Friday, March 31st, 2006
I have to admit it’s a complete mystery to me how I can get an internet connection in a little traditional Japanese hotel on a mountainside, but not in a huge Western-styled one just outside of Kyoto. The mind boggles.
On day three we bid farewell to Nara and began the rather long trek towards Kyoto. First there was a stop in Uji City, on the outskirts of Kyoto, for a visit to the Byodoin Temple. This complex comprised several buildings, the main of which is Phoenix Hall, home to statues of another giant Buddha and 52 attendant Bodhisattvas on clouds. We didn’t actually go into the Hall itself as it was an extra charge on top of admission to the grounds, but that’s not a really big deal since there were replicas of everything in the temple museum (Hoshokan), which didn’t cost extra.
After the Byodoin, we attended a traditional tea ceremony almost next door and then it was back on the bus for lunch in Kyoto proper. We went to an Ochaya-san and were treated to a rather elaborate performance from a Maiko. After that we hightailed it to make an appointment for a tour of the Suntory brewery, but were running so behind we had to settle for the abbreviated version (paraphrased – “This is the water, barley and hops. These are large machines that make beer. Have some beer”. For refreshing time, make it Suntory time indeed.
Side note – driving a large tour bus through the streets of Kyoto is slow going. Just in case you were wondering.
The next stop was downtown Kyoto and a chance to actually experience a bit of Japanese urban life – a nice change from all the austere and historical-ish temples and shrines we’d seen thus far. I spent most of the time trying to track down a 3-prong to 2-prong plug adapter and was happily successful, finding one in a most peculiar sort punk rock department store. Yeah, that’s what I said. Otherwise I wandered about a couple of large retail avenues and just soaked in the atmosphere.
The final stop of the day before the hotel was the Gion quarter, which we were told was exciting because of its role as a location in Memoirs Of A Geisha. I guess that’s exciting. It was kind of funny watching all the tourists camped out in the street, cameras at the ready, hoping to catch a Geisha passing by. Efforts for which they were eventually rewarded (I saw three) but it just seems strange to make such an event out of someone simply walking to work.
The massive and opulent, yet internet-less, hotel we’re staying at is just outside Kyoto on the shores of Bitwa-ko, Japan’s largest lake. This place is built like a castle. And oh yeah – it snowed. SO not part of the original deal.