japan

Day 8

Number of times hitting my head: 7 Started the day early when two Japanese women in my room decided to turn off the AC in the room when leaving. Thanks a lot!

The guy who helps Yashi at the hostel clean etc also makes organic bread each morning. On Saturday I was telling him how good it was and he said wasn't making any for the next morning because Yashi's mum had bought it all of the next lot, but he took two rolls and gave them to me as a gift. Nicest people ever.

Went for a wander through the shopping section of Kyoto near Kawaramachi but on Sundays the shops don't open until 11. Sat and had an ice coffee and wrote a blog until then. It was really hot, but alternating between sunny and absolutely bucketing down. Went kit-kat shopping but could only find mango, soda and soy bean flavour. Bought some and will search for more in Tokyo.

Went back to the hostel and got my stuff and headed to the station. My Kyoto train connection was delayed and it was so hot I was basically pouring out. It was somewhat comforting to see the locals in the same boat though. They are more prepared than me though, they walk around with towels around their necks.

Scored some sandwiches a Kyoto station and got the Shinkansen Hikari SuperExpress back to Tokyo. They are so polite that the ticket inspector even bows when entering or leaving the carriage each time. The trip itself is pretty forgettable, apart for some fleeting ocean views. Not sure how fast they go or how long they are but a passing train is gone in about 2-2.5 seconds....reasonably quick.

Couldn't find my hostel in Asakusabashi thanks to google maps being lame. Ended up asking a guy on the street who used his own phone and called the hostel, and then drove me there. That's how awesome the Japanese are.

Left the hostel about 5ish ready to walk until my feet bled. Did Akihabara where I bought a new 8Gb CF card just in case, cost me about $160 but could have got a cheapo brand for about $60. On to Shinjuku where I went up one of the twin Tokyo governmentt buildings which has an observation deck on floor 45. Like Centrepoint, but free and nicer.

Tokyo really made sense to me this time, but I did take pretty painstaking attention to which way I got out of the stations and in which direction I was facing at all times.

From there I went down to Shibuya where I walked for about 3 hours. Visited HMV and Tower Records for more music discovery and took a heap of photos around town. Walked down to Manhatten Records which was hiphop only really, but also finally found some wicked graffiti. Took stacks of photos. Stickers, stencils and spray paint everywhere, had the biggest smile on my face walking out of there. Ended my Tokyo experience by sitting in Shibuya Starbucks a la Lost in Translation and having a Lemon Green Tea Ice frapuccino or something. Sat for a while and watched a relatively quiet Sibuya Crossing for about 25 minutes and then headed back to the hostel for an uncomfortable nights sleep 'japanese style'.

Day 7

Shitty day in Kyoto today: warm, humid and raining with thunder. Stayed in the hostel til about 11 and jumped a bus up to the Golden Pavillion. You pay when you get off the bus here. And they turn the bus off at every stop or traffic light, not that the traffic is particularly bad..I'm assuming it's fuel or greenhouse related. With the trains you find out how much it is to your destination and get a ticket for that much. If you didn't get enough 'credit' you can do a fare adjustment when you get off before going through the ticket gates.

I've been trying not to swear too much on the blog but there is no other way to say this. It, fucking, pissed down. Full on Japanese summer rain belted down for about 30-40 minutes when I got to the Golden Pavillion. I had to walk about 200m from the bus to the ticket counter, and by that time my shorts and half my shirt were soaked (I had an umbrella). Whilst waiting for the rain to die down I met a Dutch guy named Alexander who was on his own as well. We went to the Zen garden at Ryoanji temple but were a bit disappointed, renovations on the building pretty much made it useless.

We got the bus back to Kawaramachi (not far from my hostel) and I walked the streets west of the hostel for a few hours. Had Tempura-don for lunch (Tempura fish, prawn etc with rice) and met a nice girl Ami who worked there.

Kept walking for a while and took heaps of photos of the streets. There isn't much graffiti around, the odd tag or sticker but nothing big. Ended up in Gion again and wandered through the narrow streets. It's a really cool area as all the doors are shut, and you hear whispers or laughter or musical instruments playing or you smell food or incense as you go past each particular place.

Saw another Geisha, took a photo but was about 20m away and tried to be a bit discreet. Most of the other tourists are so shameless, walking right up to within a metre or two and taking photos or video as they walk past. I saw some tourists pose with one with their arm around her? She's not Mickey Mouse. It's also rude to have your arm around some one you don't know, so Yashi tells me.

At night there were only 3 of us (Soren, a Danish pure math lecturer at Stanford, and Stephanie from Montreal). Yashi took us down the Pontocho which is a long narrow street with lots of restaurants and bars. Ended up in a bar and had skewers (mushroom & green pepper) and Ko-re (fried chicken with rice). Apparently my pronunciation is good, my memory for the words...not so good. Washed it down with cold Sake and one beeru kudasai.

Saw what I thought was a huge strip club with a very good looking, but very young looking girl plastered all over the front with pink writing and bright lights. Apparently it's a Korean BBQ place?!

Went down to the river again for a few beers which was full of foreign uni students, met an American couple who were ok. But they were American. The guy dropped this howler "it's weird cause we bombed the fuck out of them, and now they want to be like us, cause we have the best stuff". Right. 33 years old and this was his first trip out of the US of A.

Some 21 year old London metal head drinking Vodka and Coke decided to fill everyone in on Japanese history so I walked home along the river about 1am.

Day 6

Had a slow start this morning but got away after 9:30. Bought some food and got the train out to Nara. I stopped in at the tourist information office in Nara and the old guy talked to me for a while and drew a route on the map which would be the days itinerary. Nara was good, saw Kofukuji temple, Todaji temple, Nigatsudo Hall and Kasuga Grand Shrine. Todaji has the biggest bronze statue in Japan, a massive Buddha which is about 20m high and the building is the biggest wooden building in the world.

All of these buildings are in a big park area and it's full of semi-tame deer. I made a friend while eating cashews, she smelled them from a mile away. I put them away before she got to me so she tried to eat my guide book while I was reading it.

The park is huge so my feet are pretty sore and I sweated like anything. Luckily everyone else did as well, sweaty backs all round. It can sometimes be pretty slow going as there are lots of stairs around the temples etc. It's also impolite to eat, drink or smoke while walking so on a hot day you're standing around just having a drink very often.

On the way back down to the station an old lady called her husband and made hand motions about how tall I was. I've had a few stares but that's it, but all 3 of us had a bit of a laugh.

Relented and had maccas for late lunch including Grape Fanta and Shaka Shaka Chicken so I was still trying something new. The language isn't really much of a barrier, there are lots of signs and menus in English and most people under 50 can speak a little bit of it.

Ryan and another Canadian Tyler and I went for a wonder to find the street procession for the Kan Kou Sai event. It is a procession of 3 portable shrines to transport 3 of the Shinto gods from one place to another. It was so cool to see, and Yashi caught up with us later on and showed us the best spots to stand. Overall the ceremony lasts about 7 hours, and over 600 people carry the portable shrines in that time. It culminates in about 5 minutes of darkness at around midnight while the gods are transported into the temple. While all this is happening, the oldest orchestra in the world is playing. It felt a little strange seeing something most westerners wouldn't have seen before, but definite trip highlight.

Observations

A few more observations about Japan:• It is a massive event when each train turns up – flashing signs, music or beeping. Same with crossing the road.

• They are nuts about recycling. The Maccas in Tokyo even split the straw and cup lid from the rest to recycle.

• The girls always wear shoes a size or two too big. This makes them look smaller and more ‘cute’.

• They are crazy about stationery and customising their phones. And they don’t use Sony, Motorola, Nokia and an iPhone is rare.

• Short skirts and above the knee stockings are in fashion. And are appreciated.