
No fresh fruit for breakfast! We finished our coach trip to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. As Kyoto wasn’t bombed to the same extent as Tokyo, lots more of the old buildings have survived. So now it’s a big modern city – tower blocks not quite as high as Tokyo – but with loads of ancient temples and shrines. I saw my first – then another three – electric bicycles, and one party (with the bride in a western-style bridal costume).
First stop was the Kiyomizu temple, reached via a narrow lane crammed both sides with shops selling every sort of tat imaginable – and some startlingly good ceramics (the piece I particularly liked cost 108,000 yen). There was also a kimono shop, where you could hire a kimono for the day free of charge; presumably they hope that enough people will like the experience that they will then decide to buy it ! But that helped to explain why we saw so many women (mainly, but not exclusively) in kimonos (not all of which were hired).
The Kiyomizu temple seemed to be like the Buddhist temple that we saw in Tokyo – until you walk round the side and realise that it was all held up by an amazing wooden scaffold-like structure, about 5 or 6 storeys high, involving no use of nails anywhere. Very impressive – but then the Buddhists lost marks when I saw one of the gardeners using a leaf blower to “clear” the path !
There was also a group of older women all wearing the same traditional, but non-kimono, costume, but I know nothing about them.
We then went on to the Heian shrine, where we had a “team photo” before crossing the acres of gravel (good for the soul, apparently, as the sound soothes the brain) and garden. There was a lovely wooden bridge over the lake, which contained lots of large carp and at least one turtle.
Lunch was sushi – and most people thought that this was our best meal (“keep the best to last” was often heard). Very, very tasty, and the right amount of food, not the endless procession of more and more dishes that had been the norm up to now. My veggie sushi was excellent, and undoubtedly the best meal that I had in Japan.
After lunch we visited the Kinkaku-ji Temple, usually called the Golden Temple, because most of it is covered in gold or gold leaf (or perhaps gold paint !). It is beautifully situated, on a man-made lake, in a traditional Japanese garden (where we could see the bamboo structures used to train trees into their “perfect” forms – a full sized version of the techniques used in bonsai). So beautiful was it that an infatuated monk burnt it to the ground in 1950 (!) and it was only in 1983 that the rebuilding was finished. The public aren’t allowed inside, but we saw some pictures of the inside. George Bush got to go in – and have tea there – but our guide wasn’t sure if he took his shoes off or not …
Finally we were dropped off at Kyoto railway station, to catch the Bullet train back to Tokyo (2 hours, with only 3 stops on the way). The edges of the platforms had rails, with gaps opposite the doors of the train – so if your seat is on carriage 14, you can stand on the platform exactly where the door to platform 14 will be when the train arrives. It’s a very frequent service – almost one every 10 minutes (although this was during the evening rush hour) and very well used (but not over-crowded).
We had a “Bento” meal on the train – a box containing a tray with a large rice section surrounded by smaller sections with a selection of foods, including sweets. More unusual though was the formal bow of respect given by any (and every) member of the railway staff when they leave a carriage – ticket inspectors, cleaning inspectors, sellers of drinks and snacks, etc.
At Tokyo we had to change trains, and get a train to the airport railway station – which, because it was at the airport, also involved passport control. We all went through smoothly, but had to wait for Selwyn, who temporarily couldn’t find his passport. When he finally came through we went to catch our bus to the hotel, only to find out that in the meantime we’d lost Francisco! Some frantic searching and phone calls followed, and we were at the point of the bus going but leaving Mau behind to look for Francisco, when our hotel called to say that he was just checking in! Much relief all round (together with some muttered criticism of Francisco).
After a short bus ride, we checked in to the hotel, were re-united with our luggage, did a bit of quick repacking, and checked in online for our flights with a computer I bring to buy overwatch boost for my games, before having a last drink together in the hotel’s top floor bar (ridiculously over-priced).
Wednesday 8th October 2014
Early breakfast to catch the 8:25am shuttle bus to the airport, after saying my goodbyes to Carl, Selwyn, Mau, Rob Edwards, and the other members of the study group who were up at that time (Malcolm was on the same flight).
Uneventful return journey: 10:50am flight, got in to Heathrow a little early so I was able to change my National Express ticket to an earlier (and quicker, as it had fewer stops) coach. Watched “Bell”, which was excellent, and “Transcendance”, which had some nice ideas but then decayed into a stereotypical “us versus them” film – a little disappointing.
Jan met me in Swansea; after 21 hours of travelling it was lovely to be back home !