I went anyway, through the rain, knowing I’d be stuck waiting outside the front door. Turns out it was open, so I slipped inside. The receptionist greeted me and offered toast and tea, which I took the latter of and waited until check in. YouTube entertained me on the couch until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. They let me into the room an hour before the usual time, since there weren’t very many guests and the building was already near spotless. The place was Friends https://www.hostelworld.com/pwa/hosteldetails.php/Friends-Kyo/Kyoto/278444 and over the week, I made a few of them.
A traveling Australian guy was the first to introduce himself on my second night and shortly after we met the girls also staying in the hostel; one from Poland, two cousins from Toronto, Canada and one more that never divulged her history (though she had an eastern European accident). There was another Middle Eastern guy, who motorcycled from nearby Osaka, making us seven. We threw down over a few card games the Aussie taught us, cheersing cans of Japanese beer and ciders before heading out into the night life. Our self appointed leader, the Aussie, was up front but soon fell back when our drunk and silly girls took the lead. He yelled at them over and over, “baka gaijin,” which made the local onlookers smile, laugh and applaud. Apparently, this loosely translates to ‘stupid foreigner.’ The group split in half after a while, with some of us more hungry than thirsty. After a quick bite, we couldn’t find the drinkers. Further fracturing, some continued looking while another and I retreated to bed (it was already near 2am). In the morning, almost all of them were sick with a hangover. I worked happily on my computer, clocking my daily hours and finishing another chapter.
Kyoto is a city of shrines and the spiritual capital of Japan. The day after the hangover, I went out on a longer walk than usual. The district of the city I found myself in had an air of tradition. Some men and a lot of women wore their gender specific kimonos. The boys had on flat plain colors and the girls, flowery rainbows. Maybe one or two had their faces painted porcelain white, but all had their hair pinned properly and wore the appropriate footwear; a type of wooden sandal. They rang the large bells at the shrines, clapped twice and waited a moment in silent prayer. With the Sakura starting to bloom, this all felt right.
Behind the shine only a few minutes’ walk from my hostel was a well hidden little path. I hiked along the mountain side, with a steep slope up one side and a sharp fall down on the other. Passing a forgotten little temple, the winding path opened up into a more appropriate hiking trail. Stopping half way up to catch my breath and strip off my sweater, I powered on to the top where the view came to me. Kyoto lay in the foreground of the afternoon’s splendor; the tower, the train station, the castle and many, many shrines were tiny black dots. Behind were rolling mountains of green and the sky was so clear it almost looked fake, like I was looking at a painting or a postcard. Spinning around, the town on the opposite side of the mountain was in view too. A little vending machine at the mountain’s viewing platform spat out a can of black tea, premixed with milk and sugar. It was hot, so unexpectedly scalding, I almost dropped the thing. Being starved of my favorite beverage since leaving Europe, it was a welcome surprise and a brand I’d be looking out for on the rest of my trip.
On the way down, I took a different path. It was much greener and even more out of the way than the last. It was hardly maintained, but that’s what made it all the more exciting; like I’d found somewhere no one else had ever gone. The little stream trickled through a series of moss covered, blocky dams. With no one around, I figured there’d be no harm in climbing on and taking a few snaps. NOTE: that the drop in the photo looks A LOT shorter than it actually was. (A fall probably would have broken my leg.) This path came out around behind a graveyard, which gave me a chilling pause. I looked around and after spying a few caretakers, knew I wasn’t totally lost. Making my way through with care, I found out I was just outside the shrine from this morning. I swerved between more tiny geisha girls back to the main road and picked up dinner on my way back.
These hostels are quite nice, to say the least. Every one so far, apart from the very first, has had complementary soaps and shampoos. They are perfectly clean, which is a welcome change from some of the sketchy places I’ve stayed in Europe. This place had a wetroom instead of a standard shower and hot green tea always ready in the lobby. I’ve found another place close by, a guest house rather than a hostel this time, to get to know the local culture better. Packing my bag and waving goodbye to the owner, I set out through the city. At least it wasn’t raining this time.