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Sun May 28 2017: A Sad Farewell to Japan

On May 17th, I woke up to terrible news. Nicky Hayden, one of my favorite motorcycle racers, was involved in a bicycling accident in Italy.

I got a chance to meet him during the World Superbike race in Thailand just last year

I had followed his career pretty much when I started riding motorcycles and watched as he progressed through MotoGP, finally winning the championship in 2006. I remember cheering him on in the stands at the Indianapolis Speedway in 2008, as Hurricane Ike tore through the stadium, halting the race in the final laps. He took second place as Valentino Rossi passed him the lap before the race was called. We saw him again the next year, also at Indy as he took third place.

And now, here in our tiny apartment in Kyoto, I watched for news of his condition each day. Nicky Hayden died after five days in the hospital on May 22nd.

I don't worship celebrities. Actors, musicians, athletes may touch my life in some significant way but when they pass suddenly, I'm sad, but it doesn't affect my life in any tangible way.

Nicky Hayden wasn't the best motorcycle racer in the world. But there was something special about the way he carried himself, never uttering a bad word about his competitors, always thankful, gracious and sincere; I had tremendous respect for him and his death had a devastating impact on me.

I'm not sure whether it was because I was fatigued from all the travel, or I was going through some kind of depression, but on the day that he died, I was overcome by a heaviness and sorrow that I couldn't seem to shake. And I didn't get out of bed for two days.

RIP Nicky

Neda is worried about me. Even before this latest news hit me, she's been worried. They say it's good to talk about your feelings, so I talk. Nicky Hayden's death. Our trip ending. The uncertainty about our future. Where are we going to live? What will we do?

I talk about everything, but it doesn't help. It still takes superhuman effort to get out of bed every day.

We had made so many plans to see Kyoto, visit all the sights and make the most of our last few weeks in Japan. But all I do is sleep. Neda goes out by herself often to shop for our groceries, do some bicycling. Days go by without me even leaving the 400 sq ft that is our apartment.

On the last week of our stay in Kyoto, there's a flurry of activity. I go out not because I want to, but because Neda convinces me that seeing some sunlight might lift my spirits, plus we don't know when we will ever be back here. So, once again, we go out because of FOMO...

We take the train to downtown Kyoto, only 10 minutes away

Interesting-looking shops and stalls line the streets of Kyoto

But it's these Machiya (traditional wood houses) that are the main attraction of Kyoto

We were hoping to see geisha's walking around the old neighbourhood, but we just see other Asian tourists in their rental kimonos. Ever since Neda read about them in the book, "Geisha" by Liza Dalby, she's wanted to see one in person. They are highly-trained entertainers, skilled in the art of conversation, singing, playing instruments and telling stories. Contrary to what most people believe, Geishas are not prostitutes. They are normally hired to entertain at parties, serving tea to the guests, dancing and playing music in the traditional manner in their intricate kimonos and oshiroi makeup.

Geishas are super-expensive to book for an evening. Typical costs are $4000 USD for the more skilled Geishas. The high price reflects the considerable time and training involved to become a Geisha.

Instead, we booked a Geisha show at Gion Corner. Not the real thing, but you get a taste of what you'll see with an evening with a real Geisha.
And $30 a person is better than $4000...

Walking the streets of Kyoto at night

The night lights of Kyoto reflecting off the Kamo River

Our Japan visa is set to expire very soon, so we're off to see another tourist site in Kyoto.

Posing with some other tourists in kimonos in front of the Fushimi Inari Taisha temple

This Shinto temple is known for it's thousands of vermilion-coloured Torii gates

It's crowded! Virtually impossible to get a picture of the all the gates without other tourists in the picture. The best time to come would be first thing in the morning when the temple opens, or late at night just before it closes to get that empty Torii Gate shot.

Still, there are some special moments

At first, I thought the writing on the gates were some kind of prayer or inscription for good luck. They're actually the names of the companies and organizations who have sponsored a Torii Gate! Hmmm, wonder how much it would take to sponsor a RideDOT.com Torii Gate? I have a sharpie in my pocket, so it could actually be quite cheap...


Proof that I was there. It *is* nice to be outside for a change...

These Torii Gates symbolize good luck to those who walk underneath them, so thousands of them must mean even better luck. Actually, they just lead to exhaustion. These gates line the 2 km uphill climb and it is steep!

(l) A little Escher-esque side-alley on the main path (r) Finally, made it to the top. You can see Kyoto below us. Now only 2 kms back down again!

Some of the things you see along the 4 km hike around Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple

Neda loves hiking.

Our sight-seeing pace is relentless. Only a couple more days to go before we have to leave Kyoto.

We have to catch a bus to our next destination and while waiting, we see some kind of parade going down the street

I tried searchnig online, no idea what they are celebrating...?

We are on our way to Toei Kyoto Studio Park. It's a theme park modeled after the Edo period in Japan's history. It's actually situated inside a real movie studio.

By far, the most popular thing to do at Toei Studio Park is to rent a costume from your favorite TV show
and pose around the sets, taking pictures for your Facebook or Instagram page

Cosplay (aka Costume Play) is a sub-culture of sci-fi and comic book conventions where participants dress up as their favorite character. It's very popular these days in North America, but Cosplay actually started in Japan in the early 1970s.

So interesting seeing all the different costumes from TV shows and cartoons that I've never seen

Even with the manga and animes that made it out to the western world, I still couldn't tell you the difference between a Yi-Gi-Oh or a Power Ball Z. I think one shoots fireballs from his hands, and the other one dresses in school-girl uniforms? I don't know...

Throughout the day, there are cool shows involving sword fights and good versus evil, although I couldn't tell you which is which

It's like watching a Captain America re-enactment and saying, "I think the guy with the shield is the bad guy..." It's quite obvious all the Japanese people watching know who the characters are...

There seem to be alot of umbrellas involved in Japanese cosplay

See what I mean?

There are tons of things to do at The Toei Studio, rides and shows and museums based on all the TV programs films they've produced. But we haven't seen any of them, so it really doesn't mean anything to us. It's like going to Universal Studios, without ever seen Amityville Horror or Jaws, etc.

We mainly stuck to the Edo village and just took pictures of all the interesting cosplayers. We did duck into this museum though:

I have no idea who these guys are, but I think they are related to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
I like their motorbikes too...

Power Rangers was a bit after my time. When I was a kid, I used to watch a show called Battle of the Planets. I found out many years later that this was based on a Japanese cartoon called "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman". Just like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was based on the 1970s Japanese TV series, "Super Sentai".

The Super Sentai series were basically Japan's superhero shows. Decades before Marvel hit it big on the screen!

A little tomfoolery at the Toei Studio museum

We have to leave Kyoto now.

I'm a bit disappointed, because after our motorcycle trek around Japan, we had all these grand plans for getting an apartment in Kyoto, living like the locals do, getting out into the neighbourhood, hanging out more with the Kansai Riders. Really getting a feel as to what it's like to live in this beautiful and captivating country.

But instead, I spent almost the entire month in bed. If it wasn't for Neda dragging me out to try to have a good time, I would have slept through our entire time in Kyoto.

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