Retro Otaku’s Japan travel tips

Soba noodles

I don’t claim to be a guru about traveling over to Japan having only had the opportunity to visit last year for the first time, but figured I’d add something to the sea of information out there based on our experiences last year.

Language

Do not bark at people in English. While English is widely taught in school, it doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly completely fluent in it. In Australia most high school children learn a language, but that in no way guarantees they’ll be able to use it outside the classroom. If you’re traveling to Japan, read up on at least some useful phrases and grab an app for your smartphone/tablet or a pocket phrasebook so that you can express how amazing the ramen you just ate in a tiny neighbourhood eat-in really was. Japanese is built on phonetic patterns of vowels, and pay attention to softening said-vowels. Probably influenced by North American pronounciation, too many people seem inclined to harden their vowels when they speak the language – listen closely to when native speakers fire out the language and take some inspiration.

It probably won’t hurt to learn some hiragana and katakana as well (and if you’re feeling adventurous, add some kanji into the mix). Even if it’s just some basics – being able to read references to your choices of travel (100-yen shops, arcades [Game Centres], anime or manga stores, book shops, budo shops, ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki) will make it easier finding the places you always wanted to go visit and stumbling along other opportunities!

You’ll also find language will vary from location to location – Tokyo has a fair whack of English translations against its signage to make it easier to get around, though the further out you go it starts getting a bit more sparse (Ohta, where we visited the Sega building, didn’t have much English signage and both Miitaka and Takao were a bit limited in parts as well). We found that Kyoto needed a bit more attention when getting around in comparison, same with Hiroshima and Osaka. Don’t stress if you get lost though – the locals were always amazing when we asked for help, but just make an effort to meet them half-way by speaking a bit of Japanese ?

Food

Get adventurous when you go to Japan! Ramen, udon, sushi, takoyaki, izakaya fare, okonomiyaki – these are just scratching the surface of all the amazing food over there! While it’s fun to take some time to check out the Japanese take on Western cuisine and take-out food, don’t chicken out and miss out on the fun stuff. One of the most memorable meals while we were away was hitting the neighbourhood soba place near Sega in Ohta – the meals were less than $3 each and it was absolutely delicious! Beer is also delicious off the tap in Japanese pubs despite being dirt cheap, and keep in mind that a number of places will actually have a vending machine out the front you use to select and purchase your meals (including note and coin slots), then you take a seat and wait for your meal to be finished up, collect and then return to your table to tuck in (or they’ll bring it out to you). Feel free to try some unusual gear from the armies of vending machines dotted around cityscapes too, and indulge in Japanese iced tea (hint: they’re not loaded with sugar).

Crime and safety

Don’t be an arsehole and you’ll probably be fine in Japan. The place was incredibly safe compared to home – people would leave handbags and shopping on tables in food courts when they went off to grab food from one of the outlets, prams were left loaded with personal goods outside stores and in amusement parks without the need for supervision. It was a nice change from back home. While we didn’t push any buttons while we were over there and can’t speak from experience about getting out of trouble, if you find yourself in a bad situation be nice and polite. Do not be a tool and get drunk, pick a fight with the locals while being filmed and getting it uploaded into YouTube.

Appearance

Gaijin could do a bit better in Japan. I’m not saying you need to set the pace when visiting the likes of Shibuya or Harajuku, but don’t dress like you’ve just woken up and walked out the door in a pair of baggy trackies (sweat pants to those not used to the Australian vernacular) and a t-shirt that’s seen better days, or making your way around the Tokyo train system dressed like you’re heading out to climb a mountain in a third world country (I’m not kidding – spotted a guy in the Shinjuku Station cranking a small backpack with several water bottles and hiking boots dressed in khaki like he was about to leave civilisation). I certainly didn’t set any precedents over there so it might seem a bit hypocritical, but it’s as good an opportunity as any to take some pride in your appearance ?

Mind, I’m doing this from my perspective as a guy – my gender limits me to being in the thick of things with the same appreciation for social norms as the opposite sex, but the etiquette research beforehand and what we noticed over there suggests that legs are fine to show off and crazy heels are an amazing idea, but perhaps be a touch conservative with your chest for the daily grind. Mind, a plunging v-neck on a guy sporting a hairy hipster chest won’t exactly win you any awards (you might be able to get away with it if you’re making a statement in Yoyogi Park on a Sunday with a crepe though!).

The art of walking

Did you know that we don’t know how to walk in public? I guess when you have that level of population density it comes part of the routine. It doesn’t mean that everyone walks fast, it’s just everyone knows how to bob, duck and weave through the human sea and be comfortable with cramming into the subway in sardine-like conditions (which, to be honest, isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be). Just be prepared to go with the flow – it’s a pretty interesting experience and when you get home (assuming you don’t live in a super high-density city, which we haven’t noticed in little old Australia), it adds some perspective!

Inside voice

My speaking voice is loud. In Japan, you don’t speak loudly, so be considerate of others, and if I can get into the habit of not being a noisy pain in the arse, anyone can. This is especially prominent on trains – even when they’re packed, they’re quiet, at least in most cases (they were a bit noisier in Osaka!). By extension, note the decorum in public when it comes to your phone as well – don’t speak on your mobile phone when on public transport, but texting, listening to music and gaming’s okay as long as you’re wearing earphones or headphones. At least that’s what we noticed in our travels and from all the stuff plastered around the place.

Arcades

Here’s a tip – if you find yourself playing a round of Street Fighter, BlazBlue or Virtua Fighter against a fellow gamer and find yourself getting your arse handed to you on round 1, winning round 2, then getting torn apart in round 3, you actually weren’t amazing in round 2, you were being treated to some local hospitality (thanks Steve at Super Gaijin Ultra Gamer for the tip!). In addition, it’s a bit of a faux pas to take photos or videos in arcades over there (though Wifey took some photos and videos while I was gaming without incident). Just be subtle about it and be aware you’ll be asked to leave if staff catch you. The same goes for video game stores – I would have loved to have taken some video footage and recorded my nerdisms when wandering around Super Potato or Mandarake, but IIRC there are plenty of signs warning that photography is a no-no in shops as well.

Shopping

Customer service is pretty awesome in our experiences. Granted I didn’t understand everything at the checkout since my Japanese is a bit rubbish, but it was at least polite! The handy bit is that most cash registers will display the amount owing in Yen (I’m bad with numbers in Japanese!), but remember to use the little tray they provide to plonk your cash in. The operator will then take the cash, count it back, take the money and put the change in the plastic tray for you to take and you’re good to go.

This leads onto the next shopping bit – go with cash as your primary means of spending where possible. We found most of the 7-Elevens had ATMs that accepted foreign credit cards and we used our travel Visa cards to withdraw cash in chunks as we went through the trip. On a couple of occasions I was caught short (the one I remember most is in Mandarake in Akihabara on the second visit towards the end of the trip, who handily had credit card facilities), but most of the time cash sorted stuff out. The exception to this rule is with hotels (all accepted credit cards) and I’m pretty sure the big department stores will also take credit cards (well, Visa and MasterCards anyways).

Internet access

Wifi access was intermittent when we were over in Japan – some had free wifi, some had limited wifi access, some none. We didn’t have a lot of luck hopping onto hotspots while we wandered around the place, but at the same time internet access was a bit of an optional perk rather than a necessity when we were there.

However, if you want to get online in Japan, some of my friends (thanks Kate and Sly!) have suggested grabbing a pocket wifi device when you get into the country and use that. You’ll get access to Japan’s comparatively excellent (compared to Australia :P) mobile network speed/coverage and since it’s a pocket wifi device you can attach anything with a wifi connection (thus great for consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops).

… well, that’s it for now. I’ve probably missed some stuff as I’ve gone back and added to this a couple of times already, but it’s been a while since I’ve written on the blog ? Hopefully this will mark a more sporadic blogging habit rather than the long awkward pauses over the last few months!

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 7

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Day two in Kyoto continued the cultural expeditions. We started off by heading to Kyoto Station and jumping on the tourist bus to visit the Ginkakuji Temple – the place was absolutely mind-blowing and picturesque, and the grounds were much bigger than we had anticipated.

At this stage in the trip my prosthesis had started causing me some grief due to all the walking/getting lost/exploring, so we decided to cut the walk around the temple grounds short and get started on the Philosopher’s Path. When my brother Tank and his wife visited earlier in the year during the cherry blossom viewing season the place looked beautiful, so it was awesome to get a chance to see it in autumn when the leaves were changing colour. As the rain and clouds had cleared up, it was also nice and sunny out (though a bit chilly since the humidity had gone with the cloud cover), so we made our way leisurely down the path, stopping to take photos, and at one point we dropped into a neighbourhood tea and coffee place for a couple of cake sets (Wifey has the cheesecake and coffee, while I enjoyed a green tea rolled cake with fresh cream and stuffed with red beans paste with a cup of tea).

The real magic though happened at the end of the trail. As part of my Shenmue obsession I found a small deserted park with some play equipment at the end of the street, and so I asked myself – “What would Ryo Hazuki do in this situation?”. That’s right, he’d take the time to work on his moves. So, announcing to nobody in particular “Let’s get sweaty”, I decided to get my karate on and run through a couple of techniques, with the ever-patient Wifey indulging the experience by snapping some photos. Not having trained over the last 18+ months due to some health concerns my form was pretty rubbish, but the experience was worth it 🙂

After making an arse of myself in public (again), we finished off the Philosopher’s Park walk to wander down along the backstreets of Kyoto to either grab a bus or walk to a nearby precinct some fellow martial artists had recommended I check out whilst in Kyoto. We ended up walking the whole way (probably about 40 minutes since we were taking our time), with Wifey’s iPhone (still on iOS5 and therefore still with the native Google Maps app) taking care of tracking our way thanks to a cached map of this area in Kyoto, because even with no mobile data, the GPS still kicked in. This eventually lead us to our next destination, the Kyoto Handicraft Centre.

On account of some renovations, the bottom floor of the building was unavailable, which meant the usually-extensive selection on the street level of this complex was not available (the bottom floor of the neighbouring building was the acting substitute, but it was much smaller than the original one). Unperturbed we headed up a few floors to check out things, and were greeted by a large range of regional crafts, including ceramics, lacquerware, dolls, display swords (not suitable for training in kenjutsu or iaido) and one large iaito. Since I had already picked up a small wakizashi-sized iaito in Suidobashi I wasn’t specifically looking for another one, but was curious to see what was there just in case 😉 Looking at the lovely iaoto, due to the size of the sword it wasn’t appropriate to bring back since it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, but it did look nice 🙂 For those keen on bringing something back, the display sword sets started around ¥8,000 and topped out around ¥13,000; the iaito was around the ¥84,000 mark.

While we were down this end of Kyoto, we also wandered across the road (literally) to visit Tozando, a specialist store for iaito, kendo equipment (shinai and protective gear), kobudo equipment, general training garments (including protector pads and mitts) and on the second floor they had an array of stunning swords and armour, including original antiques from various eras in Japan’s history. For those interested in bringing back an antique sword, you’re looking at investing a huge chunk of cash (and apparently it can be tricky bringing them out of the country as antique swords are considered part of Japan’s history and are thus treated as national treasures), but for the rest of us, simply walking through this area is an amazing experience. Luckily for Wifey, they have the unintended presence of girlfriend/wife/”I dragged along my other half” seats in front of a TV playing a documentary on the second floor that houses their mini-museum of antique pieces, so she sat there while I gushed. Tozando did have some very nice wakizashi iaito, but at this stage I was happy with my purchase from Suidobashi and decided to leave it be. If ever I came back to Japan and was heading to Kyoto though, I suspect I’d probably hit Tozando for another iaito – they’ve had some great reviews amongst other iaido practitioners and the gear looked really nice.

After wandering to the end of the street and grabbing a subway train back to Karasuma-Oike, we stopped off for a quick bite at Caffe Excelsior – I grabbed a beef stew wrap (literally, beef stew goodies/gravy inside a wholemeal wrap lightly toasted) and Wifey enjoyed a Paris Sandwich, which was a delightful roll filled with chicken, a yummy white sauce with fresh mushrooms, and melted Camembert cheese. Next on the list for Day 2 was a short meander up Karasuma-dori to visit another spot of hallowed ground – the Kyoto Manga Museum.

Given anime and manga fanboyisms seem happy to collocate themselves in a gamer’s psyche (I was a gaming nerd before I jumped aboard the anime and manga nerd train in the early-mid 90s), it probably isn’t too surprising this visit was another unforgettable experience. The museum is actually housed within an old Kyoto primary school that was vacated in the mid-90s, and contains an enormous collection of manga in serialised book format, manga in magazine format, displays, artwork and miniature exhibitions. The cool thing is that almost all the manga in book format can be taken off the shelves and read, with the majority of the available books the resulting donation of a commercial manga library run for many years when the owner closed up his business. This means when you’re picking up a copy of Ranma 1/2 or Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon (which I did!), you’re enjoying the same book that was originally printed when the title was released, and the same book has also been through the hands of so many other readers. It’s not just a piece of cultural history, it’s equally a tangible piece of social history as well. The museum actually offers pre-paid passes during the year so if you want to drop in on a regular basis (such as after school or work) to have a read before going home, you can do so and treat it as a reference library of manga.

One of the permanent exhibitions is a room that houses manga in chronological order, from the 50s onwards. Walking around this meant you were also able to see how the magazines have changed, alongside the stylistic evolution of manga over the years. I held original copies of Ranma 1/2, 3×3 Eyes, Berserk, Urusei Yatsura, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, Kare Kano, Astro Boy, Ghost in the Shell, You’re Under Arrest, Rurouni Kenshin, the list goes on and on and on. As hyperbolic as this whole thing is, there was a bit of magic nerd in the air that day.

As an extra bonus, the museum’s current special exhibition was one focused on acclaimed anime studio Gainax, who have carved a delightful spot in my nerd heart for the likes of Kare Kano, FLCL, Nadia, Abenobashi and of course, Eva. The exhibition ran over two of their gallery spaces, the focus being to recreate the working studio environment to give visitors an insight to how they create their anime productions from start to finish. This means we’re seeing representations of the staff brainstorming, going through concept phases, animation checks, keyframing, colouring and compositing (showing both the traditional cel methods and contemporary digital methods), recording (dialogue, music and foley) and celebrating the end product (with various members of the studio looking suitably drunk!). This meant I was able to walk through and look at original sketches, keyframes and cells from some of my favourite series’, which is an experience I never thought I would have.

The only disappointing thing was that the museum hadn’t produced a publication to coincide with the Gainax exhibition I could take home with me, but they did have some awesome Astro Boy memorial coins that I picked up 🙂

After finishing up at the museum we went back to Kyoto Station to sort out our Shinkansen tickets for the next leg(s) of the trip, then it was time to hit the tourist buses again to visit Gion!

For those unaware, Gion is the traditional quarter of Kyoto and houses some (ultra expensive) restaurants serving up some amazing cuisine among a variety of traditionally-styled houses and buildings. It’s also the spot where most Westerners would look at and associate with “traditional” conceptions of Japan. One of the reason’s it’s also popular is because it is where you can often spot geisha walking to and from businesses and occasions where their expertise and skills are requested. On the night we were there, Wifey and I happened to catch a glimpse of someone coasting along in their full attire – I think she was a maiko, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to discern from appearance alone if they were an apprentice or a qualified geisha. Regardless, I’ve never seen anyone in traditional geta move across the slippery surface with such poise and speed, so that was cool to see in motion.

Given the cost of eating (and not being as comfortable in my spoken Japanese as I would have liked), the trip to Gion was more about getting a glimpse of the area and walking around. By far my favourite part of the evening though was walking past a middle aged Japanese man having a heated conversation with the person he was standing with about foreigners visiting Gion. Given this was the first and only time I heard a local grumble about foreigners, I was pretty surprised – while a lot of the tourists we saw were reasonably well behaved, there were plenty who could do with brushing up on their manners and learning how to go with the flow a bit better, especially when the human sea phenomenon kicks in.

After enjoying the wander, we went back up the hill to catch the bus back to Kyoto Station, where we grabbed a delicious meal of tonkatsu in all its delightful glory. Bellies full, it was back to the hotel to consolidate our luggage and get ready for the next step of the journey – Hiroshima.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 6

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After an early night, we hit the streets relatively early to get started on our first culture day in Kyoto. After grabbing a pair of 2-day passes at the hotel’s reception desk that covered most of the local public transport we’d planned to use in Kyoto (only selected lines were covered by JR services, so this made it easy to use the Karasuma and Touzai lines, as well as the city bus services), we jumped aboard the subway to the main Kyoto Station and then transferred to the JR Nara local line to head to the beautiful Fushimi Inari Shrine. By the time we got to the station the rain had started coming down pretty hard, so I dashed out to the nearby convenience store to grab a pair of clear plastic umbrellas (¥550 each, and they were much more robust then equivalent-selling umbrellas back home!).

To some people the rain may have been an inconvenience, but for us it made the experience that much more amazing as going through the temple and taking the scenic route back to the train station in the rain was so awesome. While going down a couple of the back streets filled with residential houses, the whole thing seemed reminiscent of walking through the streets in Sakuragaoka in Shenmue, especially since it was raining (Japan Is Shenmue was/will continue to be a big part of this holiday :)).

Once we made it back to the station we headed out to the bus terminal to catch the 101 Raku bus (can’t remember which terminal, but I think it was either D2 or D1) to the Kinkakuji Temple, helping a young Italian couple struggling with the maps and instructions who were also going to the same location. Their confusion was understandable given the Englsh language maps can be a bit tricky on their own, but adding into that another layer of translation (i.e. Japanese – English – Italian), and I think they were doing an amazing job, not helped by my terrible command of Italian either (haven’t spoken it in years!).

The bus ride through Kyoto city proper was really interesting – the streets aren’t anywhere near as congested as Tokyo, which suggests that using a taxi service would actually be useful if needed. In comparison, it seemed like it wouldn’t be all that cost/time effective in Tokyo compared to hopping between subway stations.

Anywho, we hopped off and took a short walk up to the temple, and it was absolutely beautiful. What was interesting for me is that my impressions (or expectations?) of the temples in Kyoto are that you’d walk through a gate, and see the temple or shrine, and that’s about it. In reality the temples and shrines in the city seem to be situated on extensive land holdings with immaculate gardens and beautiful architectural companion buildings that make for a nice walk around the place. While there we also picked up a good luck charm for Wifey, made an offering to the local deity and also picked up a fortune each, both of which were favourable 🙂

From here we weren’t sure how to knock out the rest of the day as it was starting to get a bit later than we anticipated, so we opted to jump back on the bus service to visit Nijo Castle instead of visiting Ginkakuji and treading down the Philosopher’s Path. Nijo Castle was amazing and awe-inspiring. Not only are the grounds massive and immaculately cared for, you also have the opportunity of walking through the main castle and view all the rooms and what-not that have been preserved over the years.

Having watched, read and studied texts around Japan’s history over the years, the tangible experience of walking through the hallowed halls of dynasties past was incredible. After exiting the castle we followed the route around to the inner castle within the grounds, and to celebrate I picked up my umbrella and ran along one of the paths while trying to look like a ninja, much to the chagrin of my wife and to the bemusement of the Japanese tourists walking through the grounds wondering why another crazy gaijin was making an arse of himself in public.

With Nijo Castle sorted we exited to head back to the bus stop while walking past a group of middle school students who I swear commented that we looked like a cute couple, unawares my terrible command of Japanese could actually pick up on what was being said (yay for eavesdropping!). Cramming into the bus, we eventually found ourselves back at Kyoto Station at sunset and figured we’d have a look around, starting at the department store attached to the station itself. While the luxury prices reflected the fancy surroundings, it proved to be a worthwhile experience to get an idea of the price of adding another piece to our luggage as we had been quickly filling up our bags with stuff (especially video games :P), with the realisation that the price of bags in the department store was obviously going to be at a premium compared to going somewhere else since most of the gear was at the more pricier end of the spectrum.

We ended up jumping up to the 10th floor of the building for dinner, as the entire floor was dedicated solely to ramen restaurants! We picked a place that offered a choice of different broths, so I went for a miso-based ramen with some sliced barbecued pork on top, while Wifey settled on a soy-based broth, also with some extra sliced pork on top, accompanied with some chilled oolong tea to drink. After polishing off the amazing meal we were originally planning on heading back to the hotel, but given we’d has an early dinner on account of not eating a proper lunch, we decided to explore a bit more around Kyoto Station.

We began by heading out the main entrance and walked towards where the big Kyoto Tower Hotel stood lit up like a Christmas Tree, then decided to poke out way through some of the streets directly in front of the sightseeing bus terminals out the front of the station. The glowing love of gatchapon machines attracted us like moths to a flame, so we decided to grab some assorted stuff from the 50-odd machines lined up in a row, then figured we’d follow them to the entrance to the department store they were sitting outside. This store in question was actually a multi-story Yodobashi, and having never been in one since arriving in Japan, we thought we’d give it a whirl.

Like many department stores, the place was an assault in the senses with glowing lights and TV screens complementing the running commentary advertising all the goods and specials in the store. We decided to hit the place one floor at a time, and I think it was the second floor that absolutely made our day, because it was the toy floor 🙂

I’m pretty comfortable being a big kid, so this was like a crazy trip back in time when toy sections in department stores used to be chock full of interesting stuff, with amazing displays and what-not to enjoy. There were sections dedicated to Transformers, One Piece, Gundam, Kingdom Hearts, Naruto, Hello Kitty, Godzilla and all sorts of other paraphernalia I didn’t recognise. We also found an entire subsection of the floor dedicated to gatchapon machines, so we got a little carried away there too! We walked away with a couple of goodies, but didn’t go too crazy since we were being conscious of our luggage size and weight at this stage of the trip.

While we there we also jumped to the basement floor to have a look at their supermarket section, where we were able to pickup a strawberry flavoured corn flakes/Special K thingie that would suffice for some brekkie for those hotels where we didn’t secure breakfast as part of the package.

At this point it was starting to get late, so we slipped past Mister Donut to grab an aperitif and head back to our hotel. Thus ended the first culture day in Kyoto.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 5

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Saturday saw us packing up, checking out and heading down to Shinjuku Station to transfer to Tokyo Station in order to jump onto the Shinkansen to visit our next stop – the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto.

One of the advantages of the Japan Rail Pass for foreign travellers is that the Kodoma, Hikari, Mizuho and Sakura Shinkansen lines are covered in your pass, which makes it easy to travel from different parts of the country to another. We spent a little bit extra to have access to the Green Car, which is a slightly more fancy way of travelling. The Green Cars have more leg room, more likely to have extra seats to stow luggage and nicer seats, but not every Shinkansen line will have Green Cars as parts of the service so do your homework – for what it’s worth, we were able to secure Green Cars for all our Shinkansen travels around the country for our trip.

Shinkansen only depart from selected stations in Tokyo – from the main Tokyo station, as well as from Shinagawa. We were contemplating grabbing the train from Shinagawa (so travelling from Shinjuku to Shinagawa on one of the JR lines) in case Tokyo was too crazy, but we ended up going back to the original plans we made before arriving in Japan and braved the early morning rush hour in Tokyo Station. Our car was pretty empty for the most part, so I whipped out the iPad to start writing up these series of blogs as we were getting home pretty late during the first leg of the trip and scribbling the day’s events weren’t as high on the priority list as kicking back, taking a nice Japanese bath and watching a movie before going to bed.

Having lived in Australia all our lives, the Shinkansen are a revelatory establishment – the speed these things travel at are amazing, and from what I understand, the Nozomi Shinkansen is even faster. We hammered through the concrete jungle in no time and soon enough we started seeing the quasi-industrial fringes, followed by semi-rural Japan. Amazing stuff. There were also attendants going through the carriages with snacks and drinks if you’re so inclined – we had picked up some goodies before heading out so we didn’t bother (Pocky FTW!).

We got into Kyoto just after midday (so around 3 hours in the train), and the difference between the two cities was absolutely tangible. While Kyoto wasn’t dead by any stretch of the imagination (compared to travelling in Australia it was positively busy), it was nowhere near the insanity of Tokyo. We also found out pretty quickly that Kyoto isn’t as idiot-proof for gaijin, so we had to kick our brains into gear to concentrate a bit harder on where to go. It wasn’t difficult, but you had to put in a little more effort, and let’s face it, part of the fun of travelling is doing the whole sink/swim thing and experiencing life outside a cultured tourist-friendly environment.

Once we loaded up with a couple of subway tickets (¥210 each, as there’s always the option of using the fare adjustment machine when you arrive at the exit gates) we jumped aboard one of the Karasuma Line trains to arrive at Karasuma Oike. After jumping out of the subway and dragging our heavy suitcases up a few flights of stairs, we wandered up Karasuma-Dori and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Monterey Kyoto (and lucky for us, despite it not being check-in time, our rooms were ready).

At this point Wifey was starting to start suffering the telltale affects of a cold, and combined with an empty stomach, it was time to grab a bite to eat le viagra sans ordonnance. On the way to the Nishiki Markets we stumbled across an udon place that seemed to be teeming with customers, so we jumped in for a whirl. We both grabbed a basic bowl of udon, broth and some veggies and sliced pork, then as we wandered down the line they had some extras to add on, so on went some karage and crumbed miniature hard-boiled eggs on skewers.

Once food was sorted, we wandered the final distance to the Nishiki Makets. The place was awesome, a hive of measured activity with Japanese and gaijin flowing down the central lane with an assortment of souvenir shops, food stalls, speciality goods (including some pricey but beautiful handicrafts) and at least one ¥100 bargain store which Wifey insisted in entering.

Once you got to the end of the Nishiki Markets, it opens up to a modern undercover strip mall that runs along Teramachi-dori. After aimlessly wandering about the place for a while we decided to head back, this time going via Rokkaku-dori. On the way I spotted an upstairs nerd store next to a convenience store, as well as another place advertising LDs in addition to CDs and videos for sale. At this stage Wifey was feeling positively knackered from the onset of her cold, so I chalked these down in my head to visit later as we headed back to the hotel.

After getting her settled and taking advantage of the awesome complimentary wifi in our rooms, I found out where the nearest Book Off was located and went for a walk, intending to visit it and check out the other stores along Rokkaku-dori on the way. The LD store was sadly void of any LDs, but they did have some awesome classic Japanese vinyl that was fun to look through. Next up was the otaku store, which was a fruitless but hilarious adventure into the seedy side of nerd culture over here. Upstairs was a labyrinth of ecchi figures, dedicated ladies area for all their shounen-ai adventures, another area for eroge PC games and eventually I unintentionally stepped into the porn area where all manner of amusing/disturbing stuff assaulted the senses.

Bemused, I wandered out and back onto the street to continue my journey to the local Book Off. I found out something quite handy though – in light of the awful Maps app on iOS 6 (seriously, the thing redefines awful, and as of this blog post there is finally a dedicated Google Maps app so I can stop using the useless default), I found out that the Google Map I brought up through Safari was happy to function when disconnected from data and relied purely on the GPS functionality to help guide me to my location. To my surprise, I ended up back at the Teramachi shopping mall, and proceeded to follow this up Sanjo-dori to get to my destination. On the way I was fortunate to see how Kyoto transformed from afternoon to evening, with kids riding their bikes home from school or practice, parents taking their kids to the local parks after school, teenagers heading out all dressed up for the night and salarymen finishing up for the day.

Eventually after crossing two rivers (one small and one big), I came upon the impressive Book Off situated opposite the Sanjo subway station. I’m not sure how long I spent there, but I managed to pick up a small pile of titles on my to-get list once again, with an emphasis on cheap PSone titles much akin to the other Book Off stores (averaging, once again, about ¥100 per title).

Nerd shopping done, it was time to head back to the hotel (with Kyoto now in the full swing of evening) and, of course, time to pickup something for dinner. I ended up dropping into a bakery to grab a variety of yummy savoury and sweet things, then exhausted a couple of convenience stores to get some drinks and some cereal for brekkie. Unfortunately there was no luck on the cereal front, so I grabbed some fresh bananas instead.

While the day ended a little earlier than others, it was an awesome way to induct ourselves into Kyoto life. What was interesting from our experience of day one (and this would be a recurring theme for Kyoto) is that the pace is much more relaxed than in Tokyo, and while I expected there was going to be a change, I didn’t realise how pronounced it would be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing by any means, just an observation I wanted to share.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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