Kyoto-Osaka: The Travelers
Nov 21, 2019
On Monday, as my early plan, I will move to a hostel in Higashiyama Ward, Mayuko tells me I can stay longer if I want, but I feel like that I can’t keep my words if I stay longer, three days is more than enough for me, I feel very grateful and can’t repay such kindness. She asks me to meet again before I leave Kyoto. I stop by at their shop, buy some cakes and say goodbye to her family. Mayuko offers me a ride, but I gently refuse because it’s not so far and the weather is pretty nice. I walk again through Okazaki park, within a moment a group of junior high school kids with pen and paper on their hand approach me; “excuse me, do you have time for interview?“. They give me a paper with some questions I need to fill while asking another questions “what do you like about Kyoto?”
When I arrived at Guesthouse Gajyun I am greeted by Jiro, a white Shiba dog, he is very polite and calm. The house is a typical modern traditional Machiya. I am placed in a shared room on the second floor with Elon, an Israeli, and Martin, a German, what a coincidence. I take a nap until 5.30 and found my sheets full of sweat. I go down, see my roommate in the living room, and it doesn’t take long until we start the conversation. There is another man from America and a woman from China who join in. They plan to go to an Izakaya bar somewhere nearby, so I join them. Elon tells me that this hostel provides a free Sento bath every night at 9 and it’s limited only for the 10 registered person. “you should write your name on that whiteboard if you want to join” says him. A moment later we walk outside and searching for an Izakaya bar. Matt, the American, says he will catch up with us soon. Somewhere, we enter an Izakaya bar and sit there for a while, after screening the menu Elon and Martin decided looking for another place, but Elsa, the Chinese, says she will stay because she already told Matt about this place and it’s also a bit impolite if all of us left after sitting there. Elon and Martin finally leave, I wait there until Matt arrive then leave both of them to catch up for the Sento. At the hostel Martin shout at me, “ah, good decision, the food is very expensive, isn’t it?”
At 9 PM, Ichiro-san, the guesthouse owner, brings us to the sento with his car because the location is quite far by walk from the guesthouse. This is my first time visiting a communal bathroom like this. In Japan bathing in sento is part of the daily tradition, they usually take a night bath after work. Everyone is completely naked inside, male and female are separated, I feel very awkward at first. The process starts by bringing the soap and shampoo in a small bucket, then washing the body in sitting lined-up faucet before soaking in hot water. The tubs also have different heat levels, and people are free to choose which level they’re comfortable with, I start with the lowest and slowly move to the hottest
This hostel serves more than a proper breakfast for the guests; tofu soup, chicken rice, tea & coffee, a variety of bread, fruit, juice, and yogurt. All are served by Ichiro-san. In the living room, I see an old man back and forth to the food table about three times, repeatedly take the same menu. He eats while watching tv. There is something that catch my attention for a long time about Japanese TV shows, what is that the purpose of a tiny box that pops up showing the guest reaction at the top corner in every TV show? I mean, why it’s always there? do the audience really need to know their expression? but for what sake? reassure their reaction match with the guest? inspiration on how to react? a benchmark?
After breakfast, I take a leisure walk to the Shirakawa river, it’s about five minutes from the hostel. I sit on the small dock near a bridge while soaking half of my leg into the river. A few moments later I see two western women sit on the other part of the dock. One of them approaches me and say “hey, can you speak English”. “yes”. “can I have a few minutes of your time?“. “yeah, sure”. “so, my name is Elis, I’m from the United States, we are on a mission to tell the story of Jesus. Do you mind?“. “no, not at all, go on”. I assume they are evangelists or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I see her friend just sit there doing nothing facing the other side. “sorry, are you a believer? what do you think of Jesus?“. So, there I am, explaining everything I know about Jesus. “well, if you see him as a historical figure, he is a local man who acts like an orator of demonstration in Jerusalem who overthrows Rome more or less like a mass political mobilizers such as Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi who fought for their rights”. She is a bit surprised with everything I’ve said. “can I pray for you?“. “yes, sure”. That’s how it ends, she closes her eyes and I watch her recite prayers in front of me
I spend the rest of the day cycling and hunting for a teapot around Kyoto. Towards dusk, I sit by the Kamo river. I begin to draw scenes in front of me. Not far behind me, a group of street musicians singing a Japanese song. I see a little girl dancing with her mother in front of the show. Within a moment another little girl timidly watching me drawing from behind. Her mother gives her a drawing book, I smile and encourage her to sit beside me, “she likes to draw” says her mother. Her name is Annie and they come from Taiwan. I skip my drawing and draw a sketch of her drawing birds and give it to her as a gift but then with an innocent gaze, she points out my drawing book and asks for the other pictures. I really… can’t afford to refuse
Youtube recommendation is a great seducer, it recommends me a Sumo history video, it understands that I can’t hold the temptation of something I’ve never seen before. Just like the moment when I should determine places I want to visit, I often ask myself “is it something unlike I’ve ever seen before?“. Previously, everything I know about Sumo limited only on two wrestlers with bloated heavy-weight bodies pushing each other but surprisingly Sumo is more than that. It’s not always about a heavy-weight fat wrestler. Sumo ritual is very wordy and full of pleasantries at the beginning and the main fight is relatively short, it can be ended in one second after the first move. The first ten seconds is usually the most crucial part because a single step mistake can lead to your defeat even for a fighter with a bigger posture. A good opening position usually led for a better grip, then leg strength will help to hold the opponent’s body and the agility to push or slamming the opponent with a strong pounding. The Japanese-born sumo wrestler is a cultural pride, they’re hailed and adored, the biggest yearly event always attended by the Japanese emperor and empress. Unfortunately from the last two decades, Japanese Sumo is dominated by two Mongolian wrestlers — Hakuho Sho and Asashoryu Akinori — which still maintain their glory in Yokozuna rank (the highest rank in Sumo)
Wednesday morning. A short appointment with Comachi. She realized that she forgot to give the return of the last calligraphy class. We meet at Ippudo Ramen near Nishiki Market then she helps me looking for green tea powder. We split up afterward, I take a bus to the Philosopher’s Path. It’s two kilometers stone path lined-up with cherry trees alongside a canal. I walk from end to end. This place gains popularity because of Nishida Kitaro, a renowned Philosopher’s, used this place for contemplating while walking on his daily commute to Kyoto University.
Wednesday late afternoon. A farewell food hunting with Mayuko. “Do you mind for a long queue?“. “No. That’s fine”. “Let’s visit this legendary Soba place”. “I have tried Soba before, what’s special about this one?“. “It’s been there since 1465! Can you believe it?“. “No question, let’s go”.
We take a metro bus to Nakagyo Ward and walk to this place called Honke Owariya. What a memorable journey to serve people for more than half a millennia. The story of Ariko Inaoka, the current successor of the 16th generation soba house sounds like the story of Sylvia Whitman — daughter of George Whitman, the owner of Shakespeare & Co bookstore in Paris — “I was born in Kyoto and was raised here until I was seventeen years old. Thereafter, I went to America to study art and photography in San Francisco and New York before starting my career as a professional photographer before returning to Kyoto in 2009”. Hanko Owariya started as a confectionery shop and began to supplied soba around 1700, currently, they serve almost 30 different varieties of hot and cold soba. They also still serve sweet confectionery such as Soba Rice Cake, Soba Ita, and Soba Boru. As we reach our turn, we aim for a specialty cold Hourai Soba and Soba Rice Cake. “Don’t forget to slurp the soba, that’s the manner”
Thursday morning. It’s raining outside. I feel tired of writing. I spend half a day reading Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata in the living room. At midday, I go to the Arashiyama bamboo forest with Tom. I become a tourist who becomes a guide for another tourist. At night Ichiro-san held a barbeque party in the living room. There are more guests than I thought, they seem like a group of ninja who suddenly appear from behind the bamboo. We also celebrate the birthday of two guests, they look very touched. Jiro moves back and forth from one person to another, waiting for food donation. I exchange stories with them. Matt tells his story of pursuing a master’s degree in Eastern Medicine. Elsa tells her resignation story from her job as an accountant in Beijing. Sarah is taking a gap year for traveling throughout Japan. Jiro is collapsed of overeating
“Time passed. But time flows in many streams. Like a river, an inner stream of time will flow rapidly at some places and sluggishly at others, or perhaps even stand hopelessly stagnant. Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”
— Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness
Hotel: Guesthouse Gajyun
Hotel Environment: traditional Machiya
Treatment: 5 stars hotel breakfast, free sento every night
Others: local party every Friday night, kimono & bike rent, close to everywhere, backyard garden
Impression: I already miss Jiro, the backyard, and the breakfast
Friday morning. Along with Tom, Natasha, and Daniele, we leave the hostel and heading to Nara. We exchange stories. I talk with Tom on the train about the bottles in front of Japanese houses. Daniel doesn’t talk too much. Natasha talks about her study as an English literature student. We walk around Nara Park and feeding the deer who might think these sapiens are their food springs. Natasha and Daniele decided to leave early as they should catch up a Shinkansen to Hiroshima. We enter Todai-ji temple. There is a big Buddha Daibutsu statue in the main hall. The sound of morning prayer from my secondary school monastery greet me. I see a group of school kids crawl into a hole under the Daibutsuden statue; according to the legend for those who pass through the hole will be blessed. We walk around the park complex. There is a baby festival nearby and the parking area for baby strollers. I say goodbye with Tom at Nara station, I’m heading to Osaka
Friday afternoon. I arrive at Tennoji station in Osaka. My hostel is about 500 meters from the station. It’s operated by foreigners with a working holiday visa, they take a part-time job here. An Argentinian in the living room says she works in a department store in Namba. Other part-timers ask me to join the karaoke party tonight but I say I should look for souvenirs because tomorrow I will leave Japan. After the chat, I walk casually to the Janjan Yokocho area. I stop for a moment in front of a place filled with old men playing Shogi then I eat udon near Tsutenkaku tower. Outside the shop a myriad blink neon light starting to illuminate the street. It feels like Tokyo with more boisterous people. Then I hunt for souvenirs. Then I walk till the Dotombori area, watching a group of tourists on the river from Ebisu Bridge, watching a kid jump rope in front of the big Glico sign, watching the face of Yui Aragaki in Don Quijote building. I stop by at a train toy shop. And for the farewell, I spend a sum of yen playing arcade games. At the hostel, I talk with an old polyglot who also takes a part-time job there. He demonstrates his language abilities and tell his peripatetic life from the last 20 years. Tomorrow is my last half day in Japan. Kansai Airport is ready to take something from me. Another part series of goodbye