Kyoto, June 26
We chose Kyoto as our home base for the week because of its central location and its rich culture and ancient temples. Upon arrival at Kyoto Station we popped into the Welcome Inn Reservtion Centre to see if we could find some cheap accomodations for the week.
Accomodations in Japan have been very expensive and we were unsuccessful finding an inexpensive place using our standard online methods. Our friend Keith that we met in Boracay informed us about these reservation centres (he had found success with them), so we trusted his advice and settled on a Japanese Ryokan Hotel that was right near the city centre (and for less than $70 per night!).
"A ryokan embodies the very essence of Japan and is surely the accommodation of choice if you wish to personally experience the uniqueness of Japan", okay so I grabbed that one off Wikipedia. The hotel turned out to be quite nice, but when we were having the details explained to us we just nodded our head and said "yes, please" because the price was right. You can imagine our confusion when we opened the door and there was no bed! We soon figured it out when we opened the closet and saw all of the mattresses, pillows and linen. Alright then, sleeping on the floor it is!
The second 'cultural moment' at the ryokan hotel was the showering experience. To explain, there were no showers or baths in the private rooms. Traditional Japanese baths (called Senta's) are public, with a large hot bath in the middle accompanied by several small stools that have individual showerheads and buckets for washing and shaving (there should be a photo in one of the albums). It all makes perfect sense to us now, but we were thoroughly confused when the front desk said "shower time is from 4:00pm-1:00am and we were looking to have a shower at 10:00am. The public baths were gender specific but still took a little getting used to, and definitely pushed us outside of our comfort zones. But after the initial shock of sitting in a large hot bath alongside other nakedness, the baths were actually quite enjoyable and led to some of the best shavings with all of the steam. When in Rome...!!
We spent a full day exploring the Kyoto temples and shrines but unfortunatley were unable to enter the Imperial Palace because it closes on the weekends. We were glad that we made Kyoto the point of return after daily trips to neighbouring cities. We spent most evenings indulging in different Japanese foods (such as delicious Yakitori!) and strolling through the bustling streets with its bright lights and fashionable teens giggling at seemingly everything. We really enjoyed our time in Kyoto at the ryokan hotel, it was one of our favorite Japanese cities.
But there were many more cities to see and two Japan Rail passes that needed to get some usage...