Wednesday, June 24th, 2009. 9:21pm Japan Time.
Today was the best day ever!
First, it was the first day during the trip that I actually slept in past 7am. The sky was still pretty dark when I awoke, and I probably wouldn't have gotten up but the alarm clock that is in our room went off at 8am, startling me. :} No time for a shower before going to breakfast, I went out in my yukata with Terinati thinking that it shouldn't be too bad . . . only to find that we were eating amongst a bunch of other English-speaking foreigners and it felt incredibly awkward because none of them were wearing their yukata. :} I was also feeling queasy for some reason, but otherwise breakfast was tasty. I was surprised by how much more comfortable I felt around the local people compared to people I understood. I'm not really sure why that is; perhaps I am afraid they will judge our love of Japan and our attempts to really sink in to its culture.
The shower here is in the best condition of all of the showers we had so far. If only it was as big as the one at Toyoko, but a nice warm shower is great. All of the showers have been warm, but this one was REALLY warm. :} As usual, shower products were provided. I had to use my own conditioner, though, because the shampoo and conditioner were combined.
So, with that late start, we caught the Japan Rail to Arashiyama! I picked there mainly because there is a Monkey Park and I've been missing Stardust and Tatsu so much that any animal would do at this point. It turned out to be a greater find than I could have imagined. This part of Kyoto had more of the old-fashioned feel that I had associated with it before we arrived. The streets were quieter, with many adorable, tiny shops and stores along the way. One of my favorites just to look at had a small dog out front that was very friendly with customers.
As we walked along, we found an ice cream shop. Since Kyoto has been so hot, I had a real hankering for it, so we stopped and I decided to try cinnamon and red bean flavor. YUM!! What a brilliant thing to do! Why does this flavor not exist in the United States?! The only way it could be better is if it had cookie dough in it. :}
By then, we were near the Togetsukyo river, on the way to see the Monkey Park, when we ran into a nice man named Masanori. He asked us where we were from, and as it turned out, he'd spent a month in California himself, and his English was pretty good! He explained to us that he was one of many who pulled rickshaws and asked if we would be willing to pay 3000 yen for a ride (approximately $30 or so). The ride would end near the Monkey Park, so it seemed like a great idea! We said yes and he had a few pictures of us on the rickshaw taken along the way. :) It was so romantic and fun! To my surprise, sitting in the rickshaw was very cool and relaxing, and since Masanori knew a little English, he was able to point out famous places, including a famous tofu restaurant, a road that had been used in a Japanese movie, and the bridge we crossed to get to the Monkey Park. I think the best part of it is that I could tell he wouldn't be put off if we didn't want a ride, but he was just happy to be doing what he was doing and genually seemed to care about the history of Japan surrounding us, which I found endearing and special. =^--^= I hope you get to give many more rides, Masanori-san!
After that romantic adventure, we paid to enter the Monkey Park. There was a hot hike up to the resting area (clever clever, having tons of cold drinks and shade up there... :} ). What was startling and different than American zoos is that you walk amongst the monkeys. We weren't quite up to the resting area when we started seeing them, only ten feet away from us in the trees! In the resting house, you can feed the monkeys (100 yen for each bag of food, including chestnuts, apples, and peanuts) through the gated windows. At first, we were worried about feeding the “poor, little baby monkeys” . . . and then we saw them out-ninja the larger monkeys and realized that they could definitely take care of themselves. We were lucky enough to be there for monkey feeding time, when a man working there took out a large bucket of food and, while some crazy music was playing, tossed out food to all of the monkeys which had gathered around and were eagerly picking it off the ground. It was pretty fun to watch, and there was quite a view of the city behind them.
After sitting a while and enjoying their cuteness with some other foreigners, marveling at the fact that we were close enough to touch them (but not stupid enough to), we headed down to explore the area more.
At this point, I realized that I'm probably feeling queasy because I haven't had sufficient fiber intake since we arrived and was mourning the fact that the only strawberries and apples I've seen have been in candies or crepes, but not for regular eating. In fact, we purchased apple vinegar Kit-Kats . . . I still prefer the original, chocolate variation. :} Anyway, we finally found stores that sold both today, but strawberries are still hard to come by (the ones we found were the last ones left in the grocery store we were at, and it was questionable how good they were, but they still would cost nearly $6 for a small pack). There are at least more options in Kyoto than I've found elsewhere, so I was happy.
We've also been trying to find Pepsi White at the request of my friend, Kyriel, but so far we've only found Pepsi Shiso, which is flavored like the shiso leaf (it's in the mint family, I think, and at least has many mint-like qualities). I didn't drink any because I can't handle certain levels of caffeine, but Terinati tells me it's pretty disgusting. :} I bet it's popular out here in the same way that the “harbal” tea (gotta love Engrish!) we found at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is popular for its similarity to green tea.
Anyway, we headed back toward the inn, aiming to go to Gion in Kyoto for a Geisha walk at 4:30pm lead by Peter Macintosh. On the way, we were hungry for dinner, but I really needed something NOT Japanese. Japanese food is great, but every day having fish, rice, and miso, is enough to make a person go mad and probably was contributing to my sick stomach. So, as we walked up Kawabata dori, somewhere near where it crosses Gojo dori, I spotted the colors of the Italian flag and saw a cafe that simply advertised itself as “Coffee and Pizza.” Terinati questioned if I really wanted to go there, but in my experience it's always been the smaller, unknown restaurants that have something special to show you, much like the Green Age Inn, so I determined that yes, we were going.
It was on the first floor of three floors, and as we entered we found a very small and welcoming cafe. We sat down and were handed an English menu. There were many sandwiches, drinks, and spaghetti available, all with a little Japanese twist to keep them interesting, but I was craving the pizza, which included cheese, onion, green pepper, mushroom, and shrimp. I wasn't sure how shrimp would be on a pizza, but I'll try just about anything once, so we ordered it. Terinati got a delicious iced cocoa (SO tasty; I almost wish I had ordered it), and I ordered hot tea with milk, resolving the hankering for tea I've been having since we left the Green Age Inn; I'm going to have to get tea cups at home now and stock up the appropriate supplies, because I am officially hooked.
A few people entered while our host was preparing our meal, and it seemed like a friendly place, playing familiar Oldies tunes and having a very warm, happy feel to it. The pizza, which had a slightly buttery taste to it, was fantastic, shrimp and all. Bow down, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and even Mama Lucia's, because this little shop would make you all hang your head in shame. He may offer only one pizza, but if you get a chance to stop by this shop, DO IT! It was so delicious, so tasty . . . If I were here longer, I'd go there again and again. I told him what I thought of it, “Sugoi desu!” And, for that fantastic pizza, we paid less than we have in the past two years for pizza in the states. I enjoyed it so much that we took a picture of the cafe, which is available in the honeymoon pictures on flickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/dreamsenshi ).
After that, we headed down to meet Peter at Minamiza Theater, but he was not there. We waited fifteen minutes, but he must have had other commitments this evening. Darn! So, what to do with the afternoon? Wander around Gion! So, that'd what we did! We did see a few geisha earlier in the day, so it wasn't a total loss, and some of the kimonos being worn in Gion were just so beautiful! I wished to myself that I could be pretty in a kimono too, but I'm sure it would only look strange on me, a foreigner. Still, after seeing so much of Kyoto today, I was starting to feel relaxed and at home here.
Kyoto reminds me a lot of myself. It has many different faces, and depending on what you're in the mood for, you can find something to fit it perfectly, I think. Want a romantic castle? Done! Want to shop in the ritzy style? No problem! Want to go to a crazy arcade/club with blaring music? No problem! All of the different sides of me seem to find easy expression here, and I love how all of these things can be expressed at once without contradiction to the city's personality. Someone wearing a traditional, old-style kimono, looks perfectly natural next to the business woman on her cell phone on the bench. Bikes with pretty warning bells ride along silently and beautiful right next to creepy white trucks that occasionally come down the street, blaring something that we don't understand but makes us think incredibly of Cyberpunk or Big Brother. It's just an amazing place, and I really love it here. It is also impressive that there are so many people who speak English here, though I still really feel ashamed to not know more Japanese.
While wandering around, we found some gifts for friends and family (it's hard because we still don't have much money, and we can't carry anything really fragile back with us, so choices become limited), and then went to a bar where I had my very first long island iced tea. It was pretty good, and we also had this eggplant/onion dish that was mixed with vinegar, and fried cheese! Yum! The bar is Sugar Hill, and the food is DELICIOUS! As we sat there, we thought of Terinati's parents; it seemed like a place they'd definitely feel comfortable in.
After that, we wandered down the street and I talked about simple things I missed, like movie theaters (I haven't seen a movie theater like ours since we arrived), and CD shops, because I like to get music or a book on trips. Since I am not able to read fluently yet, only a few words here and there (though my ability to read has been useful on this trip!), getting a book isn't of interest to me, especially since I already have books I'm dying to learn to read at home. But, by luck, we found a CD shop on the way back to the hotel and stopped inside. Even more lucky, they had those little stands where you can listen to CDs.
Comparing Japanese music and English music side-by-side right there was embarrassing. Why is so much of our music these days complaining? Whining? All these lyrics about being dumped, being betrayed, and how we're going to do something bad-assed about it. :p Ugh, America. Grow up! Give me more passion, or more art, okay? Even without getting all of the lyrics of Japanese songs, they feel so happy, so genuine to listen to much of it, that I couldn't resist dancing in the store. I've discovered that I am now a “Greeeen” fan, and I purchased their latest CD after getting to listen to it. If I had a CD player attached to this laptop, I'd totally be listening to it right now, but alas, that is not the case and I will have to wait until we return to the states to enjoy my purchase again. Much better than listening to how some skank or homeboy in America is going to do something stupid in order to deal with whatever personal issues they are having. :} Okay, obviously not all of our music is like that, and I can't stereotype Japanese music either, but it really does seem like the most popular music in America is the most depressing lyrically. I just don't get it. It goes along the same train of thought I have about how much filthier our streets are than here (and yet most people in America seem to think other countries are all bound to be more filthy than there, not knowing how disgusting we really are), and how most people seem to not care about being polite. They remind me of the monkeys at the park today who would snatch the food out of your hands, even when no other monkeys were around, just because they were paranoid or something. The Japanese culture is more like the patient monkey who gently takes the food from your hand. It's so humiliating; I feel really ashamed of what they must think of us when they come to our country. :(
Anyway, it was fun, random walk home. The only question we have left is . . . what is with all of the water bottles left outside of people's houses, surrounding their cars and such?! Actually, it bothers Terinati more than it does me, but I'm curious too . . . What does it mean? :} Ah well. I've written a lot, and we must rest; tomorrow is another journey.
And, when oh when will I have internet again?! :} Ah well. Oyasumi nasai!