Turning Japanese Again, Shinkansen to Kyoto

We woke before 8:00 this morning, expecting breakfast. At least, that was the time they put on the reservation notice I got from the guest house reservation service. We didn’t eat until about 8:30, though, which was fine.

Breakfast was mostly western: scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice, and the like. Nothing particularly fancy.

Following breakfast, Jen and I decided to do a quick hike up the mountain to the ropeway station, just to see what was up there. The walk was short, as we were most of the way up to the station from the ryokan, anyway. The ropeway (what North Americans would call a cable car) runs up to the top of Mt. Meisen, so tourists (and the faithful) can visit the shrines there.

We returned to Momijiso to gather our bags and check out. We also purchased a small wad of postcards to mail back at our first opportunity. The house matron was exceedingly kind, as always, and we thanked her graciously for the stay. (Even though we did pay for it.) Her son appeared just as we were walking down the hill, and gave us a lift (and near-terrifying speeds) down to the ferry dock.

But we didn’t leave right away. Even in the rain that had started overnight, Miyajima is too beautiful a place to leave so quickly. Besides, I had promised Jen a chance to run through all the stores she wanted … even if they all seemed to carry the same thing, over and over and over.

We finally boarded the ferry at 12:25, quite a bit later than I had hoped for. I wanted to be in Kyoto early enough that we could get to the ryokan there and still have dinner. Fortunately, the ferry ride is short, the walk to the JR Miyajimaguichi station short, and the train ride to JR Hiroshima much shorter than the streetcar. (Although the JR train was near sauna in temperature.)

Once at the station, we waited for our shinkansen to Shin-Osaka to come up on the board. However, the train I wanted wasn’t running. This posed a minor problem for connections, since we couldn’t take Nozomi trains, and the Kodamas were too awkward for getting to Kyoto. A slightly later Hikaru Rail Star soon solved the problem.

Jen and I were separated on the train due to crowded seating. Not a huge deal, since we would be easily reunited once we got to Shin-Osaka, the end of that train’s run. We both snoozed a bit. At Shin-Osaka, we merely walked down the platform on the same track to board the next train, which took us to Kyoto.

Once there, we found our way to the taxis (a little awkward, but not impossible). Having only a vague idea where we were going, and not speaking any Japanese, you’d think that perhaps it would be a little difficult to tell the driver where we were going, eh? Luckily, the guest house reservation service sent me the address of our new ryokan, not only in English but also in Japanese, which the driver understood completely.

The drive was a little harrowing, even moreso than the drive on Miyajima. The taxi driver was all over the road, taking whatever spaces he could find to rush us through rush hour traffic. Luckily, taxis in Japan go on just distance and not also time.

After what seemed an eternity, we finally arrived at our new ryokan, and we hastily exited the car. Unfortunately, a little too hasty, as Jen accidentally left behind a bag of souvenirs she’d bought in Miyajima, including a coffee mug, and a handkerchief for Nana. We don’t think she lost anything else. (We feared her wallet was in the bag, but thankfully, she had it in her pants.)

The clerk who met us at the door spoke decent English, and ushered us to the tea area once I’d filled out the guest form. There, we were presented with traditional Japanese cakes (small, very sweet bite-sized cakes of what tasted like compressed sugar) and small bowls of heavy green tea. I think this might be a tradition for ryokans.

We’re staying at the Hotel Matsui, which is a ryokan hotel. It’s more traditional Japanese than a regular hotel, but not like the inn-feel of Momijiso. We were shown to our room by the clerk and two small women in kimonos, who showed us a lot of things we didn’t understand. They asked us when we wanted dinner (18:00) and when we’d like breakfast (8:30).

Jen immediately had a bath to wash off the sweat and grime of our day’s journey. I studied the guides for Kyoto and Osaka, trying to figure out what we needed to see over the next few days.

Dinner arrived shortly after 18:00, on four separate trays (two for Jen and I to eat off of, another with rice and pickles, and a fourth with dessert and soup). We had more sushi, some different foods I can’t even begin to describe because there’s no North American equivalent, and something that was just amazing.

We each got a little iron pot that sat on a little iron stand, under which looked like a little candle. This was a pot of broth in which we would cook slices of duck meat, green onions, daikon radish, and clear noodles. Once the broth was boiling, in when the ingredients. The resulting dish was absolutely delicious.

After dinner, we went wandering around our area of Kyoto. This included a large covered pedestrian mall, a few side streets, and part of the Gion district, which is supposedly the old Geisha quarter (although it doesn’t look old, by any means). The streets that had cherry blossoms (which are currently in bloom) sometimes had lights that shone into the trees. We’d seen something like that not far from Momijiso, but was done with red lights, making the pink flowers glow in the darkness.

We soon found ourselves quite tired (the events of the last few days were more draining than we’d like to admit) and found our way back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.

Tomorrow: Kyoto and shrines!

As a side note, today is the day Therese is due to give birth. Due to the time difference and the fact that I doubt we’ll hear anything right away, I suspect that I’ll not know for a few days. I only hope that the birth is easy, and that their new family gets off to a good start.