Kyoto and a big hangover (CONTAINS VIDEO)

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Shige hired a car today to drive us the 50km or so to Kyoto.  Kyoto was formerly the capital of Japan before the government shifted to Tokyo.  Both 'Tokyo' and 'Kyoto' mean the same thing in Japanese: big city.  Nowadays, Kyoto isn't all that large but back in the 13th century, it was a major metropolis. The remnants of those days, the temples, shrines and pagodas, are what draw the crowds in modern times.  Spring, when the pink cherry blossoms bloom, and autumn, when the maple trees are in full colour, are the two best times to visit, so we are very lucky to be here in the full throes of autumn. 
The old part of Kyoto is on the side of a hill and is a collection of religious buildings, including the Kiyomizu Temple.  It stands several storeys high, made completely of wood in AD778 but without the use of a single nail.  Despite this, it has withstood centuries of earthquakes and visitors.  This temple is one of the nominees for the 'New 7 Wonders of the World' project.  Other nominees include the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and Machu Picchu, so Kyoto is in auspicious company.  
Old Kyoto is the Japan from postcard and TV - traditional, serene, colourful and beautiful.  Some things and places in the world just seem so perfectly formed and harmonious that you wonder at the artistic creativity of the people that designed them so many hundreds of years ago.  Kyoto is one of those places. 
For a small fee you can walk down into the depths of some holy temple, within which it is completely pitch black.  It is quite a scary experience, with absolutely no light, and we fumble around with only the walls to guide us.  After a few curves and corners, we reach a large round stone, illuminated by a single small light.  Legend has it that if you place your hand on the stone and make a wish, by the time you reach the sunlight again, your wish will have come true.  A few minutes drive away, still in Kyoto, is the Golden Pavilion.  It is a temple, coated with gold leaf, that stands in a small lake.  In most other places in the world it would stand out, but it kind of pales in comparison with the old part of town.
For dinner we drive back into Osaka and go to a restaurant/bar where you sit at a low table but you feet are actually under the floor.  Shige's sister Chika joins us and we get down to some serious beer and sake drinking.  By the end of the night we are carrying on just like the stereotypical drunken Japanese businessmen - singing, shouting at the waiting staff and other stuff I can't remember.  Chika starts getting very cozy with Jane, a development that causes visibly raised eyebrows all around the table.  Somehow, we stagger home, not without first engaging every poor passerby in some unintelligible Japanenglish conversation.
Poor old Shige has to get up at 7 to go to work today, despite our very late return last night.  We later learn that he had three regurgitative episodes while at work.  We allow ourselves to sleep in till about 10, but Jane is suffering a rather nasty hangover, as she does on the rare occasions that she drinks.
Tuesday, December 12 - Osaka
Another ex-roommate, Takuya, lives in Osaka too, so we spend a bit of time with him today.  Japanese cities have these 'restaurant floors', located way up in the high storeys of some huge skyscraper.  The whole floor is just a series of little restaurants where the suits can dash off to for a quick bite.  It's quite a good idea, as streetfront rent is no doubt fairly expensive here.
Wishing to show us a different side of Osaka, Tak takes us to the seedy part of town.  We pass through narrow alleys where drunken men push past you, mumbling, and smoke puffs out through grimy kitchen windows.  There are a lot of 'restaurants' here - just small grey rooms with half a dozen chairs, some occupied by old men hunched over a cigarette and a plate of some shiny sea creature.  Some of these dingy places double as karaoke bars.  We peer through the window of one place where the only patron has just finished a song, while seated at the bar, and the cook and bartender applaud politely.  We also drift into the red light district.  There are a long row of identical buildings, each with a matronly old lady standing outside with a big smile.  As you walk past the front of each establishment, you can see the younger 'working' girl seated on a raised pillow inside, with a small 'bedroom' behind.  While we don't spot any johns, it's only 3pm and Tak assures us that it is a very popular spot late at night.
Back at Shige's, the evening is, predictably, a lot more subdued than the night before.  We force down a couple of beers but it's hard work.
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