Journal 20081008 Japan

After our welcomed Western breakfast, we went to the front desk where a very helpful concierge, Yamada, spent several minutes locating a suitable tempura restaurant, and even made a reservation for us. He also helped us with local bus maps. We bought a day pass that included subway journeys, but later realised that we should have gone for the bus-only version, as the bus network was much better than the non-connected subways. Also, when we attempted to enter what clearly looked like a metro station, we were told that our day pass wasn’t applicable. So, just go for a bus pass. [I subsequently learned that there is a distinction between above ground “rail” service and underground “subway” service; again, bus-only pass would be sufficient.]

The 205 bus service from our hotel went directly to our first destination of the day, the Golden Pavillion, Rokuon-ji Temple. It was about a 40-minute journey, assisted by the multi-lingual (read English) announcements on the bus. The temple was easy to find, just follow the crowds.

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We were taken aback at just how many tourists there were at the site. Dozens of Japanese school groups. The best photographic view was a contest for patience and perserverance, but we ultimately got our desired photos, including a spectacular one with the sun and cloudless sky making the gold leaf facade glow.

We took our time strolling through the rest of the temple gardens, stopping a couple of times for some souvenirs. We bought a large foil card that we intend to put above our console in our entry hall. We also got a smaller book, “Illustrated Must-See in Kyoto”, that had many useful and interesting illustrations of various aspects to temples, dress, and traditions of the city. The entire series of these books appear worthwhile.

Although the sun was bright and hot, we decided the fastest way to get to the Ryoan-ji Temple rock garden was by a 20-minute walk. First we stopped at a 7-Eleven for some takeaway noodle meals. I was pleasantly surprised to earn that mine came with an additional piece of chicken, which was presented when I paid for the meal, then was all microwaved and served hot. We ate our lunch once inside the grounds of the rock garden.

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The rock garden is worth seeing, but is not the place for reflection of contemplation, unless you arrive particularly early or late. Not as many school children as at the Golden Pavillion, there were plenty enough, combined with expected Western tourists. Today, there happened to be a good number from Russia. I was happy to get a good shot of the garden, which is hard to do without a fisheye wide-angle lens. Instead, I used a wide angle perspective of the corner of the garden. Beyond this, we both found the surrounding garden absolutely spectacular, one of the best we’ve ever experienced. There is so much thought put into every aspect and view.

I navigated the bus map to get us back to our next tourist destination, Tōji Temple, with two bus connections. The first bus arrived soon and promptly. The next service, number four, ran on the hour and thankfully we only had to wait 15 minutes for it. However, as it was now rush hour, it was taking us a long time to get back to the centre of town. According to my guidebook, the temple closed at 4.30, and it was beyond that. I apologised to Madame Oui and said that at least we’d get some photos from the outside.

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Yet as we sneaked around the corner, towards the exit, where I was taking some desperate shots, a security guard kindly summoned me towards him, where he got me through the exit and told me that I had 10 minutes to take some more photos. This time, I got a lovely one with Madame Oui. I was so impressed that this member of staff was so considerate and thoughtful; I can’t imagine this happening back in Ireland or pretty much anywhere else in Europe.

Failing to get entry to what looked like a train station to us (with our one-day bus and subway pass), we found the local bus route that took us directly to our hotel. We both relaxed and made use of the complimentary back massage chair (must investigate getting one for home!). I realised that I was getting too relaxed, as I nearly forgot about having to go to the main Kyoto Station to make further train reservations for our first class (Green Car) service. The bus from the hotel got me there in good time, and my reservations didn’t take long either. I thought I was going to get back to the hotel in good time, as I boarded the bus. However, after an unexpected turn, I realised I boarded the wrong bus (correct bus number, different direction). I got off at the next stop, then had to rush into a 7-Eleven to get cash, then hail a taxi to get me back to the hotel. Lessons: make your advance rail reservations in good time, always have enough cash on you, and double check your destination with the driver when you board (which is difficult in Japan as you enter at the rear of the bus, not the front).

Thankfully Madame Oui was ready upon my return, and with good timing of the local bus service, we miraculously made our 8.30pm restaurant reservation at Hageten (ハゲ天), on the 8th floor of the large department store. We studied the plastic replica meals in the front window, and went in, to be seated at the window, in a modified Japanese style room (tatami mats, but with sunken room under the table to put your legs). Our waitress was charming, and she made an effort to speak English. In return, we taught her that it was more accurate to say “crab claw” (“craw” as she pronounced it), than “crab hand”. She studiously wrote a note to herself.

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Quite simply, this was easily the best tempura meal I’ve ever had. Now, I haven’t had many, but I cannot imagine any tasting better than this. We had nine courses, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one, from battered asparagus, squash, king prawn, and even the eel (but I could only manage half of that). The coup de grâce was the final course of shrimp and pumpkin (must have been an October treat; they’re mad into Halloween here). It was fun to have the chef deliver each course as he finished preparing it. Washed down with a couple jars (“jogs”!) of premium Asahi draft beer. This meal ranks as one of my most enjoyable ever. I got a photo of Madame Oui and our waitress.

We left just before the whole complex closed, at 10pm (most people have eaten before 8pm, and most shops close at 9pm). It was still warm outside, and we strolled back to the hotel, stopping at a local 24-our mart where I got some ice cream for both of us. Back at the hotel, we ate it while watching crazy late night Japanese TV.

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