I've made another big update to the journal, enjoy!

I wanted to put up a small, maybe large, photo album of my trip to Kyoto, Japan. Reflecting back on my trip, Kyoto was an amazing city and an amazing trip overall for me. I learned a lot about the similarities and differences between Japanese culture and my life here in the US.

Emotions distinguish us from lifeless objects, and life can be thought of as a series of emotions and the events that bring about these emotions. To me the most important things I took back from Japan were the emotions I felt throughout the trip. When I look at all 755 pictures I not only remember an event, but I relive an emotion. I hope that I can pass all of this to you when you as you read my journal and view a small sampling of the photos I took in Japan.

February 20, 2006

The night before my trip I frantically packed my things and said my goodbyes to my family. I talked to Karen on the phone for a long time and had a hard time saying goodbye to her. I finally managed to pull myself away from her long enough to finish my packing. My trip to Japan started as soon as I started my flight from Baltimore to Chicago. My flight was 8:55 AM and I remember driving down to BWI and looking for a parking spot in long term parking lot A. I was not looking forward to the long 13 hour flight from Chicago. I was surprised by how interesting the scenery was on the way to Japan. We flew through Canada and Alaska, then headed through Russia into Japan. Most of the flight consisted of snow drifts, small glaciers, and interesting meandering rivers. I thought it was neat how the tv had a channel dedicated to the plane's current location, speed, altitude, temperature (-50 degrees Celsius in these pictures at 30,000 feet), and other data.

February 21, 2006

The sun did not set the entire flight but I somehow managed to sleep a large portion of it. It was much more comfortable than I thought, mainly because I didn't have a passenger sitting right beside me. My first impression of Japan when I flew over Hokkaido was that it was a lot more mountainous than I had imagined. Sure Japan is a volcanic island, but I didn't think it was that hilly! I landed in Kansai International Airport the next day around 5:00 PM. My first impression of KIX was that it was very bland and uninteresting. I said to myself, "I'm finally here!" and hurried to the shuttle to the main airport. When I arrived to the main section of the airport I had to grab my luggage and go through customs. Apparently the luggage is ordered by size, smallest items come out first. I didn't notice this after my long flight but as soon as I saw my big suitcase I grabbed it and quickly moved to the customs desk. I also had my hiking pack on (a big green north face bag which was my carry on item) filled with goodies, like my camera, Native Son and my Nintendo DS. When I went through customs I was asked some basic questions like, "How long will you be in Japan for?", "What will you be doing in Japan?", and "What do you have in that large bag?" The customs man sounded like the man who played the emperor in the historically accurate, box office hit, Last Samurai with Tom Cruise (note sarcasm used). I was so excited to hear English spoken in a thick accent, I knew then that this was going to be an amazing trip.

First thing I did was convert my traveler's cheques into Yen. The gentleman who handed me the form didn't speak English, so I struggled with him in broken Japanese. After I finished everything I had some real money in my pocket! I walked around the airport lost and confused but I kept my spirits up. I had no idea how I would get to Kyoto, the only hints I had were the directions I received from the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel. They said I could either take the JR rail or the Limo Bus Service. Ok, that was somewhat helpful. I walked around looking for either option, and came across the bus service first. Unfortunately KIX (the airport) was about a 90 minute bus ride into Kyoto. I went to the counter and asked the lady in Japanese, "I want to go to Kyoto." She said in broken English that I needed to go to outside to buy the tickets. I wondered how she knew I spoke English, and reflecting upon that I guess if someone came up to me and said "I want to go to McDonalds" I would probably guess they are either bizarre or not from around here. So I went outside and bought my ticket and waited for my bus to come. I took the picture of the sign for the Kansai Airport Station (train) from the bus stop. You can see that the sun was setting and I was about to take the scenic route at night.

You can see the toll booths are very similar to the ones in the US. Nothing special there but I thought I'd try to take some pictures of the cars on the road. I learned some interesting things on my tours, two of which are related to driving in Japan. First, it is very expensive to travel from Kyoto to Tokyo by car. It is almost as cheap to take the bullet trains (shinkansen) to Tokyo since the tolls will cost you an arm and a leg. Second, owning a car in Japan is also very expensive. You have to get your car inspected every 2 years I think, and the cost of the inspection runs about 1,500 US dollars. The inspection is very strict and you get taxed more as your car gets older. Many people will sell their car after 5 years in order to avoid the second inspection and the increased taxes for owning an older car. You will find many cars on the highway in excellent condition because people will repair their cars very quickly. Like in the US, the car is a status symbol and I presume car owners want to present themselves well. I thought that would be an interesting side note.

After stopping at one bus stop we arrived at the Kyoto Station! I woke up and got off the bus and picked up my suitcase again. I looked around and had no clue where to go, I believe it was around 7:00 or 7:30 PM when I arrived at the station. I was instructed to catch the subway until I reached the stop near my hotel, but when I walked around the underground station I quickly realized that I wasn't going to be taking the subway. I had no idea how to buy a ticket, since the instructions were not in English. I stared at the maps and instructions and nothing clicked. I managed to find my way above ground again and walked toward this busy street. To my left I saw the Kyoto Post Office, and in front of me I saw this tall tower. I stared at the map I took from the visitor's center at KIX andn tried to get my bearings straight. No luck after sitting outside for 15 minutes. Ok I was starting to panic a little bit but then I got a stroke of good luck! Eureka! That tower must be the Kyoto Tower Hotel that I saw during my hotel shopping process! I looked at the map and saw "Kyoto Tower Hotel." If my assumption was correct I should be ok. I couldn't find any street signs at the moment but I just went with my only lead.

I walked up the major road that went north bound. So far so good, and when I thought I was near my hotel, actually I was afraid I had passed it and I didn't see anything that would lead me to believe I was at my hotel. I made a left down a small street and then decided I was too far away from the main roads and made another left. Keep in mind I was walking around with my suitcase on wheels and this big camping pack on. I found my way at some hotels that I could find on the map. I managed to make a big loop back to Kyoto Station which was Ok since I at least knew where that was. It was really hard trying to read the katakana signs, all I remember is saying, "ho-te-ru". Here I am, at the base of the Kyoto Tower again and I embarked on my journey. This time instead of turning left I forged ahead and walked past this large temple that was dimly lit. Across the street I saw a pretty fountain and stopped to take more pictures, which you can see below.

I felt an ounce of courage in me and kept walking forward even though I didn't think my hotel was this far away from the Kyoto Station. I had walked for a few blocks at this point and didn't think my hotel looked that far away according to the map. This map will cause me grief later in my trip as you will see if you continue to read on. Well needless to say I did reach the Karasuma Kyoto hotel! I felt immedaite relief since my legs and arms were getting pretty tired at this point. Nothing says tourist like a tall Asian man with a suitcase on wheels and a confused look on his face.

I went inside the hotel to see a young lady standing at the front desk. I approached her and said in Japanese, "I have a reservation." She started spewing some Japanese out and I interrupted her and asked, "Do you speak English?" in Japanese of course. She said she spoke a little English but I decided my little Japanese would be more interesting. After she gave me the key I went up to my room and was amazed at the mysterious things inside!

Looking back on it, my reaction to this small hotel room reminds me of a book I was recommended by my art history professor and my East Asian history professor. Sure some people think it's weird that I took pictures of a sink, soap dispenser, and a water heater but I don't think it's odd at all. I turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. What! Fishing shows!? I had to watch it and of course the fishing shows in Japan are much like the ones at home. Essentially they are catching fish I could never dream of catching, and telling fish stories and tips on how they are better than me. My hotel phone rang and I was a little nervous, "Who was calling me in Japan?" I said to myself. I wasn't sure if I should pick up the phone in Japanese or in English. I went with the safe bet and answered in English. The front desk was calling me, I apparently needed to pick up my voucher for my two tours. I told the lady at the front desk I would pick it up after I took a shower, she akwardly answered, "After shower, yes." I wonder if I said something bad. I bet it was the dirty thoughts I put in her head. Then the phone rang again, I answered it and it was someone from the tour guide office. They wanted to confirm that I was going to be attending the tour tomorrow, of course I was! I didn't fly 6,000 miles just to see a fishing show in Japanese! After I took a dozen or so pictures of the hotel, I decided it was soon time time to go to bed. I had a busy day ahead of me! Before that I needed to get some quick food, and thankfully there was a Starbucks inside my hotel.

I went downstairs to get some food, a little nervous about my first transaction in Japanese. I decided that it would be easier to grab a bag of chips and order a coffee. It's easier to order things when you can grab/point to the item rather than trying to say it in a foreign language. The total came to around 462 yen, and I handed the gentleman 4,000 yen. I thought I didn't have enough money, and I was trying to explain that, he gave me a weird look and said in Japanese, "Sir you have 4000 yen not 400 yen." He then started counting slowly to me, and I felt like a complete idiot. So much for my first food/money transaction! Well I was very thankful for his understanding and help and proceeded to eat my meager but extremely healthy meal. The whole time the employees were staring at me, the gentleman probably told them I was a mentally challenged foreigner who can't do math or speak. After I finished eating I went to sleep and woke up the next morning at 6:00 AM.

February 22, 2006

It was early in the morning, the start of a new day! I felt refreshed from all the sleep I got (on the plane, bus, and in the hotel) and decided to venture off into the city in search of food. I don't think I would've been so adventerous if Starbucks was open at that time. I walked down the main street, Karasuma-dori, in search of food. I found a small mini mart, similar to 7 eleven and purchased a cheese-apple danish, at least I think it was. I walked back to the chairs outside of Starbucks and ate my breakfast. I was surprised by how quiet everything was in downtown Kyoto at 7:00 AM. I guess those business folk don't get to work until 9:00 AM. After finishing my first breakfast in Japan, I wanted to walk around the city to get a feel for the area. I headed north of my hotel and really enjoyed the quiet walk. I wanted to see the Kyoto Art Center but I couldn't find it. Instead I found some common vending machines and decided it would be cool too take a picture of it. I really enjoyed this walk, since it was my first experience walking through a quiet street where a lot of daily activities occured. I imagined college students, grade school kids, parents, people of different backgrounds living their everyday lives on this street. For me it was a very intimate view of someone's life at that very moment. The first time I really felt this way was on the tiny street in the picture beside the vending machine picture. I went back to my hotel to meet with my tour group, and we took a taxi to another hotel. On the drive to the other hotel we drove by an IBM office, which having worked at IBM for about a year and a half I wanted to take a picture.

The new hotel was very nice, I was in awe of the beautiful waterfall outside the window and the dolls on display. We didn't stay at the hotel long, we walked across the street to our first tourist site, Nijo castle. I spoke with the current guide and we talked about how I went to college and how I learned Japanese. It was pretty interesting and I was happy with how I handled myself! After crossing a busy street I found myself in front of a large gate leading into Nijo castle.

Before I go into my first tour guide, I wanted to make mention of my tour group. The group was an interesting bunch, consisting of people from the UK, Russia, USA, and Scotland. Everyone got along ok but some of the Russian visitors were quite rude. They were talking during the tour and wandering away from the group thus slowing everyone down. After Nijo castle, two people were missing and since we were on a very tight schedule we left without them. They had to catch us at the next site and to my surprise they caught up. Then when we arrived to the imperial castle four of them went missing, I think it was a bathroom break. Well that didn't go over well with the guards since they had to account for every visitor that was supposed to arrive. Apparently you had to register a month ahead if you want to visit the old imperial castle in Kyoto. Well we tried to go on ahead with out them but the guards wanted us to find everyone. I found it interesting that a guard followed our tour group the entire trip. They looked like secret service agents but without the guns or black shades.

Nijo Castle

Nijo castle's ornate entrance immediately caught my eye. You can see the detailed wood carvings and the eye catching gold accents (I took more pictures of it on the way out). This gate was restored recently from what I remember but you can stell get a good feel of what it must've looked like when it was first created. I think the gold circle with the petals around it was a symbol for the shogun, and the emporer's symbol was similar except with more flower petals, 16 I think. I had a hard time following the tour guide since I was so busy snapping away with my camera. The second picture was taken as soon as you walked into the inner gate. The tour group was now in the main part of the castle and we entered the building you see on the right. We had to take off our shoes and wear slippers. I remember the floor being quite cold even with the slippers on.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but I was very surprised by the low ceilings at times. The average height for a Japanese citizen a few hunder years ago was about 5 foot 4 inches, well the tour guide said it was her height and that's my guess at her height. They didn't accomodate well for 6 foot Asian tourists, I'm somewhat offended. I mean once you get inside the castle it's very spacious, but some of the doorways were somewhat low. There were manequins in traditional dress re-enacting various scenes of shogun life. We got to see some very beautiful wall paintings and wood carvings inside, unfortunately I couldn't capture the moment with my camera. You can see some pictures of the imperial palace later on in my trip which looks very similar to Nijo castle on the inside.

As we walked in the public quarters of the castle the floors creaked, making a whistling sound. This was designed to alert guards of intruders and was called the nightengale floors. It isn't the same as creaky floorboards, somehow they managed to make it much more elegant and less irritating. Once you get inside the Shogun's private section there was no need for these special floors. The tour guide describe them as the ancient alarm system. I guess that is a good name for it.

We continued to walk through the various sections of the castle and we came to a nice outdoor break. I took the third picture at an inner courtyard inside the castle. When we were finished inside the castle we walked outside around the perimeter. The tour group came to the main garder of Nijo castle, and I noticed two large bells. They were once used as bells in a tower, but I think the towers burned down. Then I got to see the secret of the nightengale floors. Well I still don't see how it works, but here is a picture, maybe you can shed some light on the issue. At first the garden didn't really catch my eye, but as we approached the Shogun's main room, the garden's image became breath taking. The weather was still overcast but the relaxing qualities of the garden were still apparent. If you are using Firefox you might need to zoom in on the picture to see it's native resolution.

You can see in both panoramic pictures that there is a small island that isn't reachabole by bridge. The idea is that the Shogun was the only person allowed on this island. He did not need any help getting to the island and the island was supposed to represent Heaven. Also, this garden had no walkways. It was not meant to be enjoyed like most parks, but rather just viewed from the angle I was at. The Shogun's room was right behind me when I took these pictures.

This spot was so nice we decided to stand here for about five minutes before heading back to our bus. On the way back I took another picture of the artwork above the large doorways. The second picture is of the main castle, not the gate. I think this woodwork has been recently restored due to the natural aging of wood.

As I was waiting on the bus I noticed the adjacent bus had a bunch of elementary school kids. They realized that the bus next to theirs was full of bizarre and interesting foreigners. They put on quite the show for us when they saw me looking at them. I tried to get a picture of them waving to me and giving me the "v" sign, unfortunately my camera was too slow for their attention span. I bet they were wondering why some freakishly tall and handsome Asian guy was on a bus full of Americans and Russians. That is the reason why I have thehenrytran.com, so that someday one of those kids may stumble upon my site and say, hey, I remember that weird guy on the bus. Now I know why he was on that bus. I think that's a legitimate reason for a website don't you?

Our bus departed Nijo castle (leaving a small group of the Russian toursists behind because they were late) and I saw some interesting things from the bus. It's a shame I never got to walk around these parts of Kyoto, maybe next time. One of the things that caught my attention was this KFC. I've seen in a few animes where they have a psuedo Kentucky Fried Chicken called, "Mister Fried Chicken", and in front of the stores they would have this creepy statue of the colonel himself. I don't remember if I saw a statue in front of this KFC but I certainly thought about it when we drove by this little gem.

As we approached our second destination I saw this symbol on the side of the mountain. I recall hearing about this where they would start a fire and light this up during festivals. I think the tour guide said that this was used as a signal for victory during a battle. I could be making this up, but I definitely remember seeing this in Rurouni Kenshin. As the bus approached the small mountain the scenery quickly changed from small buildings with KFCs to a quiet park filled with trees. I then realized how nice the weather was and how lucky I was to get such nice weather at this beautiful locale.

Golden Palace

When I got to the entrance of the park I quickly forgot what the main attraction was. The trees and pretty blue sky were enough to clean my mind. The crisp air filled my weary lungs as I walked around the paths. I was so relaxed but excited at the same time. I really felt overwhelmed by the natural scene that surrounded me. We stopped at a large map of the area and as a group we walked towards the Golden Pavillion.

The next picture is of the entrance to the Pavillion. You can see it was pretty crowded that day, but I still managed to get some great pictures as you will see. I saw this small bell and thought it looked nice and snapped a quick photo of it. You can see in most of the pictures that the grounds were very well maintained. You can really see the aesthetic values of how the trees were pruned and cared for.

You can see in the next picture part of the beauty of the older trees. After walking a short distance we got to another gate where people were waiting in line to get tickets (I'm assuming to see the Golden Pavillion). Luckily our tour group already had tickets so we got to breeze by this mess. This let me get to the main viewing point before it got too busy, a perfect photo opportunity.

And then I got my best photo of the trip I think. The calm water created a perfect reflection making for a nice photograph.

At the top of the Golden Pavillion there is a statue of a phoenix. I believe they put that up there after the pavillion was burned down the first time. The third and fourth pictures are taken as you walk around the lake. You can see at the left of the third picture a small group of people, this is where my picture above was taken. It got crowded very fast so I decided to move on.

I included a few photos of behind the Pavillion. It's interesting how plain the backside is, but there are a few gems like the koi pond pictured below.

After you walk past the Pavillion you'll walk through a small forest. I saw this interesting looking gate and was tempted to break off from the tour group to explore. Unfortunately my lack of confidence in my Japanese and poor sense of direction made me reconsider my spontaneous hike. As you follow the paths you can see some nice architecture like the stairs. I believe the gardeners use these stairs as short cuts through the grounds, that's just my theory. Also along the path you'll find small pools of water.

The next thing I walked by was pretty interesting. I have no idea the story behind it but I think the objective is to throw money into the bowl. Everyone was missing (as you can see) and I thought to myself, "I can do that!" I shuffled through my pockets and pulled out a few coints and threw them at the bowl. To my surprise those light coins didn't fly very far at all. I guess I wasn't meant to have good luck. I think I threw in a few yen (cents) maybe at most 100 yen. Looking back though I wouldn't be surprised if I threw in five dollars or something absurd, given my past experience with counting money in Japan. Refer to my first night in Kyoto trying to buy food for more details :(

Again, I just want to point out how pretty the trees were in this area. I love how they are covered in moss and look so old. The trail we were on was going up hill and looking down the hill I caught a quick glimpse of some of the gardeners working. I also found this nice looking pond, I wish I would've poked around there more.

At the top of the hike I looked back and saw the top of the pavillion in the distance. I was pretty sad to leave the pavillion and the garden but I was still surround by the wondeful scenery! Just one more time, aren't those trees nice? As I was heading for the gift shop I passed another tour group. Sadly I have no idea what the tour guide was telling the group of laides. I also ran into a few other interesting buildings, agian I know nothing about them, but my guess is you can throw money into the big wooden box, make a wish and ring the bells with by pulling the rope. You'll see people in Japan do this for new years as well, often times wishing to get into their university of choice. Finally, before I got to the gift shopt I saw some pieces of paper tied to a string. Without my tourguide I can only assume people would write wishes on a pice of papery and tie them onto the string. It could also be a bad fortune that someone received. When you receive a bad fortune you're supposed to tie it to a tree branch, or perhaps in this case a string tied to bamboo posts.

Now that I think about it I received a good luck charm at the pavillion, in particular safety while travelling. I noticed there were a lot of charms at the shops for the Golden Pavillion. I probably should've picked a few up, I could always use a little extra luck especially the way people drive these days. Speaking of which, I saw this really nice looking Lexus while driving to our next destination. I didn't really notice it while I was there but looking back the cars in Japan are very different than the models we see over in the states. If you know me at all I enjoy cars sold in Japan such as my Nissan Skyline (which in the US we call the Infiniti G35). Had I more time I probably would've hunted more Japan only cars down like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, but there were only so many hours in the day and so many dollars in my pocket.

Kyoto's Imperial Palace

The tour I was on was great. I completely forgot what the itinerary was so each destination was a big surprise for me. I got out of the bus and walked toward the Emperor's old castle in Kyoto. The caslte grounds were filled with beautiful trees that were very well taken care of. The trees were different than the ones found in the Golden Pavillion. These trees seemed more decorative and the overall scenary was like garden rather than a forest. Both very pleasing and peaceful in their own way.

The gates of the castles were quite large. I don't remember if we went through the gate pictured above, my guess is no. You could tell that the castle was starting to age a little bit and you can see workers repairing parts of the castle.

Throughout the interior of the castle you will see a lot of art painted on the walls. You will even notice a lot of intricate designs on the gates such as the 16 petal flower, a sign for the royal family.

These are some pictures of the main grounds for the castle, you can see this is where the Emperor's carriage/throne used to sit. The brown gate is an exit, that was specifically used for the Emperor. I believe his wife and kids had their own exit, and no I don't know what that kanji means because I'm terrible at reading kanji. Oh I love how the gardeners wear the white construction helmets.

So anything odd about this picture? Well I noticed that the entire time we were outside of the castle my group was followed by guards. They looked more like secret service than guards and they just followed our group very quietly and silently. Can you find the guard, he's not too hard to spot he has a white arm band and wearing all black. The tour guide took us around the perimeter of the actual castle since we couldn't go inside and I got to see another garden. Also, I believe that other building was used as a servant's quarters or a garden shed. It's a shame I really wanted to see the inside.

The picture above is a small cut away of the roofs used to build the castle, I'm sure there's some interesting fact that goes along with this that I don't know or remember.

If you never noticed, a lot of people in Japan like to do the "V" sign or peace sign. I never heard a clear answer as to why it's so popular, I just go with the flow.

Of course there is a beautiful pond for everyone to enjoy. Looking back I realize I don't remember much of these tours and I don't have much to say. The pictures really do speak for themselves. The most interesting part of my trip really were the small adventures that I had as you'll see later in my journal.

We went deeper into the complex and you'll see a few nice examples of landscaping as well as some pictures of the artwork inside the rooms. We worked our way back to the bus and went on a short trip to the Kyoto Handicraft center, our drop off point for the tour.

Walk home

I took these next few pictures from inside the bus on our way back. Here we see a large river that goes through Kyoto, I believe it is the Kamogawa. This river saved me countless times since it serves as a very nice landmark. If I ever got lost I only need ask where the Kamogawa was and once I found it I knew I could manage to find home (Hotel and Starbucks).

I don't know what a handicraft center is but this place was filled with different items for tourists to buy. Here are some pictures of the things that I saw in the handicraft center. It's funny because I found this place to be very interesting because I could apply much of what I learned from my many classes with Dr. Gregory Smits at Penn State. Of course the idea of buying Japanese crafts is always considered a good time in my book.

They had a lot of different stores in the handicraft center. The first picture below shows some of the Iaito sword. I absolutely love the beauty of the katana and hope to someday buy one, but not this trip. I found it interesting that some of the craftsman actually worked in the center. The second picture is of a man doing caligraphy. I'm sure I was obnoxious and nosey, but I couldn't resist a picture. I'm a devoted tourist and I paid good money to get a chance to see caligraphy in action!

I'm not a big fan of masks or costumes, but I am fascinated by some of the history behind these masks. In the middle you see a demon with horns and a scary face. This would be a typical "oni" (Japanese for demon) if my Japanese monsters and demons knowledge serves me correct. I won't go into the details but I can certainly provide a useful link, search for "oni":

Monsters in popular culture

Another example of a Japanese monster is the "Tengu" the mask with the long nose. When Sir Matthew Perry came to Japan, he became the center of the media and many artists poked fun of him by depicting him as a tengu. Tengu are typically depicted with long noses as you can see in the following link.

Perry and Tengu

Finally, the white face mask on the far left is a typical face of a Heian period aristocrat. I am fascinated by this time period in Japan mainly because we know so little about the working class of Japan at the time but we know so much about the rich and the famous at the time. Even more interesting is all that we know about the elite class is through writings and art created by the Heian aristocrats. I love hearing stories about the lifestyle back then and it's not hard to think that common practice then is considered bizarre now. Dr. Smits helped me realize that their ideals and actions were not bizarre when compared to some of the things our modern society does. So for example, in Heian times aristocrats used to color their teeth black. Notice how the mask doesn't show any white between the lips?

Heian aristocrat

In this shop there were multiple levels and it's hard to describe how large it was. On each floor there was something different and in the next group of photos you can see a very common statue of what they call a "welcoming cat." You see these cats in a lot of Asian restaurants in the US, and they're used for good luck and fortune. Maybe I should collect a couple of those. You can see the cat is holding a gold coin which I'm assuming symbolizes wealth.

I don't know much about the other dolls and figures that I saw in this handicraft center. I do appreciate the amount of detail that went into the last two dolls. Unfortunately these collectibles can be very expensive to collect. When my parents went to Japan they came back with a really nice one that I'll have to photgraph sometime. Too bad the ones I took in Japan came out pretty blurry. Just recently I've started collecting anime figurines that show a similar level of detail that really pulls me in. I wish I had more space and money to collect my anime figurines. If I had more time and money I would combine my love of photography with my hobby of anime and take some great photos of my figurines. It's hard to describe how lovely these figurines can be!

After going through all the floors with gifts at the handicraft shop I found myself on the top floor. It had a nice view of the surrounding area so I had to snap a couple of pictures, it's a shame though that the windows had the wires running across it. After a little break I decided to walk back to my hotel and enjoy the nice weather rather than try and catch a bus. Walking was the only way I really got around Kyoto since it was free and a good opportunity to take some photos of what most consider mundane objects. My handy little map of Kyoto pointed out all the "go to" places and suggested walking paths so it was really convenient for me to take a nice stroll.

On my walk a saw a lot of different things, as you can see here I found a shrine. The big white barrels someone told me are old barrels of sake that were once donated to the shrine. The sake brewers would put there name on their, similar to an advertising campaign I suppose. I also snapped a photo of a Japanese stone lantern and a giant gate.

I saw this red bucket and took a quick picture of it. I saw a bunch of these around the small streets, it looks like they are for putting out small fires. It seems like such a simple idea and I wonder if you'll find this idea implemented in the US. I guess I'm just used to seeing a lot of fire hydrants here in the states.

The guide brought me down some interesting paths. I've never seen houses built so close to streams, there's something very nostalgic about this scenery to me. I diverted from the suggested path many of times and the one time I walked down a cool shopping arcade. I never knew what one was until I went to Japan and I really liked the feel of it. It was neat seeing fresh food for sale and reminded me a lot of the old Vietnamese grocery stores my parents used to take me.

It was really neat for me to see people living their daily lives in Kyoto. I could see myself getting used to this area and enjoying the nice scenery. I was shocked to see how many bicycles were lined up, most surprising to me was that they weren't locked up. After riding a bike at Penn State I couldn't imagine not locking your bike up! That to me is a huge difference in our cultures. I think it'd be hard for me to adjust to that, if I were living in Japan right now I'd probably lock my bike up out of habit and lack of trust in people :(

You can see that as I kept on walking I got closer to my hotel which was located in downtown Kyoto. I really liked the transition in scenery going from a more quaint, small town look to a more big city look. I stopped by a department store and took a bathroom break. I remember I had to grab a map of the store just to find the bathrooms. I recall the store being pretty different than the ones you find in the US. Everything seemed on a much smaller scale, even though the store itself was really big. I guess compared to the Walmarts and Targets we see here, this department store wasn't all that big. I did see some more cool bathroom appliances like this nifty hand dryer. It was better than the ones we have here since it dries both sides of your hand and the floor doesn't get all wet from the water that drips off your hands. 1 point for Japanese technology!

At the top of department store there was this little shrine. I don't know much about the meaning behind it. I do know that foxes are considered cunning creatures in Japan that are shape-shifters and would play pranks on local villagers. Here's a link to Dr. Smits' website again, do a page search for "kitsune".

Monsters in popular culture

I ran into another shopping aracade, so that's proof enough to me that these are popular in Japan! There's no doubt that there's a big difference between how people shop in Japan vs. here in the United States. It's a pretty drastic difference. I assume in Europe it's also very different, for example grocery stores.

Well, I managed to make it back to the hotel OK and rested at the local Starbucks (no big surprise there). I didn't watch much TV while I was in Kyoto but I was happy to catch the end of this anime that I didn't recognize. Next time I go I'd like to try and catch some more shows, just for the experience. To me it'd be cool to watch a show when it comes out in Japan during prime time television. After my little break I ventured out to get some dinner that wasn't Starbucks. Since I was still getting adjusted to Japan I wanted to go somewhere that had food on display that I could pick up or point to. It also really helps to see what you're ordering as I've learned. Unfortunately my adventure didn't take me anywhere exotic, but somewhere quite familiar...Seven Eleven! On the way I saw a police station so I had to grab a photo.

You can see what I ordred...packaged food with some green tea. Nothing special. Oh well, it was kind of neat to appreciate how much effort went into packaging this food. This may sound odd but everything was put together so carefully, you can tell the plastic is a heavier material than what you would see here. Is that really important? I certainly don't mind quality in my food's packaging material. I brought my food back to the hotel lobby and ate it there. I wonder what the front desk people thought when they saw me take a picture of my meager meal. Did I look like a naive tourist? Most definitely.

Well thankfully they didn't see me snap some photos in my room's bathroom. The toilet is certainly hi-tech and I must say very impressive. Any toilet with 3 buttons and a dial is a feat of human advancement to me. Well enough about toilets, I was unimpressed with the elevator buttons my hotel since they look pretty much like what I'm used to. I don't know what I was expecting. They keyboard they had in their business center looked a lot like what I'm used to except they had the hiragana below the normal alphabet. I can't imagine trying to type with it but I guess it's easier than trying to use a Chinese keyboard.

So you're probably wondering what the last picture above is. Basically I kept everything in my hotel room locked in my luggage bag. Now that I think of it there wasn't a safe box in my room. I wonder if this is related to why people don't lock their bicycles. Well, I locked some of my valuables in my luggage bag. I put my fanny pack, yes my fanny pack, in my luggage since I wasn't using it and locked the whole thing up with my orange lock. Well I forgot that I put the key to my orange padlock in my fanny pack, to make matters worse, I put the key on a key ring and attached it to the clip inside the fanny pack. I nearly freaked out b/c my passport was in there and of course I would need it to get back home. I managed to separate the zipper far enough where I could pull the fanny pack far enough out so that I could break the key ring to get the key out. That my friends, is how I made the above picture. By the way, having a fanny pack is quite handy OK?

Long Walks in Kyoto

Well after I got my fanny pack out I decided to go wander through Kyoto and try to hit up many of the recommended sites. This would be my fondest memory of Kyoto and certainly a fantastic learning experience.

I saw this interesting restaurant that combined spaghetti and coffee, never thought those two would go together. After that I saw a little statue of a brown tanuki (you might remember them from Super Mario Bros. 3). Well you might see tanuki statues with rather large scrotums used as drums in various images. Don't believe me?

Tanukis and Scrotum Drums

Moving on I crossed the ever so important Kamogawa river which I used as a great landmark for me. Once you find the Kamogawa, you're good to go! You can see in the pictures a quiet playground, a bunch of kids being led by a teacher (the kids are wearing blue hats) and a beer vending machine. How great is that? And they have my favorite Asahi beer! Super dry and delish. I'm glad I came across one of these, although I should've bought some in retrospect. After walking around for a little while I was looking for this one popular shrine. I saw one out in the distance and walked towards it. I figured the statue of the monk and the tree that was wrapped up were good indicators. I don't know why they wrapped the tree up, but I'm sure there's a very good reason.

I really liked the entrance of the temple, as you walk up it almost feels like you're going into a different world. It feels so removed from its surroundings it was like I leaving the city and going into a country-side setting.

There seems to be a lot of similarities between the various shrines. I wish I knew more about the certain rituals and what all the items are used for. Looking at these pictures it looks like the mother and child are lighting some candles in a giant glass lantern. They later went up to the main building and prayed, where I guess people usually throw some money into a large wooden box before they pray. You see this a lot in various animes where "ronin" go these shrines to pray for good luck on their upcoming shrines.

It was interesting to see this while I was in Japan since to me it seemed very different than the ones I've seen in the US. It's much more compact and seems like a more efficient use of space. You can see in the next set of pictures what I mean. I believe on my last day I got a chance to walk through one. Looking back it seems kind of morbid, but oddly enough it didn't have a creepy or eerie atmosphere. I think a lot of it has to do with how well kept everything was.

Running Late for Nara