Thursday, March 18, 2004

Kyoto, Japan--Day 48

Today I woke up and decided to take the train to Kyoto to go to the zoo, which I found out was one of the zoos nearby with hippos. We decided that trying to tackle all of the hippos in Japan at this moment would be too costly so to do what I could. The girl at the business center, where I went to mail some photo cds back to the States, was really nice and offered to look up all of the zoos in Japan for me since most of the websites were in Japanese. I thought this was so nice and thought it also couldn’t hurt to have someone helping, so I agreed and said that I would be back later to get the list she was going to compile.

The train to Kyoto was really an amazing experience considering that I managed to get there and back all on my own (more about the getting back part later). I basically went up to the ticket counter and said “Kyoto?” and the man said all sorts of things back to me and finally gave me a ticket. I had directions from the hotel about what platform to stand on which basically saved me and made me look like I knew what I was doing.

So I stood on the 8th Platform with everyone else and soon a train came and I got on it, hoping that I was in fact on the right train. The train was supposed to be an express train, which is was, but it made a few unexpected stops (unexpected for me, not everyone else) so I was almost convinced that I was on the wrong train, but then we arrived in Kyoto so I was ok.

Outside it was raining and absolutely freezing. I hailed a taxi cab to the zoo and he dropped me off. I bought my ticket and headed in, and sadly the zoo was not as animal friendly as others that I have seen and many were in small concrete cages, not looking at all happy. I found the hippos and there were two of them, one outside in a small pool and gated area and the other inside in a concrete pen.

I took pictures of the outside hippo but unfortunately there were bars in my way. If I said that I then hopped the little fence between me and the hippo (who was behind these big bars) after looking out for zoo keepers first, I wouldn’t be lying, but I hate to admit it. If I went even further and said that I even tried to open the door to the other hippo’s pen, then I would not be lying either. Unfortunately the door to the second hippo was locked (of course, why would they leave it open for people like me?) but was able to get good pictures of the first hippo, although he was definitely suspicious of what I was doing.

So I went and tried to track down someone to help me. I went back to the front desk and asked if they spoke English. Nope, but one of the women went and found another woman who spoke a little bit of English. I wanted to know if I could perhaps open the windows of the second hippos’ pen (the elephant’s had their windows open, why not the hippos?) so that I could get pictures without the glass reflection.


I sort of begged and pleaded for a little bit until finally the woman went and got one of the keepers who was spartanly on his lunch break. She talked with him and then he got up and gestured for me to come with him, and led me back towards the hippos. He went and tried to open the windows (they were shut because it was too cold outside, I learned!) but they were locked. So he tried with his key to open the door to get in, but no luck. Then he told me to wait and ran off. As soon as he ran off to do whatever he was going to do, a man appeared in the hippo room, who appeared to be the keeper. I stood there holding my camera and trying to catch his attention. Hellooo? No luck, he didn’t even bat an eye at me, and I didn’t really want to bang on the glass. He left the hippo room after doing something but returned about 3 minutes later with the keeper who ran off. He saw me and smiled and gestured for me to follow him and opened the door to the hippo’s room, so I was able to get in! Yay!

Now the only problem that I had was that going in from such a cold climate outside to such a warm climate inside--my lens was fogging. I didn’t have much time to take the pictures since both keepers were waiting for me to hurry up but in between wiping my lens, I got some great shots, especially when the hippo got mad at me. I think she was annoyed that she didn’t know what I was doing sticking my camera into her cage (I’ve gotten pretty brave after Taiwan I think) and she actually opened her eyes wide, grunted, and lunged at me only to be stopped by the bars and bit the scolding of the keeper. It was pretty funny, but also kind of scary having a hippo lunge at you through your camera lens! I jumped back and didn’t get the wide opened mouth shot that would have been great. Oh well.

I thanked the keeper and was on my way out of the zoo since the English speaking woman had helped me figure out their names, and I set off to find some Temples. I decided to get another taxi to the first temple since it was so cold and a long way to walk. I headed to To-ji, with the largest pagoda in Japan and really neat Shingon Buddhist sculptures, all which was really interesting of course.

Then I went to the visitors center, which took me a while to find but then was relocated (ugh!) so I instead stopped at a department store to buy some jeans since I was absolutely freezing. I then got a taxi over to Kiyomizu-dera which is a really neat temple that was also packed with other tourists, both Western and Japanese. I walked up the small road that led up to the temple and shrine which was lined with various small shops. I got to the top and saw some geishas posing for pictures with people (I didn’t get my picture with them but took some of them instead) and then walked up to the temple, with its love stones at the Jishu Shrine also on the grounds and the sacred water that you are supposed to drink to give you good luck.

It was really great to see all of the people there and the views over Kyoto were also beautiful. After a while I then headed back out and picked up a few things at the shops on my way back down the road in search of the subway. After a while I found it and hopped on, getting off at a stop near the train station. Before getting back on the train to Osaka though, I headed down this street towards the Kyoto Park which was very nice. I didn’t realize that that was where I was walking and was pleasantly surprised when I found it. I got some food from a vendor and walked around the park’s sculpture garden and before that around a temple on the grounds.

The sun was setting and I had to get back to Osaka so I walked down to the subway again and it was a different station than where I arrived so I, looking totally confused, thankfully had a few people help me along the way. When I got to the platform, it was all in Japanese so I asked a shopkeeper “Osaka?!?” pointing to the trains on both sides of the platform and she laughed and pointed eagerly at one of them.

So I got on, and thankfully it was the right train. I was able to sit down this time. When I arrived in Osaka I headed out of the train//subway station and saw Hep 5, which is this gigantic shopping center with a Ferris wheel on top. So of course I had to go on the Ferris wheel and was glad that I did because you got excellent view of the city below. It was sort of unnerving going up so high and going around however.

After that I made it back to my hotel, after getting a little lost, and had dinner at the hotel’s tempura restaurant which was so good. Then I got back into my room and transferred photos, after having quite the fiasco with the bidet in my bathroom. I won’t go into details but I basically pressed the button to see what would happen. Tomorrow its off to Tokyo!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.