Tag Archives: Kyoto

A train ride through Japan’s tourist trail

Wednesday, April 4, 2017

Today we are leaving Kyoto and heading to Hakone in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.  Hakone is a mountain town known for its hot springs and views of the elusive Mt. Fuji.  After our aggressive visit to Kyoto we are in desperate need of some relaxation and nature.  I had McDonalds for breakfast at the train station.  Throwing in the towel on Japanese cuisine on day three.  No one is surprised.  I asked Carly and Neil if they wanted champagne for the train ride.  When they answered no I just asked them again.  And again.  Until they realized I would keep asking until their answer was yes.  Soon we were popping champs on the Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train) bound for Hakone.

The only way to travel in Japan

I need to digress for a moment to discuss my love of Japanese public transportation.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bus, a train, or a boat, that shit is always on time.  And it is cut throat – if you show up ten seconds late, you are fucked.  They wait for no one.  What makes Japanese transportation so great is that they understand what most people I know fail to, which is that your time is not more valuable than that of the collective group.  If only I could find a way to teach that to 95% of the self-absorbed ass holes I know.   Yes, you are probably one of them.

We arrived in Hakone at the Odwara station where we purchased the Hakone Free Pass, which gives us unlimited access to all transportation in the area over the next two days.  From Odwara, we took the Hakone Tozan Railway to our hotel in Gora.  The Hakone Tozan Railway is Japan’s oldest mountain railway and winds through the mountains, over bridges, through tunnels and along switchbacks.  It is supposedly quite a treat for train fans, whoever the hell those losers are.  To any normal person, it’s a really fucking slow train.

Hakone Tozan Railway

Once we reached Gora, we dropped our bags at our hotel, and headed out to a burger place that I read about online.  Woody’s is a toy-story themed treehouse-like restaurant with creepy dolls from the movie randomly placed all over staring at you while you eat.  It’s weirdly awesome.  The burgers here are massive an messy.  While I pondered how to best attack my food, Neil stuffed his burger in his face like a lion feasting on his prey.  I have legitimately never seen anyone eat a plate of food more aggressively in my life.  It was a fucking bloodbath.  You would think the guy hadn’t eaten in weeks.  I’m actually shocked he didn’t eat his hand by mistake.  I’ve been known to get pretty disgusting with some Panda Express on a bad hangover day, so if I’m impressed by your ability to utterly demolish a plate of food, that is really saying something.

Neil getting down on a Woody’s burger

After lunch we went to the Hakone open air museum, which features an awesome display of modern sculptures spread throughout an open-air garden with 360-degree mountain views of Hakone.  It also features an impressive Picasso collection.  I’m not much of a museum goer, but I was pretty blown away by this place. Did I really just say that a museum blew me away?  So this is what old age feels like.

After the museum we walked to the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, which is a truly bizarre hot springs/water park combo.  This little walk turned out to be more of an uphill hike along a random path through the woods, yet twenty minutes later we found ourselves at the Yunessun.  This place is a fucking trip.  It’s a Japanese hot tub play place, with bizarre themed hot tubs, a water slide into a hot tub, indoor and outdoor hot tubs with waterfalls, and also has a traditional Japanese onsen on the groud floor, which is segregated by men and women.  Typical Japanese onsens have very specific rules about how you must shower before you enter and they don’t allow people with tattoos in.  I have a tattoo on my toe, because I’m hood like that, so this was a good option.  It also allows men and women to enjoy hot tubs together, which is fun when you are traveling in a co-ed band of misfits such as ourselves.  The only real problem was that they didn’t sell wine.  The ladies only naked area was by far the best part, mainly because there were no screaming children.  We tried the pool where the little fish eat the dead skin off your feet.  I was utterly disgusted.  Carly was a good sport, but unfortunately when Neil put his hobbit feet in pool there was no fish for anyone else.  Those fish know a dead skin buffet when they see it.

We headed back to the hotel where we smashed the $10 buffet and were in bed by eight.

Thursday, April 5, 2017

Today we are tackling the Hakone tourist trail before heading to Tokyo.  First you take a cable car halfway up a mountain, where you then catch a gondola that guides you into the Owakudani Valley, at which point you continue down the mountain in another gondola to Lake Ashi and board a pirate ship that takes you across the lake.  The highlight of all of this are the stunning views of Mount Fuji – if the weather is clear enough.  When the weather complete and total shit, like it was for us, the trail is really just various forms of incredibly slow transportation while staring out into grey skies.

We went through the motions anyway while we were in the area.  We ate the famous Owakudani black volcanic eggs that are boiled in a sulfur spring and are rumored to add seven years to your life.  My drinking has probably taken at least that from me, so this is really just an attempt at breaking even.  At one point we waited in line for ten minutes to get a picture in front of the Hakone shrine.  Japanese people fucking love waiting in lines.  I don’t mean bullshit lines at home where everyone cuts in front of each other, I’m talking orderly and respectful lines for everything from tourist attractions to restaurants.  But not subways. Subways are every man for himself.

That afternoon we caught the train to Tokyo, checked into our Airbnb and headed out on the town for some dinner.  Tokyo at night is FUCKING AWESOME. The entire city completely lights up to the point of sensory overload and there are never ending masses of people everywhere. People who apparently need to eat.  A lot.  There is literally a restaurant every five feet in this city.  I didn’t even bother looking up at all the shit above the first floor because what is the fucking point?  We wandered around for a while paralyzed with food options until the decision was made for us by a very loud Japanese guy screaming at us to come inside.  The place was packed and had dancing teppanyaki chefs so we took it as sign and obliged.

Teppen Otoko Dojo Shibuya is an izakaya style teppanyaki restaurant.  Translation: bizarrely small plates of food cooked on a griddle in front of you.  Carly ordered a “veggie steak plate” which consisted of one grilled white onion cut in half and three pieces of bamboo shoots no longer than an index finger each.  Cost: $0.10, RRP $9. The plate was, however, decorated with some lovely wicker fencing, the overall mass of which was triple the amount of edible material on the plate.  Who serves someone an entire onion and calls it a meal?  I had a “Japanese pancake” called Okonomiyaki, the contents of which were not discernible to the naked eye.  It looked and tasted like the Chef vomited onto his griddle and then seared it into a congealed mass.  To add insult to injury, he then he covered it with fish flakes.  Barf.  Neil had the steak, which was decent, but the chef’s one-bite taste test while plating accounted for about 25% of the portion.  The entertainment was at least decent.  Another good thing to come out of this meal was discovering our newfound love of shochu, a Japanese vodka-like liquor distilled from rice.  It’s basically sake’s sluttier and more entertaining older sister.  Kyoto was all about the sake, but Tokyo is all about the shochu.

After dinner we headed back to the Airbnb to get ready for our first night in Tokyo.  To me, that means ripping shots of vodka to the face.  To Carly and Neil that means power napping.  Out of the goodness of my heart I gave them a solid hour of nap time before screaming them into consciousness and pouring booze down their throats.  Neil had a friend in town, so we met his buddy at Hub British Pub down the street.  Yes, I flew to Tokyo to hang out in a chain British pub.  I headed directly to the bar where I discovered an actual line of people waiting patiently in turn to buy drinks.  Remember how I said Japanese people love their lines? Even in bars.  I think we should institute this form of ordering drinks in bars at home.  It gets harder to catch the eye of bartenders with each passing year.  This would really level the playing field for me.

A Japanese girl came up to me very excitedly and started repeating a Japanese phrase over and over while giggling a lot.  Her boyfriend translated for me.  “Big boobs”.  My c-cups apparently make me the Tits Mcgee of Japan.  I’m not mad about it.  While I was being fondled by little Japanese girls we made friends with Paul, a guy from San Francisco who lives in Tokyo, and his Aussie friend Alex.  Paul offered to be our tour guide tomorrow so these boys will be making another appearance.  We hopped the around the bar, doing laps and talking to strangers.  I made bar bffs with a guy who grew up down the street from me in Torrance, CA.  There is no smaller world than a bar full of white people in a foreign country.  Once Alex began to girl Carly a creepy palm reading we decided it was time to bounce.   I’d say the first eight hours in Tokyo was a success.

 

 

Tour de Kyoto

Tuesday, April 3, 2017

Here’s the thing about going to bed at 2 pm, you wake up at 2 am the next day wide awake.  At least Carly and Neil did.  I made it to 5 am.  It was clear that Carly and Neil were itching to start the day, so I dragged my ass out of our side-by-side double beds and we ripped some early morning sake shots.  Because, vacation.  We may not be on a boat, but apparently the yacht-week mentality lingers.  We were out the door by 6 am for a stroll around the Gion district, which was beautiful in the early morning, sans the hordes of tourists fighting for pictures of cherry blossoms and geishas.  We even ran into a beautiful old wooden temple that we enjoyed all to ourselves.  As we strolled along the river, we continued our morning binge drinking with more sake and beer.  By this point it was almost 7 am so the natural progression of morning drinking dictates that it was time for champagne.

We attempted to find champagne yesterday, but the liquor stores are open from 6 pm to 4 am and apparently that time frame now coincides with our fucked-up sleeping schedule.  We looked in about four 7-11’s before we finally found one at the Kyoto station with some champagne.  FYI – 7-11’s and similar sized mini-marts are the lifeblood of Japan.  They are on every corner and sell pretty much everything you could possibly need, from sushi to champagne.  Carly bravely tried the 7-11 sushi for breakfast and declared it delicious, so you’ll have to take her word on this one. We bought a bottle of champagne and drank it on the roof of the Kyoto station.  Then we bought another bottle and drank it while people watching.

I think now would be a good time to mention that we are pre-partying for a five-hour bike tour around Kyoto.  Four hours of drinking prior to riding a bike around a crowded city for five hours can’t possibly end badly, right?  We arrived at the Cycle Kyoto office where we met our tour guide – a congenial middle-aged Frenchman named Thierry, and our fellow bike tour mates.  Mo and Brad, a couple from Seattle, seemed to be very much on the same page with us as far as biking under the influence.  It was clear we were going to get along.  The other two on the tour were Nancy and Vicki, a mother daughter duo from NYC.  For the record, Nancy’s name is actually Raquel.  We just call her Nancy because Neil referred to her “Nazi” all day long and because of his adorable accent I thought he was saying “Nancy”, and I therefore spent the entire day thinking her name was legitimately Nancy.  When we asked Nancy what she did for a living, she replied that she is “an academic”.  Oh, it gets better.  Nancy/Raquel chooses to only speak in Spanish with her adopted Chinese daughter despite the fact that they and everyone else on the tour speaks perfect English.  I could literally feel my eyes rolling every time she opened her mouth.  And away we go….

The bike tour started out innocently enough.  We made our way through the back streets of Kyoto, stopping first at the Honganji Temple where we unwittingly crashed a funeral and took more sake to the face.  Then it was on to the Kitano Tenmangu temple where we posed for selfies among the cherry blossoms in the Japanese zen garden.  Our third stop was a temple I can’t remember the name of, but I do remember Neil getting yelled at for laying shirtless on the sacred grounds in an attempt to get a tan.  Talk about living your best life.  We also continued to drink sake and beer out of water bottles in the blistering sun at each stop.  By this point the weather was starting to really heat up and the tourists were out in full force.  We biked on to the Golden Pavilion, which is an aggressively popular temple in North Kyoto that is completely covered in gold leaf.  It’s also completely covered in tourists. Fucking hordes of them.  We parked our bikes and walked in to snap the obligatory Golden Pavilion selfie, after which we waited in a massive line of visitors to exit the gates.  At this point I was already tired and getting a little hangry, but I told myself that lunch was coming and there was only a few more hours left.  How wrong I was on both accounts.

We sweated in the sun until it was time to meet back up with the group and bike to our next stop – lunch!  Or so we thought. We first biked to a little store to pick up lunch, and then biked to the Imperial Palace.  The grounds surrounding the Palace were stunningly picturesque, covered in cherry blossoms providing shady areas with adorable little Japanese school children running around in matching uniforms.  It was the perfect spot to eat lunch, only we were not eating lunch there.  We were just stopping for a few pics before biking down to the Kamo River to eat.  I was hungry two stops ago, so needless to say this information did not thrill me. Nevertheless, I played nice and bit my tongue, as the expected end to our bike tour was drawing near.  We hauled our bikes down to the river and stopped to eat our bento boxes, which was basically fishy rice with a bunch of unidentifiable, but equally fishy accoutrements.  I had the vegetarian version, which means I had rice.  Just rice.  There isn’t enough rice in Japan to satisfy me after 9 hours of drinking and 4 hours on a bike.

Lunch?

I inhaled my rice and patiently waited for the rest of the group to finish their meals so we could head back to the bike office.  You all know my golden rule of activities while traveling – anything over 2 hours is just plain unnecessary.  And yet I continue to break this rule time and time again.  At this point Thierry informed us that we actually had a few more stops left, despite nearing the end time of the pre-defined schedule.  At this point I am tired, cranky and dragging ass.  I’m fucking over it.  Those of you who know me know that there is no hiding from the wrath a post-drunk bitchy and cranky Rory.  I spent the next hour almost killing multiple tourists and almost being killed by multiple cars as we biked through the shit show of tourism that is the Gion district.  All the while Nancy is up in front at every stop prolonging this madness by asking the most exhaustive questions you could possibly think of.  Time is up Nancy, google that shit.  I’m guessing she is going to make that poor little Chinese girl of hers write her a research paper on what she learned during her trip to Japan.  Because, you know, they are academics. Poor girl.

I think you get where I’m going with this.  The never-ending bike tour dragged ass all damn afternoon.  I basically through an adult hissy fit every time we stopped.  Carly tried to pretend like she didn’t know me.  Neil laughed at me.  At one point Nancy made a very unnecessary and awkward declaration about how easy it is to bike it Kyoto because it’s so flat.  Not after a four our pre-party Nance, so maybe get on my fucking level before you start judging my lack of athletic ability.

The tour finally came to an end.  We dropped off the bikes and flagged down a taxi within about 30 seconds.  For the second day in a row, I almost cried of exhausted happiness as I collapsed onto my bed.  It was nap time.  But don’t worry, we actually woke up this time.

We headed to an adorable Mediterranean restaurant that Carly found online called Gojo Paradiso.  After dinner the owner, a middle aged Israeli man, came to our table to chat with us and we ended up going a few rounds of sake with him.  We took this opportunity to get all of our geisha questions answered.  Our bike tour guide told us that men pay thousands of dollars for Geishas to entertain them with dancing or tea ceremonies.  I assumed this was all code for sexual favors, but apparently that is not the case.  As our Israeli friend explained to us, the whole Geisha thing is very cultural and based on the premise of being so painfully patient that sexual favors are not even necessary.  Whatever works, people.

This being our last night in Kyoto, we were determined to at least attempt a night out.  We headed out to the Pontocho district which is known for fun bars and clubs.  We somehow ended up at the world’s most pathetic karaoke bar, Bar Code. The people watching was epic, however the thick cloud of smoke made it impossible to enjoy.  Ok that’s a lie, I still thoroughly enjoyed a German girl’s drunken rendition of Spice Girls’ “Tell me what you want”.  I’ll leave you all with a picture of the top six karaoke songs at Bar Code.  As you can see from both the song choice and the smoking policy, this bar was basically a time machine to 2005.  We threw in the towel and headed home.

In the last two days we have biked 21 miles and walked 20 miles.  Carly and Neil are convinced that I have tricked them into a Japanese fat camp under the guise of a spring break trip.  I have promised them some relaxation tomorrow as we head to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

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.