A Note Before We Begin: I like video games. Maybe too much. (OR MAYBE NOT ENOUGH HOW ABOUT THAT.)
Also, for more pictures, see Facebook.
Kyoto Staff Trip—November 24th and 25th
The Reluctant Hero
I was a little nervous about this trip. It was expensive, for one, but more importantly, I wasn’t sure how to act. Or dress. How casual was I allowed to be? I’d never gone on a staff trip before. Would there be a night where I’d have to dress nicely and act like a lady, or could I be myself? (;P)
Also: How cold was it going to be? (Not that cold, as it turns out.)
I ended up packing more than I should have. When I arrived at the bus station, some of my coworkers were there with much smaller bags. Someone even commented that my duffel was big.
I’M SORRY! I DON’T USUALLY TRAVEL! DD:
I didn’t even pack the duffel full, though—I only brought two jackets, two shirts, and an extra pair of jeans. And, you know, underwear and personal hygiene stuff. I guess some of the teachers only brought a day’s worth of clothes, because on the second day, they wore the same thing. Kyoto-sensei is an expert light traveler—he only brought a fanny pack.
I would probably have to drop something to free up my inventory for all the dungeon items. :/
We took the bus to Tokyo Station and then hopped on a shinkansen for Kyoto. The shinkansen only took about 2 and a half hours! It was so fast! Ebony told me that she took a bus to Kyoto, and it took 8 hours. Damn—I guess I learned how to warp between areas while Ebony was still running around Hyrule on foot.
When we arrived in Kyoto, Kyoto-sensei and Kawana-koucho decided to start pointing out all the gaijin to me. “LOOK MEGAN A GAIJIN YOU SHOULD GO TALK TO THEM.” It was hilarious. (And no, I didn’t go up to a complete stranger and talk to them. I’m
a Silent Protagonist too shy for that.)
Then I made a mistake. Everyone put their second bag into a taxi, but I thought we were going to the hotel first anyway, and everyone forgot that I was there and didn’t understand what they were saying. Apparently, the taxi, Mamiya-sensei, and Yasuda-sensei were going to drop off the bags at the hotel while everyone else went on ahead. By the time Komatsu-sensei saw that I still had my second bag, the taxi had already left. We searched in vain for an empty locker, but Kyoto Station is very busy, so there were none. Instead, the men carried my duffel around all day, trading it off periodically. I felt awful. I should have just put it in the damn taxi like everyone else. Just follow trends, El, they’re there for a reason.
(NO! I WILL NEVER GIVE IN TO THE MAINSTREAM! VIVA LA INDIE!)
…You know, whether or not I mean that ironically, I’m still a hipster.
Cool! Free boat ride for three!
Our first stop was a boat ride!
For those of you that want to try it, we started at Kameoka, I think, and I’m pretty sure it ended in Arashiyama.
The life belts they gave us were completely useless, but everyone said that I could save them because I’m a strong swimmer. Also a lifeguard. (Certified until June!)
The boat ride was… indescribable. It was beautiful. We piled onto this tiny boat, and three men rowed us down the river, pointing out particularly gorgeous spots to look at and take pictures of.
We went over some small rapids a few times, and I took some videos, but unfortunately, it appears that my elPhone camera doesn’t capture video very well.
The men were pretty fun. There were three roles for the boat: one man sat down and rowed with the oar on one side, a second man used a long bamboo pole to push on the riverbed or rocks to guide the boat along, and a third man in the back controlled the rudder.
At one point, I was messing around with my camera, and I accidentally took a picture of the rower. My camera makes a loud clicking noise when it takes a picture, so he noticed, laughed, and said that if I wanted to take a picture of him, I could just ask. He started posing, and I felt really embarrassed and couldn’t even explain myself.
That happens a lot—I make mistakes that lead to a misunderstanding, and then I feel too embarrassed to correct them, because often I don’t know how to explain the mistake in Japanese. I think I totally understand a lot of things that happen to non-English speakers in America now.
Anyway, the rower asked where I was from, and in true Silent Protagonist form, someone else answered for me. My coworkers seriously underestimate my Japanese. I can at least say where I’m from.
Nope. Silent Protagonist.
“Ah, America,” said the rower, in Japanese. “No English today. I’m taking a vacation from English. Only French.”
So later, when we were getting off the boat and the others were saying thank you in Japanese, I turned to him and said, “Merci.”
That got a laugh!
There were a few large rocks on the river with plaques on them—apparently some of the rocks had names. One rock’s name was poorly translated as “Hole in the Pole.” As we approached it, the rower pointed it out, and the man with the bamboo pole swung the pole around over his head and hit the rock with—RIGHT in the middle of the pole-sized hole, a hole apparently dug out in the rock from centuries of people going down the river.
IT WAS SO COOL.
In the Legend of Zelda games, there is almost always some sort of traveling shop. In Wind Waker, it was a boat. And now I know that those shops really exist.
It’s Beedle’s Ship Shop! Only instead of bait and pears, it sold squid and dango to people on other boats.
The boat ride was amazing. It was like going down the Anduin, only less orcs and more dango.
First Temple: Kinkaku-ji, AKA Big Shiny Temple
Boss Battle: Racing the Sun
Just kidding. “Kinkaku-ji” actually means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” and it’s original name is “Rokuon-ji” (“Deer Garden Temple”). It came to be known as Kinkaku-ji over time because of the BIG ASS GOLDEN PAVILION.
You guys, it totally shines. The top two stories are covered in gold leaf. It’s brilliant.
We walked through a very crowded district of Kyoto, took a train, and walked a couple blocks to the temple. On the way, I found this!
An old timey phone booth! With window panels and everything! If I were a Doctor Who fan, I’m sure I would have been even more excited. As it was, I gasped loudly and scared Ito-sensei, who I asked to take that picture.
Anyway, we were losing daylight, so we hurried to the temple before it closed and the sun was too low for the pavilion to be shiny. There were a lot of people, so it was difficult to get good pictures. My coworkers constantly insisted ALL WEEKEND that I get the perfect picture though, so they constantly took pictures of me with my phone. Man, I don’t even like pictures. I’m the worst tourist ever.
The cool thing about Japanese tourism is the photo etiquette. When someone is taking a photo, people step out of the way and wait patiently so they won’t be in it, too. I guess people don’t photobomb in Japan. :)
So as difficult as it was to squeeze through the crowd to find a spot to take a picture, once you actually found a spot, people stayed out of the way. People also don’t dawdle when they’re taking pictures. It’s just SNAP OKAY DONE.
Well This Calls For a Toast
We took taxis to the hotel. I roomed with Kamada-sensei, who was very nice and accommodating and sensitive. I think she wasn’t sure how gaijin use hotel rooms or something. XD
She mentioned that the women might want to go to an onsen, and I had really been hoping that wouldn’t come up, because it put me in an awkward position. I told her that I couldn’t because I was on my period. I don’t think she understood at first (why would she need to know the English word for menstruation?), but she did take out her electronic dictionary, and then said a few minutes later, “Well, I don’t really like onsen, so maybe we won’t go.” I felt bad—maybe she was just saying that for my benefit—so I told her that if the women went, she should go and I’d be fine. It wasn’t a problem, though—they didn’t go to an onsen.
Dinner was in the hotel’s restaurant, in a separate room with liquor and beer chilling in the corner. It was pretty fancy.
Also, the waiter was cute. But I didn’t see him very often.
It was here that Kamada-sensei tried to get me to buy a 1100 yen cocktail when the rest of the alcohol was free. (Dude. Never pass up free alcohol.) She just really wanted a cocktail, and she probably felt silly being the only one to order, but I just couldn’t shell out that much for a cocktail. They were all right cocktails, but… I have limits. 1100 yen is one of them.
She had wanted to try a dirty martini for ages. I don’t know what she thought it was, but when I told her it would be strong, it seemed like she didn’t believe me. When it arrived, she was really excited. I blame James Bond. (We hadn’t seen the movie by this point, but I still blame Bond for making martinis famous. For the record, I like martinis.) I couldn’t tell if she liked it, but at the end of the night, she said it was the strongest drink of the night (duh, pure vodka; it’s just a big shot), and she still seemed excited that she got to try it.
I sat between Komatsu-sensei and Kamada-sensei, with Kawana-koucho on Kamada-sensei’s other side. He kept encouraging her to drink more. XD I was a little worried, because she hadn’t been feeling well. She tried to tell me once what was wrong with her “condition” (the word she kept using), but all I understood was that she often got headaches.
After the enkai, I went to a nijikai with Ito, Komatsu, Kamada, Kyoto-sensei, Koucho-sensei, and Kawana-koucho. While we were there, they told me that Kawana-koucho is called Shu-sensei, because Shu is his first name, and he really likes to drink. “Shu” is a Japanese word for alcohol. So—Shu-sensei!
Second Temple: Tofuku-ji
Boss Battle: Large Crowd of People
For the second day, we took two taxi-vans around all day. The drivers just hung out while we did touristy things. It was nice!
They drove us to our first stop, the most popular temple for seeing the fall leaves. The fall leaves, called kouyou, in Japan are very famous, especially in Kyoto. So that’s why we went to Kyoto for this trip!
That’s also why there were SO MANY PEOPLE.
I followed Komatsu-sensei around (Kamada-sensei split off to spend a day on her own), and I felt a little bad, because she seemed to feel obligated to stick close to me so I wouldn’t get lost without an English speaker. I wanted her to have fun, too—this wasn’t a trip just for me, after all, and she deserved to have more fun than leading the gaijin around like some tour guide.
I tried to be self-sufficient, sticking close so she didn’t have to constantly turn around to see if I was still there. I wasn’t too worried anyway; if I got lost, I knew where to go (the flow of the crowd was helpful), and I kept sight of at least one person in the group at all times. Despite all the people and me wanting to stop constantly to take pictures of piles of leaves, I never got lost.
I really don’t think pictures can capture how really beautiful the leaves were. Sometimes I think people get too caught up in taking pictures that they forget to enjoy the moment. I’m proud to say that I didn’t fall into that trap. I spent more time looking than I did taking pictures.
And I still took over 300 pictures that weekend.
…I had to fill my Nintendo Gallery. “I have needs, and those needs include 100% COMPLETION.” (See: http://awkwardzombie.com/index.php?page=0&comic=112612)
Second Temple: Unryuin-ji
Boss Battle: Looking Like a Tourist
Ito-sensei and Komatsu-sensei explained that this temple is famous because it’s where the Emperor goes on certain holidays. It’s also got an Enlightenment window, but the picture I took is no good, so I guess you guys can’t get Enlightened. ;)
When we walked in, some teachers saw a sign saying that for 50 yen, you could try on a kimono.
So they made me do it.
I didn’t really want to—for 500 yen, okay, but I was a little embarrassed and while it was a real kimono, it also wasn’t like wearing the full kimono deal. It was just like a jacket that they drape over your clothes.
I humored them and let them fuss over me and take pictures. Ito-sensei said, “I don’t have daughters, so this is for my sake.” XD
The kimono was really heavy, and there were several to choose from, but I liked the classic red one. Also they didn’t have black.
After defeating the kimono, I wandered around the dungeon temple, looking for rupees taking pictures.
(Okay, I’ll stop with the video game references.)
Our next stop was a sweet shop! We went upstairs to a café and drank tea and ate yatsuhashi.
And regained eight hearts.
Yatsuhashi is a sweet made from rice flour, and the middle is a flavored paste—like, sesame, fruit, cinnamon, etc. Yatsuhashi is a meibutsu (famous regional product) of Kyoto! Also, it’s delicious.
We went downstairs to buy omiyage yatsuhashi. I tried a few flavors from the sample tray, and because Ito-sensei said that the persimmon flavor was rare, I bought some for the Minamiboso ALTs, Enoguchi, and Yoshimura-san.
On our walk back to the taxis, the women told me about maiko. Maiko are geisha in training, and Kyoto is famous for them. They said that they were rare, but we might see one because we were in the right area. At that moment, maiko appeared!
Except not. They were only young women dressed as maiko for the day—like, just trying on the clothes. Not real maiko.
We did see a bride in traditional Japanese wedding kimono. She was having her picture taken outside. The teachers insisted I take a picture of her. It was… awkward.
Am I just a bad tourist, or do people really have to take pictures of everything? (Maybe I don’t need 100% COMPLETION after all.)
They asked her if I could take a picture of her, and I felt so embarrassed. I didn’t want to intrude on her day, and I must have seemed like such a typical American tourist, invading other people’s privacy to satisfy my desire to take pictures of everything exotic so I can look cultured.
Final Temple: Tou-ji
Boss Battle: Language Barrier
Next was lunch, which we took a while to eat, so we almost went overtime with the taxis. They dropped us off at Kyoto Station, and from there, we split into separate groups for the three hours we had left before our shinkansen left. Most of the teachers went into the station to shop for omiyage, but I went to Tou-ji with Ito-sensei and Shu-sensei.
I think they were a little nervous about communicating with me, but it went all right. They tried to explain things in broken English and easy Japanese, and I think I understood most of it! Shu-sensei was a social studies teacher for a long time, so he liked to explain culture and history a lot, and that was a little more difficult to understand. I had to check my dictionary a few times.
I feel kind of bad, because usually I’m not very worried about communicating at all—unless it’s something I actually need, like going to the bank or post office or signing up for a gym membership or calling for bus tickets. I figure we’ll find a way to communicate. Somehow. And I know I talk a lot, but I also understand that just sharing a moment with someone is a way to communicate, too. I guess I figure that, like in video games, I’ll just pick a reply option—usually yes or no.
I worry that I’m being selfish, thinking like this. Like, maybe it’s like I think people should have to try to communicate with me, not the other way around. But I don’t think that’s the case. I hope it’s not.
In any case, in the moment, there’s no point in worrying. You can’t prepare for moments like that—you just have to wing it and try your best.
We took a train and walked a block to Tou-ji. Shu-sensei talked about the history for a while, and when we got the brochures, he explained how the tower was built.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the buildings, I think because of their religious significance. There were these finely-detailed enormous (bronze?) statues on wood platforms. The statues depicted a few Buddhist figures. It surprised me a little how violent they all looked, but maybe it shouldn’t have. What’s religion without violence, after all?
I was curious—if it’s a tower, can you access the higher floors? I didn’t see any stairs or ladders leading up, but then, it was very dark inside. I asked Ito-sensei if it was possible to go up, and she said, “No, it’s too dangerous!”
I hadn’t actually meant that I wanted to go up—just, like, how people got up there a long time ago. But I didn’t know how to express that, so I just deduced from that statement that people could at some point, but not it’s dangerous.
And I couldn’t explore it anyway; I don’t have the grappling hook yet.
We took some pictures together and trained it back to Kyoto Station to meet up with everyone. I bought some omiyage for my family’s Christmas presents, but when I saw how many bags the other teachers bought, I felt like I hadn’t bought enough! Komatsu-sensei explained that it was a bad Japanese habit—buying A LOT of omiyage.
A LOT. O___O
I guess my inventory was full.
And thus ends my amazing trip to Kyoto. It is very difficult to describe, because I’m not good at fancy descriptions of places. It’s why the settings in my stories are usually lacking.
The best I can do for you, Dear Reader, is to recommend that you visit it and to freeze your computer screen with the sheer amount of photos I took.
300. 300 photos.
Cast of Characters
Ito-sensei as… a P.E. teacher at Tomiura JHS. She is very nice! She gave me blueberry jam when I first arrived. It was so sweet.
Kamada-sensei as… a JTE. She teaches the first years. She’s very friendly and we bond over Lady Gaga. XD
Komatsu-sensei as… a JTE. She teaches the second and third years!
Kyoto-sensei as… the vice principal of Tomiura JHS. I think he used to be a social studies teacher, too.
Shu-sensei as… formerly Kawana-koucho. He was principal of Tomiura JHS last year. He used to teach social studies.
Kyoto: Japan’s former capital. It is still considered Japan’s cultural capital, even if Tokyo is the legal capital. It’s a beautiful city, with a lot of old historic buildings.
enkai: A dinner party.
gaijin: The Japanese word for “foreigner.”
geisha: Japanese hostesses and entertainers. Contrary to common belief, they are not prostitutes. (Friggin’ Memoirs of a Geisha… Which, granted, was a beautiful movie, but inaccurate. xD)
kouyou: Autumn leaves. The kanji looks like this: 紅葉.
maiko: A geisha in training.
meibutsu: Japanese for “famous regional product.” Most regions have certain products that they are famous for. Tomiura’s is biwa.
nijikai: An afterparty.
omiyage: Japanese for “souvenir.”
onsen: Japanese for “hot spring.” Since Japan is a chain of volcanic islands, there are a lot of natural hot springs.
shinkansen: Bullet train.
shrine: Shrines are Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan.
temple: Temples are Buddhist.
yatsuhashi: A meibutsu of Kyoto. A sweet made from rice flour, and the middle is a flavored paste—like, sesame, fruit, cinnamon, etc.
yuba: Tofu skin. I guess it’s a pretty popular delicacy.