Thursday, July 8, 2010

Edo meets Kyoto. (エドが京都に会う。)

Man, never thought you'd see that title on an actual post, eh? The eponymous post of this blog, you might say! ...although, really, it isn't, because it came around some two years after I originally started the thing... But hey.

It still seems pretty cool, in my opinion.

Feel free to disagree, of course.

... of course, now I must wonder whether or not I DID use this title, way back when, back when it may have been more relevant...

Oh well. It's in the past (or isn't), and we musn't dwell upon the past.

Here we go.

As the last post sort of covered my first trip to Japan, we are going to have ourselves a little time-skip here; from the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, to the beginning of my junior year. Keep that in mind, eh?

京都府 (Kyoto), September 2008 - May 2009, Part 1 (And a little bit of Shiga too.)

Yea, this one gets a "Part 1" right off the bat, simply because I know better now. There's just absolutely no way that I'll be able to cover anything and everything I experience in Kyoto in this blog, let alone in one post. This way, at least it looks as though I'm going to take a semi-decent run at it.

...though admittedly I have sort of ruined it by describing my plan beforehand. Oh, well.


Like Tokyo, my first experience with Kyoto was (a) with a study abroad program (AKP), and (b) actually in Osaka, at the Kansai International Airport.

But really, KIX is no more Osaka than Kyoto, so we won't sweat the details.

As AKP had offered us the option of a group flight actually from the States (a much easier plan, though the rather incompetent travel agent booked me a seat in the middle of the five-seat middle aisle, despite my specifically telling her that I have bursitis in my left hip and cannot remain sitting for such long periods... sigh), all but one (Melon, actually; she beat us all and went on a Doshisha summer program and thus was already there) student arrived at KIX at the same time from San Francisco, tired, jet-lagged, and definitely looking worse for wear.

Perfect time for a group picture!

I've oft wondered if that was actually a bonding exercise, or just something for the office staff to cackle about later. We were not pretty, getting off of that plane.

As you can imagine, there was no aimless waiting around in the airport this time--once we had gone through customs and retrieved our baggage, we were whisked through security ("Are you on AKP?" "Yes." "Have a nice day!") and onto a bus headed for the Kyoto Tower Hotel, where we were staying for a week to properly gain our bearings.

Oh yea, these people have it together, I thought. 

The Kyoto Tower Hotel was certainly a welcoming site after that 11 hour plane ride, even though it took something like two hours on that bus filled with people we didn't properly know yet to get there. Have I ever mentioned how horrendously far way KIX is from anything? Endeavor never to fly there, unless you have no choice. Also, it's sinking. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and cuddly when you come in for a landing?

... ahem. Anyway. The Kyoto Tower Hotel.

Definitely some nice digs; I actually got to stay there twice over the course of my year abroad, but that's another story.

Anyway, we were grouped off into threes, alphabetically, and roomed accordingly. I think that first night we were on our own to forage for food (with the money we had been provided on the bus; man, I can complain about that program, but I certainly will never complain about the free-flowing cash), which most of us did at the nearby コンビニ (conbini, convenience store). I did this out of nostalgia; I was desperate for some milk tea. Others did it out of necessity, as most of them had never been to the land of the rising sun. Many purchased booze, discovering that, huzzah, 20 is legal drinking age in Japan, what joy!

... what can I say, I'm a connoisseur. I much prefer mixed drinks and liqueurs, and thus forewent  the joys of cheep conbini beer.

We ate and drank, and then decided to wander around 京都駅前 (Kyoto eki mae, In front of Kyoto Station), because after all, you're supposed to stay up to your regular bed time to fight off jet lag, right? I'm sure that was our reasoning.

A lot of aimless wandering later (notice how I cleverly skipped over the part that is a little fuzzy in my memory), we finally went to bed, not availing ourselves of the 銭湯 (sentou, public bath) because we were either (a) too tired or (b) not entirely comfortable with that whole public nudity thing yet. I myself am not sure when I (thankfully) got over that and learned the joy of 銭湯 and 温泉 (onsen, hot springs), but I wish it had been sooner.

I actually don't think more than two people ever used the Kyoto Tower 銭湯, and that they said it was nothing special. Perhaps an opportunity missed, and perhaps not.

We spent the next week shuttling back and forth between the hotel and Doshisha University, five subway stops away, for orientation and placement tests and whatnot, again all on the program's dime. Luckily, in this case, placement tests were taken after we had recovered from our 11 hour flight; clearly, in my favor, as this time I was placed in the highest Japanese level available. (Although really, that may have been thanks to the horrors of my college's third year Japanese, and the ridiculous lengths I went to to make sure I passed... but that's another story as well.) It was summer vacation for the regular college kids, so for the most part, we were rather alone on campus.

Honestly, though, this is where I realize just how much truth there is in that whole fading-memory jest... I am having a hard time remembering what specifically happened during that first orientation week, aside from a lot of sitting in lecture halls, eating awkwardly in the Doshisha 食堂 (shokudou, cafeteria or dining hall) with people we still didn't know properly), and riding the subway like total and utter dorks (you know, hanging from the hand-holds, swaying back and forth, talking loudly and generally annoying the populous.) I'm sure that I met Melon sometime during that week, but damned if I don't remember that either.

But, I do remember that one fateful day in our lounge where we began talking randomly (or perhaps due to some internet video or other) and discovered that we both loved BUCK-TICK and a number of other J-Rock bands, forging our life-long friendship and program-long tendency of pairing off. See, I do remember the important things.

Er. Back on topic.

Sometime during the week, we were assigned volunteer "guides" from the university, who were told to take us to the homes of our host families, teach us how to get back an forth to Doshisha on our own, and then take us in to get the process started on our gaijin cards; that last part was probably the most important, as my guides were kind enough to fill in the forms for me. My handwriting is abysmal, and I didn't want it on record. (It was bad enough having it in my 定期券 [teikiken, commuter pass]...) Since my host family lived in Shiga, I had been assigned two students who were themselves from Shiga, glorious prefecture that it is--and no, I'm not kidding, I really liked Shiga. They were the ones who told me that Gackt is actually from Shiga, but lies about being from Okinawa because Shiga just isn't カッコいい (kakkoii, cool) enough for his image). I'm not sure whether I believe this, but it's interesting nevertheless; Shiga certainly does have some pride issues, and seems unlikely to let go of any birthrite they may possess. Otsu, the capital of Shiga, was the capital of the entirety of Japan (though it was much smaller back then, and not exactly "Japan" as we know it today) before Kyoto, and they changed the name of my station to let people know that--西大津 (Nishi Ootsu, western Ootsu) became 大津京 (Ootsu Kyou, Capital Ootsu) the year before I arrived.

Not to mention those statues of Murasaki Shikubu they have up in random places. Not sure about that one either, but if they say she was born there, who am I to argue?

But hey, this isn't a Shiga post, this is a Kyoto post! ... I have edited the title accordingly. Ahem.


After that week of orientation, getting to know the city and bonding with each other, there was a meet-the-host-family party at the hotel's fancy restaurant, where we were encouraged to dress our best and wait anxious while families showed up in ones and twos, not having any clue what our respective families looked like and hoping that we'd chosen to wore the right outfits.

(Yes, that is where I met crazy okaa-san, and no, you won't get that story today. It's my blog, so nyeh nyeh nyeh.)

After that, we were off--away from our week in the lap of luxury (maybe I exaggerate) and into homes with little to no air conditioning with people we had only met hours before. I myself was forced to haul my luggage on the train (though luckily not my two big suitcases, which had been shipped) because my family hadn't driven all the way in from Shiga.

Let it never be said that entering into a host family is an easy, relaxing experience which is perfect for every comer.

...but again, that is another story.

Which signals the end of yet another exciting installment in Edo's journeys through Japan!

Be sure to tune in next time, when I may or may not be continuing this series due to my coming back from this horrible excuse for a vacation.

This is Edo, signing off glad that she made that original warning about these posts having very little to do with the prefectures she was in at the time...

No comments: