Sunset at Lake Biwa

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4:10pm JST

Its a little late for more temple hopping so Eric suggests we visit Lake Biwa, where we see many people fishing from the sides of the lake. The municipal authority actually encourages you to fish for certain species and eat them, or if you don’t like fish, at least destroy these invasive species one of which is the black bass.

5:00pm JST

Lake Biwa is ringed by mountains, making for gorgeous sunsets, which I am quick to capture on video and in still photography. As the sun sets, the wind picks up and creates a steady breeze that is delightful, as is the entire experience of peace and harmony with nature. After sunset, its time to leave… Eric drives me to the Minami Kusatsu station and plan to meet again for drinks in Osaka.

5:30pm JST

Dig out change, purchase ticket, insert into turnstile, walk to platform, train magically appears within a minute or two. Damn this is easy.

5:00 – 6:30pm JST

Ok so I’m hungry and have no plans to eat in Kyoto so I try out the noodle restaurant on the platform at Kyoto Station, and I do mean right on the platform. You first get a ticket from a ticket machine which represents your selection and give it to the cook inside, they make your meal and hand it to you from behind the counter. I selected curried rice bowl and a side of udon noodle soup. Busy commuters are horking this stuff down within minutes and then are quickly off to catch their trains, for them eating is tanking up. I have to let my food cool off first. Water is free from a water dispenser with plastic glasses and they even have a small sink where you can freshen up before leaving. This place is the canonical, stand up commuter noodle shop and they want you in, chowing down and out as fast as possible.

6:30pm – 7:00pm JST

FInding the right bus back to the hotel was difficult at Kyoto Station. There are at least nine different platforms and many city bus lines to choose from and its unclear which platform services which bus line. At a loss, I walk into the Bus Information Office and ask one of the bus ticketing agents which platform the number 17 bus stops at… “A2” and I’m back in the running. I think I’m getting the hang of how this works although I am making mistakes in selecting the clockwise or counterclockwise leg of the same line.



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6:00am JST

Up bright and early and getting ready to meet Eric Cooper and tour the Ishiyama Temple outside of Kyoto. Lady Murasaki Shikibu began writing The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel, at Ishiyamadera. We tried to get in to see this temple five years ago but the main halls were closed to the public, probably for repairs. This time for sure!

10:00am JST

I have an early lunch at the corner “kippu” noodle place: an order of beef bowl and udon noodles in spicy soup combo, and for only Y540! Ticket machine restaurants are a god send for tourists and restaurant proprietors alike because we don’t have to listen to each other mangle each other’s languages. Oh man that was some of the best food I’ve had in Japan… soooo good!

10:00am JST

Picked up the number 17 bus bound for Kyoto Eki-mae. This is my first time experience with the City Bus so I just pay the Y220 for a one way trip. The hotel provided me with a very informative bus map, so I should be ok.

Arrive at Kyoto Station with no problems and begin by scoping my destination station, line, timetable and ticket cost. This is all standard JR ticketing procedure so no problems. I have tons of time to kill, so I head downstairs to (where else) the gift shop and book store. Found a wonderful box set of Wagashi sweets made from green tea and azuka bean paste filling as a gift for Eric and his wife.

11:00am JST

Purchased my ticket, followed the signs to the proper platform and now waiting for the train. This is usually overwhelming to first-timers in Japan but once you get a sense of the order and logic behind how JR works, it becomes much easier.

[ First-Time Travelers Tip: Always verify that you taking the correct train line and that it actually stops at your destination, many trains do not stop at all stations on the line. Also know the names of the stations before and after yours that way you can be ready to bolt off the train or panic when you’ve passed it! ]

My train arrives and boy is this thing a wonderful throwback to the 1950’s. A sleek Shinkansen it is not, and to tell you the truth I like it that way.

12:00am JST

My train arrives at Minami-Kusatsu, a small town with a small rail station. I’ve built plenty of time for mistakes into my trip so I’m early by a full hour and there isn’t much to do but wait. I buy a Match from the news stand and settle in for some quality boredom and people watching with my camera.

12.30pm JST

I’m now so bored, I wish I had bought a book at the huge Japanese book store in Kyoto Station. I couldn’t read it but at least I could look at the pictures.

I watch as families come and go, students, businessmen, a few tourists. Japan’s population is indeed aging, so many old people hobbling about looking much like my mother in her old age. Some with families, most alone but very independent.

1:00pm JST

Eric, my friend who teaches at Ritzumeikan Daigaku arrives with her daughter in tow and we head off by car to the Ishiyama Temple. I recommend the small but significant Murasaki Museum at the top of the hill where you can view (but not photograph) haiku and illustrations by the great haiku poet Basho, and Edo period renderings of Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji. We’re basically looking at Edo period comic books, collectable cards and manga. Some of these items include illustrated Tale of Genji folding screens, an illustrated folding book, poem cards (the collectable trading cards of their day), and a gorgeous maki-e laquer writing desk.

3:00pm JST

The wind is rustling in the trees and creating lovely patterns of light. Sunlight, now getting low at this time of the day, streams across the temple grounds. We descend the mountain passed the temple, a torrii gate, pagodas, stone lanterns, and down to the koi pond and main path to the temple gates, imposing and beautiful in the golden, late afternoon sun. We pass a garden which I recall from the visit five years ago as well as the local post office where Eric had to mail a letter.