Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Even Geisha Phone Home - Kyoto Part Two

"I know we got up at 5am yesterday morning but if we don't get up now we won't be able to see the 25 sights I have planned for the day.  It's time to rally,"  I said encouragingly to Russell still hung over from the amazing Kyoto Kaiseki meal from the night before.  Let's be clear, it was a food hangover, not a alcohol hangover, surprisingly.

I think McDonald's helped to motivate us.  That's right, I'm embarrassed to say.  We came all the way to Japan, and then all the way to Kyoto, for, gulp, McDonald's.  If our friends could see us now.  But hey, I needed coffee, having skipped it the day before there was no way I could go without two days in a row.  And since there wasn't a coffee maker in our room, and I didn't want to spend $12 for a cup in the lobby, and since there was no Starbucks in sight of the hotel, (amazingly),  McDonald's it was.  Is it my fault Russell ordered a couple of egg McMuffins, a hashbrown, or as I like to call them, a death stick, and OJ? They were delicious by the way. 

Plus we got to marvel at the pretty damn clever advertising campaign they were running, the "Big American Dream Tour" no less.  Each month diners feast on a brand new American themed burger, plus enter to win a chance to fly to that theme's destination.  Who doesn't want to try the Broadway Burger, with pastrami, the Las Vegas Burger, or today's special: the Beverly Hills Burger? Hmmm. Maybe we should come back for lunch.

Tray liner promoting this month's offering, the fantabulous Beverly Hills Burger.
Besides guacamole, does it come with a fake tan and a boob job?

It's a good thing we had breakfast because we saw a lot in one day.  First stop was the bamboo forrest, which is in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto and isn't in my Frommer's guide, but is one of the most iconic and most photographed places in Japan. I had to see it, even if it did take 30 minutes to get to.  

Bamboo forrest.

Bamboo forrest with moss.

I'm glad we did.  It was exactly what I expected and more.  We even made an unplanned stop to the adjacent Tenryuji Temple.  The garden was especially beautiful.

Rock garden portion of the temple.

I love how every temple has its own unique cistern.
It would be a good coffee table book.
Hey, I might be onto something.

Beautiful moss covered slope and gurgling brook.
The engineered garden is actually prettier than the real thing.

The next stop was the Ryoanji Temple, home of the most famous Zen garden in Japan, maybe the world. We've all seen the pictures.  Russell and I were excited.  We were anticipating a zen experience. But frankly, it was underwhelming.  It was smaller than we thought it would be. It wasn't Zenful. Perhaps it was the 200 or so other tourists, all crowded around it.   

The Zen rock garden.
The only thing Zen about it is the name.

All was not lost however.  The temple is surrounded by a large garden.  Within the garden is a 1,000 year old pond.  1,000 years old.  I can't even imagine. Were there dinosaurs in it?  No, but there was an idyllic restaurant, Ryoanji Yudofuya, that served traditional Kyoto cuisine called yudofu.  Yudofu is seasonal vegetables and tofu simmered in a pot at your table.   From our tatami mat seat, we savored delicious tofu and admired the viewing garden through the windows.  It was so Japanese, so peaceful, so, shall we say, zen?  I almost didn't get offended when I realized they asked us, the only foreigners in the restaurant, to pay before our food came.  Everyone else paid after, even the high school students sitting next to us. 

Our yudofu pot overlooking the viewing garden.

It was so delicious, especially after traipsing around the 1,000 year old pond
and waiting for buses in the cold.

They even had one of those bamboo troughs that fills with water, 
and makes a delightful "thonk" a la Kill Bill, when full.  
I half expected Lucy Lu to emerge, resplendent in a 
white Kimono, Hattori Hanzo sword in hand.

Next stop: the Golden Temple, otherwise known as, Kinkakui.  

We plodded to the bus stop and waited 15 minutes.  We thought we were smart.  We bought a two day transportation pass allowing us access to Kyoto's buses and trains.  It was smart.  We saved a lot of money.  By the third destination it had already paid for itself.  The only thing is, it took a lot longer to get to each place than if we had taken a cab like most foreigners do.  We spent a lot of time waiting for buses.  It's definitely the way to go if you're not rushed. If you don't follow the Dawn Travel Strategy, that is, see 25 destination in 36 hours.  A slight exaggeration but you get my drift.

Unlike the Zen Rock garden, the Golden Temple was everything it promised to be.  It was breathtaking, especially illuminated on the water.  The weather report foretold of rain on Sunday and Russell and I had  debated which itinerary to follow on the one sunny day. We chose wisely.

Now that's a postcard.

This too.

I thought this tree was too beautiful not to be photographed.
It looked even better in black and white.

I thought the Golden Temple would be a hard act to follow but I gotta say I was just as delighted by Nijo Castle, not for the beauty but for the history.  The castle was the  home of shoguns from the 1600s to the 1800s.  I especially loved the "Nightingale Floors" which actually did sound queerly like the bird when you walked on them.  The floors were designed to creak, or I guess in this case, tweet, when walked upon to alarm the sleeping shogun and his samurai of intruders.  How cool is that?  And all we have is a watch dog.

Unfortunately you're not allowed to take photos of the inside 
where they have mannequins set up to show you what life was like with the shogun.
Apparently there's a lot of kneeling involved.

These are not odd sculptures but trees wrapped in straw to protect them from Winter.

A view of the shogun compound from one of the lookouts.

I thought the gate was neat with its patina enhanced nails.

At this point we were pretty tuckered but we decided to rally and go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, even though it wasn't on the docket until tomorrow morning.  It was around 5pm and the light was beginning to golden so we thought it would be perfect, and it was.  The Inari Shrine is the site of over 10,000 red tori gates.  The Japanese believe passing through a tori gate is good luck.  Imagine our good luck having passed through over 10,000.  Vegas here we come!

Street vendor hawking grilled eel bones. 
These things are like potato chips - crispy, salty, addictive.
I'm not even kidding.

The Inari shrine.

Do you feel lucky yet?
Well, do you punk?

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling double lucky.

Lucky Russell.

For dinner we ate at a restaurant our friends and Frommer's had recommended.  It's called Mikaku and offers three kinds of Japanese type meals.  We chose teppanyaki.  The food was outstanding but I have to admit I did have a bit of a problem when they came over to explain our meat selection.  They started by handing us a piece of paper with the stats of the cow we were about to eat.  "She was three years old and grew up in so and so province......." She? WTF?  

I told Russell to take the paper away immediately after the guy went to get us more wine. I'm sorry, but I have a hard time eating this now.  Americans don't like to recognize their food was actually alive at some time.  Have you seen U.S. meat packaging;  it looks like Playdoh, not meat.  Um, I'm gonna need a shot of tequila now.  

That's a piece of Bessie and that's her nose print on that paper with her stats.
Like I need to know who her mom and dad were.
But boy was she tender.  Arrrgh!

After dinner we tried to get into a wine bar across the way from the restaurant.  Even though there were only three people sitting at the bar that accommodated about 12, we were turned away. Russell tried thee ole "we'll wait" intimidation trick, which usually works, but was still rebuffed.  It seems the chairs were reserved.  Reserved bar stools?  Huh.  Russell asked if he could give them our number just in case anything opened up.  Something did, two hours later.  By then we were back in our room sipping our own wine.

However, we did happen to encounter the one and only geisha we saw during our time in Kyoto.  She was on the phone in the hallway, checking to see how the New York stock market opened I imagined.  Actually she was probably calling to see where her next appointment was.  I motioned for her approval to take a photo, even her head nod was graceful.  But boy, those shoes look uncomfortable.

How surreal is this photo?

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