Saturday, November 7, 2009
Home Again, Home Again.
Yup, it's true! i have returned!
here is the run down of japan:
basically: Kyoto was AWESOME!
i landed in Kansai International airport, and, more by luck than judgement, made my way to Kyoto by train and found some lodging for the week. It was a small Ryokan (guesthouse) in the traditional japanese style; futons for beds, tatami matting etc. the owners spoke good english, which was perfect for a tired english traveller late in the evening.
I spent most of the week visiting temples and shrines and all the traditional aspects that Kyoto is assosiated with. Kyoto is a nice small city and it is set out very methodically, so its very easy to get around. i did a section of the city per day, and most of the time i was walking.
I visited some really grand temples, filled with tourists both foreign and japanese, and i also visited some really small ones with hardly anyone about. at one of the more famous temples i drank some water from the spring that is reputed to give you good luck, and also meant to be quite theraputic. i also visited The Golden Pavilion (literally...bright shiney gold) and i attempted to sneak across the Nightingale Floor at Nijo-jo; a residence of the Shogun back in the 17th-19th centuries. (i failed. epicly.)
some of the highlights for me were wandering down the "Tetsugaku no Michi" or "Path of Philosophy", which was a nice serene walk down a path by a small canal. I didnt do much in the way of philosophising, but i did manage to get some postcards written. :q
I also went to see the famous Zen Garden at Ryoan-Ji. Again, i didnt get much in the way of enlightenment from it, but it did give my feet a chance to air out!
The most spectacular place i visited though was a shrine complex called Fushimi Inari Taisha. Essentially its a number of shrines set across the base of a mountain, connected by these paths that are covered with thousands upon thousands of vermillion Torii, or Shrine Gates. its hard to describe without pictures (which are coming) but it was very surreal. There was one point where i found myself completely alone on the path, and far enough back in the complex that it was almost completely quiet, apart from the ambient noise of the forest. i actually stopped and took it in for a few minutes... in all my travels i dont think i've ever encountered anywhere so tranquil, so utterly still. it was kinda moving. "Be Still and know that I am God"...that was the phrase that popped into my head then and there. :)
I did some other things too, particularly as Kyoto is a modern city too... i visited the International Manga Museum, and i also played a few games in one of the modern arcades.
Its the two extremes that won Kyoto for me. Yes, it is a modern city with a capable transport net work and all the modern amenities one could possibly want. But as you find yourself walking down a busy street, fighting for space amongst the crowds and dodging the hundreds of cyclists that share the walkways, all you have to do is make a turn off the street and you'll find yourself almost alone in a quiet neighbourhood, a far cry from the city you were in literally seconds ago.
I also really enjoyed the traditional aspect of Kyoto, the small streets with the traditional crafts for sale, the locals who walk around in kimonos, the small cafes and bars in the old style. I realise that its all kinda put on for the tourists, but unlike a tourist town in, say, Thailand, which is very much in your face, trying to sell you an experience, Kyoto just kinda takes it easy. They realise that people come to see the old cultural roots of Japan, so they just incorporate it into their lifestyle and carry on as normal, letting outsiders come and experience it at their own pace.
The duality of both modern and traditional, of hustle and bustle combined with slow and relaxed really worked out for me, and i enjoyed myself immensely.
Other little things did it for me too, like seeing the hundreds of vending machines, or hearing the little jingles that almost every commercial has attached to it. the sounds of the crossings, or hearing the delightful Engrish on the trains. The Kyotoites themselves were very friendly, and very patient with the english idiot with next to no knowledge of japanese. The few i did have any sort of meaningful interaction with almost always left me smiling. Every now and then I'd see something bizarre and i'd think "man...Japan is so weird!" and yet it all just kinda wraps up the whole experience for me.
Kyoto...a little bit of everything. i hope i may return one day.
now Tokyo...thats a crazy town.
Tokyo was a lot of fun. I was staying in a guesthouse in Ueno, which was on Tokyo's equivalent to the Circle Line, which meant the rest of the city was pretty easy access to me. I got to the guesthouse fairly early, so i decided to spend my evening in Akihabara!
Akihabara is Tokyo's gadget centre, filled with shops that themselves are filled with gadgetry, toys, dvds, cds, books, cameras, models...you name it. i returned there a few times over the week...lets just say it was never cheap. :q
One of the first places i visted was the Suginami Animation Museum, which had a a few interesting exhibits on how animation is produced. they also had a fairly extensive library full of production sketches and groundwork for various animations, which i happily perused for an hour or two. the best part was getting the opportunity to create my own little animation, the results of which can be found on facebook..i'll try to upload something here. it really makes me appreciate the hard work it takes to produce a full length feature film! ha ha
i also spent a couple of days on Odaiba, a small island of reclaimed land just off the coast of tokyo bay. i went there one day t see what was there, i ended up going on a huge ferris wheel and poking around a car museum and a science museum. I returned there a couple of days later to see an ASIMO (Honda's autonomous robot) presentation, and i also visited the Panasonic Centre which displays all the latest technology from Panasonic, the best being this concept for the TV of the future. It essentially is the entire wall of a room, with the ability to recognise the user as they walk up to it, change the size and position of the TV "screen" to follow you around the room, and also allow you to access the internet, music, photos, and use a videophone for communication with other "wall" users. They say they havent quite figured out all the mechanics yet, but they are confident that they'll have a production model on the market by 2015. you heard it here first folks.
I visited a Photography museum and got some stunning pictures of Tokyo and of Mt. Fuji. I spent an evening in Shibuya and all the craziness that goes on there at night. I went to see Michael Jackson's "This is It" at the cinema (pretty impressive) and i even spent one night at a Japanese Public Bath, which was a colourful and different experience. :p
Overall, whilst not as peaceful or perhaps even as enjoyable as Kyoto was for me, Tokyo was a real colourful city, postively pulsating with life and energy. It was easy to imagine that I was all alone in a crowd, but even then that wasnt enitrely true. There were a number of occasions where people went out of my way to help me find where i was going or to help me out in some way.
I really enjoyed Japan, and if my knowledge of the language was a little better, im certain it would be a place i could quite happily spend a lot more time in. plus a little extra money wouldnt hurt. :q
und so my trip has come to a close. Its been a real wild ride, from my summer at Camp Pecometh, to the insanity of Los Angeles, from the beautiful Sydney to the bustling heart of Singapore, from kooky kula lumpur all through the amazing country of Thailand and onto the booming metropolis of Hong Kong, finally ending up at the serene and picturesque Kyoto and the throbbing pulse of Tokyo.
I started the trip with real trepidation and uncertainty, in Singapore with no real clue as to what i was doing and unsure if i could continue. but i put my head down and powered on through, and found that i really enjoy the nomadic life, as annoying and frustrating as it can get. I came out of Thailand stronger and more independant then when i went in, but found, through various encounters, that my newly discovered social side is quite a handy skill to have in my arsenal and it really did help to enhance the whole experience.
A huge thank you to Nolan and Amy from Canada who really helped set my mind at ease in K.L and who hung out with me in the evenings, a thank you of biblical proportions to Rebecca Hanna for sharing a room with me on Samui and then going on with me to Phangan and sharing a room with me there. I dont think i'll ever forget that day we spent roasting on the beach and then ducking inside the Irish Pub when it started to rain. :)
and a heartfelt thank you to Laura Donnelly, whom i only met for one night but it turned out to be the best night of my visit to Hong Kong, if not my entire trip.
thanks to all my friends at camp pecometh. rock on 2010! Undying gratitiude to my bro Stephen and Michelle for putting up with me in LA and also to Kay and Mark for giving me a place to stay and so much support whilst i was in Australia. also thanks to Asya and to Pat Donnelly (it was a good trip for hanging out with Donnellys) and wife Jackie for hanging out with me in Australia. i'll have to go back sometime.
thank you to you, who have read my posts and kept up with my epic voyage.
and finally, a million thank yous to those who will never read this blog, to any person who helped me out, owned a hostel in which i stayed, booked stuff for me, and even to those who just smiled at me as i went on my way. i cant remember them all, but without them, this trip would have been next to impossible.
i'll try to start updating regularly again and also try to start visiting people again, though my laptop is in america, and so im having to use my bros computer at the moment.
its good to be home. i cant say that i dont miss travelling and the open road though...i guess i'll just have to start planning my next adventure!
till next time folks!