Journey Through Japan

Day 16, 16JAN2017

Josh and I commenced the Clapin Adventure this morning at Starbucks.

Side bar: when I moved to Australia I had to come to terms with the differences between US and Aussie coffee. In the United States coffee is brewed in large vats, or coffee pots, via the drip process. The coffee, in my opinion, is still delicious, however it is not as pungent or dense as espresso. When you order coffee in the US you’re more than likely ordering drip coffee, and if you’re in a restaurant, you’re more than likely ordering unlimited refills on said coffee. When you order coffee in Australia you are ordering coffee prepared with an espresso machine and are certainly never receiving a free refill. A few other realities that threw me off when I first moved to Australia with regards to coffee was the accompaniments. In the States you order “cream” and this equates to half-and-half, or you order “creamer” which is a sweetened and/or flavored dairy variation. In Australia neither of these exist and instead when you order your coffee the name you provide indicates to the barista what type of milk (think steamed) and how much is added to your caffeine kick. The final difference between Australian and American coffee is the size differentiation. In the States coffee is ordered in sizes ranging from tall (12 fl oz, size of a can of coke), grande/regular (16 fl oz), and venti (20 fl oz). In Australia I never saw a coffee larger than a tall, there were plenty of sizes, but a tall was considered large (granted I’m sure Starbucks or other chain coffee places in Australia may have larger sizes…). These distinct differences understood and practiced for the past six months, when I walked into a Japanese Starbucks I was expecting the sizes to be on par with Australian coffee sizes. I ordered a grande and immediately regretted my decision, Josh, having ordered a venti, was in the same exact boat.

Sweet coffee and pastries devoured, the six of us headed to the JR Saga-Arashiyama line to catch the train to the western reaches of Kyoto.

Our intended plan for the day was to arrive in Arashiyama around 1000 and then walk to the Monkey Park. The first two segments of our day’s plans were significantly hindered. For starters there was an non-detailed accident along the Saga-Arashiyama train track this morning causing nearly a forty minute delay. Secondly, after we walked through melting snow and across a huge beautiful river to the base of the Monkey Park, we were confronted with a large sign stating the park was closed for the day due to snow.

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Agreeably it had snowed significantly the past few days, unfortunately we all had our hopes set high to see some snow monkeys.

Never to be dismayed we strolled along the main road wandering into local craft stores. There are some incredibly talented people in this part of the world, and the artwork is absolutely beautiful.

Not before long we meandered to our second intended tourist sight in Arashiyama: the Bamboo Path. This hilly path winds past a Temple and draws large crowds due to its towering bamboo forests that rise above pedestrians on either side of the path.

Due to the previous day’s heavy snow, the path was icy and with every billow of wind snowballs rained in clumps from the tops of the swaying bamboo trees. We pressed on determined not to be let down by Arashiyama again and found ourselves absolutely surrounded by the intense green stalks and the pure white snow. In the wind, once free of snow, the bamboo trees made the sound of persistent rain falling on pebbles. The entire walk was a hug from nature.

We safely made our way back to the main thoroughfare, this time in search of the local train station boasting its own 200 yen “foot onsen.” The place also claimed to host a kimono forest, akin to that of the bamboo path.

Unfortunately both of these highlights left one wanting. The onsen was actually two shallow baths crowded with other tourists. There was not enough space for the six of us to settle, and since the bath was actually outside, I was far more concerned with how cold my legs and feet would become upon removing my feet from the water and reinserting them into my shoes. The particulars.

The kimono forest was also somewhat of a let down, the vibrant patterns were inserted in plastic cylinders towering only five feet at the tallest. Instead of looking like a bamboo forest, I rather thought the attempted art work looked like a series of early signs for barber shops, the clear cylinder housing fabric instead of the red-blue and white stripes.

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After lunch we made our way back to the JR station and rode back to Kyoto by early afternoon. At this time we snapped a few group photos and then parted ways. Josh and I continued on our day’s explorations and wandered to the Nishiki Food Market and were not let down.

The Nishiki Food Market is like the Pike Place Markets in Seattle: local fishermen selling today’s catch, farmers hawking vegetables, and craftspeople peddling their handmade wares inside a single-lane indoor labyrinth. Segments of the roof were stained glass, and no matter where you were the smells of the place were dazzling.

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I must admit that there we far more things for sale here than I would feel comfortable trying: live eels, barbequed baby octopus, vegetables in various states of fermentation, and a great deal of pastries stuffed with bean paste (Josh and I have determined we do not like this delicacy). We opted to try things we recognized and shared a steam bun piping hot from the wooden steamer and made with local beef.

Before long the food markets opened up and a network of shopping malls now resembling a standard American mall from a 1980s movie took hold around us. There were second hand stores, high-end apparel and accessory stores, there were convenience stores, and dollar (100 yen) stores, there were food courts and juice bars, arcades and collector shops, everything one could imagine.

I stopped curiously at an advertisement for a shiatsu massage and thirty minutes later was in a state of utter nirvana and relaxation. While I received my thirty minute massage for the cost of $25 in my cute white pajamas Josh wandered around and drank a banana bubble tea.

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Complimentary PJs and post-massage tea

We reconvened and then opted to have okonomiyaki yet again for dinner tonight. This pancake house actually barricaded us into a separate seating area, alone with our teppanyaki stove we shared traditional okonomiyaki and fried udon noodles.

At this point in the evening we both agreed it was time to return to our guesthouse: we have an early start tomorrow and needed the respite from a few days of late nights.

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