Archive for the ‘Teramachi-dori Street’ Category

a bikeride through kyoto: shopping arcades, food markets, infinite torii gates & sushi   Leave a comment

Friday, February 4:  This morning JiYoung, the Korean bakery girl, and I rent bikes from the owner of the commune.  They are sturdy old-fashioned bicycles with baskets and no gears, the kind I rode when I was a girl.  Everyone seems to ride these kinds of bikes in Kyoto. Compact and well-dressed Japanese people pedal around on them, looking unhurried and day-dreamy, creating a simple Japanese-style Norman Rockwell-like ambiance that makes me feel a nostalgic fondness for the days when life was full of straightforward and uncomplicated pleasures.

Me, JiYoung and our old-fashioned bicyles

Me, JiYoung and our old-fashioned bicyles

My destination is Teramachi-dori Street, a street of food markets and eclectic funky shops in downtown Kyoto.  JiYoung, who hasn’t been out exploring Kyoto that much, is happy to come along with me wherever I go.  We bundle up in our warm coats on this dapper day and head along streets that the owner has highlighted in yellow on our map.  It’s really not too cold of a day for bicycling, but I’m happy to have my big coat on because of the breezes we encounter as we slice through the crisp air.  We venture off our yellow highlighted route quite accidentally early on and come upon the vermilion-colored gate of Takeisao Shrine, where we stop and take pictures of each other in our coats and wool hats.

at Takeisao Shrine gate

at Takeisao Shrine gate

We cycle down sparsely traveled back streets, which are as immaculate as any street encountered in Kyoto.  It doesn’t matter whether is a street is a busy thoroughfare or a narrow alley-like street.  No trash or dirt is evident anywhere.  The sidewalks are neatly swept and all trash is sequestered properly in its neatly secured rubbish bin. This is one thing in Japan that I find notably different from Korea.  In Korea, at least in my neighborhood near Keimyung University, trash is always tossed haphazardly about on the streets.  A person seeking to throw away trash can walk for blocks carrying this rubbish because trash bins are elusive things in Korea.

so many funky and cool shops :-)

so many funky and cool shops 🙂

After heading south from Bon Guesthouse, we cross west to east on the sidewalks of Imadegawa-dori Street.  When we come to the northwest corner of a huge walled park, we know we have arrived at the Kyoto Imperial Park, home of the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  JiYoung and I pedal along the north wall until we finally find an opening to this immense park.  At this point we head toward the center where we try to go into the Kyoto Imperial Palace.  However, we find it is required to reserve tours ahead of time and we are not allowed in unless we are part of a tour.  Oh well. We hop on our bikes and head toward the far southeastern corner of the immense rectangular park, where we exit and ride straight down Teramachi-dori Street and then spend a great deal of time in front of Kyoto City Hall trying to figure out how to use the metered bike parking spots.  Since we don’t speak any Japanese between us, and since the people we encounter on the street don’t speak English, we fumble about trying to make sense of the system.  Finally we figure out that we must pick up our bikes by 5:00 or they will be locked in overnight.  We also find, after unsuccessfully trying numerous times to pay BEFORE leaving our bikes, that we pay when we pick up our bikes, upon our return!  Ah the challenges of being in a country when you speak not a lick of the language!

Me, the Japanese owner and JiYoung in one of our favorite shops

Me, the Japanese owner and JiYoung in one of our favorite shops

On Teramachi-dori Street, JiYoung and I are bowled over by the adorable shops.  The import business is big in Kyoto, as each shop is bursting with cool things obviously brought from somewhere else, places like Tibet, China, India, Pakistan. Colorful and unusual items all offer themselves quite cheerily for sale.  In one shop we spend quite a long time browsing, chatting with the hip Japanese owner, and buying scarves and what-nots.  I always love a shopping day while traveling.

Japanese Hello Kitty (?) paintings

Japanese Hello Kitty (?) paintings

In one shop I see a round red hand-painted globe lamp in a window that looks like it’s from India or some other cool exotic place.  I inquire as to the price within, and I find it’s only $52 US!!  I don’t think that’s bad for Japan, where everything is quite pricey.  I obviously don’t want to carry it around all day, so I determine I will return to buy it before picking up my bicycle at 5:00.

We poke into all kinds of shops looking at artsy books, hand painted Japanese kitty placemats and matted paintings, brightly colored change purses made of kimono fabric, giant stuffed rabbits wearing Hello Kitty t-shirts and woolens from Tibet.  We dip into shrines to reverently watch people making offerings and praying for wishes to come true.

A woolen bunny dressed to kill

A woolen bunny dressed to kill

We turn then onto the Nishiki Food Market where we see a plethora of unusual foods I have never laid eyes on before.  The food market itself is a piece of art, with every food lined up so its proportions and colors are set off to best advantage.  The foods are simply all dolled up.  Food items sit atop bushels or baskets or barrels filled with some grainy stuff.  They’re identified with rectangular wooden signs bearing Japanese letters.

enticing dried fruits...I buy some of these:-)

enticing dried fruits…I buy some of these:-)

Even the fish offerings are prettily displayed on hand-painted ceramic plates or trays and decorated with green garnishes.  At one shop there are colorful dried fruits of every type imaginable from strawberries to pomegranates to kiwi to grapes, raspberries, bananas.  We are allowed to sample all the kinds we want and I end up buying dried kiwi and strawberries.  I want them all!

JiYoung and I stop at  Japanese restaurant where we have tea and I have sweet red bean soup with millet cake.  It’s interesting and delectable.  Then I tell JiYoung I have it in my mind, on this last day in Kyoto, to go to Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine, home of the infinite torii gates.  She doesn’t want to go because she wants to continue shopping in the arcade.  So we agree I will take off and we will meet again at around 4:30, so we can retrieve our bicycles before they are locked in for the night.

red bean soup

red bean soup

I’m a little worried about venturing to this place, because time is short and I don’t know the distances or the speed of the transportation.  The commune owner warned me to please not let the bike get locked up overnight at city hall because it will be a hassle for him.  I know I won’t have time in the morning to get it because I have to leave early to catch a bus to Nagoya, where my flight leaves for Korea.

JiYoung at Nishiki Market

JiYoung at Nishiki Market

I take another overground train driven by a conductor in a little hat and white gloves.  Cute little ditties play over the loudspeaker to announce stops.  I am continually amused and tickled in Japan by how cute and quirky everything is.

I approach the shrine and walk around the complex.  The torii gates aren’t evident at first.  Up some stairs, I finally come across the first tunnel of gates and stroll through the beams of sunlight cutting through the spaces.  Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century.  As agriculture’s importance declined, deities were assigned to ensure prosperity in business.   This is one of Japan’s most popular shrines, with these seemingly endless arcades of vermillion torii (shrine gates).  The entire complex consists of 5 shrines and stretches over the wooded slopes of Inari-san.  I take the 4km pathway up the mountain and it is lined with hundreds of red torii and stone foxes.  The fox is believed to be the messenger of Inari, the god of cereals. Often a fox holds a key in its mouth that represents the key to the rice granary.

the entrance to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha

the entrance to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha

I keep walking and walking, expecting to eventually come to the end of these tunnels of torii.  As I have a time constraint, I cannot see it through to the end.  I walk quite far up, but as I emerge from each tunnel of gates, I turn a corner only to find another tunnel stretching before me.   I do this too many times to count and I keep looking at my watch to make sure I will have time to get back down the mountain and back on the train to City Hall.  I go through a tunnel and think, surely this must be the end!  And lo and behold, there is another.  To me, it seems these torii are certainly infinite.

the beginning of the torii gates with no end

the beginning of the torii gates with no end

I take the train back to Teramachi-dori Street, where I return to the shop to buy the red globe lamp.  As I pay and the shop owners wrap it in bubble wrap, they tell me the lamp comes from Pakistan.  I think, shoot, I should have waited till I got to India.  It probably would have been much cheaper there!  But… of course there is no guarantee I will see a lamp like this in India.

I carry the cumbersome globe lamp, which the owners have fitted with a raffia handle contraption, to City Hall, where JiYoung is sitting there patiently waiting.  I’m not really sure how long she’s been waiting there, but there is some indication she has been there a long time.  I wonder why she didn’t just head back to the Bon Guesthouse without me.  I think maybe she didn’t know how to get back without me to navigate, especially since I had the map.

We pay our parking fee and retrieve our bikes and ride the long ride back, retracing our route from this morning. The whole time, my knee keeps hitting the globe lamp, which I have hung over my handle bars.

Finally... REAL Japanese sushi

Finally… REAL Japanese sushi

After getting back to the commune, I put away my lamp and walk down the shopping street to a small unmarked door which the commune owner has told me is a sushi restaurant.  There, I am the only customer, and I have a halting and difficult conversation with the husband and wife owner.  He is the sushi chef, that’s apparent, while she does the other stuff.  They’re quite kind and friendly and I have a nice dinner in their cozy little restaurant.

After dinner, I return to the Bon Guesthouse, where I turn on my little space heater for my last night, curl up on my floor bedding, and read some more of The Lady and the Monk before I drop off to sleep, exhausted from my bicycle ride through this lovely city.

the infinite torii gates

the infinite torii gates

Saturday, February 5: In the morning, I take a bus at 9 a.m. from Kyoto to Nagoya, arriving in Nagoya at 11:40.  I take a long train out of the city of Nagoya to Nagoya Chubu Centrair, where I check in at 1:00 for my 3:10 flight to Busan.  By the time I arrive in Busan at 5:00, catch the bus back to Daegu and the subway back to my apartment, it’s nearly 8:00.  So again, an entire day of travel to get just a few hours away from home.  Ah, the travails of travel….

Still.  I’m incredibly happy that I went to Japan.  It would have been a shame not to hop to the islands while I was right next door…. 🙂

where is pico iyer in this place that looks curiously like korea?   Leave a comment

Tuesday, February 1: I think I have 5 days in Kyoto.  But.  Of course, I am mistaken.  Be patient with this thought process of mine, but in my thinking, Japan is right next door to Korea.  As a matter of fact, a flight from Busan to Osaka is less than 1 1/2 hours, so really, wouldn’t you think you could  get there quickly and enjoy almost 5 full days?

enticements

enticements

But, because Korea is so isolated from the rest of the world, and so is Japan, and both Daegu and Kyoto are not airport towns,  it’s not so easy.  It’s not like I can just hop in a car and drive from the peninsula to the islands.  So, once again, I leave my house at 6:00 a.m. and by the time I get to Kyoto, it’s 4 p.m. 😦  How does this happen?  Why does it have to be so difficult and time-consuming?  Something is seriously wrong with this story.

So.  I arrive in Kyoto at 4 p.m. after many hours in planes, trains,  buses, and airports.  West Daegu to East Daegu to Busan to Osaka to Kyoto.  On the final bus, from Kyoto Station to my guest house in northwest Kyoto, I sit astonishingly close to a guy who looks just like Pico Iyer. Pico, the author who enticed me here to Japan. I want to say something to this guy, but I can’t decide if he is Japanese or Indian.  And if he is Japanese, then he’s definitely not Pico.  Because Pico Iyer is Indian, raised in Great Britain, the author of The Lady and the Monk.  I think I’ve actually fallen in love with Pico while reading his book and so my heart is all aflutter thinking this might be him.

the hippie japanese guesthouse owner

the hippie japanese guesthouse owner

Since I’m afraid to say anything to him, I pull out my copy of The Lady and the Monk, and flip, too casually, through it, holding it at an awkward angle so the cover is in his face.  I put the book, face up, on my lap.  If this man is Pico, he will certainly say, “Hey, I see you’re reading my book!”  But he doesn’t even glance at it.  He’s a thin man, slightly made, with very black hair and white sideburns.  Like the pictures I’ve seen of the author, minus the white sideburns.  Sigh.

Alas, I think it is not him.  I’m disappointed because it is he who has set my imagination afire about Kyoto.  So, deciding I am utterly mistaken, I turn my attention to the city outside the window.  And my heart sinks.

This place looks just like Korea.

Before I left Korea for this trip, my trusty Korean friend Kim Dong Hee said: I’ve heard Kyoto is just like Gyeongju.  Now, I know Gyeongju has a lot of cool sights.  It’s the second most famous place in Korea, behind Seoul, for its cultural and historical “assets.”  Kyoto is also known for its cultural legacies.  But I shrugged off Kim’s comment when she said it.  No, I don’t think so, Kim.  I don’t think it will be anything like Korea.

so many similarities ~ i see socks like these on the streets of korea

so many similarities ~ i see socks like these on the streets of korea

But she was right.  To a degree. On the exterior, it looks eerily similar to Korea, even to Gyeongju.  Yet.  Something seems different.  It’s not so garishly bright.  I don’t see so many primary colors.  Japanese letters are more calligraphic and not so juvenile and cartoonish.  It’s spotless.  I don’t see big crates of empty soda bottles stacked everywhere.  I don’t see filthy store windows with stacks of  cardboard and other debris stuffed behind them. I don’t see litter skittering across the street. Everything looks orderly, pristine even.  And in the chatter of the Japanese…. where are the “imnidas” and the “aseyos” and the “ne, ne, ne” and the whining sounds so prevalent in the Korean language?

I get dropped off at a bus stop where I run into an unshaven white guy wearing a knit cap and riding a bicycle.  He sees me studying my map with a baffled look on my face and asks if he can help.  He helps.  I tell him I came from Korea.  I can’t believe this place looks so similar to Korea, I say, grudgingly.  He says, Oh, really?  You think so?  That’s too bad!

the communal room in the "bon" guesthouse

the communal room in the “bon” guesthouse

I go on my merry way.  Straight, right, left, right.  In Korean: chick-chin, ornjok, wenjok, ornjok.  Chogi, Yogi.  Kamsahamnida.  Annyoung haseyo. These few words are nearly the sum of my vocabulary after one year of living in Korea.  Sad.

I arrive at the place where I’ve arranged to stay, the “bon” guesthouse.  A tall, thin, disheveled-looking Japanese guy in a khaki safari-type vest answers the door and takes me in to give me the lay of the land.  By the time he finishes showing me around, I’ve decided I’m staying in a hippie commune. This is quite a shock to me as I’m paying the same price, $42/night, that I paid for my lush, tropical paradise rooms in Cambodia.  This highlights the difference between the cheap prices in Cambodia and expensive Japan!

My room on the top-level is simply that, a room.  No furnishings but a small oval table and a gas heater.  Down some very steep creaky stairs and to the left is a communal room with a big rectangular table and two computers in two little cubbyholes, a bunch of maps and Lonely Planet guidebooks and another large gas heater. A map of the Kyoto neighborhood is drawn on the wall in black Magic Marker.

a neigborhood map drawn on the wall

a neigborhood map drawn on the wall

On the other side of the stairs is a kitchen where guests can cook their own dinner.  All kinds of instructions are written, again with a trusty Magic Marker, on the cabinets and walls in the kitchen: “Hand towel–>” and “Dish-drying towel–>” and “The water takes a while to warm up.  Please wait 3 minutes!” and “Please wash your dishes!”

Outdoors in the back is a kind of covered patio with two showers, a Japanese-style squat toilet in a tiny closet, and a Western-style toilet in another closet.  That toilet has, much to my surprise, a heated seat and a bunch of other fancy gadgetry such as bidets spraying out icy cold water to your undersides.  Two sinks for washing and brushing teeth are built into an L-shaped shelf.  All of these outdoor toilets, showers and sinks are shivery-cold.  Little space heaters are set up by the sinks and in each shower stall, with Magic Marker instructions to “Please turn off when you finish!!”

my room in the hippie commune

my room in the hippie commune

The owner tells me he will make up my bed when I go out.  This consists of two mattress pads on the floor and with a sheet over them and two thick heavy comforters.  All over the gas heater in the room are written instructions in Magic Marker: “Heat goes off after 3 hours.  Push here to restart –>.”

The owner is friendly and speaks good English and takes time to patiently explain to me the bus system in Kyoto, which is highly user-friendly. Kyoto is laid out in a grid and the city prints an excellent bus system map showing what buses stop at each bus stop and diagrams the route each bus takes.  I get an English version of this map.  He tells me about cheap restaurants on a nearby “shopping street” and how to get downtown and basically, the whole time I am here, he explains whatever I want to know in great and painstaking detail.  He’s amazing!

I decide to immediately strike out and take the bus to downtown Kyoto for the night.  I feel confident after all his explanations that I can find my way easily.  And I do.  I catch the bus at the Daitokuji stop at the end of the “shopping street” and get dropped after a half-hour at Shijo Karasuma.  I walk down the wide street, lined with Gucci and other designer shops and bright white streetlights and low-slung buildings.  Apparently, Kyoto has height restrictions on its buildings, so I don’t see the high-rises that fill other cities.  In 1990, the height restrictions were raised from 200 feet to 45 meters; even so, the skyline is low.  Apparently there are only three buildings that exceed this height limitation, including Kyoto Tower.

the covered arcade

the covered arcade

I’m a little disappointed in the modern downtown, because I want to see traditional teahouses and restaurants.  I walk toward Gion, the pleasure and entertainment district, but I never make it there.  I take a left on a pedestrian-only street, Shinkyogoku Covered Arcade, where brilliant colors and lights make for a festive atmosphere.  I wander along , checking out the shops and then walk one street over to the parallel arcade on Teramachi. Teramachi is not nearly as crowded as Shinkyogoku and is a little darker.  Teramchi apparently means “temple town” and was named so because most temples were located along this street.  It’s quieter and not so commercial.

the shrine

the shrine

On Skinkyogoku, I come across a beautiful shrine:  Nishiki Temmangu Shrine. Sugawara Michizane, a statesman, scholar and poet, is worshiped here as a god of wisdom, study, good business. This is the only shrine of a local deity on this busy street. A 300-meter-deep well is here from which people can drink and make wishes.  It’s an oasis of serenity on this busy street, with its floating white lanterns and dark open courtyard.  All over Japan, in these little shrines, are wishing wells, trees where wishes on bits of paper are tied.  Racks of little wood shingles with Japanese characters drawn on them must be used for something, but I don’t know what.   I see several Japanese pull the huge rope to ring a bell and clap two times, then put their palms together to pray.

my first Japanese dinner in Kyoto

my first Japanese dinner in Kyoto

I stop into a stark and clean Japanese restaurant with white globe lamps, where I order a Kirin beer, salmon over rice and vegetables tempura. I am the only person in this restaurant, so I just eat and stare into space, thinking about Pico Iyer’s Kyoto love story.  I think anyplace must take on a special aura when you’re in love, and I’m starting to realize that it’s doubtful I will have the same experience as Pico, being alone here as I am.

Later I stroll along the streets, captivated by the jewel-colored merchandise displays, exotic umbrellas and skirts, kimono, dangling what-nots, socks with cartoon faces.  I pass too many vending machines to count, filled with cafe au lait, Coke, Minute Maid, Big Gulps, Fanta and Vitamin Guard, along with traditional green teas.  These are stylish and enticing vending machines, persistently humming their sales pitches, offering refreshment at any time of day or night.

salmon & vegetables tempura

salmon & vegetables tempura

Back at the guesthouse, I turn on my heater, climb into my on-the-floor bedding, and read some more of Pico Iyer.  I’m restless to explore his Kyoto for the next three days.  I drift off and about midway through the night I hear a funny little ditty playing in my room, and realize it’s the heater, giving me warning that its 3 hours is almost up.  It’s like a snooze alarm, going off every 5 minutes until suddenly the room is plunged into cold.  I climb out of my warm bed and turn the heat back on, until the next 3 hour alarm.  Surreal.

vending machines humming their sales pitches at all hours

vending machines humming their sales pitches at all hours

 

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