It is summer vacation here in Japan. If you work for a junior high school in Japan calling it a vacation is a bit of a misnomer. There is very important speech contest right after summer vacation and the English ALT’s (like Shana and I) are expected to help prepare the students for their big speech.
Thanks to some clever studio work by Don Kehoe my students have a recording of their speeches that they can use for practice without my presence at the school. It’s not a perfect solution but everything helps.
After spending the entire first week of summer vacation working harder than I actually had on any previous school day it was time for Shana and I to embark on a Japanese tourist holiday. First stop: Kyoto.
At this moment, I would like to formally register a complaint with the design of Natori station. The Sendai airport access line should always be on the same platform.
The Sendai airport is a little odd in that there is nothing on the boarding gate side of security save chairs… and boarding gates. However there is a large glass atrium with prison phones so you can talk to your loved ones after you go through security.
We had purchased tickets on Peach Airlines and I will have a full review of the airline later. We flew from Sendai Airport to Osaka and then took a train from Osaka to Kyoto and then a bus to Umamachi (a neighborhood on the east side of Kyoto). This was a thoroughly painless journey.
There is a direct express train from Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) to Kyoto that takes about an hour and is about 950yen per person for unreserved seats. We just went through the gates and bought tickets on the train. If you don’t have a pass card for the Japanese rail system you will have to go to the JR WEST ticket window at the top of the train platform.
Once we got to Kyoto we picked up an all day bus pass for 500yen. There is also a pass that includes subway fare for 1200yen. The subway is fast for the center of the city but most places in Kyoto will require taking the bus or paying extra to take local trains. We treated the bus like a “hop on, hop off” tour bus and just got off the bus when things looked interesting.
Our first hop off was the Manga Museum because comic books.
While a little over priced at 800yen for how small it is in a sense of displays and museum-ness the Manga museum makes up for that by housing a library of manga that dates back to the 1960’s. Anyone can take the manga off the shelf, set a spell and read. They have many of the more popular manga translated to English and other languages as well. If you can read Japanese and like comics this place is a must see.
Because of manga’s popularity the subject matter has become extremely diverse. There is manga about ballet, about being a house-wife, about western gunslingers and about robotic cats from the future. There is a lot of manga.
After that we toured central Kyoto on foot and managed to just dodge a massive down pour by stepping into Bungalow – a craft beer and whiskey shop on Shijo-dori. We sampled some local beers, an excellent pate and pickled bitter melon (Tsururaishi). When I have come across craft beers in Japan they tend to favor malt over hops and these were no different. Even the I.P.A. had only minimal hops.
We then proceeded by bus to the main shopping arcade just west of Ponto-cho and then walked the Ponto Cho neighborhood north and then south/south east through Gion. Gion is one of the traditional neighborhoods of Kyoto. If it’s after 6pm or 7pm you can basically skip Gion though because everything was closed while we walked through it.
On our way to Gion we came across a small parade of monks that were carrying a shrine from the temple to the castle to purify it. I will let my short video speak for me on this one.
Ponto cho is sort of what Japanese people assume about what foreigners like and they appear to be right because the place was packed with tourists and Japanese alike. Hugging the west side of the river north of Shijo-dori is where most of the action is at night. Shana and I found this amazing coffee shop where they do latte foam art but for 900yen we didn’t indulge.
Finally a bit exhausted from the travel we headed back to the Umamachi neighborhood by bus and stopped at an okonomiyaki restaurant for a late dinner. Okonomiyaki is not easy to describe because there isn’t really anything quite like it that I have come across. It’s heaps of seasoned cabbage and some sort of protein (pork, shrimp, etc…) sandwiched between two flat omelets and then drenched in a savory Japanese sauce and mayonnaise. I have asked several Japanese people what it is and I have gotten, “Japanese hamburger,” “Japanese pancake,” “Japanese omelet,” “Japanese pizza,” and “Japanese food.” Regardless of it’s intrinsically difficult to explain nature it is not difficult to explain that it tastes really good. Go eat one. Now.