Kyoto Road Trip

Is there anything better after a couple of stressful weeks at work than calling up a friend, jumping in a car and driving down to Kyoto for the weekend?

Well, maybe a few. For example:

kyoto weekend
Beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery to go with it.

This is Togetsukyo (“moon crossing bridge“) one of the more popular attractions in Arashiyama, Kyoto. To be honest, it wasn’t that spectacular – bridges roughly resembling it can be found all over Japan, along with the dozens of shops selling unrelated tourist goods just off to the left of the frame, but with the weather so gorgeous, does it really matter?

We tried to rock the pensive tip for the camera.

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Speeding down the highway at 130kph with the windows down and “the system” up.

130kph is about 80mph which is actually kinda fast, even for the states. But for people who have just spent the last few years of their driving careers in Japan, where the speed limit rarely exceed 40kph (about 25mph!), this is like warp speed! We made the 250 kilometer journey to Kyoto in barely over 2 hours, which is just about on par with the express train(!) The best part of the journey came when we rounded a bend and came out around a mountain directly into a blazing onslaught of brilliant 11am sunlight streaming straight into our eyes.

AAAAHHH!” PANDA I CAN’T SEE!!!” KC cries out.

I recoil from the supernova explosion shooting through the windshield, my eyes nothing but blurry smears of inverted blue sunspots against the backs of eyelids. I raise my hands to shield my face.

“Quick! Drop the sun visor!” I yell. KC reaches up and drops the sunvisor, then erupts into a chorus of giggles.

“AAAHH!!! I’m too short!! IT’S STILL IN MY EYES!! THE VISOR – IT DOES NOTHING!!” (cue squealing of tires as we proceed to weave all over the road)

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Really, really badly recreated samurai village movie set theme parks

If anyone ever suggests taking a trip out to Eiga Mura (映画村) theme park in Uzumasa (太秦) Kyoto, consider the proposition carefully.

Ask yourself: are you into throwing dull pieces of metal (fake “throwing stars”) at styrofoam boards and running the risk of having the rebound put out your eye? Are you willing to be entertained by a bedraggled and miserable looking pony standing in a rainy cobblestone street? Does paying $22 to look at the world’s saddest collection of lifesized fiberglass Masked Rider/Ultraman mannequins (yes, they were in the samurai village. don’t ask) sound like a good way to spend three hours of your life?

Then ask yourself this: Can you bring your own fun with you? Are you with a good friend? A person who agrees that running around this dilapidate excuse for a tourist attraction making loud AAARRWWWWRRAAACKKKK!!! screeching noises and throwing imaginary monkeys taped to crows at Japanese families is a hilarious way to pass the afternoon? Can you find a way to get the crap scared out of you by a creepy haunted house, then pull yourself together and laugh at the terrified, screaming kids outside and mock them for their weakness?

Do you have a monkah puppet who would love to get his picture taken with a 22 year old fake samurai?

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KC debating how we should navigate our angle of approach into the traffic nightmare that is Kyoto.

kyoto weekend

Panda unintentionally striking a pose that might not be all that out of place on a gay escort website.

I can’t wait until my blog now starts getting thousands of hits from people googling for “My gay date” or “gay escort website”.

(To those of you who came here searching for those terms. Hello! Welcome to my blog! Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not gay. But this is a blog about cute pandas and Japan, so why don’t you stay for a while and look at all the pretty pictures?)

kyoto weekend
Laughing so hard you can’t stand up

“Hey Panda, stay still for a second while I try and take this photo!” exclaims KC as she drapes herself over my shoulder, camera in her outstretched hand somewhere behind my back.

“Uhhh, what kind of shot are you trying to take?” I inquire, puzzled.

“A side profile shot of the two of us with the river off to the side! It’ll be awesome!”

*KACCHHHA!* The camera snaps.

“But… that picture will just be of my back and you draped over it like you’ve collapsed or something.”

A pause.


“You’re special.”

kyoto weekend
Great mountain top views

This picture was taken atop the mountain at Iwatayama Monkey Park (see below) by a man carrying a broom and a slingshot. We were actually just looking at the monkeys when he snatched the camera from our hands and shoved us over towards the couple of fanged screaming simians you see on the branch behind us.

“You stand there. I take picture.”

“…b…but, those monkeys have fangs…!” we protest feebly.

“You stand there. I take picture.” he repeats, gesturing wildly with his slingshot.

Our gaze flips back and forth between the fanged death monkeys and the almost too ethusiastic looking japanese man with the slingshot and well worn looking broom. Monkey death? Or slingshot to the dome?


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Great Views in general

‘Nuff said! (^_^)b

kyoto weekend
Discovering a new mode on your camera

Taken verbatim from the camera operations screen: “Coupling shot. Allows you to shoot two halves of the scene. Yourself can be included in the shot”.

We had way too much fun with this!

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Hanging out in the trains

Acting like fresh off the boat giggling japan noobs, we were the loudest people in the entire train. Who cares. It was a beautiful day!

kyoto weekend
Subway: eat fresh!

It’s weird the things you miss being out of the states for a while. Here it happens to be Subway subs. We actually went on an hour long search all over, around and under the massive JR Kyoto Station for this Subway restaurant. We then proceeded to eat subway subs for three meals in a row. I am certain the people behind the counter must be rolling their eyes at how weird these foreigners are and how much they must not be able to eat anything besides Western fast food.

Hey man, you try spending three years in the deep countryside and then tell me what you start to miss (^_^)v

kyoto weekend
The Angry Map

Outside a train station on the JR Sagano line.


“Hmm, that photo is boring. Let’s take it again. This time, try and do something interesting.”

“…okay. But it’s a train station area map. How am I supposed to make this interesting?”

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something panda!”

This, as you can see, is what constitutes “coming up with something” in the House of Panda. I crack up every time I see this picture. I just look so angry!!! about something on this map!!!

kyoto weekend

This sign says “Iwatayama Monkey Park: Go straight, then turn left”.

We said: “Monkeys? Park? Oh hells yeah..!

kyoto weekend
Dances with Monkeys

The Iwatayama monkey park is located atop a rather steep mountain. To get there you need to climb some pretty trecherous winding paths (made all the better by random pieces of jagged rusting metal (formerly fence posts, now just deathly menances) sticking out every few feet) for a good 25 or 30 minutes. As you near the summit, you’re greeted first by the strange sound of hundreds of monkeys screeching and calling to each other. Then, when you’re just a few meters below the very top, the monkeys take notice, and start jumping around all excitedly before stampeding en masse down the side of the mountain straight at you!

If you’ve never been bum rushed by a troop of wild macaque monkeys before, suffice it to say: it’s scary as helll!

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Grooming monkey

Monkeys grooming each other with Kyoto in the distance. Groom groom groom. Interestingly enough I once tutored this Japanese guy who kept confusing the words “broom” and “groom”. It was funny since he actually talked about weddings a lot (as a high ranking company official he was often called to MC weddings for his subordinates) and he would be like “When I looked at them, I thought the bride looked so beautiful with her broom”, etc. I had to fight back the urge to laugh (in a good way!) when he said that.

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Feeding time

The signs on the way warn you not to “look at the monkeys”, not ot “feed the monkeys” and not to “show the monkeys any food”. They were accompanied by this graphic of a rather severe looking cartoon monkey shooting a deathly monkey gaze a hapless tourist eating an apple on the path. The implication, I suppose, is that the monkeys will tear you to shreds for your food. Since I don’t feel like getting my ass kicked by hundreds of ravenous monkeys on a mountainside, I listened.

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Once you get to the top though, you can go inside this small hut with chain link fence over the windows and feed the monkeys from in there. It’s really cute, actually, the way they stick their hands in through the windows to get food. But the monkeys are hella greedy, and they keep insistently sticking their paws in for more, regardless of how much you give them.

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I wanted to say no to the greedy bastards, but then I remembered the hundreds of monkeys ripping people apart on the path cartoon and decided I didn’t want to take the chance that they might remember me after I left the safety of the hut and decide to exact their revenge…

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Monkey shines

Two monkeys looking very mischevious. I prepared to duck in case they started hurling poo. (a constant danger whenever monkeys are involved)

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Monkah meets monkeys

Curious about all the commotion, Monkah poked his head out of my bag for a quick face to face with his bretheren. I emphasis the word quick because we were afraid he was so cute some of the monkeys might try to snatch him away!

kyoto weekend
Early morning starbucks

Looking (slightly) worse for the wear at an early morning starbucks run. We had had a full day on Saturday and so were looking forward to going to bed early, but it so happens our roommate in the hostel was a fresh-off-the-boat American who was

a) jetlagged
b) a massive chatterbox
c) eager to play the “look how much I know about japan” game.

*sigh* needless to say we didn’t get to sleep any time soon. The coffee was less a luxury and more of a neccessity.

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KC posing for a glamour shot somewhere on a side street in Kyoto. Notice the 30kph (18mph) speed limit in residential areas.

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Chariots of fire

Arashiyama has a nice bamboo grove that we had originally planned on renting bikes and racing around in. Unfortunately our accursed inability to plan more than 5 minutes ahead threw a wrench in that plan (and the one to hold the first annual “arashiyama bamboo bicycle joust” tournament). We did, however, snap this picture of a human-drawn carriage (人力車 – jinrikisha) whizzing by, conductor shouting out nonstop bits of touristy info and riders bouncing up and down amidst a sea of giggles.

You can find rickshaw like things like this carriage in many areas of Kyoto (and Japan) which cater to tourists. I suppose it’s something like how you can still find horse drawn buggies in some larger cities in America, only instead of a beautiful shaggy white horse it’s a guy in black tights and tabi socks dragging your fat ass everywhere.

While I often wonder what it would be like to ride one, I never have because I just can’t stop feeling bad about making another human being drag me in a cart from place to place. The worst is the fact that there are so many damn hills everywhere! Considering I weigh about as much as three fully grown Japanese women put together, I just can’t do that to someone, even if I pay them.

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Nature, Part I

This sign outside a fenced in area in a residential Kyoto neighborhood reads “Shizen asobo” (自然と遊ぼう – “come play with nature“). We round the gate to find…

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Nature, Part II

This. Which is apparently what constitutes “nature” in Japan. KC, as you can see, is overjoyed and very much enjoying “playing” with said nature.

onsen kumachan
4′ 11″ Picasso

KC is a talented artist. In trying to describe Onsen kumachan to me, she could’t remember the name, so she resorted to drawing him.

As you may recall the above is what Onsen Kumachan looks like.

This is what she managed to draw.

kyoto weekend

kyoto weekend
Emo angst

For punishment, she got banished to a plastic culvert in a McDonald’s playland. Why does every Linkin Park video invariably include a scene like this?


And of course, no travelogue would be complete without Monkah making an appearance. Here he relaxes at a rest stop somewhere in Fukui prefecture, overlooking a rather rugged coastline on the Sea of Japan.

And that was the Kyoto roadtrip weekend in a nutshell.

Now listening to: Fragma – Toca me

6 Reactions

  1. liz b

    Hahaha these are some of your best pictures ever.
    You always have the best trips and I’m jealous!
    Okay, so I’ve made the cd cases…mostly. And I have all the songs picked out, I just have to actually burn the cds. Then I need to write commentaries and all that. I WILL HAVE THIS DONE SOON, I SWEAR! :[
    I haven’t done any of my school work yet either, actually. What have I been doing then, you ask?
    Fuck if I know.
    Seriously, as soon as I get free time it just seems to fly by and I don’t get anything done!
    This weekend I will finish it, I promise!

  2. andrew

    Always nice to take a road trip.
    When you said you drove to Kyoto I thought “Good he won’t have to go to that evil train station.” Then it turns out you went there voluntarily.
    Of course I understand the need for the occasional ‘western food’. I really miss good Mexican food out here. There is an El Torito in Tokyo, but that is not really Mexican food.
    Strange that nature has to be packaged like a product. Makes you wonder what Japanese people do when they get out of town.

  3. Wantin

    You don’t look angry in the “Angry Map” pic. You look like you’re about to yawn. And since yawns are contagious, what would happen if everytime you are mad at someone and they think you’re gonna yawn and they start yawning too?
    If I were a gay man I’d totally hire you as my escort. You make a hot gay man. Love those cufflinks.

  4. LH

    In regards to Homicide: LOTS – have you thought about checking ebay for a box set? I’ve purchased several of my favorite, not-in-syndication shows by this method… even when an “official” box set hasn’t been produced, some ebay sellers are quite technically adept. I admit to a little bit of an ebay addiction, and I don’t know if there will be issues with DVD formatting etc., but it’s an idea.

  5. kittay

    i went to that samurai place! i remember I bought an animation cel there for cheap. >__< too bad for u!

  6. Joanna

    Link exchange is nothing else except it is only placing the other person’s web site link on your page at proper place and other person will also do similar in favor of you.