Sunday, 30 October 2016

Kyoto - where people meet

 Wednesday, October 4th

After morning easy run I left Toyama and headed off to Kyoto. A short trip on a Shinkansen, and I’m in the ancient capital of Japan, probably the most touristy place in the whole country. At least the ratio of tourists (WARNING! many of them French!) to locals is the highest - and it’s very easy to notice while walking the streets of Kyoto.

After checking in to my hostel, I went to for a walk explore the city. It was already past 3pm, so I wasn’t planning on visiting any particular places, more to just get a bit of the atmosphere of the city.
Well, it’s quite different to Tokyo. Is much less modern (or - there are many more old, historical areas). It’s full of temples, it’s full of tourists. It’s beautiful. There is a river flowing through the middle of the city, with nice paths running along it (should be good for tomorrow’s lactate threshold training). There are many shops with traditional Japanese craft. There is a shopping district, with many modern and shiny shops. There is a Geisha district, one of just a few Hanamachi left in Japan.
There is the Imperial Palace with its vast gardens. It’s great, although it rains there a lot! (I found out later it rains only on your first visit, a peculiar way of saying “hello fellow traveler, I guess you’re thirsty and covered with dust, let me refresh you so you are comfortable here”).

After a few hours of walking around I got back to my hostel (stopping for a dinner before - one never misses a meal in Japan! The food is so incredibly good that you just simply can’t. I’d much rather miss my train than my dinner here) and decided to socialize a bit with other people staying there.

One of the nicer things in traveling to the lands far away is the opportunity to meet people from all around the world (not that one lacks this living in London). In places like Japan, that are so different to my everyday environment, it’s really easy to bond quickly with other travelers. We are so excited about everything around us, we’re so eager to exchange our experiences, and sake is so nice, that time passes very quickly. Talking about Japan, about other countries we've visited, our plans, hopes, fears, dreams, jobs, local drinking habits in our countries of origin, politics (don't get me started...), you’re coming to a shocking realization - we’ve run out of alcohol! Anyway, it’s 1:30am, time to go to sleep. Long day ahead.

Thursday, October 5th

I decided to go for a walk to visit two of the most famous landmarks of Kyoto - the Golden Pavilion Temple (Kinkaku-ji) and the Stone Garden in Ryoanji Temple.
It’s a bit of walk from my place. Around 10 km. All well worth it. I went up towards Gion district (the historic old part of the city, and the most famous Geisha district in Kyoto). Then through the market/commercial district, with all its fancy shops, towards the Imperial Palace and its gardens. No rain at all today, nice sunshine, +24 degrees. And much lower humidity! At last! Can’t wait to my evening training. But first things first.
After passing the Palace, I got into, I guess, “everyday”, regular and non-touristy Kyoto. Lot’s of small streets packed with houses, workshops, shops, small bars and local restaurants. Not many people on the streets, nice and quite - a normal day in the city.

Eventually, I got to Ryoanji Temple. Apparently, the Stone Garden is one of the most Zen things you can see in Japan. You can stare for years at it, and you won’t get the point of it.

I decided that 15 minutes of staring without getting a point is enough Zen for me and left to visit the rest of the temple. Temple itself is - obviously - really beautiful. There is a nice pond in the garden, and there is really cool section with specially prepared and cut trees:

From Ryoanji there is a short walk to Kinkakuji. This place is probably the most famous touristic spot in Kyoto. It’s another Buddhist temple, which facade is covered with gold foil. Pretty impressive. Impressively busy.
There is a beautiful garden, there’s a famous tea shop. And there is green-tea flavored ice-cream.
Next, I took the bus to the city center and went to the Manga Museum. Completely different experience, but also super cool. The museum is very modern, opened just a few years ago. It contains tens of thousands of Manga books that you can read. Mostly Japanese, but there’s an impressive international section too. There are many exhibitions about the Manga itself - what it is, how important it is in Japanese culture, how the whole business works, what are the typical technics in Manga, and so on. Cool place, worth a visit. I was thinking it would be cool to have a music video for Todger done in Manga/Anime style. I failed to ask the rest of the band if they too think it would be cool. Probably a smart move though...

I got back to the hostel, had a bit of rest and headed off for the training. 6x6 minutes at lactate threshold pace, 60s rest in between. It was the best session in Japan so far. Probably due to lower humidity, but for the first time in a long time (i.e. since the injury) I felt really good and quite fast. Hopefully, my fitness is coming back. A piece of advice - the path along Kamo River in central Kyoto is a very good spot for training. It’s long enough for even long reps (I don’t know how long it is, but definitely more than a mile I used). It’s fairly flat, and the surface is ok - safe to run even when it’s dark (no potholes or anything like that).

In the evening - more socializing with people in the hostel. I think it’s a quite important part of traveling, to actually meet other people. Maybe the most important part.
And what a great excuse for having more sake!

More photos here.