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Year in Japan (njapan) wrote,
@ 2008-11-21 23:25:00
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    Current mood: ecstatic

    Mom’s 1-Week Whirlwind Tour of Japan
    Well, like I’ve already written about in the last two entries, mom came to spend a week with me in Japan. Sadly, the week, which was by far the most interesting period of time since summer vacation, is already over; mom took her train to Tokyo, and caught her flight back to the United States. She suggested that I add more detail to my last entry (as well as write about the last three days), which I have spent most of my time this week doing. I could delete the last couple entries after posting this, especially since I may be writing the same thing twice, but won’t (unless somebody suggests it). Mom’s trip time in Yamaguchi actually began late Saturday night, with Sunday spent with the Takaos, but I’ll begin writing from Monday, when I first saw mom in Japan.

    Monday - Arrival in Yamaguchi

    I attended school all day, but skipped Brass Band to go meet mom at the Shinkansen Station at 16:38. I found her easily enough, and we met at the Shinkansen gates, just as planned. From there, I showed mom her hotel where she would be staying most of the week, and we went walking around Ogori after mom had dropped off her luggage. We walked by the Nomuras' house and Kojo High School, among other nearby places, and ended up eating at a Japanese restaurant that I had never seen before less than 50 meters from the Nomuras’ house. We had rice, miso soup, tempura, and other Japanese dishes. While we were walking back to the hotel, we ended up running into some Brass Band students on their way back from Brass Band practice, and said hello.

    Tuesday - Bicycle adventure

    Mom and I managed to borrow two of the Nomuras' bikes for the day to go around Ogori and outer Yamaguchi. Our goal was to get to the shopping mall that I stopped at during my first bicycle ride, but we ended up making many stops on our way. First, we headed for the river, which we had to cross to get to the mall, but found out that Toshihiro’s bike’s seat was much too low for mom to ride comfortably, and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Remembering that there was a bicycle shop near the Nomuras’ house, I took us there, and we were immediately shown how to adjust the seat. I probably should have used the air pumps to put more air in Mrs. Nomura’s bike’s tires, but didn’t seize that opportunity.

    Since we were now on the other side of the Nomuras’ house than we wanted to go, I decided that it might be a worthwhile investment to go see the small shopping center where I usually buy food when the Nomuras don’t get it for me. We went to see a “second-hand shop”, a Japanese pharmacy, and the grocery store. The grocery store naturally contained many wondrous things, and we couldn’t help but buy some unique snacks (daifuku, cupcakes with spaghetti-like frosting, and a yakiniku rice ball).

    We now searched for a place to eat our snacks, and, figuring there would be benches by the library, and seeing the Ogori library as an interesting place to visit, we rode our bikes the few minutes to the library grounds. There weren’t benches, but we found a good place for our mini picnic on a low wall, and enjoyed our snacks. Unfortunately, the library is closed on Tuesdays, so we couldn’t go in.

    Since we were already in the general area, I decided that we might as well see where the marathon course where I frequently run Track, stopping at other interesting places on the way. We stopped by the post office, the book store, Hiroya’s house, and Kojo High School before getting to the marathon course. Once on the course, we rode until we got to a large Totoro mailbox that I always pass and think is interesting, and then turned back.

    We now decided that it was finally time to go to the shopping mall (it was already early afternoon by the time we’d gone to all of the other places), and I figured that the easiest way to get there would be to follow the marathon course most of the way. We passed lots of convenience stores, the bowling alley, KFC, a karaoke place, a 100-yen shop, the new soup curry place, and more, before passing under the highway, crossing the river, and getting to the mall. We parked our bikes and looked around the various stores. We got Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Japanese (to add to our collection) at the book store, and a special facecloth at a Wal-Mart-like store. Then, we got some Sushi rolls (one “cuts” and one salmon) at a grocery store, and got some bread so we would be allowed to eat at some tables by the bakery.

    By the time we were heading back to the Nomuras, it was already getting dark, so I decided that the river where I often run alone was the last place in Ogori to show mom before returning the bikes at the Nomuas’ house. After the bikes were returned, we went to say hello to the Fujimoto family, and chatted for a while with everyone but Mr. Fujimoto, who had some business to do. After that, we went to Coco’s to eat some rice curry (mom had “korokke”, and I had “Spicy level 5 cheese curry”), and some cuttlefish salad, and then returned to the hotel.

    Wednesday - Tour of Yamaguchi Prefecture

    Mrs. Nomura took a rare day off from work to show us around Yamauguchi Prefecture. First, we went to Rurikoji (the five-storied pagoda) and the Sesshutei garden in Yamaguchi city nearby, and then went on to the Akiyoshidai plateau. We had lots of fun watching the “sheep-like” rocks and the mountains. Then, we went to Hagi (on the northwestern coast of Japan), and saw “Mori’s tombs”, the tombs of the Mori family who lived in Hagi. The tombs were divided into two sets, the ‘odds’ and the ‘evens’, as Japanese seem to have believed at one time that it was unacceptable to be buried in the same place as your parents. We also got to see an inactive volcano, with beautiful views of the sea, a glass-making shop full of “hagiware”, and a place where wind comes out of the ground. The latter is the hardest to explain, but apparently the place where we stood (by a pile of rocks) was connected to somewhere else via a natural underground tunnel.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that we ate lunch in a restaurant in Hagi with the illustrator (whose name I believe is Tawaraya). We found out that he lives in Hagi, and he quickly decided he could come eat with us when Mrs. Nomura called him by cell phone. We ate with him in a restaurant by a fish market, a restaurant which, unsurprisingly, contained a lot of fish. We had some shellfish, breaded fish, cuttlefish, sushi, and even fugu! While we were eating, it was mentioned that the illustrator might be able to make a drawing of us if he had a good picture of us. We later gave the Nomuras some of the pictures on mom’s camera to give to him; we’ll see how that turns out.

    When we got back, we got to have dinner with the all of the Nomuras (we weren’t sure that Mr. Nomura would be able to take off work in time, but he eventually did) and Hiroya at the Nomuras' house. We had sukiyaki, cooked on a fire above the dinner table, and mom, who was trying it for the first time, said she really liked it. We also had “kaki” (parsimmon), which mom also liked. We talked for a while before and after eating, and everybody seemed to have a great time. Mom also gave everybody gifts, mostly small things picked up in Washington or Indonesia. After we’d finished eating, we found that Mrs. Ishida was also able to come, and we talked with her after she arrived. It was a night full of laughing and merriment, and everybody had a good time.

    By the way, an important point to mention is that I became the designated translator, as I was to be anytime this week when we were with company. The Nomuras seemed to understand English surprisingly well, but mom didn’t understand Japanese, so we spoke in a ‘triangular formation’: Mrs. Nomura spoke to me (to mom), I translated for mom, and she spoke directly to Mrs. Nomura. On occasions when we ran into an obstacle in the language, we usually were able to make ourselves understood with a little explanation.

    Thursday - Tour of Yamaguchi

    Mom and I took the JR train from Shin-Yamaguchi to Yamaguchi Station in mid-morning, marking the first time I took the JR train without ‘professional’ help. I found that it was remarkably easy; the prices to each station were marked on a map, and all one had to do to get a ticket was to put money into the automatic machine and select the right amount to get you to a particular station. From Yamaguchi Station, we walked to the Xavier Memorial Church and the downstairs museum, which I saw before with the Nomuras. Once we left the museum, we walked to a park at the top of the nearby hill, which I hadn’t seen before.

    We descended from the park and began walking, not quite sure where we would be going next (and not bothering to look at a map). Eventually, we saw an interesting-looking building directly ahead, and went to see what it was. It turned out to be the an art museum, one of the places that Mrs. Nomura had suggested we go, so we went in and looked around. We saw some kongouriki, some stone lions, lots of Buddha statues, and more. I think the kongouriki were the most impressive statues; I’d heard an impressive description of such statues from a museum that dad went to once, and the statues lived up to their names.

    After finally consulting the city map we got at the station, we went to a “prefectural museum” a few blocks away. This was another place that the Nomuras recommended seeing during our day in Yamaguchi. We saw robot arms do some “ikebana” (flower arranging), some explanations about how electricity works, some animal bones, rocks and minerals, and some models. On the top floor, we found two more interesting things: a train simulator, and a display of student works, presumably from local schools. The simulator was really cool because it took place along a portion of the route between Shin-Yamaguchi and Yamaguchi station (the way we came to Yamaguchi-shi), and we could recognize places that we’d passed earlier that morning. The student works consisted of some science fair projects and some reports (including things like seed germination experiments).

    From there, we went to a pedestrian road with shops on both sides. We ate a lunch of unique breads (like bean paste bread and curry bread) at a nearby bakery to get a place to sit down for a while, and I had some mattcha (powdered green tea) ice cream at a shop across the road after that. Then, we walked around the stores looking for souvenirs until we had to catch our train back.

    We left Yamaguchi Station at 3:55, to arrive at Shin-Yamaguchi Station almost exactly 22 minutes later (4:17). This left us plenty of time to drop off our stuff at the hotel, and walk over to Kojo High School, where Mr. Fujimoto had agreed to give us a tour “a little before 5:00”. We stopped by non-teacher Mr. Fujimoto’s store for a couple of minutes along the way, and were invited to come back to visit once our Kojo tour was finished.

    When we arrived at Kojo High School, I got both mom and I guest slippers (I figures I shouldn’t wear my school slippers without a uniform), and we walked to the teachers’ room. We didn’t see Mr. Fujimoto there, but he soon showed up behind us, apparently having been waiting in a different place than where we arrived. After wondering for a little while what was going to happen (Mr. Fujimoto got the keys to the guest room by the main office, but we never went in), Mr. Fujimoto asked if we wanted to go see the Brass Band. We said we’d love to, so Mr. Fujimoto and Mr. Nawata (who had shown up a few moments after Mr. Fujimoto) showed us the Brass Band. We crossed through the music room, and went to the roof, where the members were marching without instruments.

    When we decided it was time to move on, Mr. Fujimoto suggested watching the Karate club practice for a little while, and once we had done that, he showed us the Kendo club. From there, we went to my classroom, 2-3, and mom and I spent a few minutes looking around and taking pictures. On our way out, we met the school principal, Mr. Oda, and others, who were eager to talk to us. Interestingly, I seemed to be the intended translator when the teachers talked to mom, instead of Mr. Fujimoto.

    After leaving Kojo, we went to the (hardware store-owning) Fujimotos’, with a short detour by the Ogori library for mom to check her email (it turns out that email can’t be checked on the library computers). Once we got there, we found that we were intended to eat dinner with the Fujimotos in their house, and we did so. We had sushi, fish, miso soup, and cuts, and it was all very good. While we were talking, Nao-kun (the three-year old son of Mr. Fujimoto) was playing around and watching TV, and we had fun watching him.

    Friday – Hiroshima

    We started the day with the 8:50 Nozomi Shinkansen departing from Shin-Yamaguchi, and got to Hiroshima about half an hour later. Once in Hiroshima, we did some unnecessary walking around the train station, and all we got were chestnuts (bought from a vendor in the north side of the station, opposite from where we were to leave) to show for it.

    Having heard that the trams in Hiroshima were a very effective system of transportation within the city, we decided to try to take one to the Memorial Peace Museum (where I went before with the Hiroya’s family and English/Russian teacher). Unfortunately, we found after a few stops that we were heading the wrong way, and decided to get off before we got too far off course.

    We ended up not far from the road that goes by the museum, but had to take a long walk to get there. Luckily, the street we walked on was the Peace Boulevard, and had lots of interesting monuments to look at and little paths by the sidewalk to walk on. There were also lots of benches, so we stopped and ate our chestnuts before completing our journey to the museum.

    The Hiroshima Peace Museum can’t really be described as a “fun” activity, but it’s certainly worthwhile for all of its information and artifacts. Mom and I walked by fairly quickly, mom walking with the little device that talked through headphones to give information when she input a number (the same thing I used when I went to the museum in April), and me looking more closely at the signs I hadn’t gotten to see before. I found the signs and descriptions a little more one-sided before, partly because I had read that the museum was pretty one-sided in my guidebook to Japan. I mean, I think it’s going a little too far to say that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was used just to justify the “immense cost of construction”.

    After the museum, we saw more things nearby. We walked through the Peace Park, passed by the flame which it is said will only be extinguished when all of the world’s nuclear weapons are destroyed, the peace bell, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and the location of the hypocenter. I thought it odd that the hypocenter was marked with such a small plaque, basically just stating that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945, with a little picture. I guess the Atomic Bomb Dome is close enough to be considered the place where the bomb was dropped, so nothing big is needed at the actual hypocenter.

    From there, we walked to Hiroshima Castle a few kilometers away. On the way, we found an underground path that seemed to pass below a busy street we were attempting to cross, and decided to use it. After getting underground, we discovered that it was not just a simple path, but a whole underground maze, filled with shops. At one of the small shops, we got drinks, me getting a banana smoothie, and mom getting “Hot Lemon”, which turned out to be just hot water with a slice of lemon inside. We resurfaced in sight of the site of the castle, and quickly made our way over.

    We got to the castle a different way than the one used when I went with the Ishidas, so what we saw before going to the actual castle was new to me, too. We first saw a very long building that seemed like it could have been an outer defense for the castle. We had to take our shoes off when we entered the building, and put on visitor slippers. Then, we saw a temple nearby where a festival seemed to be taking place, stopping for a cone of sweet potato ice cream along the way (which mom didn’t like, by the way). We saw lots of people in kimonos (including kids), and mom took some pictures.

    Next, we got to the “castle” (really just a tall museum) itself. It was exactly the same as I remembered it, with four or so floors of artifacts and models, followed by a lookout point at the top. It was more interesting to see the view from the top this time than the last, because I actually knew where I was (relative to the other sights in Hiroshima that I’d seen). Since I had to get tickets myself this time, I found out that the museum wasn’t, in fact, free for foreigners, but free for foreigners STUDYING IN JAPAN, so it’s nice that I’ve gotten to go twice during my year of “studying abroad” in Japan.

    From the castle, we set out to find dinner. We knew that coming to Hiroshima meant an obligatory meal of okonomiyaki (Hiroshima’s food), and we had even gotten a rough map drawn for us describing how to find a good okonomiyaki restaurant, so all we had to do was find it on our map. We had some trouble (we eventually had to ask for directions), but eventually found a place called “okonomimura” (“okonomi(yaki) village”), which consisted of three floors of a building full of okonomiyaki bars (I’d call them “restaurants”, but they all had stools, rather than tables, with the grill immediately in front of the stools). We were kind of hoping for actual restaurants, I think, but eventually stopped and ate at one of the okonomiyaki places, and it was great. We also got to see our meal cooked in front of us, which is always fun. We saw the cook put the batter, vegetables, meat, noodles, sauce, egg, and, for me, mochi, on the grill and watched the process unfold.

    Once dinner was finished, we walked to a nearby tram station and took it to the station (the tram went where we wanted it to this time), and took the 6:06 Shinkansen back. After arriving in Yamaguchi, we went for a long walk, and then stayed and then spent the rest of the time before I had to leave in the hotel.

    Saturday – Tsuwano

    On Saturday morning, we got to ride the SL Yamaguchi, a steam train that runs once a day on most weekends on the Yamaguchi line. We also got to tour Twuwano, the last stop the SL makes. The train left Shin-Yamaguchi at 10:36 (meaning I got a little more sleep than the previous nights), and arrived at its last stop almost exactly two hours later. During the train ride, we tried to plan what we would do once we got to Tsuwano, with moderate success. We also bought a souvenir box of chocolates in the shape of the SL, which we enjoyed.

    Once we got to Tsuwano (a surprising FIVE minutes late, by the way. We’re not sure what happened), we went right to the information center, where we got some informational pamphlets in English and Japanese, and some guidance as to what we should see during our short stay. We were to eat dinner with the Nomuras on mom’s last day in Yamaguchi at 7:00, so the latest JR train we could take left Tsuwano at 4:49. We could have returned to Yamaguchi on the SL, but that would have only left us with about three hours to see Tsuwano, which we didn’t feel would have been enough. Anyway, the man at the information center gave us a map, and drew some paths on it that would allow us to see as much as we could in our limited amount of time.

    We started walking to the main street where a few things (a temple, an art museum, carp, and a Christian church) were to be found. On the way to there, we stopped at a Japanese shop to try zenzai (the red bean paste soup that I first tried at the Ogori bunkasai), and a kinako (soybean flour) daifuku. Once we finished eating in the store, we went and bought some of a new food that I hadn’t heard of before, genjimaki, which was kind of like taiyaki (the fish-shaped, bean-paste filled treats), but in a bar shape, as well as not only being filled with bean paste. Luckily, it turned out that genjimaki is the food that Tsuwano is famous for, so the treats we got made good souvenirs to bring to the Nomuras.

    Upon leaving the shop, we quickly got to Tsuwano’s main street, and found that there was something going on there. We understood that there was a festival going on by the presence of street vendors on both sides of the street, as well a little parade and some other small events going on. Seizing the opportunity, we bought some unique foods from the vendors, including taiyaki (which mom hadn’t gotten to try before), and yakitori, which is meat on a stick. After our purchases, we went by the Christian church for a minute or so, and then continued down the street until we got to the base of the hill where the temple in Tsuwano was located.

    We climbed to the temple, passing through many red torii gates on the way. The temple itself was just as expected, except that an interesting ceremony (the meaning of which we didn’t really understand) took place soon after we got there.

    We left the temple a different way we came, passing through the parking lot and beginning to walk down the mountain road. On our way, we found a sign that said the castle in Tsuwano (which I hoped to see myself but didn’t know how to get there, or how far away it was) was only 1 kilometer away, accessible by a nature path. I encouraged mom to climb to the castle with me, and so we went to the top of the mountain. I ran ahead a little with mom’s camera to take some pictures of the SL Yamaguchi as it left on its return trip, and was surprised to see another photographer already at the top (where some of the castle ruins were). I got a few fairly good pictures of the train as it left on its journey.

    Mom got to the top just as the SL was disappearing from sight, but I reassured her that I got some good pictures. Once we had seen what there was to see, we decided to go back down. Seeing a sign that indicated that another part of the castle was just 200 meters away, I ran ahead again to take pictures, while mom began descending on the same path we used to get up. I found the castle ruins, took some pictures, and caught mom before she got to the end of the nature path.

    From there, we didn’t have much time until our train was scheduled to leave the station, so we hurried back as fast as possible, retracing our steps. On our way by the street vendors (most of which began packing up as soon as the SL left, by the way), we decided to get some snacks, including cuttlefish on a stick, “hashimaki” (dough wrapped around chopsticks), more taiyaki, and castella (sponge cake). We got to the station with a few minutes to spare, and ate our snacks once we’d boarded our JR train.

    The meal with the Nomuras was uneventful. We went to a “family restaurant”. Mom got a meal with a variety of Japanese foods, while I got udon noodles. We went back to the Nomras’ house for a short while, and then mom was dropped off at her hotel.

    Sunday – Kyoto: Day 1

    To make full use of our only sightseeing day in Kyoto, we left as early as possible, taking the 7:06 Shinkansen to Kyoto and arriving at 9:16. Once in Kyoto, our first task was to find the ryokan in which we would be staying. We had the name, address, and a small map printed from the internet on a sheet of paper, and showed that to a man working at the information desk in the station. He told us the best way to get to the ryokan would be by bus, and told us how to get on and which stop to get off at. We thanked him and went outside to where the buses were leaving, in front of the station.

    Taking the bus was a bad idea. As it turns out, buses leaving Kyoto station are almost invariably packed from wall to wall, and it was all the more problematic for mom and I because we had a lot of luggage. We also had trouble hearing where we were stopping, and weren’t sure whether or not we needed exact change to pay when we got off the bus. Eventually, we managed to get off the bus (an extremely difficult task), only to find that we had gotten off at the wrong stop.

    A light rain was falling, adding a little to the mood, as we walked around not really knowing where we were or where we were going. Once again, we had to ask for directions, this time from a convenience store clerk. Once we were pointed in the right direction, though, we only had to walk a few blocks and cross a couple of big streets, finding our ryokan, Okatami, on a very narrow road by a river. We knew we were there before the usual check-in time, but, as we’d hoped, were able to drop off our luggage while we went sight-seeing. When we dropped off our luggage, we also asked the people working at the inn the best way to get to the places we wanted to see, and were directed to a bus station a couple blocks away (in the opposite direction from which we came, by the way). The people at the inn seemed pleased that I could speak Japanese, saying that my language ability “helps” (“tasukaru”).

    Our second ride on the Kyoto bus was much better than the first, mostly because of the fact that it was much less crowded. We had originally intended to go straight to Kinkakuji temple (also known as the “golden pavilion”), but when we saw that we were passing right something just as good, we decided to get off early. It turned out to be well worth it, as the place that we had almost missed seeing was Nijo castle, a huge place with a moat, garden, and palace, as well as a surrounding park. Luckily, it stopped raining before we went to visit. I thought the palace (which we had to take of our shoes when entering, of course) was really cool because of the “nightingale boards” in the floor, designed to “sing” whenever walked on, leading to the easy discovery of would-be assasins. We also got to listen to an English tour of the palace for a while, until we decided that we ought to move a little faster. The gardens were also nice, providing picturesque scenes. On the way out, we had to pass by the vendors’ shops, and discovered a food that we would later hear was called “yatsuhashi”, Kyoto’s famous food.

    When we finished our tour of the castle, we found ourselves back at the same place we started, so it was practical to just travel on the same Kinkakuji-bound bus route as before. It was pretty easy to find the Kinkakuji stop (it was the Kinkakuji-bound bus, after all), and only a short walk to the actual pavilion. We admired the golden pavilion for a while, and walked along the “suggested route” by the gardens and ponds, eventually finding ourselves back where we started. An interesting feature of the place where little buckets placed a few feet off the path, which people tried to throw coins into (presumably for good luck).

    After leaving Kinkakuji, we decided to do part of a walking tour that we found in a guidebook for walking Kyoto. First, we walked to Ryoanji, a temple a couple of kilometers away from Kinkakuji. There, we found a rock garden that nobody really knows the meaning of, so you have to “decide for yourself what you think it means”. After Ryoanji, we walked to Ninnaji, a temple area containing a building just like Rurikoji in Yamaguchi. We knew that Rurikoji was designed after a building in Kyoto, and were pretty sure that the original building was to be found in Ninnaji. We found what we were looking for, with the added bonus that we didn’t have to pay to get in because the place was about to close for the day. We saw as much of the temple as we could before we were chased out of the premises at 4:30 (closing time).

    Getting back to our ryokan was not as easy as the trip to Kinkakuji, but luckily we got the advice of a helpful Japanese couple living in Kyoto who knew Kyoto’s transportation system very well. They directed us to a train, which we took pretty far, and then we walked the rest of the way back to the ryokan. We stopped to eat at a place that sold gyuudon (rice with beef on top) on the way back.

    Once we got back to the ryokan, we were told that we could put on the yukatas in our room, and take a bath (located downstairs) if we wanted (which mom said we did). We both took “Japanese baths”, which imply that the presence of multiple people is allowed, but nobody came in while I was taking my bath (which I didn’t mind at all). After our baths, we went up to the room to have some tea and do some packing, and then watched a little TV in our “Japanese-style hotel” (just to say we did). We ended up going to bed on the futons on the floor in our yukatas fairly late.

    Monday – Kyoto: Day 2

    And with that, we’ve come to mom’s last day in Japan (for this vacation, at least). We woke up at about 6:40 to be ready when our doors were knocked on a few minutes before 7:00 to tell us breakfast was ready downstairs (we had decided on our early breakfast time last night). We went downstairs in our yukatas, and found our food on a Japanese table (a low table), which we had to sit beside. We saw egg, fish, plums, and a variety of colorful foods, which was supplemented with tea, rice, and miso soup after we arrived—a good Japanese breakfast. We were alone in the room, although there was more food set up the table behind ours. I guess the others didn’t wake up so early.

    After breakfast, we had a few minutes to get ready before our taxi, which was called for us by the ryokan staff. Once the taxi arrived, shortly before 8:10, we loaded our luggage in, got in, and were taken to Kyoto station in about 5 minutes. Therefore, we arrived at Kyoto station with plenty of time to spare before mom had to catch the 9:23 Shinkansen to Tokyo. We saw very clearly then that should have hired a taxi when leaving the station on Sunday rather than taking the jam-packed bus. Since we had so much time before mom’s train had to leave, we decided to stop at a café in the station, at which mom got some coffee (and I got a “second breakfast” of bread rolls and salad, which ended up serving as lunch, too). We also had time for some souvenir shopping for the Nomuras. When it came time for mom’s train to leave, I brought some of her baggage onto the train, helped her to her seat, and then got off the Shinkansen to wave goodbye from outside the window. We had a great time together in Japan, and it was a bit saddening to find our week-long adventure come to an end.

    But I was still in Kyoto, and it was only 9:23 a.m. Since the Shinkansen tickets I had were for any time on Monday, it seemed like it would be a waste to just go back to Yamaguchi, so I spent the rest of the day exploring Kyoto by myself.

    I started by taking a bus and heading towards the imperial palace, the only place I knew for sure I wanted to see before leaving Kyoto. It just so happens that the bus I took was the same bus mom and I took the day before when trying to find our hotel, so I passed the stop we got off at, and the stop we SHOULD have gotten off at, on my way. Consulting my Kyoto bus map, I found that there was a temple just a couple of stops beyond the imperial palace, so I decided that I would stop by the temple first, and then walk back a little.

    When I arrived at the Shimogamo jinjaa (in record time, by the way; I got there by about 10:10), I could tell that it wasn’t nearly as visited a place as the temples that mom and I saw yesterday. For one thing, there was no entrance fee. For another, there were no foreigners (or foreign-looking people, at least) walking around except for me. The fact that the place wasn’t as famous as some of the ones I’d visited yesterday with mom didn’t mean that the place wasn’t interesting, though, and I spent a good while walking around, looking at the interesting architecture and the people clapping, bowing, and ringing bells in prayer. I also spent some time walking through the fairly large park by the temple, and discovered another small temple in the process.

    Once I had seen all there was to see, I walked to the imperial palace, consulting my map as I walked. I crossed a river, walked down through a set of shops, and wandered my way to the north entrance of the imperial park. At about this time, I thought to myself that it would have been nice to find somewhere where I could rent a bike, rather than walking or taking a bus.

    I spent a couple hours in the imperial park, mostly because it was so huge: the sign at the entrance said that the park was about 700x1600 meters across, meaning that I had to walk a mile just to get to the far side. Seeing that I had so much ground to cover, I decided sit at a bench (of which there were many), and plan out a strategic course that would let me see as much as possible and still leave me with enough time to see some other things in Kyoto. Once I had decided on a good course, I set off, walking along forested paths, and wide, pebble roads. The most interesting thing I saw while I was walking was a bunch of people with tripods by a small, forested area. It seemed that they had all gathered to take a picture of some bird or another.

    I walked and walked (once again wishing that I had a bicycle) until I finally got to the gate to the imperial palace. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in, because the gates were closed, with a sign posted on them indicating that today was a holiday. I asked one of the guards at the gate why the palace was closed, and I’m pretty sure he replied that there renovations going on, although I could’ve heard wrong (he was speaking in Japanese). All I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t be able to see the palace, so I continued my long walk, until I eventually left through the southwestern gates.

    There were a number of places I was thinking about seeing in Kyoto, and I thought I would have to do a lot of bus riding to see them. Therefore, I read the pamphlet I got about the Kyoto transportation system, and found out that there were day passes for busses, as well as day passes which would cover train fares as well. Unfortunately, I saw that I had to go “City Bus Information Centers” to get such passes, of which there were only 5 in Kyoto. Luckily, there was one on the same street that went by the road that bordered the western side of the imperial park, so I decided to walk the few blocks.

    Consulting another, more detailed map, I found that there were actually some sights to see on the way to the information center itself. One of these was the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which I decided to stop by and see. It turned out that the place contained a huge library of manga (from very old to fairly new), mostly in Japanese, and a few “special project” rooms involving manga. When I was getting ready to leave, I heard that a special play was going to begin in a few minutes, and I decided to go see. It was an original story based on an old manga I had never heard of before, ‘acted out’ with panel cards with drawing on them that were taken off the ‘stage’ one by one. The audience was mostly little kids and their families, and I thought it was interesting to see how the kids reacted to the very funny man who conducted the show.

    After I left the Manga Museum, I went to the Bus Information Center, which was hard to find because it was actually in a subway station. I was thinking of getting a bus pass for the day, but decided to get the day pass for the buses AND subways (which only cost \1200, by the way), as the man at the information desk told me that the best way to get to the Heian Shrine (a place I was thinking of going to) was by subway.

    Anyway, my trip was uneventful, and I got to the Heian Shrine. It was impressive, of course, and so were the surrounding gardens and ponds. I took some pictures with a disposable camera I bought while walking.

    And with that, my sightseeing came to a close. I took a bus to the Shijo-Kawaramachi stop, and another to Kyoto station, and just barely managed to make the 5:29 train back to Yamaguchi, arriving at 7:37. From there, it was but a short walk back to the Nomuras’ house.

    Like I mentioned before, it was an awesome week, and both mom and I got to see and do a great number of things we’d never done before. I think we both enjoyed ourselves a lot.

    Oh, and one more thing: I cut my tail this week, or, more accurately, got it cut by mom, at my request. I’d been thinking of cutting it for a while, but decided that now would the best opportunity.

    It seems like a week should be a fairly long time for a vacation, but it ended so quickly. We had so much fun!

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2008-11-22 11:15 (link)
So glad your visit was pleasant. Less than seven weeks until your return! (But who's counting?)

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2008-11-23 16:05 (link)
So very happy you two had this time together! Thanks for the detailed tracing of your adventures. I could go for a bowl of steaming UDON right now!

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2008-11-26 13:48 (link)
I'm so jealous of you guys! I hope I can see (and taste) all that someday. Sounded like a great week!

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