Japan, Days 3-6: Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Uji, Kyoto, Tokyo · Jun 30, 03:22 PM

Three days and various temples and gardens later, we are back in Tokyo, where we will stay for the rest of our visit.

Kyoto, the grandaddy of all temple towns, was the base for our operations, and where we spent the first and third days. Our second day was spent in Nara (home of the “pesky” tame deer) and Uji. We were accompanied by a very expert English-speaking guide named Doi-san. Doi-san did an excellent job of clarifying and explaining what we were seeing in a manner intelligible to gaijin. Descriptions of temples and such will come later (I don’t want to mix them up). We do have pictures on-line, but please note that they do not yet have descriptions nor thumbnails; they’re full-size and may take quite a while to load.

Our trips down and back were on the Shinkansen, which we gaijin call the “bullet train” but which has a much more prosaic name in Japanese (“new trunk line”). However, the three categories of shinkansen do have fanciful names, such as “Hope”. They also have misleading descriptions; our trip down was on the “Kodama superexpress”, which stopped in every po-dunk town between Tokyo and Kyoto. (Okay, I exaggerate, but we did stop at least 10 times.) Luckily the trip north was on the Hikari and only stopped 5 or 6 times en route.

The shinkansen, even in the “ordinary” (read: economy) section had plenty of leg room. Hip room was lacking, but that’s a complaint I have in the US, too. The refreshments cart – pushed carefully through the train – offered sanbo (sandwiches), bento box lunches, your usual array of beverages, plus an alcopop (shochu and soda) and ice koohe (iced coffee – spelled correctly, but pronounced as written out). What struck me most was passengers running out into the entryway to talk on their cell phones – so as not to disturb other passengers – and the conductor bowing each time he entered and exited the carriage.

Our remarkable experiences in Kyoto, other than our sightseeing, were dinner at a sukiyaki restaurant, where a woman wearing a full kimono cooked the meal in front of us (mmm, mmm, good!) and a nighttime visit to the new Kyoto Station, which is masterpiece of modern architecture.

Day 6 – back home in Tokyo, but sans David, who left for Germany that morning – was spent visiting the Asakura Choso museum, home of Fumio Asakura, a 20th century Japanese sculptor. Afterwards we strolled around that neighborhood, which was full little shops selling ceramics and baskets; sea vegetables and dried crustaceans; crackers; clothing; and modern plasticky toys and gadgets. It was quiet and modest, the kind of place I might like to live were I to make Tokyo my home. We also got to have ramen in a very grandma-and-grandpa hole-in-the-wall place. No pictures and no English menu to help the gaijin here! Luckily there was a businessman who spoke English at a nearby table who was able to lend a hand to our very friendly and kind hostess.

Our last sight of the day was the Hama Rikyu garden, walled off from the Sumida River. While I wasn’t as impressed with it as I was by the gardens in Kyoto or at the Meiji Shrine, I enjoyed the green respite from the busyness of the train station we’d just come from. We got lost on the way to the garden and had to return to that station in order to look at the map one more time. (In fact, we took a picture of the map in the station before leaving; Tokyo is a maze, and doesn’t always cater to the non-kanji-reading foreigner.)