The train on our way to Kyoto was some of the best and most comfortable urban transportation I've ever been on, really putting the commuter rail in Boston to shame. It had a vending machine inside the train, and bathrooms even though the trip is at most 2 hours.
Here's a video of us exiting the station. Look out anime characters!
We booked it to our hostel which was a cool part of the trip because we passed some very residential areas with that lived-in touch. Once situated at the hostel (with free wi-fi!), we met up with another guest, a Chinese guy named "Max" (his English name) who is in town for a couple days for school. Max has been a godsend with helping us get around and understand the area. He helped us find a restaurant to eat lunch at.
The restaurant was way cool (I don't even know the name though). It was traditional style, so we went in and they gave us a table that was a booth in a room all by itself. The waitress knelt before us when she took our order (I felt bad for her knees). The miso soup was so good and fresh, and the sashimi was delectable. I was really impressed by the quality and it wasn't even expensive.
We headed out to the Kiyomizu temple, but on our way there were geisha walking down the street! We were in a part of Gion so I wasn't surprised, but I thought I was going to hyperventalate with joy. Floating past us, they were gorgeous and sublime.
The temple itself was massive. There were tons of places to put prayers and charms. We bought a few and put them up, then prayed at the alter by throwing in coins and hitting the gong. We also washed our hands with the sacred water. Walking around, there were lots of places to buy fortuens and scrolls with Ametarasu. We picked up some omamori (good luck charm) for safe travel. Here are a bunch of vids of that part of the trip.
The highlight of the temple trip was the Tainai-meguri. None of us, even Max knew what we were getting into when we paid 100 yen to enter the basement of the temple. The monks took our money and our shoes and told us in broken english to "left hand hold." I thought they just wanted us to be careful on the stairs and hold the banister. Bobbie went down first, but stopped at the bottom. "Uhhh, Amanda?" She asked, staring into the pitch blackness beyond. The banister turned into oversized buddhist beads and suddenly they were the only thing tethering us to the world. Max grabbed the back of my shirt in a kind of panic and we shuffled forward awkwardly, calling to Bobbie who was ahead. After a minute, she stopped.
"Amanda, it's really close to me."
"Some....thing. In the middle of the room."
The "thing" was the womb of the temple, of the Bodhisattva Daizuigu Bosatsu. It was a stone mound with a sacred symbol on top. Supposedly we were meant to turn the stone and make a wish, but honestly the dark and strangeness of it all had us hurrying past as quickly as possible. We fled up the stairs. Our exit was probably supposed to represent birth, but for us it was escape. Maybe that's how all babies feel.
We also found a machine that makes noise when you put a can inside it! Vids to come
On our way back we bought a few things for the peeps back home. I'm looking forward to giving them all to you!
The most interesting thing is that I feel like it still hasn't sunk in that I'm in Japan. I think it's because this county has been such a fairytale dream for me for so long that it's difficult to wrap my head around the concept of actually being here. I do know that being in the minority is kinda weird, and when suddenly it's you who is the foreigner even weirder. I'm just glad I have several days to stay, otherwise I would convince myself I made it all up.
Tonight is dinner and pachinko. Apparently there is a parlor on every block just about. I'll keep you posted.
P.S. yes by now I've tried the japanese squat toilets. They're no big deal.