Snow Laughing Matter

Welcome back to the snow…uh, show. Our heroes had found themselves in beautiful bamboo groves, Zen gardens and temples in Arashiyama (lit. stormy mountain), on the west side of Kyoto. This was an entirely sensible situation for a pair of tourists to find themselves in.

What would have been even more sensible is if I had worn sensible shoes. Sneakers are not for prolonged walking, even if these ones had recycled car-tyre soles. Furthermore they had become highly soggy from the previous day’s snow.

Between departing the ryokan and finding some new shoes, the solution I Macguyvered to prevent my socks and feet becoming wet was to use a pair of plastic bags. (The guy who sold me a new pair of shoes found this amusing when I was taking the old shoes off.)

In any case, to really grind it in, after covering most of Arashiyama’s gorgeous sights, we went back into town, this time headed for the inexhaustible supply of torii gates at Fushimi-Inari Taisha. There must have been several thousand bright orange torii gates, lined up one after another over the pathways between the main shrines. It definitely felt like we had walked though millions by the time we were done, particularly in those darn shoes.

Somehow I convinced Alex some new shoes were in order so after pottering around Kyoto Tower and a brief stop near a large line of vending machines, we walked another km into Gion where we finally found…shoe shops. \o/ yaaaaay

To give a rather uncomfortable-yet-thrilling day a decent finale, when we got back to the ryokan I got my courage up and went for a bath (ofuro), which involved asking to use it since it had been emptied (!). Japanese baths are actually pretty easy: there are two rooms, one for getting naked in, then you go to the other which has the bath and some facilities for washing yourself. You wash first, and then hop in the bath to soak. This is because the bath water is shared. In any case, I indulged in a nice 43 degree bath for about 20 minutes. Ah, one other thing: this particular time, I had to rapidly figure out how to stop the water flow using the computer panel on the side of the bath.

The next day we went to Takayama. (I parted ways with my old sneakers at a convenient heap of garbage next to the road.) To get there we caught the Shinkansen and then a regular train on our JR Passes (indispensable!)

A few remarks about the Shinkansen. It is like a plane in the following respects: you can reserve seats, there is a lady with a food trolley who will serve you, there is a “first-class” Green Car (don’t know what exactly the extras they get in there), and the toilets are a bit air-plane like. Unlike a plane there is also a smoking car. It is like a regular train in practically all other respects—except the speed!

The train into Takayama rolled past incredibly pleasing mountainous terrain blanketed with lots of snow. The town was full of snow. We found the place we were staying at pretty good, this time we only got one room worth of room (the previous ryokan mysteriously and rather generously let us use two adjacent rooms—same price).

Oh well. We explored Takayama for a bit, had dinner, came back, slept.

My favourite thing about Takayama was the cozy mountain-town feel. The copious snow added extra atmosphere.

The other neat thing about Takayama is the one-hour bus ride to Shirakawa-go. A return ticket was about $55, so the next day we went. The sights are exhaustible in a few hours, but are incredible. The whole place is yet another world heritage site. The gassho-zukuri roofs are amazing.

I confess, there was an additional inspiration for going to Shirakawa-go: that was, there was a certain anime set there. Just as we were nearly going to miss the bus, we finally found the shrine where fans of almost any modern anime keep drawing various characters onto their wooden wish thingies.

Hmm, what happened next? We went to Tokyo!

We found a store where they sold a variety of alcohol right near their range of electric pianos. We also had a traditional Japanese pizza for dinner.

Food and shopping. We stayed in Ikebukkuro, mostly a shopping district but it had a pretty good vibe. But the best shopping was definitely in Akihabara, where everything is an electronics store, camera store, anime or manga or video or book store, or a maid cafe. A new kind of awesome every five metres of storefront awaits.

In a typical music shop you will find at least one of what I call a “Hatsune Miku shrine”, a display of albums featuring the synthesized voice known as Hatsune Miku, from the VOCALOID program. Personally I don’t find Hatsune Miku music very thrilling, but there’s no accounting for taste.

In a typical manga/anime store that stocks merchandise, you will find a similar thing that I call a “Neon Genesis shrine”. Perhaps the new movies resurrecting this slightly tired (yet still terrific) story are bringing some fresh fandom and energy to the enterprise.

We went to the main tower of the Tokyo Municipal Government offices and rode up to the 45th floor on the elevator. Conveniently, this was a dedicated elevator for the task, having only buttons 1, 2, <blank>, and 45. Aside from the crazy views of greater Tokyo, there was also a bar/restaurant, and various tourist merchandise outlets (one of which naturally had a Neon G shrine.)

That pretty much covers until the end of Tokyo. Next time (hopefully tomorrow night), I’ll talk about our experiences in Nara and final days back in Kyoto. Goodnight!