Tuesday, March 13, 2007

And so it begins

Well, so far not so bad on this little trip of ours. As I mentioned in my last blog post from my cell phone, we got quite a surprise at the airport when Yoshiko and I went to pick up my parents, uncles and aunts... In an operation any CIA operative would have been proud of, the fact that my brothers were coming to Japan was kept absolutely secret. They in fact didn't even know until a week before the departure, call it operational security. Great to see everyone here and to get to spend time with everyone after two years apart. So the group is now my parents, brothers and my uncle Luc.

The first surprise of the day was when Yoshiko and I went to check in to our hotel near Ueno park and found the two cherry trees out front in full bloom. Quite lovely to see these little guys popping out, though the weather has taken a turn for the cold and their blooming has been pushed back a bit.

After checking in to a hotel where the front desk staff were using flashlights to read the paperwork, we were a bit worried. Seems they were doing some maintenance on the electrical system but we were promised everything would be fine before we got back, and it was. Great location too, right across from the Keisei Ueno station. After the big surprise at Narita, we headed on back in to Tokyo and dropped off our bags at the hotel before grabbing a quick bite to eat. We opted on a rice bowl/meat combination place, nice and quick. Here is the group, unfortunately my dear Yoshiko turned her head at the last moment... but do notice the chopsticks... after a mere 24 hours in country, all were using them quite well today!

This morning, we hopped on the trains again, destination Kyoto. On the way down, we were blessed with a really great view of Mount Fuji from the Tokaido Shinkansen. I found an interesting coincidence while reviewing my photos tonight.... while trying to grab a shot of Fuji between building and utility poles and such, I managed to get a shot of a Fuji sign... call it fuji squared???

Sure is a lovely sight, all covered in snow. Here it is towering over a little town in... Shizuoka? I think so...

And towering over the tea plantations of Shizuoka.

And one last shot, with the secondary vent clearly showing on the right. Must have been one heck of a show when this ol' boy erupted some 300 years ago.

We arrived in Kyoto a little bit after 1PM and after dropping off our bags and checking in to the fabulous Hotel Sunroute Kyoto, we grabbed a bite to eat and made our first attempt at sightseeing. I say attempt because after we made the trek out to Sanjusangendo, making it a good hour before closing time, we found that you had to buy your ticket at least 1 hour and 30 minutes before closing time... and so the gates were shut to us. Instead, we ended up touring the MASSIVE Kyoto Station, which looks like a solid block of metal from the outside but has this huge empty area in the middle with escalators going up 11 floors. Quite the behemoth, and really quite cold... both figuratively and literally with the wind whipping around up there.

After our disappointment at the temple, we were somewhat revived by walking some of the smaller streets between the station and our hotel. We found quite a treasure trove of small traditional ryokans, as well as some newer facilities. Despite the waning light, I managed to get a shot I really like of this old wooden house.

And finally a bit of a funny shot. As I was waiting outside a store for the crew to finish up, I noticed this little guy sitting in a bike basket waiting for someone of his own.

So tomorrow, things start off in earnest with a visit to the major sights of Kyoto. We plan to hit Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji and Kiyomizudera and more. For the evening, we will be doing a bit of a walking tour admiring some of the temples which are lit up at night. Should be quite nice. Stay tuned!


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