Thursday, January 29

omil takes japan -final chapter

Part 4. Back to Tokyo

"So after heading back to Tokyo, I was feeling a little under the weather, mostly gassy, but nothing to worry about, or, so I thought...

Booked a killer room in Kyoto, really hard to get a traditional Japanes hotel room these days - tatami mats, sliding screen doors etc - but my sidekick managed to track one down for a mere £66 pp/pn, and in a killer central location. straight away it's noticeable that Kyoyo is nowhere near as manic as Tokyo, but it was a welcome relief from Fukuoka which was kinda dead. We spent the day walking around, checking out the main drag and the old school Gion district. This is where the mythical Geisha girls can be found. Myths to dispel about Japan #1: you don't see Geishas, flying cars and ninjas on every street corner (but I did see a dude wearing those wooden clog things and the lone wolf straw hat). Geisha are mercurial creatures and, you have to see them move to believe it, but I've never seen anyone so small, with such small steps, move so damned fast. I caught of a whole convoy of them in Kyoto station, such a delight (enough to impress my companion's parents - 8 in one go is extraordinary). This almost counterbalances the one bad memory I have from the whole trip...

After feeling a bit rough post-Fukuoka, it turned into something full blown nasty at the end of our first night in Kyoto. We'd been out and had coffee, but no dinner.
...I was feeling a bit weary from trolling around the place and had a sudden jones for food. 5mins later queasy, 30 mins later = purge. After 24hrs of pure hell, I finally took my companions advice and ended up in A&E (brit speak for ER -ed.) the following night.

Even that cloud has a silver lining because the place was so cool and calm (unlike British hospitals, which are noisy, full of dangerous drunks etc) and the staff did everything they could to make me feel comfortable, throwing in bits of high school English here and there to make me feel part of the whole thing. Fell asleep with a drip in my arm and was discharged that night to sleep it off.

The following day, 1,000,000% better but still less than 50% peak. Did my best to soldier out to see a beautiful old temple (I am truly crap at remembering the names of these places, sorry!) and it was worth it because I would've felt doubly sick if I'd gone back to Tokyo and only really seen the inside of a Kyoto toilet bowl.

This place we went to see was built around 600 A.D., just an amazing temple overlooking the city. Fortuitously, the weekend we were there was just before the big coming of age festival that all 20 yr olds in Japan celebrate. This meant lots and lots of young folk wandering around in kimonos...
As well as the young uns, I saw a few blokes around my age walking around in kimonos, rocking the wooden clogs. In a way they were even more impressive than the women because they looked so imposing (and, when you think of someone weaaring a kimono, it's usually a lady wearing a beautifully patterened bit of fabric, not a shaven headed geezer who looks like he'll gut you soon as look at you). Couldn't manage the full wooden sandal thing but I bought a pair of simple Japanese slippers.

Back to the Yakuza thing: as I said, when you know, you just know. I've seen enough Takeshi Kitano films (i.e. all of them -ed.) to know what these guys look like. I know it sounds lame but let me present exhibit A ("Paid his dues").
The owner of this damaged hand, was wearing a fairly sharp suit and didn't look like he's just finished a shift at a local butcher's shop. Penance for a mistake in the Yakuza isn't demotion, it's the sacrifice of a joint from your finger, starting with the tip of the little finger. Being uber careful taking this snap...if someone can cut off the tip of their own finger (or willingly let someone else remove it for him - whatever) call me a coward, but I really don't want to rile him.

I took a few more shots after this but visiting the temple really took it out of me so I limped back to Tokyo Saturday afternoon, had another attack of the trots, worried about how I'd survive a 12hr flight, but pulled through just enough by Sunday night to take my flight home Monday morning. Very, very sad to go home.

I can't say it's got something for everyone, but, after around 15yrs of foreplay - reading about it, watching films about it, eating the food, learning the language etc - it wasn't at all anticlimatic.

I'm doubly determined to re-start studying the language and I'm really looking forward to receiving some visitors in London so I can extend the same warm hospitality I enjoyed there to them at my home.

The only thing to top it since? Obama '08.

Huge thx to Andrew for sharing the pics and write-up. Our man in London.