Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Saigoku Pilgrimage

(July 20-August 16, 1999)

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August 11, 1999
I slept in; so much so, that I was still getting my stuff back together at ten, when the front desk girls called to see if I was checking out. Quick set of questions in Japanese, a broken response from me, then the other side saying "Ah!", then repeating the questions in broken English. We sorted it out.
I had a busy day ahead. It was time to officially cut my trip shorter; I estimate that I'm spending an average of about $100 a day on shelter, food, transport, and temple related fees... and more if I buy books and such. My funds are getting short, so it's time to set an end date for this trip.
I went to Kyoto station; I would have to travel from it to reach the next set of temples, and it was the best place to ask my big question. At the tourist information office, I asked if there was a United Airlines office in Kyoto; they made a brief phone call, and said 'no', but there was one in Osaka... which was perfect, as that's where I had to head first anyway.
Now last year, I would have made a long distance call back to the travel agency in the states that I had booked the trip with, and asked them to make the change. This year, I have a bit more confidence in my Japanese, and by making the arrangements with United Airlines here, I save myself the long distance phone charge. So I entered the Kyoto rail station to go to Osaka.
There was one other thing I wanted to do today; and even though I decided not to do it, it turned out to be a bit of a delay at the stations I went to because of all the screaming kids. What were they screaming? "Pika, Pika!!"
Pokemon -- short for "Pocket Monsters" -- is a wildly popular cartoon series in Japan, and growing to be one in the states. One of the lead characters is a cute litle mouse like critter named "Pika-chu", who never says anything other than "pika" and "chu". Parents in the states be warned: the series has been running in Japan for three years already, plus there have been one TV special and two movies released, all waiting to be translated and released in the states. You're goping to see a LOT of Pokemon over the next couple years. In fact, the second movie -- just released to Japanese theaters this month -- is mainly the reason I was surrounded by screaming kids.
As part of a promotion for the new movie, JR rail lines had organized a Pokemon "Stamp Rally" that started today, and will last for two weeks. Remember how I ran all over a department store collecting stamps to earn two Astro Boy prizes earlier this month? Well, this stamp rally is the same premise, except the nine stamps you have to collect to earn the three prizes are at nine different JR rail stations all over the Kyoto and Osaka area. So overjoyed Japanese parents are being forced to buy rail tickets to all these stations for themselves and however many kids they have, so the kids can get all the stamps and all the prizes. Harsh, huh?
Now I have the JR rail pass, so traveling to all the stations would cost me nothing; on top of that, I have to travel through five of the nine stations to reach the next few temples anyway... so it seemed a simple thing for me to give the stamp rally a try. But my JR pass won't work for this; I would have to buy a special "JR Pokemon Rally" ticket to show at all the stamp sites, or I don't get a stamp book and I don't earn the prizes... and that ticket would cost me about twenty bucks, which I can't do right now; it's likely going to cost me $100 of my precious money supply to change my return date. So I must miss the stamp rally. Sigh...
So I went directly to Osaka station. There, I scouted around for a tourist information center or booth; but the only one I found was just information about the Osaka JR station itself (it's a big station-department store combination). So I decided to ask at a Koban... the station's police station. It turned out to be exactly the right thing to do; two other people came in to ask where various places were while I was waiting, so it seems to be one of the purposes of the kobans.
I was giving the name of the subway station to go to, and the name of the building it was in; so I took the subway to Namba, and from there walked through the underground shopping mall to the "O-CAT" building... which turned out to be an acronym for "Osaka Central Air Terminal," where all the airlines had offices. A quick search turned up the office, closed for lunch. I hadn't realised it was already past twelve; since I had a forty minute wait, I walked back to the underground mall where I had seen a bakery, and bought brunch. After I'd eaten, I walked back to the office and dug out my tickets, then waited.
My Japanese is getting better; I was able to ask for what I wanted, and was understood on the first try -- it feels good when those tiny moments occur, and all the hard work starts to show a little. In less than ten minutes, the change was made: instead of returning to the states on the 24th, I'll be returning on the 16th. And, because I did it at the airline office instead of through my travel agent, I not only saved the long distance phone call, but I also saved the $100 my travel agent would have charged for the change... United Airlines didn't charge me for the alteration. Such are the rewards of speaking the local language!
Now, the countdown is running. I want to be in Tokyo on the 14th for the Comic Market Comic Convention, if I can manage it; and on the morning of the 15th I want to try to meet a friend at the Tokyo Imperial Palace Grounds, and then jump on the Shinkenzen train back to Kyoto so I'm in this area again on the morning of the 16th. That means I have two and a half days to complete the Saigouku pilgrimage (I need the last half of the 13th to ride the Shinkenzen to Tokyo and get a hotel).

Thirty-three temples: twenty-eight done... five to go.

So I immediately headed for the next one, hoping to squeeze it in today. My information said I need to get to a place called Aino, where "infrequent buses" run to Kiyomizu temple (not the temple by the same name in Kyoto). To get there, my information said to take the Takarazuka line from Osaka station, and to change at a place called Sanda to the Fukuchiyama line to Aino. So I took the train to Sanda, got off, and then discovered it was headed to Aino without me. Certain trains, it turns out, head to different locations after passing through Sanda... so you can ride a train straight from Osaka to Aino without changing trains, if you get the right train, and IF YOU KNOW THIS IN ADVANCE. My information -- as accurate as usual -- was written by someone who didn't know this. So I waited a half hour for the next train to Aino. Oy.
I got to Aino at three-forty five... and luckily, one of the "infrequent buses" was waiting outside. Unfortunately, the driver informed me that the bus couldn't get me to the temple before five, when it would close. I asked how far away it was; he replied 'about three to four kilometers'. Three to four kilometers I can do under an hour, so I got a crappy tourist map from the rail station and took off in the right direction with plenty of people convinced I was nuts left behind me.
The map, per usual, was inaccurate as to distance... I'm used to that. But after walking for thirty-minutes, I found the first sign pointing to Kiyomizu temple -- proof I was headed the right direction -- it stated that the temple was still five and a half kilometers away. So much for the bus driver's estimate.
So I stomped on, because I don't walk backwards, and hoped there would be a place to stay ahead. After another forty minutes, it started to sprinkle, which is no problem... then the sky cut open and dumped. I ran to a small store -- the only building in a five-hundred foot range -- and the owner, who saw me coming, asked where I was going. I said Kiyomizu temple, and she told me to wait there a moment... she returned in a little while with an umbrella of questionable strength, so I could press on. I thanked her, and was on my way again.
The rain thinned back out, but kept falling, as I walked another kilometer to the small community of Yoshiro -- "Academic Town" noted the sign on the road -- and the town at the base of the path up to Kiyomizu temple. There was a clock here too; it was now five-twenty. So close, yet so far.
So I stopped at a small store to ask if there were any ryokans or hotels in the area... naturally, there wasn't. The lady pulled up a box for me to sit on (she was sitting on one too), got me a tea to drink, and called her husband over to talk about it. After I answered the usual questions, he decided to call the temple itself to see if they had room for a pilgrim, which would have been wonderful; but, alas, Kiyomizu temple doesn't have room for pilgrims to crash in, so alternate plans were made. Did I like Japanese style foods? Yes, I replied, and Japanese style rooms were okay too I said, guessing ahead. And it was done; they had called a ryokan and the ryokan was sending a driver over to pick me up. So we chatted out in front of the store, watching the rain, for about a half-hour until the ride finally found us... and I was off again, back down the way I'd come from, naturally.
The driver was the main owner of the ryokan, and we talked a bit on our way to the ryokan... just the usual stuff. Eventually, we turned in different direction than I had walked (gratifying, as it meant I hadn't just walked past the ryokan accidently), and soon were there. It was starting to rain harder again. I got my room, and was shown where the bath room and the dining room were; and I asked if I had enough time before dinner to walk around some and look at the area. I did, so I bundled up, and did.
It's a small spread out town, and only one store was open this late -- and they didn't have any socks, which I desperately need. My last pair that I bought a couple weeks ago just started to litterally fall apart after yesterday's walk marathon... oh, well. Maybe in the morning, or maybe tomorrow afternoon I'll have a chance.
After I got back, I put on the offical ryokan costume of all guests, the yukata... bath robe... and then walked downstairs just in time for dinner. And what a dinner! I suspect the owner usually cooks for large groups (I'm the only guest tonight)... there was fruit cup with watermelon and grapes, barbequed eel, sukiyaki beef with vegetables, marinated eggplant in peanut sauce, fresh tuna and squid sashimi, crunchy squid marinated in a lite chili flavored sauce, miso soup, buttery peking duck with prawns and fresh tomato wedges, as well as all the rice I needed and all the tea I wanted. I was also offered some beer, but had to refuse this to the amazement of the owner. Besides, as it was, she stuffed me big time... and she plans to make breakfast for me too. I may not need to eat again tomorrow!
So, unfortunately, I got no temples in today; but I did change my departure date, and that's a big worry off my back. Tomorrow, I'll be up early, and I suspect the owner plans to drive me back to the temple path so I can pick up tomorrow where I left off today. I'll get my stuff done, and try to be on a bus back to the station by eight-thirty to nine... and I'l try to mange two more temples tomorrow, though, likely, I'll only get one. But it's now getting late, and I have to be up very early... good night.

Twenty-Eight Done.
Five To Go.

Onwards to August 12, 1999

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