We took the bullet train to Kyoto two days ago (the same bullet train I am now riding back to Tokyo), and I was surprised by what a different feel Kyoto is than Tokyo. I don’t know why I was surprised – it’s not like all cities in America are the same. Trust me. I’ve lived in Las Vegas and Kalamazoo, which are NOTHING ALIKE. Kyoto seemed more foreign, and somehow more “traditionally Japanese.” There was less English (which wasn’t great when leaving a Spanish restaurant at midnight with a group of only English speakers and no idea how to get back to our hotel. Answer? Hail a cab and show the driver our room key).
Our first day in Kyoto was full of sightseeing. We were on a sightseeing tour bus, so we were the very definition of “tourists.” That can be fun sometimes. Don’t ask me to name all of the temples we saw, but here are a few pictures.
The temple in that last picture had a thousand (a THOUSAND) statues of Buddha in the same room. They were all about as tall as me, and they each had eleven heads and forty arms. It was a veritable army of creepy Buddhas. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside temples, as they are all considered sacred, but I really wish I could show you the army of creepy Buddhas. This was also the temple where they’ve held an annual archery competition for the past few hundred years, so I thought of my dad. I wonder how he’d match up against Japan’s finest. He refuses to get on airplanes, so I guess we’ll never know.
After all of the temples, we went to dinner at the most elegant restaurant. I’m not even sure I can call it a restaurant. There is a river in Kyoto leading to some waterfalls, and the restaurant was floors that sat elevated over the river.
We sat on platforms with the river literally flowing beneath us, and we were served all sorts of fancy Japanese cuisine, including whatever the heck this thing is:
CAN YOU BELIEVE I ATE THAT?? Me neither. But I did. Japan has done weird things to me.
After dinner we went to a Shinto shrine, and everyone had put out their wishes for Japan’s July 7 celebration. When I heard that there was a national holiday here on July 7, I irrationally hoped for fireworks and maybe some watermelon. Alas. It was not meant to be. July 7 is a celebration of two lovers who are separated by the Milky Way (talk about a long distance relationship), and they can only come together once a year, on July 7. Inexplicably, they apparently use their one day together to go around granting people wishes, so people hang wishes on trees in order to have them granted. It made the trees at the shrine beautiful. I wish I could have read the wishes. I can’t read anything here. I have a new sympathy for the toddlers of America.
Day two in Kyoto was a little more businesslike. We spent the majority of the day at a high school here. My favorite questions to ask are about classroom behavior, because both students and teachers are genuinely confused whenever American teachers ask about these things (and we have an interpreter, so I know it’s not a language issue). Act up in class? What’s that? Students in America talk when the teacher is talking? Huh? I asked some students about what the penalty is if someone doesn’t do their homework, and they didn’t get it. “Like, if they are sick?” they asked me. “They can hand it in the next day.” I answered no, that in America sometimes students decide not to do their homework because they don’t want to do it. The girls were scandalized, as if they have never considered this idea before. I hope I haven’t just opened up a terrible international can of worms.
We ate lunch in the school cafeteria, which was delicious (for real. Like, I would actually eat whatever I ate today in America). It was a noodle concoction in a spicy sauce. Mmmm…I’m kind of hungry just thinking about it. Yummy meals are hard to come by here.
After the high school, we went to Omron, a business known for hiring physically and/or mentally handicapped people (80% of their employees are disabled somehow). All special needs students in Japan go to special schools because accommodations aren’t available at normal schools (don’t worry, Elle. I know you’re absolutely going to want to talk about this later). Many of them go to work at a place like Omron, where there are accommodations to allow them to work a factory job. It’s a cool concept, and it keeps people productive in society. I’m now wondering if we have such businesses in America. We toured the factory and learned all about how the business works.
After that we stopped at a market quickly, and then it was on to the bullet train. Where I am now writing to you. Dan, who’s sitting next to me, is creepily reading this over my shoulder (HI DAN I SEE YOU!!), so I guess it’s time to sign off. We should be almost to Tokyo anyway.