Day 7 – A Visit to Arashiyama in Kyoto

I believe my host mother is a bad influence, in a good way.  We spoke yesterday about my plans to go to Kyoto to visit Arashiyama and I said I would take the train.  She asked me “since you can take the Shinkansen with your pass why dont you ride that so you are comfortable?” This is a grand idea and I hadnt thought of it, but I decided that from now until I go home I am riding the Shinkansen as much as possible, even getting a green car when I go back to Tokyo from Osaka.

But anyway, today I had hoped to go to Serika’s entrance ceremony for Kookoo (High School), but we found out that only direct family are allowed, so I decided to go to Arashiyama instead.  Arashiyama is basically the eastern part of Kyoto and is very well known to the Japanese, not so much to Westerners, this made an ideal place to go.  But visiting Kyoto, for me, has to start with a walk around the station and a trip up Kyoto tower (memory lane for me).

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I really love the layout and architectural style of Kyoto station, it really is unique among the many train terminals I have visited in Japan.  As Dave would say, its designed so that you never know when you are inside vs outside.  Now, Kyoto is small, compared to some of the bigger cities in Japan, but it is still huge with a population of 1.5million.  But the big thing about Kyoto is its age, its 1100 years old!!! And thanks to the US and its allies respecting that fact it was not touched during World War II unlike the other major cities in Japan.

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Much of that 1100 years Kyoto served as the Imperial Capital of Japan. In fact, its name in Kanji means “Capital Town”.  It was not until the rise of the Meiji government was the capital moved to Edo which is now known as Tokyo.  Much of this rich history still remains in Kyoto and the city is a wide mix of old and new.  But today wasnt about exploring Kyoto, but the eastern quadrant known as Arashiyama.  However, to get to Arashiyama I decided to start at Kameoka with cruise down the Hozuu River.  If you are in the area, do this, you will not regret it.

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The Hozu River winds through the mountains surrounding Kyoto creating deep gorges and some spectacular views of theP4080020 rural side of Kyoto.

I decided to take the riverboat cruise which begins in Kameoka and ends in Arashiyama, if you want to get a good taste of the rural side of Kyoto take this approach, you will not regret it.  Below are SOME of the pictures I took along the cruise, it really is awesome looking up at these huge hills and seeing how the Japanese have constructed the trains of the Sagano line to run right through the mountains.

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The trip was simply awesome and a great spectacle for the ability of the Japanese to preserve the innate beauty of the surrounding area despite the urban development so clearly prevalent.

The end of this river cruise is right in front of the Togetsukyoo bridge which is the heart of Arashiyama.  From here I decided I wanted to visit the monkey feeding grounds of Iwatayama, so I went to the bridge and turned right.  Now, let me forewarn any perspective travelers: if you are old or out of shape, dont go see the monkeys, the journey there will likely kill you.  You literally have to hike up the mountain until you are higher then Kyoto Tower, you have a great view but youll be totally exhausted, I know I was.

Once at the top, you can go inside the house to buy food to feed to the monkeys.  Dont let their appearance fool you, these guys are vicious.  Follow the instructions and feed them from inside the house to protect yourself.

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So at this point, I walked outside and literally could see all of Kyoto in front of me from the summit.  I raised my camera and it died as the battery finally gave out.  After several minutes of trying to get some additional power out of my camera to take one final picture I gave up and used my cell phone.

With my camera out of power, I made an attempt to take the train/subway to Goji street to find a camera shop: I failed.  I didnt want to see the rest of Arashiyama without a camera so I stopped there.  I still spent about 5hrs in the area, most of which was on the cruise and I got some awesome pictures.

Now, I am beginning to learn more and more about the Shinkansen.  So from Kyoto to Maibara is about 1hr via normal train.  On a Kodama (the slowest Shinkansen) it is about 35m. Using the Hikari (second fastest) it is 20m, on Nozomi (the fastest and current world record holder for speed) it is 15m.  These trains are seriously ridiculious and really outlines just how pathetic the United States is.  Compare this: the fastest train in Japan is Nozomi and hits speeds of 443kmph (275mph), the fastest train in the US is the Acela line operated by Amtrak between Boston and Washington DC and it his a whopping 240kmph (150mph), but that is only briefly. Shinkansen lines tend to cruise at the above speed.

Consider that Kyoto is about as far away as Grand Rapids is from Ann Arbor.  I made the journey in a Hikari Shinkansen in 20 minutes.  Honestly, I hope people get behind Obama and utilize a high speed rail network, we will be better for it.  I think the Japanese have it right, highways are not the way to go.  In Japan, the airfare is ridiculously cheap and the service is amazing, why? Because they are competing with the Shinkansen.  In America, why dont we have that? It would force the airlines to actually compete with somebody, not to mention I can actually stretch my legs and relax on a Shinkansen, much unlike an airplane.

One final thing, in Shanghai they are using maglev technology where the train is suspended and propelled through magnetic technology that is both quiet and efficient.  These trains are much faster then current rail technology which is showing its limits in Japan.  Japan recently approved the construction of the Chuoo Shinkansen line which will take a person from Tokyo to Osaka in 1hr, bare in mind this is a 10hr drive without traffic.  Talk about insane.  But fear not, as part of Obama’s high speed rail line proposal, he has asked Japan to share their technical expertise in rail systems to assist in building this network, and Japan has agreed.

I, for one, would love to spend 4hrs on a comfortable high speed train then 1hr on a cramped airplane any day.  And if America can learn from Japan how to operate them and provide the same level of customer service, Ill never fly again unless I have to.

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