EMD's Japan Trip Report, 3/05

Old Mar 30th, 2005, 09:32 AM
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Emd, absoulutely fabulous posting. Your planning and execution are amazing, I am really impressed. Especially nice touch to bring omiyage to the Tourist Center employee for helping you plan this wonderful trip. As my family and I may go to Japan in 2006, this is providing good information for us as well. Looking forward to further reports from you.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 10:01 AM
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Thanks! That is exactly what I hoped for, and exactly what I got from all the prior trip reports I read in prep for our trip.

This is so much fun, I feel like I am back in Tokyo!
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 10:12 AM
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DAY 5, Thurs. 3/17 Happy St. Pat’s Day!

This is a longer report, it was a long day!

Rainy. We have vouchers for Ghibli (must be bought in the U.S.) in Mitaka, west Tokyo. We find the yellow Ghibli bus w/characters on it. A gloved attendant helps us get tickets from the machine. I am so impressed w/the Japanese and their uniforms. They all look so “official”, their diff. colored uniforms crisp, and most women in uniform have sharp coordinating hats.

We got to Ghibli just as it opened. Like everywhere else we have gone in Tokyo (w/exception of Senjosi, and the business people at the hotel) we are the only gaijin there. It is phenomenal. If you have any interest at all in film animation, go. It is colorful, incredibly artistic and beautifully designed. Stained glass windows at every turn w/scenes from Miyazaki’s films. The “Begininng of Movement” room alone is more than worth the price of admission ($17 me, $10 son). The zenotropes are indescribably beautiful. I was mesmerized and watched one of them for half hr. The “preproduction” rms. upstairs which have “living” exhibits on the creative part of animation are very interesting. There is a special Pixar exhibit there now, so those of you who are Toy Story, Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., or Finding Nemo fans will be delighted. Everything is very magical. I had a lot of childlike wonder going through, little surprises at every turn. I had only seen 2 of the films but I loved this place. 3 ½ hrs. there.

Mitaka station has a soup stand right on the train platform. If you have 10 min. you can get the best bowl of noodles or other stuff cheap. Pictures on the machine, pick what you want, put in yen, get ticket, hand ticket to soup lady inside, get your bowls, $10 for us both w/appetizers too. Do NOT throw out the wooden chopsticks, they are not disposable and she directed us to get them out of the trash. She was gracious, not irritated. No Japanese person ever acted irritated w/us, and this was not the last booboo we would make.

We went to Nakano Mall, as we had heard it has good anime/manga & general shopping. Upstairs of the mall is owned by Mandarake- store after store of capsule toys, collectables, reading material, and most interestingly, cosplay costumes. Lots of salarymen there mid-day. We split up and I go normal shopping. I discovered Sunmerrys, a pastry shop where you go in w/a tray and pick out yummies w/tongs. Went to a “reflexology” place and got feet bliss for 30 min. Went to a tea shop and got a canister. The owner patiently told me in Japanese/sign language that the picture on it (which I thought was abstract) was actually a kabuki face. He went out of his way to make sure I realized the significance of what I had chosen, and offered me a cup of tea.

Dinner at Ninja Akasaka. Mucho atmosphere. Don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s cool. You sit in your own little room at a pit style table. The food is very good but pricey. Small portions. $10 for a nonalcoholic spritzer for my son, appetizers $15 to $20, my son’s steak cubes (which melted in his mouth) $35, my butterfish (also melted) $30, very cool theme desserts $12 to $15 (mine was an edible bonsai tree). Glad I wasn’t imbibing. Tab $130. Service in English is limited, but one menu is available. Tiny print and it is very dark. Wished I had a tiny flashlight and a travel magnifier. The ninjas and “show” were entertaining. Leave trail of crumbs on the floor when you go to the john- it’s hard to get back w/all the trap walls and doors and twists.

On to Shibuya, had to change there to go “home”. Saw Hachiko, not just the statue but the big 3D mural. Saw some punky kids on one st., realized later that is the st. where the Mandarake is w/the cosplay stage. Darn, I had wanted to see that.

15 hr day!






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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 10:29 AM
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EMD,
Thank you for the wonderful trip reports thus far. I am planning a similar trip for later this year (a 3.5 week "honeymoon adventure" with a week in Hawaii as well), and your detailed accounts are proving to be very helpful. I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip. It sounds like you put a lot of hard, but fun, work into planning it. I'd be very interested to learn from you at some point what your "can't miss" sights/experiences were. Also, what specific planning you did that helped your trip the most.
Thanks again!
Jeff
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 11:12 AM
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The planning was as much fun as the trip! Quite simply, I hung out here on the Asia board and on www.japan-guide.com forum for the past year and did web research from the posts. That helped me narrow the field and decide the types of things that we wanted out of the trip. I looked into alot of things that others thought were "must sees" or "must dos" and ultimately decided we needed to tailor the trip around what was special for us, some of the old, some of the new, our particular interests, and personal contact w/some Japanese. I can't really say what our must dos or favorites were because we planned the trip to be only what we thought our favorites would be, out of all there is to do. One exception was Toji temple market in Kyoto- that blew us away much more than we expected. And for me, Ohara (which my son did not like so we just split up the rest of the day). When asked by his Japanese teacher what his favorite thing was, my son said he could not describe any one thing, although the baseball and sumo was high up there.

A big advantage of the amt. of planning is that it lowers my stress level while traveling. I had maps, train and subway maps, and I knew beforehand where we were going and how to get there, hrs. (w/exception of Bandai), etc. We did not set out to Tokyo w/a list of what we had to get done. We knew things we really wanted to do, but we were flexible. We didn't get to several places I thought we might, but it was ok because we got in stuff we really enjoyed and we have enough left to fill up future trips. And we took our time to experience fully whereever we were and refused to "rush on to the next thing"

One goal for me was to role model for my son, to show him how the planning can pay off and build his confidence in his own ability to find his way around in a foreign environment. I had him ask for directions and interact and do alot of the map work, etc. along w/me. He was a fantastic travel companion, not that we didn't have our moments and had to walk away from each other or split up for awhile. But generally we stayed cheerful and well rested.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 11:17 AM
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emd:

Great report!!! It makes me nostalgic for Tokyo!

I was following your planning intermittently and wasn't aware that your were going to Mitaka. I would have suggested (and for those who may be going next sakura season) a visit to the campus of my Alma Mater, ICU (everybody in Mitaka knows ICU if you pronounce it as "i shi u&quot. It is famous for its cherry blossom trees and locals go there for sakura viewing parties all the time. There is also a small but very pretty temple (called Jindaiji) nearby where you can have wonderful udon and paint pottery (kind of like the shops here where you paint and they fire for you, but the setting is much more inspiring). My friends and I used to ride our bicycles there all the time.

Can't wait to read more about your trip!
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 11:29 AM
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ngodeia: I left out some details on Mitaka, can't put it all in, but since you know the place I will say it has a nice "neighborhood feel" to it. I sat in the front of the bus on the way back from Ghibli and had a bird's eye view. The town is charming. Shop owners sweeping their sidewalks, low key compared to some of the glitzier areas. I made a note to go back and I will check out your recommendations.

Last night my 12 yr old daughter saw my pictures of the trip and was blown away by the art in Kyoto (she is an artist). As I was tucking her in she asked if I would take her to Japan. This is a big deal for her, as she feigned total disinterest while I was planning w/my son, although I could tell she was interested when we would watch movies or read history related to the trip. I told her, as I told son 2 yrs ago, that I would take her anywhere she wants to go when she is 14. So maybe I will be taking her back to Ghibli (she loves graphic arts) and we can check out Mitaka then.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 04:46 PM
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Emd:
I'm devouring your trip report! I'm currently planning my family's first trip to Japan this July (2 boys, 14 & 16, my husband and myself). I'm very curious about your impressions of the Westin Ebisu as well as the Kyoto Westin. Was the Ebisu far from the train station? What was the area like at night? Same questions for the Kyoto Westin. If and when you go back, would you go to the same hotels or would you stay somewhere else and why? Oh and is it possible to book tickets for a baseball game in Japan from the US?
Thanks!
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:34 PM
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Loved your report. Your experience so different from ours, tho both very good. Nothing like planning to make the trip a great experience. You are a very good dad. Can't wait for the report from your trip with your daughter, but she might like another country better than Japan...maybe, Thailand.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:38 PM
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Oh dear, are you a good dad or a good mom. From the interest in baseball I assumed (and you know what that does) you were a dad. From your reply on packing, I thought maybe a mom. Either way...good parent. And even tho I live in NYC I have never seen women as well dressed and groomed as in Tokyo.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:50 PM
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Elainee, I am a Mom! I thought of you-as you will see, later in the trip I developed a medical problem and I thought of you and your broken arm in Japan, and how I better get an interpreter if I was going to the hospital.

jmday: Westin Tokyo is so fine. You walk across the st. and through a courtyard of the Ebisu business complex (and the post office is in the bldg. in the complex, very convenient for getting yen from the ATM) and right into the 6 indoor moving walkways (all new and clean) leading right to the trendy new station bldg. Station bldg. has dept. store (there is also one in the Ebisu business complex, you walk right by it), many kiosks and little places to eat, etc. On the other side of the station is the opposit exit and the Vodaphone is right there (and Mr Craft right across st. from that). We loved Ebisu. 10 min. walk to the station- but like I said, most is inside. At night it is pretty hopping in and around the train station, and there are restaurants. But it is not really cooking on high heat like Ginza or Shibuya. Shibuya is only one JR stop away for more activity, Roppongi two subway stops.

I'll write about Westin Kyoto later, and hopefully I'll answer your questions. I would sty at both of them again. Kyoto Westin not as nice as Tokyo, esp. in service dept. Their English is not as good. And they don't get as many business people so they are just a bit more relaxed and different and maybe not as organized. But still a good hotel. Right next to Keage subway station, 20 min cab to main Kyoto train station, and they have a Westin bus that goes to that station and back every half hr 8:15 til 6.p.m. But Kyoto is good for taxis and buses, subway is not always best.


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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 05:54 PM
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DAY 6, Fri. 3/18

Got our luggage packed to send it to Kyoto to the Westin there. Hotel took care of this and charged my bill. I filled out forms, $20 for each of the three 21” rollers and one carry on. We used our zip up duffels for our last night in Tokyo.

Planned to go to Hakone but it’s windy, raining. So we switch plans and go back to Bandai. My son uses half the memory on the camera in the Gundam area, where they have larger than life exhibits and all kinds of fantasy explanations for all things Gundam. He’s grinning all this time.

I enjoyed this place. It’s creatively done. It contains the usual cute merchandise areas. Japanese love all this stuff, but where do they put it? They have so little living space in Tokyo. Ahha, that is why they are into miniatures! This is the place where I decide to start a gashapon collection for my daughter. I choose the little frogs. There are multiple series of them, a peace frog, a British frog, yinyang frog, polka dot frog, on and on. I end up w/10 of these for her.

Back at the station, we hit the noodles. A man tries to help us; this place doesn’t have pics on the ticket machine. We listen to him but decide to just pick something. I notice that I bow when I enter the door and catch the eye of the soup lady, without thinking about it. This surprises me. In 5 days I have internalized this gesture enough to do it spontaneously. I like the bowing, it is humbling. The Japanese are so civilized and polite. And best of all they talk in quiet tones. I heard no yelling, no momsyelling at kids, no one yelling across a rm. It makes a huge impression on me. I enjoy the peace and quiet of almost all situations in Japan. I order soup w/a raw egg in it. But the broth is so hot that when I break the egg yolk open, it cooks in the broth. We always add H2O from the H2O pitcher to the soup, or we’d be there an hr. for it to cool. Casey had kitsune (sp?) soba, his favorite (w/the piece of fried tofu in it). I try to get him to try new foods, but this is what he wants and I’m content w/it too.

We went back to Akihabara as he wanted to get pictures. We ended up spending an hr., as he won things for his sister at Sega. I was fine w/this because we were on the way to my pick, Tokyo Tower.

I had read about this on the internet, and I kept seeing it from the hotel. It wasn’t easy to get to. We had to switch at Shimabsi, which is a difficult station to switch as there are 2 stations, one old, one new, and no warning of it. It took time to figure out that we had to exit one station and walk a half block to the other to get the line to the Tower. The station (Akabanebashi) has neverending stairs. Once out we can’t see the Tower. A man motioned to us, we turned a corner, and there it was. It’s the tallest steel tower in the world, 333 m. (Eiffel is 320) . We went to the wax museum, the hologram museum, wanted to go to the aquarium, trick art gallery, and statistics plaza (I use a lot of statistics in my work) but they closed at 8:30. These are low key attractions, but the holograms were good, eyes that follow you around the rm., animals jumping out at you from the holograms, etc. The wax museum is low key but they have an impressive one of the Last Supper, which kind of surprises me.

We went up to the 1st level at 150 m. Great view of night Tokyo. Screen show you what you are seeing at night (or day)- you can touch a bldg. and a screen comes up telling you all about it. I joked w/my son that now we could say we had seen Ginza, Roppogni Hills (appeared to be the tallest and biggest bldg. in the city) which we really had wanted to go to, we had seen all of Tokyo. There are two lit ferris wheels; one I know is Odaiba, but the other??

That was high enough for me but son says we are going up further. It is 250m & the wind is swaying it around under our feet, which spooks me. I have to sit down but the only place to do so is the john, so I go sit there. I sit on the john trying to stay stable in Tokyo for a long time. But at least it is one of those johns that has the neat sound effects- you can “mask” your thing w/water sounds or flushing sounds, and this one even has some kind of musical function.

Right at the base of the Tower is a traditional Japanese house w/the curved tile roof w/turned up corners. It looks so much in contrast to the Tower, as does the rest of the neighborhood. We were the only gaijin at the Tower.

This was our last night in Tokyo.














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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:00 PM
  #33  
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jmday: re the baseball tickets, this was of course preseason ball I saw, but mrwunrfl on here walks right up during regular season and gets tickets on game day. That is harder to do if it is the Giants at Tokyo Dome during regular season. Check www.japanese-baseball.com for schedules and ticket info.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:09 PM
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Before I move on to Kyoto, I want to mention a few things we missed that are on our agenda for next trip: 1) Odaiba. We really wanted to do this as a day. Sega Joyoplis is there, Ferris Wheel, fun museums (science museum w/cool robotics, etc.), Odeo Onsen Monogatori (sp? the Edo-themed onsen), shoppping, and that great self driven automated train line that gets you there and boat ride on the Sumida River back or vice versa; 2) Roppogni Hills- always good stuff going on there, check their monthly events calendar at their website; 3)Ginza, although goodness, we did enough shopping as it was; 4) Ueno Park, if the weather had been better the latter part of the week, and the museum w/the samurai costumes; 5) there is always the fish market too, but we were having such good sleep that I was not about to get up early enough to go there.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 06:09 PM
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Oh, and Toyota Megaweb is also in Odaiba. Fun stuff.
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Old Mar 30th, 2005, 08:11 PM
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looking forward to kyoto report
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 01:11 AM
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One other p.s. Recall that I couldn't find the java in the rm. at the Westin. This turned out to be a good thing because I didn't drink caffeine the first few days. On day 4 I opened the drawer that had all the liquor in it and bingo, there are these wonderful little one time use coffee cannisters. You put them over the cup and pour hot water in them and in two minutes you have a cup of great strong drip coffee. I got a big "duh" laugh out of this (kind of like not figuring out the western tiolet deal), and revised my rating of the Westin to "perfect".

For those of you going to the Westin Tokyo and then on to the Westin Miyako in Kyoto, you might want to consider taking a few of these coffee canisters w/you, unless you are better w/the European coffee presses at Miyako than I was. I tried to work the press and ended up making a huge mess (luckily in the bathrm.) They also had coffee bags in the rm., like tea bags. I had brought one of the cannisters from Tokyo and used that each morning in Kyoto; I just ripped off the filter paper on the top of the cannister and filled it w/fresh coffee and it worked great.

One comment on the transportation in Tokyo: incredible. Efficient, easy, don't worry about it at all. One thing we did was take instructions (visual and written) on how the ticket machines work (found this on the web at the general "all things Japan" sites like www.japan-guide.com). We only needed this for subways because we had JR passes to use on the JR lines (very convenient but not worth the cost unless you need the pass for other trips), but even if we had been using the JR tickets it would have been fine. In larger stations when we couldn't find the right tracks, we just asked. The uniformed agents at the windows always spoke enough English to answer these simple questions with, "track numba ___.
We really loved the advertisements on the trains and subways in Tokyo. There are video screens and the ads usually changed every day. Also, there are great lighted screens telling you in English and JP what the next station is, and at least on JR lines they say it in English also. People are very quiet on the trains.
Do be aware that Tokyo subways close earlier than JR stations. JR stayed open generally til 1 a.m. But subways closed sometimes at 11 p.m. (one of the lines running thru Shibuya closed as we got off the JR train at 11 the night we went) although I hear people say they are usually open til midnight.

I toyed w/the idea of a 7 day JR pass instead of 14. But I really wanted to leave Tokyo for Kyoto on Sat., and we had to have our JR pass to get back to Narita the floowing Sat., making that period 8 days. So I sprang for 14 days and the extra convenience in Tokyo was a perk.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 01:28 AM
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ok, just one other "small world" moment in Tokyo. My husband's cousin is the leader of the band Dropkick Murphys, and my son's first name is this cousin's last name (Casey). At Tokyo Dome after you exit the wax museum, which concludes w/worldwide rock stars, there is something I'd sort of call a downplayed "head shop"- no bongs, but I got the drift. My son had his Dropkick Murphys shirt and hat on. A cute Japanese girl came over to him and was pointing to his shirt and hat, and she took him into this shop and there was Dropkick Murphys stuff, a necklace, band picture, etc. All the people in the shop wanted to have their picture taken w/son, and it was one of two 15 second of fame for him on the trip. In the second one, coming up later, I also got to get my 15 seconds of fame.

OK, on to Kyoto!
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 03:38 AM
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Day 7, Sat. 3/19

Sunny day. Got to Tokyo station at 9:30 for !0:36 Hikari Shinkansen to Kyoto, which we had reserved at Narita JR a wk prior. It’s cold. The heated glass rm. on the platform is full an hr. before the train is due to arrive. We wait for the train to be cleaned and then whoosh, everyone hurries on the train. We had seats in front of each other, couldn’t get them side by side even a wk. beforehand. I get to interact w/the mom and daughter next to me. I do postcards;.unlike the shin. from Kyoto to Hiroshima, this one was very smooth riding. Our reserved car was completely full, as were the 3 cars in either direction that I checked out. People standing in the nonreserved cars.

About food: If you’re going to it from the cart (w/the cute girls in the cute uniforms) do it early into the train ride the 1st time it comes around. Waited til later and the selection of bento boxes was slim and I end up w/the more $$ ones. I got a bento w/a Hiroshige woodblock on the top- like everything else, the Japanese are very fastidious about presentation of the bentos. It was a double decker and had shrimp, fish, 2 kinds of rice, cold veggie tempura, and several unidentifiable seafood items, all great. It was $13, high end. Most are ~$7; sandwiches and snacks too.

Just after the ShinYokohama the lady next to me taps and points and there is Fujisan out the window! It seems close and is clear, like we could walk right up to it. The Japanese were taking pictures. I had the girls on the other side of the aisle take pics for me. I missed Hakone, and if the weather had been like this on Fri., we’d have gone. Next time. The views out the window are great, communities and architecture.

Arrived in Kyoto 1:20 and caught the Westin bus. Found this by using the map on the hotel site and asking. They have a remote check-in site at the station, and will take your luggage to the hotel so you can go do other stuff , go to the hotel later. I am concerned about the rm., so we to go to the hotel. Bus is hot. The Japanese like warmth and keep it toasty everywhere. We take the route along the river and there is traffic. It’s not too scenic. Son is wondering what the attraction is about this city and is missing Tokyo.

Busy check- in, it’s Sat. in Kyoto. I get irritated for the 1st time in a wk. as I’m told to take a seat after checkin. Lobby is pretty w/people watching. I’m impatient. Gift shop is good, you can do great last minute shopping here, lots of hand crafted items. But I want to go up to the rm., why can’t I go damn it. After 15 min. I realize it is because they are locating my luggage which was sent. It appears on the bellman’s cart and I feel dumb for being irritated. They were not blowing me off. I vow to relax and chill.

The rm. is much more modern than Tokyo. It is club level, 9th fl., newly remodeled and has 2 dbl beds (tho they are just inches apart, we have aisles on either side), side tables, an L-shaped desk w/two chairs, a long lounging chair, table, low long chest that has TV on it and some space for stuff on 1 side of TV, H2O pot on other. Furniture looks like Herman Miller, but cushier. Bathrm. chic, granite w/a modern bowl sinks, sits on the counter. Didn’t like the sink,it splashes H20 all overwhile I’m washing, it’s big, takes up counter space.. Soaking tub and separate smoked glass enclosed shower. Nice feature is that both the shower and toilet are self-enclosed in smoked glass, so I have privacy in them if son walks in. Rm. not as well designed as Tokyo- coffee area is on opposite side of rm, I’ll wake son in a.m. if I am not careful and use the flashlight. Doors are heavy and they slide instead of open out and it makes noise. Drapes are heavy, stay closed.

We walk the grounds. It is set close to mountains that ring Kyoto. Very nice area of traditional Japanese rooms in the back. Some are free standing “houses” w/several rooms. Some are housed in groups of 4-5 rms. Will stay there next time. Babbling creek, walking/birdwatching trails and a shrine. I wish things were blooming, but we’re 2 weeks early. There are lovely red camellias on the ground. Great observation deck where you can see a lot of Kyoto in direction of Ohara and Kurama. The smokers go there.

We walk to Higashiyama, 10 min. Stop to eat, guess what, son wants noodles. English menu offered and they have nabe. I get a big steaming pot- excellent. I’m chilling now. We get to Shoren-in temple and the pace picks up. Streets are closed to cars. The Hana-toro Illumination festival! Temples are lit up. As we get to the park there are people lined up w/cameras w/zoom lenses, waiting, looking right at the big cherry tree outside the park, but the tree is bare. Maybe waiting for sunset over the tori gate leading to Gion, but it doesn’t make sense. Then rickshaws appear and it’s a procession of geishas being carried down the street, cameras flash. The beauty is overwhelming. We walk through the park, which is lined w/sculptures that incorporate light. It gets dark and lights go on- applause. The sculptures are colorful, various substances, amazing and defy desciption. I’ll post pics somewhere on the web so you can see them. There is a display of huge ikebana, flower arrangements on steroids- these are like 5-7 ft pots w/huge flowers and grasses and other decorative items in them , all carefully sculpted, at the front of the temples which are all lit up. We walk further and I hear some incredible music. There is a stage and 4 women are playing huge instruments that look like hammer dulcimers but are 9 ft. long and 3 ft wide. They’re accompanied by 2 men on reeds. I am mesmerized and listen for an hr. I find out later that they are okoto. I bought a CD, and it takes me back every time I listen to it. Shopped in some of the stores that line the streets. Shrines outside some of the shops, and at one I am handed a “good luck charm” I don’t need it at all, I am so lucky already.

An amazing first night. The most beautiful night of my life so far.







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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 04:07 AM
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> An amazing first night. The most beautiful night of my life so far.

What a lucky woman you are!

I was in Kyoto 06-09 & 10-11Mar. I think I had a much warmer days then than you did except for the first night.
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