Yesterday marked the official coldest day I've experienced in Japan so far. We went to Kyoto as part of the uni program, and it was beautiful, but freezing cold. I was wearing 2 pairs of stockings, thermals and my jeans and my legs were still cold! We started off at Arashiyama, where we first participated in what I can best describe as traditional Japanese screen printing, then moved on to watching true professionals at work hand painting kimono. It was pretty impressive to watch. I got some pretty nice shots of the process.
After that, we moved on to Nijo-jo, the Emperor's official quarters when he visited Kyoto from Edo (modern Tokyo). Built in 1690, the castle has been brilliantly preserved and is beautiful. Unfortunately, we could only photograph the outside - in the interests of preserving the painted interior, no photography (flash, or otherwise) was permitted. We walked on the nightinggale floors - the construction is quite interesting, something about how the boards are balanced and spaced means they squeak in a rather musical fashion. This is not simply aesthetic, but provides a practical defense as well - nobody can sneak up on the nightinggale floor, even the lightest pressure causes noise. It was fascinating!
After Nijo-jo, we visited Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. It was simply stunning. The whole upper part of the temple is made of gold! It's really amazing!! The grounds were beautiful and tranquil, and just walking around there was a peaceful experience, even if there were about 100 other tourists doing the same thing. We prayed at the shrine there, and I did a bit of Xmas shopping there, so I'm happy (but broke!!).
The schedule said we were supposed to go home after Kinkakuji, but about half a dozen of us had asked our host families if we could stay back later and had been told we could. So Mel, Lisa, Stephanie, David, Emma and I hung back in Kyoto to visit Gion, famous for maintaining a traditional appearance and for having geisha, and for the spectacularly pretty display at Kiyomizu, the Temple of Water. Kiyomizu is set back in the foothills of the mountains that surround Kyoto, so it's a bit of a climb to get there, but the street leading to the temple is lined with plenty of (overpriced) stores that were all lovely and warm. David and I went off to check out some Mochi shops and ended up sampling everything - mmm, free mochi samples for dinner! The upshot of it all was that when it was time to line up, we were all scattered up and down about 200m of shop-lined streets. Mel, Emma and Lisa found David and I waiting in line, but we couldn't find Stephanie anywhere. She managed to catch up with us eventually - when she couldn't find us she jumped in line a bit further down and caught up with us inside the temple. The view from up there was simply incredible!! My camera doesn't do very good night photos at all, so I couldn't take any, but Lisa and Emma had their cameras so I'll steal some pics off them at some stage. It was beautiful up there, and freezing cold. We were high up and exposed to the breeze, and it felt like about -3. It was probably not quite that cold but it definitely felt it. I was walking around in like, 4 layers, plus gloves and scarf and hat, but some of the others had dressed a little more lightly so I can only imagine how cold they must've been by the end of it.
We ended up having to leave in a bit of a hurry because Mel wasn't feeling so great - she'd had some garlic bread from a bakery that might've been a bit dodgy and yeah, not good. Poor Mel. We hustled our way through night-time Kyoto, back to the train station, and saw Mel, David and Stephanie onto a train home, then Emma, Lisa and I had dinner at a little ramen place just around the corner from the station. It wasn't bad. Got the train home, bought cheap cans of hot drinks to wrap our hand around so our fingers wouldn't freeze off, and yeah, all good. Walked home, nearly froze (I couldn't feel my nose or my ears, despite multiple layers of scarves and hats covering most of my head). All in all, a really awesome day out, but I'm a little worried about Tajima now - if yesterday was freezing, how cold does it have to be to snow??
Today my host family took me to Osaka Aquarium. It was pretty awesome! You get your ticket, walk in through a tunnel with fish swimming over the top - kinda like in underwater world - and then hop on this big escalator that takes you up to the top level of the aquarium. From there, you walk in a wide spiral down the levels, past all these displays - they have Great Barrier Reef, Costal Cuba, Deep Japan Sea, Adriatic, all sorts of marine regions on display. Seals, dolphins, sea otters, turtles, penguins, about a gazillion different varieties of fish, and sharks. Right down the centre is this massive tank in which there are a couple of whale sharks, and some rays that must be about 15ft across. They are just massive! It's really awesome. They have a whole room full of just jellyfish. They're actually quite beautiful, when they're behind glass and unable to sting you. I got some pretty decent photos, woo-hoo! I'll do a really big upload of photos like, Tuesday - I think we have a spare then... anyways.
Down the bottom level of the Aquarium is a display of Japanese River Otters. They are SO CUTE!! There was a heap of information on the walls, that I would have gotten some benefit out of if I could understand the Kanji. 'Twas all in Japanese. Ahh well, that's what happense when you come to a Japanese Aquarium, I guess.
We spent a fun couple of hours wandering around the attached shopping mall - had lunch in a Gyoza house. Gyoza is Japanese dumplings; I had Karaage (surprise, surprise) because Gyoza always has onion in it. Anyways, I digress.
So, we came home via the supermarket, where I met another strange creature - live crabs. They sell the crabs in their seafood section to you live, then kill them once you've bought them. It was... kinda creepy, actually. I couldn't look at them once I knew... It was scary.
Anyway, it's late (nearly 11 here, nearly midnight at home) and I've got another long-ish day tomorrow. We're going to Osaka (again) to visit Osaka castle and Panasonic Centre. I'm sure I'll be crying for my lack of funds tomorrow!! Ah well... can't always get what you want. Stuff here is expensive - especially luxuries like travel and hot cocoa from vending machines to keep your hands warm. Well, okay, the cocoa isn't that exy but travel is!! Glad I walk to uni but still...
I'll probably update tomorrow night!
I'll have photos up sometime soon too!!