torrie's travels


Farewell, Japan! October 7, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 10:16 am

No blog yesterday because we really didn’t do anything. We got up in Kyoto (slept in), got on the train to Tokyo, checked into the hotel, did some souvenir shopping, and had dinner. Then Loren went out with friends and I stayed in with some Smirnoff, M&Ms, and a good book!

Got up today and got ready to go to the Imperial Palace. I may have been more jazzed for this place if we had been able to hit it on our first go-round in Tokyo, but it was closed on Mondays (much like museums in Europe), so it had to wait until today. I was feeling both a lack of interest in any more sightseeing and in desperate need of alone time. So after an underwhelming tour of the gardens (a short tour, to be sure), Loren and I split up. I gave her the wifi and I went offline for the day. It was refreshing.

I stopped at Starbucks for a “Fruit Crush” (no idea if they have those at home, but it was delicious), then made my way to Maruzen, a bookstore Liz had said had stationery. I have heard all about the beautiful Japanese stationery, but besides postcards, I hadn’t really seen any. I found some I liked, so that was good!

Then I went to Ginza to Tiffany. I had waited to go to the store in Shinjuku, but the one I found had about 3 display cases. They said the big store was in Ginza. Bummer. I had known there was a Tiffany in the Mitsukoshi mall across the street from our hotel in Ginza when we first got to Tokyo, but I wanted to make my purchase in Shinjuku. So I went to Mitsukoshi and again was met with 3 display cases. I tried to asking someone who spoke almost no English if there was more to the store and someone who did speak English heard me. She said the bigger store was around the corner and down the block. Perfect! The people at Tiffany were awesome. They all noticed I was wearing Tiffany earrings and as I was having difficulty selecting something, a gentleman asked if he could clean my earrings as I browsed. YES PLEASE! I hadn’t cleaned these earrings since I bought them a year ago in Paris because the Galleria location charges an arm and a leg for cleaning. As I was taking them out, he noticed my ring and asked me to include it. I eventually decided on a pair of earrnings (the necklaces were all 16 inches, which is too short for me). The people were just wonderful and as I asked whether the cleaning should be added to my bill, they were all, noooooo. Like it was stupid to ask.

I then went to Shibuya to see the crossing during the day. It’s way different and much less crowded. I went into the Starbucks to see the view from up top. That’s when I remembered that I needed to purchase my Starbucks mug. They’re a different style and don’t have one that just says “Japan”, so I settled for “Tokyo.” I then went around several blocks looking for some tempura. No luck, so I ended up at McDonald’s. It was 2:30 and I hadn’t eaten, so I thought I should have something!

Made it back to my hotel and relaxed a little before Loren returned and Liz and Tove were ready to meet up. (They returned to Tokyo today.) We went to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, which was where Lost in Translation was filmed. The bar at the top, the New York Bar, was amazing. The view was incredible. Way better than the Skytree (and even though the drinks are expensive, if you had one drink it was still cheaper!). It was a great start to the night and we even got to see Mt. Fuji from there. It was our first sighting.

After that we went to dinner at a good tempura place in Shinjuku. It was known as being one of the best in Tokyo. I had two prawns and rice. I tried some sake, but again, not a fan. Unless it’s mixed with something I don’t really like it. But I had about half. I also tried a scallop sashimi. No thanks. Liz had to finish it! It was a great dinner experience and our table was full and colorful!

Then we decided that none of us had yet done karaoke, which is a must in Japan. So we moved on to a karaoke place. The ones in Japan are great because you’re in your own room, so you don’t have to get on stage in front of a bunch of randos. We said we were going to stay for an hour. We started with a round of Zimas (because to paraphrase the saying, when in Japan…) and some Prince. Because why wouldn’t you start with Prince? As we got going we started having so. Much. Fun. We ended up staying for 3 hours! (And yes, three rounds of Zimas!) We did mostly a tour of the 80’s, but we threw in some 90’s and others for good measure. They kept calling us when our “half hour extension” was up and we kept saying, we’d like more time, thanks! Seriously, couldn’t have had a better last day/night in Japan!!


Plan B (Or C or D…) October 5, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 9:32 am

Today started early, as expected. We were supposed to take a 2-leg journey from Hiroshima to Yufuin, a smaller, rural town in southern Japan. We got through the first leg, in Hakata, when we were prevented from continuing on to the second leg. The train we were supposed to take was evidently not covered by our rail pass and, to make matters worse, was sold out. So even if we wanted to buy a ticket, we couldn’t. So we went to the ticket booth to inquire, but she spoke very little English. I asked about the return train tomorrow, but she said that was sold out, too. This meant we would’ve had to take three (I think) trains from Hakata to Yufuin, which would take longer. And we would have had to do that tomorrow, which was already going to be a 10-hour travel day.

But this part of the trip was to be our Onsen experience. The onsens are hot springs that are said to have healing powers as a result of all of the minerals in them. Onsens served as traditional Japanese bathing places, back in the day. We initially thought that they were all outdoors, so we had it in our head that we would sit outdoors, in the hot water, and gaze upon some pretty scenes. But then we realized that those are less common than what are now referred to as “public baths”. Many hotels have them attached. They can be more like a hot tub (but still with the special mineral-y water) or some are just glorified bath tubs. We were very much looking forward to the outdoor onsens, so that’s why we chose Yufuin. It’s an area of the country known for them.

I left the decision up to Loren whether we continued on the longer journey to Yufuin or whether we changed our plans. We had about 10 mins before the next train south that would have taken us on our journey. We got in line and just as we were able to board the train, Loren decided not to go. So we sat down and started researching other train routes/times and then decided we should just go. So we got up and that was the moment that the train pulled away! We sat for awhile and looked at hotels up in Osaka and Kyoto and tried to find other onsens in those areas. We came up empty with the onsens. So we decided we would get on the next shinkansen (bullet train) north.

We went to that train’s platform and did more research. We knew that our friends Tove and Liz were going to be in Kyoto tonight and we found a good priced hotel, so we pulled the trigger. We did not get a refund on our room in Yufuin, we would’ve had to have canceled before the day of. But I had a free night (or significant amount toward a free night), so this room isn’t costing us much. We then spent several hours on the train, but I am introducing Loren to Downton Abbey, so the time flew by.

Once in Kyoto, we checked into our hotel and then went back to the train station (1-2 blocks) to have McDonald’s. Aside from breakfast in Hiroshima this morning, all I had eaten was almonds and some Ritz crackers with cheese. Loren decided to eat as well, as we thought we weren’t meeting Liz and Tove for dinner for a couple hours. After that we went back to the shopping mall we frequented last week. We met the girls only an hour later for sushi at a rotating sushi restaurant. We had been wanting to try one but hadn’t seen it. It was right in the train station but for some reason we never noticed it before!

So I finally really tried sushi. Nothing too crazy. I tried a lobster salad roll, which was tasty. Then I had shrimp tempura (with rice), then shrimp and avocado, and finally crab salad. So I basically had two meals in a row, but I’m glad I tried it. I didn’t get wild (I passed on the horsemeat…what???), but I’m glad I tried that stuff! Maybe I will have another chance before the trip is over.

We then went to the neighborhood where the girls were staying because they saw a good craft beer place. After one drink we went in search of sake. We found a place that appeared to have a lot of sake, as there were tons of bottles out front in a sort of display. This was a place where we had to remove our shoes, which was a first for us. Then we were seated at a table in its own little cubby and where we sat almost on the ground. They only had one kind of sake, which was strange, but we all tried it. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was much better than the hot stuff we had in Tokyo. It was a great time to hang out with Liz and Tove!!

After dinner and drinks Loren and I returned to our hotel to take advantage of the free drink and the public bath. That’s right. Unbeknownst to us, I booked a hotel that had a bath. We found that our when we checked in. So we got into our Japanese pajamas and slippers and headed over. It was pretty intimidating because there were several other women there. You have to go into the bath room with nothing but your towel, shower at little sit-down shower stalls that have opaque walls, wash yourself, then enter the bath. Loren went first from the shower to the bath and I followed. We sat in it (much like a hot tub) for about 15-20 mins, hoping the healing powers would work! Then we took turns getting out, showering, and returning to the locker room. It was definitely something that fits my travel mantra: do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. And it was also outside of my comfort zone!

Not bad for a completely altered day!!


So Much Bowing! October 4, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 6:32 am

I forgot to mention the other day, and then it happened again today, that I’ve never bowed so much in my life. Most of the time, it’s small, almost half-hearted bowing when saying thank you. But in Osaka at a convenience store the clerk bowed as I approached the register and she went for it. She bowed all the way to the counter. Pretty sure her nose was touching the counter. And then when she thanked me she did it again. Full on, deep bow. So I felt the need to bow more than “usual”, but of course I started after she did, so she was on her way up and saw that I was bowing, so down she went again. We didn’t do that for long, but it went back and forth a bit. It could’ve gone on forever! Then today after a purchase of some souvenirs the gentleman bowed (not as far as convenience store chick), so then I started bowing, and then he saw me and bowed more. Seriously, where does it end?!?! But I actually want to Google the tradition of bowing. I know it’s deeply respectful, but there must be more to it!

We slept a little later today and it seems like every day that I think is going to be more “laid back” and “easy” never turns out that way. I mean, we’re not rushing and we haven’t had to cram things in, but it’s always so much more walking and sweating than I anticipate! We went straight to the train station to take the train to the port and a ferry to Miyajima Island. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site (I really should look up a list of those and see how many I’ve been to!). It was said to be one of the three most scenic spots of Japan, at least a Confucian thought so in 1643 AD! The heritage site includes 431 hectares of land, the shrine (which we did not go into…so many shrines and temples!), the sea, and the forest around Mt. Misen.

The island is also well-known for its O-Torii Gate (not sure why this one has an O when the others did not). The gate appears to be floating in the sea about 100 meters off the shore. But at low tide, one can actually walk to it! So I wanted to make sure we saw it at, or very close to, high tide. But when we first got there, we did some browsing at the many souvenir shops and food vendors. Had I known there were so many food vendors, I wouldn’t have had two pastries for breakfast (woke up starving!). Of course, many of the food vendors were selling things I would not eat (squid testicles, anyone? Though now that I’m typing that, I realize it may have been “tentacles” that was lost in translation…hmmm.)

We then saw the Torii gate at almost high tide, but decided to take the Ropeway (Gondola) up Mt. Misen. I said I would go if it wasn’t a crazy steep/many steps walk. And then we found the shuttle bus. Which was driven by a crazy person. I was freaking out with the older Japanese lady next to me who liked it when Loren closed her eyes it was so scary! We took one set of gondolas up and over the beautiful forest. We were with a Brazilian couple who very lovely. Then we had to transfer to another, larger, gondola that brought us up the rest of the way. It slowly revealed stunning views over the Seto Inland Sea (or Hiroshima Bay, we’re not sure). So stunning that numerous people audibly gasped as it started coming into view! Many “oohs” and “aahs”! It was very beautiful and I am afraid that photos won’t do it justice. There are lots of islands in the water and they all seemed to have been covered in forests, so it was just very pretty.

We then went down soon after and chose not to take the 30 minute hike to the summit of Mt. Misen. On the way down (the second leg) we were in a gondola with an older couple. Or I thought they were a couple until we started talking and realized that they are siblings! They are of Asian descent and are Australians. We had a nice chat with them and took turns taking silly pictures of one another in cut-out frames. We just missed the bus going back down, so we decided to walk. The nature walk was much better than the road and was quite scenic. We then made it back to the Torii gate, shortly after high tide. It was really beautiful.

I should also say that there were a lot of deer here, like in Nara. But unlike Nara, we were not supposed to feed or touch these deer. They definitely seemed more “wild” than the ones in Nara. I saw one deer take a lunch bag out of someone’s backpack and fought for dear (ha!) life as the person wrested it away. None of the deer tried to eat my shirt this time, though, so that was good. As we stood by the water and I ate a mandarin orange ice cream cone, we watched some idiot try to ride a deer. The deer bucked that dude just as good as a horse and the guy fell flat on his back. Served him right. Apparently idiocy knows no borders. Shortly thereafter, the deer was seen on a relatively high stone fence. I have no idea how it got up there, but it was looking for food! I had earlier eaten a tasty grilled beef skewer. It had some seasoning on it that was delish. But I had also seen grilled corn on the cob, so I got some of that then. It was nasty. It was mostly cold and stale. So I contemplated giving it to the deer, but decided to follow the rules and not feed it!

We took the ferry and the train back into town and tried to shop at a “mall”, but it was too overwhelming and we were too tired. The gentleman from Australia had noted that there seemed to be a lot of malls in Japan. We concurred! So we left the mall and looked for dinner on the way back to the hotel. I was in the mood to try tempura again, but couldn’t find anywhere that had it. I’m not kidding, this hasn’t been easy attempting to try new foods when new foods for me are too passe for the Japanese. The common Japanese food is too far out of my comfort zone. So we settled on Savoy Pizza. Holy cow. Good choice. Probably the best pizza I’ve had since Italy. So good!

Tonight we rest. Longest train trip tomorrow to a rural town in southern Japan. It will be a primer for our all-day train trip on Tuesday!


Hiroshima October 3, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 9:46 am

We left Osaka this morning for an hour and a half train ride to Hiroshima. We got to town and immediately went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is only a few blocks from our hotel. We went to the A-dome first, which is one of the only remaining structures after the detonation. It is quite surprising how much of it still exists, considering the blast was very close by. I learned, and probably learned before but forgot, that the bomb exploded 600 meters in the air above Hiroshima, just after everyone had come out of their bomb shelters for the day. It was pretty amazing to learn that we deployed other things in addition to the bomb, like mechanisms to determine the change in atmosphere at the time of the explosion. It really seemed like an additional experiment on the bomb. But it was the first time the bomb had ever been used, so I guess we wanted to learn whatever we could from it.

The park is beautiful and there are many peace memorials throughout. I saw the Children’s Memorial, the Korean victims’ memorial, a Biuddhist memorial, and the Cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims. The latter looks almost like a covered wagon, but was designed to protect the victims from the rain (after the bomb came “black rain”, which people also died from). It statesL “Rest in peace for the error shall not be repeated” and contains a list of names of victims.

At this point I was waiting to take a photo and struck up a conversation with an Australian man. He immediately detected my accent and asked if I was from the “States or Canada.” THE STATES. Honestly! Haha! We had a good talk, compared notes about the park, and went our separate ways. Loren and I then toured the museum, which was very informative. I didn’t feel as emotional here as I did at many places in Europe, which I contribute to the fact that, in my friend Jersey’s words, “they started it.” I mean, yes, our response was ultimately a nuclear bomb, but at the same time, maybe don’t bomb us first?

I enjoyed learning about the city, the victims, the bomb, and the aftereffects. It was clear that this was not a museum in the U.S. There was an actual tongue on display to show the effects, as was skin and fingernails and other body parts that I completely skipped over! I also enjoyed learning about a girl named Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 when the bomb exploded. She appeared fine for 10 years, but then was diagnosed with leukemia and died eight months after she began treatment. It was interesting to me to hear that leukemia and other cancers were caused by the radiation in the bomb because radiation is used as cancer treatment. Maybe that’s a stupid thought, I don’t know. Or maybe someone can explain it to me?

After the museum we walked toward Hiroshima Castle and stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. It was that or KFC and I preferred McD’s! I got a Big Mac, which I haven’t had in I don’t know how long. I literally can’t ever remember ordering one, though I’ve definitely had one before! I had to use Google translate to order it without onions. We then made it to the castle, which was another wooden structure. It was very pretty, but we opted not to go inside.

We then headed off to Shukkeien Park. On our way, we ran into our Australian friends again (the guy I spoke to and his wife). As we approached each other the guy goes, “Hey there Minnesota!” It was nice to see a “familiar” face and again swap stories of where were going/had been! They even asked us for Osaka tips! We then made it to the park, but first we saw the courts and the government buildings. They call their prosecutors “high public prosecutors.” I think I’m going to require people to call me a “high prosecutor” when I get back!

The park was very pretty. Lots of bonsai and a pond with enormous Koi. Like the biggest I’ve ever seen! And they were jumping. Like crazy! They jumped high in the air and then basically belly-flopped down. But there was a fair amount of jumping. The park had lots of different kinds of foliage, bridges, and scenic overlooks (that required the removal of shoes). I even had a close encounter with a turtle and a crab. (Not gonna lie, the crab totally reminded me of Bachelor in Paradise…for those of you who watched!) We got kicked out of the park at 5pm to the sound of Auld Lang Syne. Kind of bizarre.

After cabbing it back to the hotel and resting for a brief moment, we decided to go to the rooftop “Skybeer Restaurant” to check out the sunset. That was the first real glimpse of the Bay and all the islands and mountains around. It was gorgeous. We had a drink and then got ready for dinner. We went to Okonomi-mura, which is a building that has three levels completely devoted to making Okonomi-yaki. A friend of a friend recommended this Hiroshima specialty and this location specifically. We chose the third floor and ended up at a nice “stand” (there are about 8-9 “stands” on each floor).

Okonomi-yaki is sort of like a pancake, but not really. It has lots of different ingredients or “toppings.” I had one with squid (I substituted for deep-fried squid), shrimp, and pork (hold the pork). It starts by putting a floury-pancackey batter on the grill (it’s all made at a grill right in front of you), then topped with cabbage (a LOT of cabbage), bean sprouts, a little bit of corn, and then your toppings. Then they bring noodles out and cook those on the grill (they added my deep-fried squid to the noodles) before adding them on top of the other stuff. Then they crack an egg on the grill, mix it around and fry it and then place the fried egg on top of the other pile. Then they smush it down and add a brown sauce to the top. I was real leery of the brown sauce, but it was actually good! I tried something new and liked it! Who would’ve thought?!?! Though I could’ve done with less cabbage and bean sprouts. I could only eat half as it’s quite filling.

We were watching a baseball game during dinner (every stand on that floor had the game on and you could hear all the cheers on the floor when something happened). I decided to ask one of the cooks whether he knew of So Taguchi, a former Cardinal who was from Japan. He played in Japan before making the majors and won a World Series with the 2006 Cardinals. He is the first Japanese player to win a World Series. After his MLB days were done, he came back to Japan for one year before retiring. Now he says he wants to be the first Japanese manager in MLB, but wants to wait until his son is older. So I thought for sure these baseball fans would know him. They had no clue. So I pulled up a photos on my phone and the cook goes, “OH, Cardinals, Cardinals!” And then taught me how to pronounce “Taguchi” in their accent. It’s quite different, so that’s why he didn’t know who I was talking about!

We left there and went to Kemby’s, a sports bar-ish place also recommended to me by the friend of a friend. We each had a drink as we finished watching the Japanese baseball game we had started to watch at dinner. Then it went into extra innings, so it was Zima time again! The atmosphere of the place was great and everyone was paying attention to the game. Unfortunately the Hiroshima Carp (or the Cincinnati Reds, based on their logo) lost. We then went to leave, but Loren wanted to go somewhere else, so she started asking the American basketball players around us for ideas. They were (mostly) tall black guys, so it was a pretty good hunch they were basketball players. Who knew Japan had a professional basketball league? Not me! They played for the Lightning. Loren then went out and I went back to the hotel. And I need to go to bed now…it’s late!


Osaka: Coming up Roses October 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:55 am

We left Kyoto this morning with some Starbucks and Mister Donut. It was a short trip to Osaka and a longer cab ride than we had previously experienced. But the cab driver knew right where our hotel was just upon us saying the name, which was a refreshing change! We were early at the hotel, so we planned to just check-in, have them hold our bags, and head out. But they asked us to wait 10 minutes for our room. When he came over to us in the waiting room, he said that our room was ready and that we had been upgraded for free! SWEET! So we had a larger room on the 21st floor (of a 23-floor hotel). It was pretty awesome.

After settling in a bit at the hotel, we took off for Osaka Castle. A castle was first built at that location ion 1496, though the castle has been through several iterations since. The current version of the Main Tower was restored in 1931. It sits on park grounds now and in the restoration they even restored most of the moats. The imposing stone walls rising over the moats are quite impressive. Then the castle is situated upon a large stone foundation as well. You can take the elevator most of the way up to the observation deck (you have to climb two floors), which offers a great view of Osaka. I didn’t realize the area was so large! You then walk down all the way, stopping at each floor to look at artifacts, artwork, etc.

After Osaka Castle, Loren wanted to nap and rest, so she went back to the hotel and I went in search of lunch. Helkei had told us about a Japanese fast food restaurant called “Mos Burger”. I enjoy trying foreign fast food places and I recalled seeing one as the cab brought us to the hotel. I looked it up on the map and it was .7 miles away. Off I went. When I got there, I realized that it was not the same one I saw and that it was in an office building. Fine. I looked everywhere for it. No dice. So I decided to walk back to the hotel, where there was a McDonald’s nearby. As I was back at the corner where the hotel is I was waiting for the light to turn so I could cross the road and go left to the McDonald’s. I just happened to look right and saw a Mos Burger a block away. Honestly. So in I went. I chose a cheeseburger that appeared to have some kind of red sauce on it. When it came I realized that the red sauce had something in it. Hundreds of chopped onions. I can’t stand onions. Like at all. So I had to scrape all of the sauce off. But the meat for the burger wasn’t any good, either. I should’ve stuck to a chicken sandwich! But at least I know!

I then returned to the hotel and rested and read before getting ready to go out. The whole reason we came here was so Loren could go out. The area we went to was a large touristy area. It had gaudy signs, neon lights, and lots of people vying for your money. It almost felt like a carnival. I wasn’t eating because I had the late lunch, so we mostly walked around. We found a bar called “Bar Moonwalk” that had 200 yen drinks. In Japan some places have what they call a “cover charge,” which is basically a seat charge. In this case, it was 400 yen. But I got three drinks and only spent 1000 yen, so that was a good deal! I had a cocktail called “Heaven and Hell,” a “Sake Sour,” and my favorite because it was clearly named for me, a “High Class Lady.” They were all very good!

Tomorrow we head out for Hiroshima. I am very much looking forward to this leg of the trip. It matches up with all of the WW2 stuff I did last year in Europe. Or, as my friend Brennan said, I have now been to all of the Axis countries!


Follies in Cabs October 1, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 8:04 am

We have had interesting interactions with cab drivers, that’s for sure! The guy in Tokyo who couldn’t read the English or Japanese for our hotel; the guy in Kyoto who was mad at us for asking him to take us across the street (kinda don’t blame him, but we didn’t know!); the guy today who we again asked to take us about a block and a half, but couldn’t speak English well enough to know that he was telling us we were there (I didn’t think we were there because I thought we had farther to go!); and then the guy tonight who couldn’t read the map I was showing him, because it turned out the map was wrong! I would’ve thought that cab drivers would be used to tourists and speak more English. Thankfully only the guy from the train station had any sort of attitude; the others were very sweet and helpful. The guy taking us to the tea ceremony today was pointing that we were there and it took me too long to realize he was right, so we had to turn around in a temple driveway! But he wanted to make sure we were right, so he called them on his cell phone and then had Loren speak to the woman. So incredibly kind. Tonight the gentleman was trying to tell me that the first map I had shown him was wrong by telling me that the “balloon” was wrong. He mean the little red thing that marked the spot! He was so so nice and kept apologizing. It was totally not his fault. We are in his country and I feel bad about not knowing more Japanese!

But the day started with us checking out of our Kyoto hotel and taking a day trip to Nara, which is about 45 minutes by train from Kyoto. We went to see the Todai-ji Temple, which is the largest wooden building in the world. It used to be even bigger, but has been burned in fires and the final rebuilding was smaller than the original. But it’s still the largest. It was quite a sight to behold. The carvings in the architecture almost reminded me of Gothic stone architecture, it was beautiful. The temple houses the largest Buddha in Japan. That was one big Buddha! That part of the temple is called “Great Buddha Hall”, and for good reason! The Buddha was completed in 751 AD and more than 2.6 million people helped to construct it! Really everything there seemed giant-sized. There were carvings of some kinds of beings at the entrance to the Temple grounds and then in the temple as well.

The other fun part of Nara is the deer! In the Shinto religion, deer are considered messengers of the gods, so they are left alone, much as cows are in India. They are everywhere! They’re just little guys, not big deer that we would hunt. They are very tame, mostly. There are signs warning that they may bite, kick, or butt you. And they’re not kidding. There are stands where you can buy biscuits to feed them and boy, oh boy, do they love themselves some biscuits! When I had a package in my hands they all came over. I didn’t unwrap the paper tie fast enough and one started biting and pulling at my sweater. Then so many were around that I couldn’t hand them out fast enough! I kept moving to try to thin the herd, but they followed me. I was backing up because they kept trying to bite my clothes and one was apparently behind me and either bit or head-butted me in the butt! But it was quite fascinating that the moment I was out of biscuits and held up my empty hands, they all walked away! Smart deer!

It was rainy today, at times harder than most, but not a washout, so that was good. We walked through part of Nara (in an enclosed market area) before heading back to the train station. We got back to Kyoto and went straight to the Gion district, which is known for its Geishas. Unfortunately is isn’t “Geisha season”, so we couldn’t see them in a show. But we could attend a Tea Ceremony. It was fantastic! We had a reservation for 5pm and when we got there, we were the only ones who had reserved the time slot. We almost had a private ceremony for the price of a group ceremony! But then three people came in and joined us. When they did so, the host (who was the absolute sweetest!) had us move our positions and I ended up in the “main guest” or honored position.

The host described the history of the tea ceremony, the tea, how it’s grown and harvested, and what the purpose and meaning is behind the ceremonies. Then another host came out and demonstrated the ceremony. Because I was the main guest, only I got to drink the tea she made. It was definitely bitter, but it wasn’t too bad. The other thing we learned is that only the main guest talks to the host. Any questions or conversation the other guests have must go through the main guest. When the host was taking questions, one of the other girls had a question and her (I believe) fiancé told her that she was supposed to tell me and I would ask. It wasn’t that formal, but he was right! Then we were able to make our own tea. I made mine even more bitter than the host’s tea. Whoops. But one of the other girls put so much green tea powder in her cup that the host said she would give her more water to help! When you drink the last sip, you are supposed to slurp!

After the tea ceremony we went back to our hotel to get our bags where they had been held all day and got a taxi to our Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house with traditional accommodations. That means a room with tatami mats and futon mattresses. Our Ryokan, Shimizu Ryokan, was highly recommended in my Lonely Planet guide book, as well as other Kyoto tourist brochures. But it is a “budget” Ryokan, so there is no dinner served as is typical for a Ryokan. That was a bummer but I couldn’t find a single other Ryokan that had a vacancy for any of the three nights we were here. It is definitely a new experience and sleeping on the futon tonight will be interesting. They did bring us some tea, so we sat on the floor on the pads and drank our tea before dinner.

We went to the train station for dinner, as I finally understood what my friend Jersey meant by the top floor of the mall having good restaurants. The Japanese call malls “department stores”, which is confusing. So there was an Isetan department store in the train station, which I thought was like a Macy’s or something. Nope. It was a mall. So we went to the 10th floor to choose a restaurant with a view overlooking the city. We chose Italian. For some reason Italian food is big in Japan. I had a margherita pizza, which was only right because I ate that pizza often over the course of my 3 months in Europe last year! Gotta have it in Japan, too!

Even though I’ve been getting good amounts of sleep at night (9-10 hours), I’m still finding myself exhausted. I think it’s the lack of naps, which I’ve become accustomed to at home. So I will be going to bed soon! Tomorrow we leave Kyoto for one night in Osaka. I have to rest up because it’s apparently known for its nightlife, which we will take advantage of!