Golden Week has descended upon us like a large Japanese falcon blocking out the sun.
We know this not by all the carp streamers flying in the air, nor the giddy excitement of schoolkids and salarymen leaving school and work behind for the next ten days. We know because our Tokyo apartment that we rented when we first arrived in Japan two months ago is now 150% more expensive.
But we rent it anyway. Thanks for nothing, Golden Week. But it's nice to be back to the familiar: Gyoza dinner in our apartment
We are exhausted. I don't know what happens during Golden Week, what kind of festivities or events they run. We just want to hide out in our Sumida apartment and rest, only venturing out to eat and shop for groceries. Just want to simply exist for a while instead of be perpetual tourists.
I do brave downtown Tokyo once, to head back to Akihabara. I have to pick up the camera that I dropped off a few weeks ago to get fixed. I'm not sure if it's my imagination, but it seems that Tokyo is not as crowded as when we first arrived. I guess all the city people have gone out to the countryside for vacation, and vice-versa. And there are more city-people than rural-folk.
Although I'm tired of traveling, I still turn my head everytime I see or hear a motorcycle. What does that mean?
The rest of the time is spent in our tiny apartment, comforted by the constant PRM-PRM-PRM of the train crossing signal outside. Well, maybe comforted isn't the right word...
As soon as Golden Week finishes up, we poke our heads out like gophers. Everybody back at work and school? Great! Time to get out of Tokyo!
The Shinkansen, also known as the Bullet Train, speeds us from Tokyo to Kyoto
I'm still missing pictures from the past couple of weeks, so I stole this one from the Internet
I've always wanted to take the Japanese Bullet Train. I remember as a kid, they tested these trains to close to 500 km/h! 500 km/h land speed travel? Bucket List Item.
The Japanese rail system is *the* model of efficiency. Everything is on time, and the train station attendants are so smartly dressed in their dark suits, cap and white gloves. They bow to every customer that enters the train. They even bow to the train itself when all the passengers are on board! And the trains are always exactly on time. There is considerable dishonor and shame if a train was ever late.
Most people think that the highly accurate International Atomic Time is officially kept by a Caesium-133 Atomic Clock kept in a vault at the National Physics Laboratory in the United Kingdom. Not true. It's actually calculated off the Japan Rail schedule.
Most people also think that the act of harikiri (suicide by slitting of the belly by sword) was an ancient tradition practiced by dishonored samurai warriors. Also not true. It was actually a Japan Rail executive that started the practice when a Kyoto to Hamamatsu train arrived 2 minutes late. True story.
Yes, I brought out my GPS to measure the top speed. Yes, I am geeky that way...
Unfortunately, we never got to travel 500 km/h. The maximum operating speed for commuter travel is set at only 285 km/h. :(
Still better than our trains in Canada, which run at 100 km/h, if they arrive on the platform within the scheduled hour. Or if they ever do arrive...
Our new home in Kyoto. And it's got a tatami room!
Now that Golden Week is over, accommodations are cheap and plentiful again. We are able to secure a small apartment in Nishikyo-ku, a very quiet suburb just outside of Kyoto.
We have just over a month before our Japan visa expires, and the weather is still cold in Toronto, so we are going to make the most of the visa and live like locals until we are forcibly removed from this country by immigration officials in dark caps and white gloves, who will bow to us before throwing us onto the plane: "Arigato-gozaimas-get-the-fukishima-out-of-our-country!"
We're just five minutes walk from the Katsura train station, but the AirBnB place gave us bicycles to get around the neighbourhood
We're back on two! This is our neighbourhood. We have been staying here long enough to recognize some of the locals as we ride around everyday
Neda always says hi to the old man who walks his two Shih Tzu dogs around the block in the late morning. She tells me this in the afternoons when I wake up.
OMG, I'm so tired all the time. If it wasn't for Neda dragging me out to see Kyoto, I'd be in futon the entire day.
Just like motorcycles, we ride rain or shine. One evening we try to outrace the rain clouds as we head to dinner. Unsuccessfully.
This is the izakaya just around the corner from where we live. We've tried everything on the menu
The cake-like thing in the middle is okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake made with cabbage, potatoes, flour and onions. This is our favorite thing on the menu and not only because they make cool patterns with the mayonnaise that they slather on top of it! Mmmmm-mayonnaise. Also, on the right is yakitori, grilled chicken on skewers. We are in foodie heaven!
One afternoon, Neda takes us out to Arashiyama, about a 5 km bicycle ride from our place
This place is beautiful! We watch boats lazily float down the Hozu-Gawa river, with the Arashiyama mountains in the background
Our trip goes from two-wheels to two-oars! Neda is on rowing duty, because I am on camera duty. It's such hard work... taking pictures...
I then realize that these boats don't lazily float down the river. There's no current so everybody paddles. Uh oh...
Neda makes me row. It doesn't last long, because she can't stand the whining and complaining. And weeping.
Arashiyama is also home to a magnificent bamboo grove
These huge bamboo stalks are mesmerizing when they sway in the wind. Especially when you look up at the tops, reaching the sky. I took so many pictures of them, but they all got lost when I neglected to transfer them off the SD card... :(
Some Asian tourists visiting the bamboo grove. I know they're not Japanese tourists because they're wearing the loud tourist kimonos
Also in Arashiyama - Tenryu-ji, A Zen Buddhist temple
Taking a well earned break at the temple from all the bicycling and rowing that Neda made me do
It's during this moment at the Buddhist temple that I realize: there's no Zens in complaining.
We try something different. Back to Nepalese cuisine, reminded us of the place that Ross took us to in Omachi
This was such a small place, there was a line-up outside to get in! Oh Roti, why are you so delicious?
One evening, we hop on the train and head to Osaka, less than an hour away.
Oh, the big city lights! So different than our small and quiet Kyoto
We are hanging out with the Kansai Riders at one of their monthly meets! Craft Burger in Shinsaibashi Disctrict
Being in Osaka is like having all the stereotypes of Japan confirmed. Crowded. And so expensive. Burger and beer = $30 each. Okay, it was "Japanese craft beer", but still: OMG (O-Miya-Gi).
But it was so amazing to see everyone again! We really got a chance to talk with everyone in depth that evening, find out who everyone was, what they do, how they live in Japan.
We found out that amongst the ex-pats in Japan, there are varying levels of integration. Some have totally immersed themselves in Japanese culture, speak Japanese all the time, all their friends are Japanese. Others only possess a passing-level of Japanese, hang out with other ex-pats. But regardless of that, the Kansai Riders here are such a tightly knit group. I think it's partly because motorcycle riders are passionate about their hobby - nobody understands a rider like another rider does. But it's also because Japan is such an exclusionary society.
Gaijin never get fully accepted, no matter how fluent or culturally steeped you are. The Kansai Riders have two bonds that keep them so close to each other. Motorcycling and being Strangers in a Strange Land.
We fell into this group like a square peg into a square hole.
Phil takes us on a night-tour of downtown Osaka
We came into Osaka with Phil because he also lives in Kyoto, so after the pub, he gave us a small tour of the big city before we all headed back together. Osaka seems very much like Tokyo with its big city lights, but we're told that there's more culture here than Tokyo. The food and the entertainment is more historically-based, where everything in Tokyo is about the latest fads: robot monster shows and roast-beef ohno volcanoes.
They just do things differently in this part of the Japan. We got used to standing on the left on the escalators in Tokyo. When we got to Kyoto and Osaka, they stand on the right! So many tiny regional differences.
We were overwhelmed by all the lights and the people!
We are really enjoying relaxing in Kyoto. Almost too much because I'm spending an inordinate amount of time in bed.
Neda doesn't say anything and lets me sleep off our last half-decade of travel. But I sense she's getting a bit worried.