Monday, August 24, 2009

Kyoto weekend, part 1

Have I mentioned we're moving next month? Next month, which is approaching very, very quickly, we are packing up and moving back across the Pacific Ocean, never to return to Japan. Most of our time is spent getting ready, in one way or another, but there are a couple of Japan's greatest hits that I really wanted to catch before we get on that plane. This weekend we hit two of them: the Bullet Train and the ancient city of Kyoto.Photo is from JR website - click to visit.

The train is one of those things everybody knows about Japan - a national network of superexpress trains that reach almost 200 miles per hour. Our ride from Shin-Yokohama station to Kyoto was about two and a half hours, and frankly less impressive than I was hoping. I mean, regular trains are pretty fast, but Shinkansen tracks are set further from trees and landscapes, so it's hard to tell how much faster you're going. I guess that's where the real miracle lies - the superexpress gets us 230 miles in 150 minutes, and it doesn't even feel rushed.

As usual, I fell asleep on the train and Josh studied for whatever test is next. Once we arrived, I played Ferdinand Magellan (also as usual) and Josh walked three paces behind me and followed the ponytail until we reached our hotel. Hotel Okura was lovely, although charging paying guests thirty dollars apiece to use the POOL is ABSURD, in any culture.*

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Once we checked in we were starving, and my guidebook pointed us to an excellent Indian restaurant, Kerala (or in Japanese, Kerara). Check out Josh's "I'm too hungry to pose for a picture" face:and note the Tandoori chicken on his fingers. The food was incredible.

From there we hopped back on the subway and visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, which has the largest concentration of Torii gates anywhere in Japan. That's where the photo at the top is from, and these too:Inari is the god of rice in the Shinto tradition, and is represented by a fox, often holding rice or a key (to the rice granary) in its mouth.The Torii gates were incredible. Each one is sponsored by a local business looking for luck with the gods, and there are thousands of them. We took a long walk through the gates, which have the added benefit of blocking the murderous Kansai heat and humidity.

Josh and I both love visiting shrines and temples, and Kyoto has many of the most famous ones in Japan. But our trip to Kyoto was only about twenty-four hours long, so this was our only religious visit. We made sure to buy some inarizushi though, since it's a regional specialty and one of our favorites. It's a little packet of sweet fried tofu skin (aburaage) stuffed with rice. We even got to see the proprietor of a little restaurant make it for us, and it was delicious.Once we were back in Kyoto proper we walked around the old neighborhood of Gion for a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of geisha, but in the end just wore ourselves out in the heat. After the long train ride, the long walk, and all that humidity, we were ready for a nice relaxing dip in the pool, but you already know how that turned out. So instead we got dressed up and headed to dinner early.

Believe me, I know how this sounds, but you're going to have to trust me: we had the best Irish food I've ever eaten in Kyoto, Japan.

I know.

I know! But my friend of a friend Will, who lives in Kyoto, recommended we visit McLoughlin's Irish Pub for dinner. He raved about their chef, and since Josh doesn't like Japanese food we decided to give it a shot. The place did not disappoint.

We were a little surprised, I must admit, to arrive at 6:30 and find the place barely open. When do Japanese people eat dinner on Friday night?! But we got to meet the chef and manager, who was in fact Irish, because he was sitting at the bar when we walked in. And we had the full attention of the staff, which is always nice - we each had a beer and I sipped a shot of Bushmills while enjoying the eighth-floor view of Kyoto. Then came the food.
Josh had been craving a burger, and this one came with a homemade sesame bun and hand-cut fries AND onion rings, and it was delicious. And once again, I was enticed by delicious pork sausages.
My first ever bangers and mashed! OH MY GOD, Internet, they were soso good. The sausages are also house-made, and delicious. We were so happy.

Unfortunately, over an hour after we arrived, there were still no other patrons in the place. Our waiter let us know that there wasn't any music that night, so we decided to move on. Will will be disappointed to hear that we went to another Irish pub, right next door to our hotel, called The Hill of Tara. We were skeptical, I'll admit, and glad we'd already eaten when we saw this sign on the door:
Mmmmm, ye olde traditional Irish crab entrails! JUST LIKE HOME. I have no idea whether that's actually eaten in Ireland, but no thanks for me.

Still, they had beer and whiskey, and live music starting at 9:00pm, so we grabbed a couple seats at the bar and ordered another couple Kilkenneys. And you'll never guess who we met. I mean, is it unusual to run into a couple staff members of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, while at an Irish pub in Kyoto? Is that not normal?

The four of us talked and drank and shared Japan and New York stories for a couple hours, while they ordered non-entrail dinners. I gave them a couple ideas for their day in Tokyo this week, and they told us about the Samaurai weapons and armor show that will hit the Met in October - they were in Japan working on the official book to be released for that collection. HOW COOL. By the time we were ready to settle up and head in for the night, we didn't even care that the music sounded like an easy-listening cut of an Irish Spring commercial, or that we hadn't seen any geisha or visited the Golden Pavilion.

Our train on Sunday left at 2:00pm, and we had a lot of fun before then. More on that soon - just as soon as I can get a Japanese version of Danny Boy out of my head. "...from gren to gren, and down the mountainside..."

*No, we didn't pay for the pool. We just walked down there in our bathing suits and complimentary bathrobes, got denied, and walked back. But we hope the Japanese people who were disgusted to see us so undressed in public might at least have thought we were rich enough to be able to swim there.


Nadine said...

wow, that sounds nice. I'm glad you got to see Kyoto. I didn't make it to that shrine when I went, I'll make sure to see it next time. take care!

Kelsey said...

That sounds like so much fun!!! Great pictures!

clembo said...

Great to see Kyoto through your eyes. And great to SEE Josh's eyes! I'm not used to seeing him without glasses yet.
Looking forward to more...

Bethanyivy said...

How much fun! (even if it was a bit short). We never actually made it out further than Tokyo and Fuji. That was ok by me though. I am so excited you are able to see the rest of Japan you were wanting too, and that you will soon be stateside. Woohoo!!! I love you and miss you my friend.