Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kyoto - Bad directions, rain and castles

We arrived in Kyoto via the shinkansen on Wednesday arvo. We were amazed at how quickly the shinkansen travels. You cannot get a sense of its true speed until you stand at one of the stations while one speeds by you.

When we arrived in Kyoto we were a bit worried about the directions given to us on the internet that would lead us to our accommodation. The reason why we were worried is because we managed to find three completely different sets of instructions on how to get there. We were even more worried about trying to find this place because the Google maps location that is shown on the accommodation’s website doesn't match up with the Google maps location when you manually enter the address listed on the accommodation’s website on Google maps.

I chose the set of directions that claimed to have the least amount of walking involved to get to the accommodation and Jenni and I set of from Kyoto station (in the rain) to find this place.

After about 2 hours of wandering around Kyoto's "streets" (more like alleyways) and asking every person we saw for directions, we finally managed to come across our accommodation. The reason why we had such a tough time finding the place was because:
a) The address on the accommodation’s website is WRONG because the place is on a DIFFERENT bloody street!!!
b) The location shown on Google maps on the accommodation’s website is ALSO WRONG because it is on the completely wrong end of a street that is about 2km long
c) The directions on the accommodation’s website is WRONG because it tells you to get off at a bus stop that is about 2 bus stops too late, so you end up starting your search for the place about 1km in the WRONG location
d) NOBODY IN KYOTO KNOWS WHERE THE HELL ANY STREETS ARE!!! When you ask them for directions to a street, they smile and nod and say (in Japanese) 'Yes of course I know where it is; go down this street and take a left and then.....' etc. Then you follow their instructions to get to the street in question, ask the nearest person 'This is XXXX Street isn't it?' and they always say.... 'Err, not it isn't. To get to that street go down here and.....' AAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Com'on people! If you don't know where the street is, just say so!

So as you may have guessed, Jenni and I are not that impressed with the accommodation situation here in Kyoto. The place is a nightmare to find, we have walk outside and into another building (in the rain) to get to the bathrooms, there is nobody else staying here (not a very good sign), the common room is not particularly comfortable and to top it all off the oil heater for our room has run out of oil and it is freezing in here.

Anyway, that’s enough complaining about our accommodation. At least found it eventually and we have a dry bed to sleep in, which is warm enough when we sleep in our sleeping bags underneath the already provided quilts.

Today, just like yesterday, it rained all day so we decided to purchase a couple of umbrellas in an attempt to keep us dry while going to see Nijo Castle in central Kyoto. It is amazing to see this castle right in the middle of the modern city. Jenni and I used an audio guide to guide us around the castle and are very glad that we used it as we got so much more out of the excursion. The castle is surrounded by a moat and has two concentric rings of fortifications. The castle was originally only the inner ring which housed the Honmaru Palace which consists of a couple of separate buildings and was built in the early 1600s. One of the buildings (the central keep) was hit by lightning and burnt to the ground in the mid 1750s and about 30 years after the actual palace itself burnt down in a city wide fire. This inner palace has now been restored, but you cannot actually go inside it. 

Because of the destruction of the inner palace, the Ninomaru Palace was built outside of the original palace walls and another fortified wall built around that (thus resulting in the two concentric rings of fortifications). This palace was used to house the shoguns (military dictators of Japan). This building is still very well intact and you can walk through it and see all of the rooms. We were very grateful of the audio guide as it was able to point out things that we would have typically missed: the purposefully built squeaky floor boards (I couldn't help stepping up and down on them to make them squeak); the purposed of each room; the reasons why some of the spots in the roofs and floors were higher / lower than others; what the paintings in each room symbolized; the man that painted a majority of the painting did so in his early 20s, etc.

The palace buildings were very impressive, but the most impressive thing in the castle was the gardens. The gardens look like something plucked straight out of a painting. They are beautiful. I am sure Jamie Durie and Don Burke would have been well impressed with the shogun's choice of landscape architect.

After the castle we went to a shopping complex in search of some beanies and scarfs as it is really cold here at the moment and we have been told that Beijing (our first stop in China in about 2 weeks) is even colder. We didn't find any scarfs or beanies to purchase but did enjoy shopping in the Japanese bento supermarket. We have come across a couple of these in Japan and they are REALLY good. It is kind of like an indoor market, but instead of meat, cheese, vegies, fruit, etc they have hundreds of different types of pre-cooked bentos (lunch boxes) to choose from. For about $10 AUD you can buy a pre-cooked bento box that you can either eat cold or bring home and stick it in the microwave for dinner. Brilliant!

So after purchasing a couple of yummy looking bento boxes for dinner we headed back to the hotel, got lost (again), got told the wrong directions by people (again - goddamn I really hate this neighbourhood), saw the blind leading the blind (no really, we actually saw a old blind lady using a white cane, leading what appeared to be an even blinder old lady also using a white cane - it was hilarious) and finally made it back to our room. 


  1. nobody knowing where they are or how to get anywhere is a pretty common thing for most big cities. it seems generally people know how to get from their home to their work and that's about it.

  2. Hi
    That was very funny! Despite having to deal with such frustrations you both manage to find something beuatiful to ennjoy over there!! I am hooked on blogging, my new vice! I look forward to settling down at the end of the day for my daily dose of your blog. I must say I am very impressed with the photography too.
    Love Mum (E)