Monday, February 23, 2015

Kyoto first impressions

I arrived at Kansai International Airport just before midnight. Although the airport is open 24 hours, the public transit system isn't, so me and quite a few hundred people had no choice but to sleep at the airport. Well I guess I could have coughed up for an airport hotel, but I'd done my research and learnt that Osaka airport is rated fairly highly as an overnight option. For those not in the know, check out

The wonderful thing about Japan, besides all the other wonderful things, is that theft is pretty rare, so you can happily find a bench to stretch out on and not be too concerned that your belongings will disappear whilst you're asleep. You can even plug your smartphone in to a nearby powerpoint, and expect it not to walk!!

It wasn't a great night's sleep, but adequate, especially as I got a couple hours shuteye on the flight from Sapporo to Osaka when I nabbed three empty seats and slept the entire way.

The next morning I found the baggage service in the international departure area, pulled out the clothes I'd need for the next week in Kyoto, and checked in my ski bag and skis. Absolutely no point schlepping that gear up and down stairs and elevators if I won't be using it. And at just over $10 a day, why not?? Now I just have my 33L backpack, and a bottle of sake I bought in Hokkaido.

Freed of the excess luggage, it was a quick hop into the JR office to purchase my return ticket to Kyoto. There's a good deal for foreigners where you purchase a return ticket on the express train, plus get a 1500 yen ICOCA card to use on the buses, trains and subways in the region. It's just a matter of recharging the card at the numerous vending machines whenever the credit gets too low. Easy as..

The express takes about 90 minutes, and before long I was making my way to my hostel, where I'm staying 6 nights. My hostel wasn't far from the Kyoto main station, and with just the small backpack it was an easy amble. I checked in, updated the blog and then headed out to see an exhibition of Maiko dance and culture which is held every Sunday, for free, at the exhibition hall. It also houses exhibits on local handicrafts, especially information on kimono designs, woodcarving, silver and gold inlay and ceramics. They even had craftsmen there demonstrating their skills, and lots of stuff for sale as well. But the real attraction was the Maiko, or apprentice Geisha, who did a dance, then her costume, hair and makeup were explained, plus a small question and answer session (though the latter  was in Japanese so no idea what it was about). I don't think I was supposed to video it, but hey…..

On my way to the exhibition hall I found a Thai restaurant, so had pad thai, Japanese style!

After wandering around the exhibits and checking out all the amazing wares for offer in the gift shop, I headed back towards the Pontocho area. This is full of shops and great bars and restaurants, including a gyoza place which I plan to return to tomorrow. I was tired, so I headed back to the hostel by subway, then chatted to a Scottish lad who's travelling Japan for a couple of months, and we headed out to a nearby izakaya for dinner. Izakaya are the small pub restaurants that are everywhere in Japan, and they serve a selection of dishes, usually grilled on a small fire. This one had a specialty of "blacktail stew" which I think was beef, but it could have been horse as that was on the menu as well. We ordered that with rice and it was delicious. And the local draught beer goes down pretty easily as well.

My leg is still giving me grief, and now that I'm not taking regular medication I notice that I have a bad patch around 4-5pm. It is getting better, but slowly.....

I'm liking Kyoto, it's got a nice relaxed feel to it, I think I'm going to enjoy my stay here.

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