Gentle Journeys

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11:00am JST

Back home I used to watch a sweet documentary program on NHK World called “Gentle Journeys,” dubbed in English Gentle Journeys chronicled small stories about just ordinary people in Japan. Well guess what NHK in Japan is airing at 11:00am right now? And its appearing with the original Japanese titles and narration intact. It’s interesting to compare the two versions and also seeing what the program looks like in full HD, just lovely.

The cinematography and editing of this program are lovely, a simple documentary style but crafted with loving care.

Today’s Gentle Journeys is about piano makers, tuners and repair people…

Gentle Journeys on NHK

“Naan that could choke Godzilla”

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5:00pm JST

Just wandered into a random Indian restaurant called “Ashoka” and ordered butter chicken masala, tandoor chicken, lamb biryani rice and a piece of naan that could choke Godzilla. Absolutely nothing Japanese about this restaurant, including the portions which were atypically huge. The chef and wait staff are Indian and authentic to the core.

The butter chicken was quite excellent as was the garlic naan. Paired together, they were superb, fragrant, subtle, wow.

Food is one of man’s basic instincts and necessities. The creation of great food that touches the senses and the soul, and leaves a memorable experience, is one of man’s greatest aspirations.

Shinkyogoku

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11:00am JST

I’ve returned to the hotel room to unpack my laundry and make a cup of hot green tea to go with the bean paste bun I just picked up from the local family bakery. Laundry day is a good time to relax, read the paper and recover from the rest of the week’s hustle and bustle, especially on a rainy day when temple hopping isn’t overly appealing or photogenic.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: Plan your day by the weather and always allocate one day each week to do relax, do laundry and appraise your trip! ]

This evening I plan to explore the Shinkyogoku shopping arcade, a huge shopping complex at the corner of Kawaramachi and Shijo streets and just one bus stop away from the hotel. What better way to spend a rainy drizzly evening than to go souvenir shopping under covered walkways!

4:00pm JST

Standing in the drizzle at the Kawaramachi Matsubara bus stop waiting for either the number 4 or the number 17.

4:22pm JST

Within a block of stepping off the bus I’ve found a couple high end stores on the street that sell traditional Japanese crafts. Its started raining so I’m glad I decided to shop under covered walkways. All of Kyoto is sporting those Y500 umbrellas you can buy at any conbini.

4:30pm JST

Here is the Teramachi entrance to the Shinkyogoku shopping arcade and whoa is this place HUGE and features everything from both high-end jewelry and designer clothes down to 100 Yen stores. They say the three-street complex is rivaled in size only by Tokyo’s Nakamise shopping arcade in Asakusa.

Not to be outdone by Osaka’s iconic mechanical crab, here’s a restaurant with a giant mechanical crab, so cute!

The arcade map shows several shrines/temples in the arcade and I’m looking at a very traditional Buddhist temple now. Right in the arcade! The arcade and street shops also features several other shrines: Starbucks, so I should have access to WiFi if I’m lucky. And speaking of religious figures, here’s a KFC with the obligatory statue of The Colonel in period Japanese costuming.

By coming to Shinkyogoku I handily dodged the bullet of getting caught in the rain while pursuing temple and cultural sites. Ironically, the rain is now providing me with photo opportunities galore and while I’m under shelter in the arcade.

Laundry Day

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8:30am JST

The hour has come, he said solemnly! Not who’s hour but what’s hour, the hour of laundry. I’ve piled my dirty clothes into a plastic recyclables bag and am now setting off to the coin laundry! The 7-Eleven is on the way so I pick up a quick breakfast of onigiri, a banana, and vitamin drinks. No need to buy a box of laundry detergent since that is usually provided by the coin laundry from a vending machine or fed into the wash by the machine automatically.

9:00am JST

First impression upon entering the coin laundry, they expect you to remove your shoes and put on slippers just as at home or to use the toilet. Pairs of slippers are provided at the door on a strip of carpet. The entire coin laundry is raised above street level. There are piles of manga and magazines piled in plastic bins for your reading pleasure while you wait for your laundry and a bin of umbrella’s in case it rains.

I’m still not sure if you can “borrow” these umbrellas and return them on an honor system or not.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: While Japanese remove their street shoes and wear slippers at home, you do not wear slippers while walking on tatami mats. Slippers actually damage the tatami mat! ]

This coin laundry has a vending machine for softener (called “Softer”), a coin changer, a sneakers washer and dryer and a stand alone washer which is fed detergent automatically, thus explaining the lack of detergent vending machines. A single wash plus detergent for only Y300. On the opposite wall we find banks of dryers (some with softener, some without) and combination washer / dryers, alleviating the need to transfer your wet clothes to the dryer in two steps as I’m about to do.

I load up my laundry, dump three Y100 coins in the machine and we’re off and running! I settle back and munch on breakfast of onigiri and vitamin drinks.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: The Y100 coin is used for everything in Japan so I try to stoke on them by purchasing something at the local conbini! ]

9:30am JST

The coin laundry attendant arrives and fastidiously tidies up the place, sweeping the floors and cleaning the dryer filters. Other than the fact that she has keys to the machines, you can tell she works there by the big button displaying the name of the coin laundry.

We strike up a conversation beginning with the usual topics of “where are you from” and “are you here for business or tourism?” We begin forming a common basis for communication, teaching other words in our respective languages although we both already know the basics. We also discuss baseball (I’m a huge Hanshin Tigers fan who are based in Osaka at Koshien Stadium).

I was aware that the dialect , or Kansai-ben, spoken by people in the Kinki region of Japan is much different from the dialect spoken in Tokyo, but today I learned that instead of saying “Arigato Gozaemasu,” Kansai-ben speakers say “Okini” which literally means “very much.” Also the dialect in Kyoto is much softer than in Osaka where they don’t say “Okini.”

This is what I love about (most) Japanese people, they’re warm, friendly, welcoming, eager to learn about you and exchange ideas and knowledge.

10:30am JST

It has started raining.

I’ve run my clothes through the dryer twice for a total of 16 minutes at a cost of Y200, and pack them into my day pack for the return walk home.

I say my farewells to the coin laundry attendant and we wish each other “Okini” and “Goodbye.”

10:45am JST

I happen across a family bakery with baked goodness smells wafting into the side street. I have to stop in for some fresh baked goods and emerge with a hot azuka bean paste filled bun.

So simple even a ten year old can do it…

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4:50pm JST

I catch the next number 17 bus from Nishi Honganji-mae and head home to Kawamachi Matsubara.

17:00pm JST

Yikes! Overshot my stop and have to bail at Shijo-Omeya, and now the story gets really strange…

I’m staring at my bus map when (and I am no making this up) a boy who couldn’t be more than ten years old, volunteers to give me directions. Not only did “The Prince of the Streets” take me to the nearest public bus map and try to explain the system to me, but he then led me across the street to the station where I could get a connecting bus back to Kawamachi Matsubara station. This child is like something straight out of 1960’s anime, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a watch that could summon a giant robot.

I love these people, always so ready to help a pathetic, wet kitty in a cardboard box.

17:30pm JST

Per the instructions of “The Prince of the Streets,” I am now riding the number 3 bus to Shijo Kawamachi. I give up my seat to two elderly women who are surprised and overly grateful in Japanese polite language. Scored karma points for that one but Buddah probably wasn’t watching.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: Learn the difference between casual and polite language, the situation might depend on it! ]

At Shijo Kawamachi, I successfully catch the number 17 bus… but in the wrong direction… and ride straight through Sanjo Kawamachi, Kyoto’s vibrant shopping district. Not a problem, I just get off the bus, run across the street and catch the number 17 bus in the opposite direction. This works and I find my way back to Kawamachi Matsubara.

Hey, I’m actually getting good at this.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: Purchase a one day pass, they save you money if you ride the bus more than a couple times! ]

6:30pm JST

I spent way too much time riding the bus tonight, however I did gain a greater understanding of the bus system and neighborhoods, and now I know how to get to Sanjo Kawaramachi.

7:00pm JST

Hustling up the street to the 7-Eleven for chocolate cream filled eclairs, chips, drinks and recycling bags to carry my dirty clothes to the coin laundry. I love 7-Eleven although this one doesn’t seem to carry “Match.” It’s clear that not all stores in the same conbini chain carry the same products.

Picking up dinner from the carry-out place down the street, what will it be tonight?

8:00pm JST

Kicking back on the couch with Japanese TV and tonight’s dinner of pork tonkatsu and tamago on rice… hey NHK is showing “Today’s Closeup” a program I watch back home. And now they’re airing an Enka program! Here’s a female singer playing Shamisen. This is good!

http://www.nhk.or.jp/program/utacon/

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