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!