2008 Autumn Road Trip – Part I

Okay, so I know it’s been forever and a year since I updated but I have a reason – I’ve been hard at work on the site redesign I keep talking about – it’s about 70% of the way done and I hope to have it live in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned. But you’re not here to hear about that – you’re here to read about the great 2008 Autumn Road Trip, right? So without further ado, here we go.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A restaurant open for business near Gion

If you’re in Japan in the Autumn there is one place you both absolutely need to see and absolutely might be well advised to avoid and that is of course, Kyoto. Autumnal Kyoto is filled with some of the most stunning foliage you will ever see in your life, set against a backdrop of beautiful temples, shrines and centuries-old cityscapes that makes for a gorgeous and uniquely Japanese experience. Just walking around Kyoto in the cool crisp Autumn breeze, passing the falling maple leaves, the wood sided buildings, inhaling the smell of roasting sweet potatoes on the street and watching the amazing tapestry of Autumnal hues in peoples’ clothing… it almost makes you feel nostalgic for an era long since passed (until you snap out of it and remember that you yourself are not Japanese! *laughs*). In short, I love Kyoto in the Autumn so very, very much and cannot get enough.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Streaky headlights in quiet neighborhoods…

The only problem is that the beauty of Kyoto in the Autumn is not exactly a secret and every Autumn literally millions of tourists descend on Kyoto en masse to snatch up every available hotel room, book out every restaurant, crowd out every attraction and snarl up every intersection. It’s even worse if you go on a weekend, or heaven forbid, a three day weekend.

Care to guess when we went?

Planning an Autumn road trip in Japan is a tricky affair – a lot is determined by when the leaf-viewing migoro (best viewing time) is for a given place. For Kyoto, it fell at the very start of our trip, during the three day Japanese Labor Day weekend. The first problem we ran into when planning a stay in Kyoto during this time was, well… finding a place to stay. Everywhere – and I mean everywhere – was booked solid. Compounding the problem was the fact that we needed a place with parking, since we were driving. Hours of fruitless searching and calling later, we began to despair that we might need to stay in Osaka or another nearby town and train it back and forth (costing valuable time), when finally, by miraculous luck, we suddenly found a little Ryokan that was a) cheap, b) centrally located, c) had parking and most importantly, d) had an open room.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Perfect backdrop for an evening stroll…

The only problem? Online reviews were mixed, including one reviewer who commented the place “smelled like cabbage.”

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A somewhat noisier part of town…


“What the hell,” I decided “I like cabbage.”

And with that, we booked it.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

The (non-cabbage-smelling) ryokan we stayed at…

Now I’ll save you the suspense. The place was pretty good, especially for the price. It was a little old, but that only added to the charm, and the owners were friendly. And it didn’t smell like cabbage (slightly to my chagrin as that would have made for a more interesting blog entry). Anyway, if you’re looking for cheap lodging in Kyoto and all the usual suspects are booked solid, give the Hiraiwa Ryokan a chance.

Damn. My blog is turning into a goddamn informercial. Anyway, moving on.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A river running along a particularly scenic part of town

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Ooh, toppling ovar-looking building!

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Mmmm…. yakitori…

Now by the time we got to Kyoto we were pretty exhausted despite it only being 1 PM on a Friday, because it had been raining torrentially along the way (though Kyoto itself was beautiful and clear). But time was a-wasting, so after a quick nap, we headed out for the Gion and Yasaka-shrine areas of town. (Those would be the pictures you see all over this entry.) I won’t bore you with describing these areas – you can read the wikipedia links above if you’re interested.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Ema (devotional plaques) at Yasaka Shrine…

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Suspiciously expensive-looking restaurants by the river…

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

Needless to say, the menu confirmed our suspicions…

Suffice it to say, however, that it made for a lovely stroll, especially as the sun was starting to set and the crowds relented a little bit. Nothing much of interest happened for the rest of the day – had a leisurely stroll around, took some pictures, jumped around in front of temples, ate some food, bought some omiyage (souvenirs), stopped by Starbucks (don’t judge me! *laughs*), and then called it a day.

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A small shrine by an intersection…

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A lamp lit bend in the river…

2008 Autumn Road Trip - Kyoto!

A narrow walkway leading to a seedier part of town…

In a way, however, that almost lulled us into a false sense of security… we had no idea that before we left Kyoto we nearly be shoved off a 10 story building, accused of supporting state-sponsored terrorism, force fed an intact baby bird impaled on a bamboo skewer or practically get trampled to death in a quiet bamboo grove.

But those stories, my friends, are for the next post… :)

Now listening to: “M.O.P. – “Ante Up Remix (Featuring Busta Rhymes, Teflon, and Remy Martin)”

An oldie but a goodie. The original is good, but the remix is even better. Unfortunately, I can’t embed that video, so go here to see the video on youtube.

Something of interested I noticed on this video is that by gangster rap video standards, it’s actually rather ethnically diverse – you’ve got white people (lots of them, including some girl with dreads who looked like she belongs in a Phish concert), blacks, latinos and a few other races all jumping around together in the mosh pit. If I was a cultural anthropologist I might conjecture something about this video acknowledging the reality that most “gangster rap” is bought and listened to by white middle class suburban kids, but as I am not an anthropologist, this will have to remain a mere passing thought.

That having been said, this makes a great work out song, especially Danze’s verse (the last one on the song) which, while short, has a great delivery.

Since I couldn’t embed the actual video itself, here is a little bonus instead: it’s the original “Ante Up” as covered by… Bert and Ernie…? (I laugh every time I see this video)

12 Reactions

  1. liz b

    ahhh i can’t wait for those stories!! the pictures are beautiful…i am always jealous of your wonderful, exciting trips. someday..!

  2. gidgetbananas

    Those pictures really really really make me want to visit Japan. Ah, maybe when the recession recedes . . .

  3. kori

    beautiful pictures as always! I’m torn between whether it’s better to smile and bear the crowds or give up and visit off season. sigh. a good secret is rarely kept in Japan, I think.

  4. Ben

    Hey Panda-san,
    Sorry dude for not updating. I still remember the present I owe you. In fact, I bought you something already. My blog will be updated… soon.

  5. jessica

    sounds like an awesome trip. i sent you an email recently. if i ever go to japan im gonna use your blog as my starting point for ideas, your photos and descriptions are great.

  6. Monique

    Fantastic photos! But I expect nothing less ;)
    I always stay at Toyoko Inn too…. >_<

  7. Monique

    Fantastic photos! But I expect nothing less ;)
    I always stay at Toyoko Inn too….I’m a member! >_<

  8. Emitz

    Wow…nice photos. Feel want to go there also ^_^