2006-04-10, Day 10

We got up with the alarm at 7:15, feeling much more rested than the day before. We got ready and ate our pre-breakfast (chocolate-covered waffles for Jess, an inferior nori-rice triangle with plum and a complicated noodle bowl for Jer), before setting out to run errands. We stopped into Sizuya (a bakery cafe) for breakfast. Jer wasn't thrilled with his bacon-asparagus-egg roll, but loved his sesame paste stuffed pancake thing. Jess liked her bacon knot, but didn't care for her red bean and sesame sweet roll. We popped into the ¥100 store for a few things, then stopped by the post office to mail our postcards and get some cash.

Our next stop was the Nishijin Textile Center, but unfortunately we got lost along the way and didn't have time to stop in. Instead, we caught the bus for the very long ride to Arashiyama, a district on the outskirts of the city. After stopping quickly for directions, we headed onto a little island in the Oi-gawa (river), where Nishiki, our kaiseki restaurant, is located. The food was delicious, and beautifully presented by kimono-clad waitresses. The service was impeccable, despite the language barrier. The meal involved many small courses, including:

After lunch, Jess had her picture taken Photo we took with the astonished waitress (who didn't seem to expect anyone to want her in their photograph). We then wandered around a bit, admiring Photo we took the layered hills. Arashiyama is very close to the mountains, and the hillsides were covered in blooming cherry trees. As it was pretty cold and very wet, we soon made our way to Photo we took the electric railway and headed back into Kyoto.

At the end of the line, as we were heading for a bus stop, we were given tissue packs advertising a Yen Shop. Since we're suckers for yen shops, we asked the tissue pack lady for directions. She indicated that it was nearby, and walked us most of the way there. We rode the elevator up, only to find ourselves in an office. We inquired of the bemused staff if this was the Yen Shop, and they indicated that it was. Dawn broke over Blatzopolis: we were in the corporate HQ! Doh! We thanked them and headed out, crossing the street to avoid the tissue lady and alternating between giggling and laughing uproariously.

Just then, disaster struck, we saw the bus we wanted heading to our stop. It was closer to the stop than us, and we had two streets to cross. Two things saved us: buses in Kyoto are really slow, and traffic is light enough to make jay-walking easy. We walked briskly across the street in front of the aghast Japanese and made our bus. We got off the bus at what we thought was the stop by the Kyoto Handicrafts Center. (It might've been but it still was a 20-minute walk to get there from the bus stop. Did we mention that Kyoto is really spread out?) When we walked in, the first thing we saw was an artisan demonstrating damascene-making. It was wacky-cool. The Handicrafts Center is pretty big, and we found a few gifts there that we hadn't seen elsewhere (and lots of things that we'd seen at every other tourist attraction). One of the best areas was the souvenir food area, selling mochi balls, sesame cakes and other Japanese treats. There were lots of samples, and we hit most of them.

We left as they were closing up and walked around the enormous block to the Heian Shrine (passing the Budokan, a martial arts school with Japanese archery, sumo and unrecognizable activities). The Photo we took Heian Shrine was built in the 19th century, but in the style of the 8th to 12th century Heian period, and the only thing that gives away its youth is the shininess of its brass fittings. It had lovely fountains (one in the shape of a dragon, the other in the shape of a panther/bear thing). We were particularly taken with the juxtaposition of the cherry trees and the Photo we took fortune trees (on which you tie your fortune if you want to negate it).

We decided to try more bizarre Japanese pizza for dinner, so headed for Shakeys, a place we had seen the day before in the Teramachi-dori downtown shopping arcade. We wanted to catch a bus, but it proved too difficult to find a stop for a bus with frequent service, so we ended up walking. We had a Royal Milk Tea (sweetened, milky black tea, light on the tea — the only good hot vending beverage we'd tried) to stay warm, and got a lovely view of cherry trees kissing the water in the canal. Right before we got to the arcade, we saw the biggest AM PM we'd ever encountered. We ended up going back both before and after dinner, getting not only pre-breakfast, but souvenirs, dessert, and cheap single-serving sake as well.

We finally got to the shopping arcade, only to find that Shakeys was buffet only, so no pizza (at least, so we surmised). We headed off in search of other food. We finally visited a Doutor coffee shop, but only to pee, and we did some more gift shopping. Eventually, we just went to First Kitchen, yet another Japanese burger chain. Much to our delight, they served pizza! No English menus, and the server ladies weren't too keen on trying out their English, so we ordered based on the pictures. Two pizzas (one with bacon, another with some green veggies and some brown stuff), a fries, and a cup of C.C. Lemon (no mention of how many lemons' worth of vitamin C is in a cup). We took our tray with beverage, fries, and a number (4) past a group of teenie-boppers doing their makeup and up to the non-smoking section. The fries were very good. When our pizzas arrived, we were amused to discover that we had got somewhat more than we had bargained for. Jess' had not only bacon and cheese, but potatoes and mayo, and on Jer's, the green stuff was seaweed and the brown chunks were chicken teriyaki. Both pizza were wonderfully weird yet quite edible. We separated out our trash into the requisite bins and headed out to AM PM and catch a bus home.

We ended up missing the 205 (in our defense, it was at the stop when we first saw it from a block away), so we caught the sub-optimal 59 bus. Great happiness, we got seats on the bus! Seats together! Also, the bus had a shit-hot color LCD display up front that displayed both the kanji and romanji at the same time. After a bit of directional confusion getting off the bus, we headed home. Jess was very excited to see the sign for a law school (in English and kanji). We arrived at the ryokan, unpacked a bit of our plunder, grabbed the frozen desert, and headed for the kitchen (no eating in the rooms). The dessert was pretty terrible, but we (mostly Jer) ate it anyway. We then went back to our room and planned our assault on Nara and journaled, while Jer drank his $2.50 tumbler of sake. It was also probably pretty terrible, but Jer doesn't have much of an appreciation for sake, so it didn't bother him. We suspect that the $1.50 tumblers would be noticeably bad, though. Jess went to bed at 11, a bit before Jer.