April 19, 2010 - Tokyo, Japan

Kyoto....No a place tae go if yer already suffering fae Temple Fatigue. The place is positively hoaching wi them. Ye cannae turn a corner withoot running intae a temple or a shrine or a pagoda o some kind.

Took us a couple o days tae get intae Kyoto. The folks arny as nice as the Osakans (Osaka-ites? Osaka-ese? Osakiens?) for starters. Ever so slightly up-their-own-arses. Also it was cauld and raining for the first couple o days so we were a bit miserable padding aroond. It's a confusing place tae arrive at wi nae prior planning. The guide books are all so full o praise for this temple and that temple - but they all have similar names like Jingo-ji and Banjo-koen and most o them are packed intae the area East of the Kamogawa river so when yer wandering past them all, if the writing on the ootside is all in Japanese, ye've nae idea if any particular one is the one that's described as 'the oldest and most spectacular shinto shrine in the whole of Japan. Built a few years before the big-bang and made entirely out of bamboo and dragon dung' or if it's 'nah...this one is a bit piddly'. Plus some o them are free and some o them cost up to 700 Yen each tae get in (aboot a fiver) so when yer on a budget ye have tae be selective. Widny be the first time we've spent oor beer money getting intae some place that looked exactly like all the others but had the oldest bell in Japan...big deal.

Onyway...I'm getting a bit ahead o masel there.

So it wis hardly worth sitting doon on the train on the way up here fae Osaka. The journey took all of 12 minutes or something. Same journey in the UK wid probably take 4 hours but since the trains here go faster than the speed of get places pretty swiftly. Actually I'm sure there are some journeys where ye arrive before ye've left. Getting tae the hotel is nae hassle and a quick cuppy tea later we head oot and up tae the Manga museum which is just up the road. Manga museum is bizarre. Hundreds of thousands of manga comics lining the walls - even some in English. Folk all ages sitting reading comics. Some framed drawings on the walls, some of which are just incredible, and touchy-feely displays ye can mess aroond wi. Cool. Left us both itching tae get intae Manga but wi nae idea where tae start...and then I discovered this website later on that night All the Manga ye could ever wish for, free tae read online. Manga-tastic. Hae a wee gander at 'Vagabond'...I'm quite liking that one. So eftir the museum we hae a wander along tae the river and along the side o it until we find oor way back tae oor hotel and then just get pot noodles and sit in.

Next day is miserable. Chucking it doon so it is. We hae a wander up tae a Buddhist temple called Nishi-Hongan-ji. Remember that fella Tokugawa Ieyasu I mentioned in the last blog? Fella that besiged Osaka Castle? Aye? Well he ordered this place tae be built apparently. For some shifty reason aswell I think. Anyway...we go because it's up the road fae oor hotel, is free, and gets us oot o the rain. It's being renovated at the minute unfortunately but is still pretty smart in a 'big airy-rooms wi smart wooden finishings' kind o way. We eke this oot for as long as we possible can and then split a bit further south to the train station. We didny see the main bit o this yesterday when we arrived since we louped straight ontae the subway and oor book says it is smart so we go for a gander. And it is smart. Well smart. It's absolutely enormous and all windaes and steel-framed...bits. Impressive. Onyway we fire up aboot a million escalators tae the roof garden and get a bit soggy looking oot over Kyoto before we head intae a cafe for a coffee and a big pile o waffles. Nice. We're fresh oot o ideas eftir this. It's Monday so all the galleries and museums are shut and we dinny fancy wandering aboot much in the rain so we call it a day and go back tae the hotel, depressed. Tae cheer us up later, we brave the rain and wander along the Shijo-dori tae a curry house we spied yesterday and hae a ruby. Man, it is tasty. Plenty of Indian Restaurants in Japan. Indians and Italians.

Tuesday we wander up tae Nijo Castle and fire in here.Yer man Tokugawa Ieyasu used tae bide here when he was in Kyoto although he spent most o his time up in Edo (Tokyo). Actually quite an impressive place with a beautiful wooden interior, walls all painted wi frescoes o birds and trees and a whistling floor. Seriously the floor whistles when ye walk aboot - it wis designed like that so they could hear intruders. What they didny bank on wis attracting all the neighbourhood dogs. Millions o them drowned in the moat, apparently. Naw I made that bit up. Anyway it's quite smart the old Nijo Castle. As are the lovely gardens oot the back. Eftir this we wander over tae where the Imperial Palace is. Ye canny get intae the palace withoot booking it a month in advance, which obviously we huvny, but ye can wander roond the gardens tae yer hearts content - so we do. Nothing special, really. Big wide gravelly avenues, a few wee shrine-y type things and plenty o trees. Eftir this we finally cross to the East side of the river as there is apparently a nice wee walk doon a path called 'The Philosophers Path' which runs doon the side o a canal. We find it and what a smashing we wander-daunder it is. Cherry-blossom trees on either side and wee fancy craft shops up and doon it. And this is where it starts tae click that all the smart stuff in Kyoto is over on this side of the river. We come oot near the bright orange Torii (gate) of a place called Yasaka-jinja which looks pretty impressive all lit up and then wander aroond a fancy wee area called Gion for a bit which is where the wee Geisha lassies used tae ply their trade back in the day. It's all swanky restaurants these days though so we just hae a gander then bolt. It's noodles for us the nicht. We find a wee place up a side-street and get some Ramen doon us. Braw.

Wednesday we spend a bit o the morning wandering roond a cracking wee market, then we get organised and head over the river wi a plan tae see some quality temples and Zen gardens. First temple we find is actually a bit disappointing, it's called the chion-in and is pretty big and in yer face but not particularly impressive. It does however lead ye roond intae Marayuma-coen a smashing big park with all ponds and blossom trees and makes ye jist want tae sit cross legged on a boulder and spend 10 hours meditating on the essence of existence. Well...actually it makes us want ice-cream. We go tae get one but Jacs spots the woman selling it picking her nose. Not surprisingly, this puts us off, so nae ice-cream for us. A 2k hike South brings us up tae the Kiyomizu-dera which all the guide books are raving aboot. Now yer talking...what a belter. Set on the side o the hills wi the forest behind it and perched owr a wee mini-valley it is absolutely beautiful. We've got there just as the Sun is starting tae go doon aswell so catch it wi all long-shadows and fading light. Very nice indeed. Shamefully, we head straight from here to an all-you-can-eat pizza place and stuff oor faces. Wednesday tanned.

Thursday we deploy oor trusty Rail Passes and head aboot 40km South East from Kyoto tae a place called Nara which wis even the capital o Japan afore Kyoto wis.'s soooooo two capitals ago. I think that's their slogan. Ken, like....Glasgow Smiles Better? Anyway we go here because there is apparently some smart stuff, it's another place tae see and...well...because we can. First impressions are a bit grim as it has a pissy little main road but this leads up to a big park and the area with all the temples. Up here there are wild deer running aboot like there wis at thon Miyajima place. Hunders o them. Ye widny be stuck for a venison sausage aboot these parts likes. Anyway the first couple o places we look at are reasonably guff but the main event, and this is really what we came to see, is the Todai-ji - the World's largest wooden structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a gigantic 15m tall, 500 ton, bronze Buddha statue. What a size o a place it is - no a bit o cement in sight. And the Buddha - jingseroonie! - what a knock-out. The temple actually houses 4 other huge statues which are quite smart also. There is a bit o a commotion at the back of the temple with all school kids crowding around some pillar and when we get closer we see kids squeezing, one at a time, through a hole at the foot o it. Quick check in oor guidebook confirms that legend has it that yer place in Nirvana is guaranteed if ye can fit through the hole. Man, I almost have a go masel on hearing that. There's nae way I wid fit through it though. No eftir all that pizza last night. So we come oot the Todai-ji suitably impressed and then wander aboot through a whole bunch o other shrines and mini-temples, all very pleasant, on the way back tae the town and then ontae the train and back tae Kyoto. For the second time in as many nights we have pot-noodles for tea. Man, it's nae use this having tae go oot for tea every night. It can be hard tae find something reasonably priced where ye ken what it is yer ordering. I do miss cooking my ain tea. Onyway next day we is up and oot o Kyoto and up tae...shit-the-bed!...Tokyo! Cannae wait.

Pretty fair tae say that we are now, without doubt, all templed out. We are not expecting tae be wandering aroond temples in Tokyo. No siree, Bob. We want concrete, glass and neon and lots of it. I'm pretty sure we'll get that alright.

Afore I go....let me just share a few wee observations and things I've found out aboot Japan and the Japanese wi ye. It's a damned fascinating place the Japan.

1 - Everybody is so smartly dressed. Fashionable lot, the Japanese. Man, even the taxi-drivers wear suits.

2 - Blowing yer nose in public is considered rude. Yer supposed tae just keep sniffing until ye find a private spot.

3 - Eating while walking is considered rude.

4 - Ye can smoke in restaurants and cafes but no in the street.

5 - Ye can get hot coffee, in a can, oot a vending machine.

6 - Afore the wee man wi the snack trolley leaves the train carriage, he bows.

7 - Ye only have tae think aboot looking at yer map and somebody asks if they can help. These are a smashing bunch of people.

8 - My mobile phone disny work here. It's worked everywhere else.

9 - My favourite Japanese band is called 'Bump of Chicken' - they meant to call themselves 'Coward's Attack' but got the English wrong.

10 - The Japanese arny happy aboot their fitba the now. They got humped 3-0 by Serbia in the Kirin Cup final and have serious reservations aboot their manager. I wouldny bet on them getting oot o their group of Holland, Denmark and Cameroon. I'll be cheering for them though. 'Mon the Japan.

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April 20, 2010
And to think I thought Banjo Coen was a jewish ukelele player.
elliot Mather:
April 21, 2010
You'll find that your mobile is probably only dual band, Japan wanting you to be different require you to have a tri-band phone.

There you go, wee bit of geek for you.
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