Dullsville, Japan

Trip Start Sep 11, 2005
Trip End Dec 26, 2005

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Monday, November 14, 2005

(Okay, let`s have a do-over on that last entry...)

Before I started doing any serious research into Japan, I knew there were a few places I definately wanted to see: Tokyo, Osaka, Mt. Fuji and Hiroshima. But when I started to look further into the place, one name kept cropping up time and time again: Kyoto, the country`s "cultural and spiritual heart" one one-time capital. "Allocate as much time to it as you can" said my Lonely Planet. So I added it to the itinerary and set off from Tokyo, intending to base myself there even when exploring the surrounding areas. After all, it sounded great.

A quick bullet train trip later (I have a rail pass with allows me access to every train - including bullet - except for the super-super-fast Nozomi as many times as I like during a 3-week period) and arrived in Kyoto that evening. First impressions were not good - it was raining (not the city`s fault, obviously) and compared to the glittering neon of Tokyo it seemed very low-key. This also seemed true the following morning, when I set about exploring the temples and shrines which are the citiy`s main attractions.

Two problems:
1) The best of these places are far apart, and as someone who likes to walk from place to place this posed a problem
2) I`m really sick of temples and shrines. Especially when there`s so much concrete around them.

So I had a look around them for a bit, and after a few hours it became obvious that I was just going through the motions - having a look at places just because I felt I should. I resolved then to move on a bit for one of those places I was actually enthusiastic to see - Osaka. And given that my dorm was being used by a class of American religion students (on a university course rather than because they were really into it), giving me a literal "new kid in class" feeling I decided I`d do the cliched thing and stay overnight in Osaka in a capsule hotel and leave my big bag at the Kyoto hostel.

A 15-minute bullet train ride the following morning (rail pass, coming through!) and I was in Osaka. It`s what I came to Japan to see - Blade Runner-ish cities and modernity. It`s like a smaller, more livable Tokyo and there`s not much to see in terms of specific sights (there are things like the Umeda Sky Building and aqarium, but you wouldn`t exactly come all the way out here just to see them), there`s as much to be gained from wandering the streets and looking around as there would on any set itinerary.

I set about finding a capsule hotel for the night and looked for one mentioned in the book. A task made all the more difficult because the map printed in the Lonely planet had now street names on it! A quick visit to tourist information was all it took to get me pointed in the right direction.

The capsule hotel itself is a lot like a dorm room in a hostel, only instead of students you get salarymen. And adverts for TV porn in each pod. It`s not at all as claustrphobic as you might think, although if I were another inch or two taller there might have been problems which feet poking though the door. The hotel had a slightly seedy feel about it - after all, it`s not exactly the sort of place most people would stay in if they can help it. But it was fine for one night, and the sauna and bath house on the top floor were an added bonus (and completely unoccupied when I went to use them).

The following morning I contemplated going back to Kyoto. There wasn't much more to see in Osaka, and considering the fact that I like to leave a place while I can still say I enjoyed it, I moved on to Nara. Nara is another old shrine-y ex-capital, and my hopes for it weren't high. It turned out to be very nice, however - although well developed by tourism, the main sights are scattered around a pleasant hillside which made for a nice few hours hiking about. And for whatever reason there's tame deer absolutely everywhere which seem to be at ease with all the people milling about - I swear I saw one wait for the lights to change before crossing the road.

Then back to Kyoto for my last night. I think my main problem with Kyoto is that it's a location like, say, Hangzhou in China - it's a good spot to take in slowly and relax a bit in. But then I wasn't much in the mood for relaxation, so I guess the timing was all wrong...

(there, that`s better. I knew there should be more to say after visiting three cities)
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