Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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Thursday July 22, 1999
I woke at 5 am... it will take a few days for me to adjust to the eight-hour time deviation between here and California. As long as I was up, I tried to figure out how to use the global roaming software that I purchased for this trip (it's called Net-Roamer). If it works right, it should connect my computer by modem to an internet service provider in a nearby area, which lets me check and send email and edit and view web pages without paying long distance fees to connect to my account in America. Unfortunately, I hit a snag on outside connections from the hotel; the dialing software wants to hear a dialtone before it will start dialing out, but the hotel phone, because it's going through the hotel's switchboard, never supplies a dialtone... so the software refuses to dial out, although the phone works. Guess I'll try from a payphone later.
Since the hotel kinda expects me to be gone for the middle of the day -- between check-out at 10am and check-in at 4pm -- I'm going to explore the area I'm in, looking for banks/atms (I'm dying to try out my new Citibank ATM card), temples and shrines, buy a newspaper, and just get a feel for the area... locating the ninja house I saw advertised would be fun too. Tonight, I'll be colating my data on the Saigoku pilgrimage of thirty-three temples sacred to Kannon -- Buddhist goddess of mercy -- as exploring that route is how I want to spend a good part of this trip.

* * *

I started to walk off with my room key... something you don't do at the Toyoko Inn. I apologized to the clerk who ran after me, then got started on my brief walk. Brief walk? Well, it turned out a bit longer than I'd hoped it would be.
First, I wandered off and found a covered street mall -- a long street full of small shops, with a roof about three stories up to keep the street dry on rainy days -- and then walked back to the hotel so I'd know where it was in relation to it. Then I walked off and found the Mibu Temple complex, and walked back to the hotel so I'd know where that was in relation to it. While at Mibu, by the way, a nice old guy gave me some cookies to thank me for visiting Kyoto rather than Tokyo... which was my first indication that I was somewhere other than I thought I was. But I wasn't worried about that, yet.
So anyway, I walked away from my hotel a third time to look in another direction, and found the Atom Boy sushi bar... one of the well-known "conveyor belt" restaurants that originated in Japan. In this case, plates of sushi drift by on a conveyor belt, and you grab what you want; when done, they just count up your plates -- each color represents a different price -- and charge you for what you had. This restaurant was, as indicated by it's title, heavily decorated with posters from the popular comic book and cartoon Atom Boy... better known as "Astro Boy" in the United States.
This was a fun thing to have found; so, after lunch, I headed back to my hotel so I could mentally map out where the restaurant was in relation to it... but when I tried to walk back to the hotel, I didn't find it. The roads here are so messed up that I got lost -- which is a difficult feat for me when I'm on foot -- and ended up wandering for several hours. During that time I found lots of nice shops, and discovered I wasn't in a town called "Omiya" as I'd thought last night when I headed here... rather, Omiya is a particular neighborhood my hotel is in, just part of a larger town. Without intending to, in my sleepy wanderings of yesterday to try and find a hotel near the city of Osaka, I had instead ended up dead-center in the city of Kyoto! This was proven to me when, during my long lost wanderings today, I ended up at JR Kyoto Station at the city's center.
Kyoto Station is really quite large. It services no less than ten train tracks, and is integrated into a tremendously large eight-story shopping mall/department store. I can tell right now, I'll be seeing this place a lot on this trip. I didn't have time to fully explore it today (I still needed to find my hotel again, after all), but I was distracted for awhile by a special series of displays...
Kyoto must have a big thing for Ozamu Tezuka. Who? Ozamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and apparently born in or near Kyoto, almost single-handly made manga (Japanese comic books) a legitimit artform and mode of communication in Japan; before him, comic books were just for kids. Tezuka was the first to creat characters with real personality and depth, stories that were skillfully written and topical, and artwork that really popped off the page. A small idea of his impact on both Japan and his medium of choice can be gathered from his official nickname: he's called the God of Manga.
He's dead now, but his legend lives on... and, apparently, it's some sort of anniversary this year. What captured my attention at Kyoto Center was three things. First, they've got a Disney-like walkthrough show about Tezuka and his creations. Secondly, and on a different floor, they have a museum display of some of his actual manga pages (I can see the corrections he made!). Thirdly, there was something else that I see alot in Japan... hidden in different spots in the mall were nine stamps. You pick up a small sheet with a map of the mall and nine empty spaces, and explore the mall getting all the stamps; once you have all the stamps, you can collect a prize at a designated spot. This pretty much means that parents are dragging their kids to places in the mall that will make the kids want stuff... toy stores, arcades, candy stores, etc. Once I collected all the stamps (of course I wasted the time), I got a fan shaped like Astro Boy's head, and a plastic paper holder with a bunch of Tezuka characters on it... free! After I was done getting these useless (but GREAT!) prizes, it was time to re-locate my hotel. So I got a map from the travel center office (there's always one at large train stations), and tried to walk back to the hotel.
I got lost again.
I found myself walking along a six-lane street with a number of stores on my right side selling various religious goods aimed at pilgrims... which wasn't all that much of a surprise, since on the other side of the street was a tremendously large temple complex crawling with visitors. It was past the temple's closing time, however; they were shooing people out, so maybe I'll visit it tomorrow. Instead, I visited one of the shops that specialized in selling prayer beads, a must have for all pilgrims. The prices can range between 300 yen (about $3) to over 30,000 yen (about $300!), depending on what the beads are made of; I looked at a beautiful set made of mahogany... but considered buying one I can afford made of plastic. Oy. Maybe later.
As I slowly triangulated the position of my hotel with the map from the travel center... which was missing most of the road names, making my job that much more fun... I accidently headed in the wrong direction again -- and found the local Citibank.
Perhaps you remember that one of my goals for today was to find ATMs and try out my new Citibank card? Well, I found plenty of ATMs in my wanderings, and not a single one would accept the card Citibank's "international" account supplied me with any more than they would accept any of my other American cards. So I'm not thrilled with Citibank at the moment. BUT their ATM card does work with the Citibank ATM machines in Japan, so I was able to get some cash while I was at this bank. Instead of being able to get my money from any ATM in Japan (as I hoped), I'm limited to staying in range of the Citibank locations... still, it's better than last year, when I knew of only one ATM in the whole country I could get money from.
Convienietly, my hotel was just up the street from the bank; I dropped off my armfulls of stuff and went back out just long enough to grab dinner. I officially called it a night at 8pm... twelve hours after I left in the first place. I'm sunburned, sweaty, and sore; good night.

Onwards to July 23rd, 1999

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