Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Sunday, April 1, 2017

It’s spring break, people!  Ok, so spring break hasn’t exactly been a valid holiday for me in over a decade, but Carly is a teacher so we are rolling with it.  When one of your favorite travel buddies offers to get on a plane with you to anywhere in the world for a full week, you jump on it.   And just in case Carly and I can’t cause enough trouble ourselves, we’ve convinced The Legend to meet us there.  You blog veterans will remember The Legend as our Thailand yacht week skipper a few years ago.  Carly and I reunited with him last year on the maiden voyage of Bucketlust in Belize and we have been eager to get the gang back together.

Carly, Neil the Legend, and I

Why Japan? Honestly, because we’ve heard it’s fucking weird.  Combine that with the fact that Carly’s spring break coincides with cherry blossom season and it was a no-brainer.  I feel it necessary to note that I don’t eat fish, so meals should be interesting.  I feel it also necessary to note that Neil lost his wallet in a cab in Singapore the morning of his flight, and Carly realized she forgot her debit card at home the second we got to the airport.  We are off to a great start.  But we have three passports, so Japan, here we come!

We arrived in Osaka around 6 pm after a quick 12-hour jaunt from LAX.  The flight was uneventful, as most things are after a Xanax and a few red wines.  Carly and I exited customs and were met with a warm greeting of “hey, bitches!” from the one-and-only wrist-flicking fool, the Legend himself, Neil.  We all hopped on a train from the airport straight to Kyoto.  We only have a week in Japan and Osaka didn’t make the cut.  I heard is sucks.  We arrived at Kyoto station around 9 pm and hailed a cab to our Airbnb.  The only problem was that the address I had for the Airbnb was not actually an address at all, but a fucking zip code.  Our cab driver managed to find the general neighborhood so we hopped out and began walking up and down the streets, into hotels asking the Japanese staff if they recognized a picture of the outside of our building that I had printed.   It was like apartment hunting with Sherlock Holmes in a foreign language.  We eventually wandered into the wrong building and found two nice Japanese boys who recognized my pathetic little picture and walked us to the correct address.  It was a lot of build-up for an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, which somehow contains two beds, a small couch, a kitchenette and a bathroom.  I’m starting to understand what it must have been like for Shamu all those years in that little pool.  Luckily the three of us have all passed the fuck out together in a twin-size bed in Thailand before, and even managed to squeeze in a giant plate of paid thai, so we’ll be fine sleeping in a row like the fucking seven dwarfs.

Our mini-room and one giant bed

At this point it’s about 10 pm and we are exhausted and starving, so we stumbled into the first shitty little “Chinese” restaurant we could find around the corner. It was at this point that Carly and I discovered Neil has never done a sake bomb.  Apparently sake bombing isn’t an actual thing in Japan.  Just another example of Americans twisting the culture of another country into something obnoxious and excessively alcoholic.  Just so we’re clear, I’m drinking champagne on a Japanese bullet train at 9 am while writing this.  So, glass houses.  We had no choice but to educate our worldly friend.  Sake and beer for the table please!  After a truly mediocre dinner and some sake, we headed out for a quick drink at an Irish bar to find the neighborhood pretty much shut down.  Time to throw in the towel and prepare for sightseeing Kyoto tomorrow!

Monday, April 2, 2017

To no-one’s surprise we were all wide awake at 5 am, which is perfect for getting a jump on the other tourists.  We were out the door by 6 am on our way to the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is famous for it’s thousands of red gates that leads you through a excessively long trail up a mountain.  The only thing standing between us and the shrine was a quick subway ride.  We managed to buy our tickets and hop on the train fairly easily, patting ourselves on the back for being such adept tourists.  However, we quickly realized we were on the commuter express train, which skips about five stops at a time, including ours  For your general knowledge, the color of the actual train cars does not correspond to the color of the line.  For example, a train with red cars may have a tiny little sign in black to signify that it is the black line, not the red line.  Naturally this begs the question of why bother coloring the fucking train cars at all?  Luckily we realized our mistake pretty quickly and jumped off to head back in the other direction.   Point: Kyoto subway system.

We made it to the Fushimi Inari shrine and began to hike up the mountain through the seemingly endless procession of famous red Torii gates.  These gates symbolize an entrance to a sacred shrine in the Shinto religion, and the Fushimi Inari shrine has about 10,000 of them.  Along the route up the mountain were intermittent stops with signage of the trail to let you know “you are here”.  It wasn’t until about an hour into this hike, in flip flops might I add, that we realized we were actually only about one-third of the way up this Japanese trail of tears.  Newsflash – if you’ve seen 1,000 pearly red Shinto gates, you’ve seen them.  We threw in towel and headed back down the mountain, ready for our next stop.

Next up – two subway transfers to the Arashiyama district in west Kyoto.  This famous sightseeing district in Kyoto is home to a number of sights.  Just ask every other fucking tourist in the entire city because I’m pretty sure they were all there with us. We arrived via subway and began walking up-river through a park filled with cherry blossom trees.  It was at this point I began to realize we were no longer walking through the gates of a Shinto Shrine, but into the depths of tourism hell.  That’s right my friends, the dreaded Asian tour buses were lined up and down the streets.  Kiss any hopes at efficient tourism and maintaining any quality of personal space goodbye when you see these tour buses.  But there was no turning back, we had come too far.  We somehow managed to get a few decent pictures among the cherry blossoms without other tourists, mainly because Neil just yells at people to get out of our pictures.  I think he has even less patience for tour groups than I do.  Which would be a true feat of greatness, as I fucking hate anyone following a woman holding a stuffed animal on a stick.

We fought our way across the river and up the street to the Tenryu-ji Temple, where we were posed with the decision of buying an entrance ticket to access the garden only, or the garden and temple for an extra 300 yen. We figured, fuck it, and sprung for the extra three bucks.  Come to find out, the extra money for the temple just means that (1)  you have to take off your shoes and, (2) you stand about two feet above the garden-only tourists who then have the advantage of blocking all your pictures.  On the other side of the Tenryu-ji temple are the famous bamboo groves – the path through which was completely mobbed with tourists.  Carly’s mom had suggested that she go to the bamboo grove and do some meditating.  The only meditating I was doing here was pre-meditating the murder of every other tourist in my sight, so when Neil made the executive decision to snap one picture and get the hell of out of there, I was on board.  Although if I had to go to jail in any country, I think Japan would have the cleanest prison bathrooms. The toilet seats are probably heated.  But the food…

At this point we are fucking exhausted from both jet-lag, fighting crowds, walking over nine miles and general malnutrition.  We fought our way back down the street and sought refuge in an alleyway where a small bar had a sign that read “Hot beer, lousy food, bad service.  Welcome”.  Sarcasm and alcohol?  Sold.  We sat down and were delighted to learn that this little hole-in-the-wall served jerk chicken.  In Kyoto, Japan.  Ya, mon! Neil claims it was the best $8 meal of his life.  I was just thrilled it wasn’t jerk fish.

The best fucking meal ever

The last stop on our itinerary was the monkey park. It seemed innocent enough – frolic around in a park with some monkeys before heading back for a nap? Sure, no problem.  What the entrance to this little park failed to mention is that you have to hike twenty minutes up switchbacks to reach a little hill where tourists feed dozens of monkeys from the safety of cage.  To be clear, the tourists are the in the cage, not the monkeys.  The irony of the situation was the only saving grace of this shit hole.  We stayed out of the caged human feeding zone, but I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of irresponsibility for contributing my time and money to this tourist trap.  Another waste of $5.  As a general rule of thumb, we have found that any tourist sight that requires a nominal entrance fee in Japan is generally not worth the time or money. Also, if you aren’t there before 9 am, don’t fucking bother.  Just don’t.

The walk to the monkey park

We high-tailed it back to our Airbnb around 2:30 pm for a much-needed nap before hitting the town for an adventurous Monday night.  The end of this blog post should make it obvious that we never made it out of fucking bed.  Tune in tomorrow when I throw a grown ass woman tantrum on a bike.

One thought on “Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Add yours

  1. Walter and I very much enjoyed this post and look forward to the next edition… have fun and be safe Baby Dino #1!



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