Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Postmortem: Observations


Kumano Kodo: The cost of the Walk Japan Kumano Kodo tour for two: $6200. This is with a very favorable exchange rate; the rate helped to encourage us in making our third trip to Japan in 5 years. Overall, much agreement that the tour was as promised.

THB’s view: if you have a choice, this is your first time, would like a bit less walking in the forest, an easier walk (i.e., not as long or hard), and a bit a more time in open countryside and in cute towns geared to tourists, the Nakasendo is preferable.

More detail:
So much depends on the guide, the size of the tour, who is on the tour, the weather, jet lag or not at the beginning, how long are the days on the trail, what you see each day, and on and on. This is THB’s slightly longer assessment of the Kumano Kodo (KK) tour:

1.   What did THB like about the KK? a) Any time in Japan is good time. The shrines and temples and walks make a good excuse to get away from the big cities; b) being tested is a good thing, and THB was very happy with his accomplishment; c) the individuals on the tour were all approachable (if in different ways) and some were over the top supportive and 10 hikers seemed a reasonable number; d) the range of accommodations, from a monastery to a resort hotel, was also a plus (hey, we go to ryokans to get pampered!). 
Koyasan mausoleum

2.   What did THB really like about the KK: The Stamps! Any hike loaded with places to get an official THB-was-here stamp is highly rated, worth the detour, extraordinary. The fact that THB had no clue how to match the stamp with the page it belonged on barely registered.

3.   What did THB really really like about the KK: The weather! Did THB get lucky or what! The weather was awesome, cool enough during the hikes that you only got overheated from your own exertion.

4.   What would make the KK even better: a) Getting in early enough every night to enjoy a soak and pre-dinner drink with the group; b) a bit more walking in farmland or rural towns; c) more time with the guide to discuss all things Japan; d) a sweeper that spoke English; Kyoko was great, except she didn’t speak much English.

Technology: THB was thrilled with the wifi router rental (if expensive) and actually even happier he never had to use the rented phone. Solar farms are more prevalent in the countryside and more bikers in the towns…the opposite of going hi-tech.

Napkins: We got a few real napkins and a lot of paper napkins, which 5 years ago was a never category.

Friendliness: Japan has always been kind to visitors, and the language barrier continues to come down as more and more Japanese speak English. In our first two ryokans the staff was downright cheerful (fully encouraged by YT). At The Earth, the service was impeccable and they also seemed very cheerful. 

Last Impressions: Well, after 3 trips in 6 years, maybe THB should take a break from Japan. If all goes well, he will be here for the 2020 Olympics. That’s a long way off! We’ll see, there may be another confluence of big art shows, a good exchange rate, and more new and different areas to explore. The bottom line: Japan is an exotic first world country, which puts it near the top.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day 20, Tuesday, Nov 3: Kyoto to SFO

Day 20, Tuesday, Nov 3: Kyoto to SFO

Weather: Cool, breezy, occasionally overcast
Our art tour guide

THB is feeling punk today and skips the fitness center. DB joins THB in having the “pancakes” and thinks we’re really having crumpets.

At 8:30am we take the art tour of the hotel, led by a curator, and joined by one other woman (who appears to be more bilingual than the curator).

Pics from around the hotel:

The inside trees are swapped out every 3 weeks

Close-up of bubble-boy piece, note that it is a lute underneath and you can see the strings (however faintly)

Wood gives "shrine" feel, and there is no usage of glue or nails

35 year old bonsai tree

DB guessed the media: white-out!

fabric on the wall


Guide taking pic of tour members (we couldn't figure out why)

Back to the room and organizing suitcases, looks like it will all fit. We have lots of time, so stroll east and visit a modern art museum (more stuff from the early 1900s than THB expects, this isn't "contemporary").

Utility box with ornament

A huge torii

THB taking a pic of the elevator taking a pic of THB

It's National Culture Day and one shrine had lots of visitors

Not this one!

Nor this one

Then shopping near the hotel at Art & Science, DB gets a very handsome jacket. LB the sister of THB made this spot a reco, and since the place was next door to the RC, it got attention paid:

THB takes a pic of the changing room

That's DB getting ready to put on a top while protecting the clothes from make-up

Lunch of hot and cold soba nearby, $22.

Dip a portion of soba in various bowls (egg, slurpy yam, soy sauce) 

THB orders hot soba with herring

DB gets a side of tempura with her cold soba

 Soba made step-by-step in pics:

Our AMEX card was compromised yesterday and AMEX cancelled the current card and is sending a new one to E-ville, so several of the charges at the end went on VISA. However, AMEX did cover the Ritz charge which is good thing since we used AMEX concierge service to make the booking. It was a biggee: amount supplied upon request. And, it was terrific (i.e., unlike the Waldorf Astoria). Our only complaints: a strong scent in the lobby area and so many staff standing around wishing you a good morning, good evening, or welcome back that at some point you wish you could take the freight elevator to get in and out of the hotel without being seen.

With three bags and several carry-ons we decide to cab to the airport, which is a long way away from Kyoto, over an hour; $140. THB slept most of the way.

We return the phone (no outbound calls and only missed inbound calls) and the wifi router at the airport. THB clearly read the charges for the router wrong, it turned out to be about $10 a day to bring you blog posts and to keep up on the baseball scores. Another nicety since otherwise THB would’ve been in bizarre lobbies for most of the trip to get internet access.

The phone/wifi rental company

DB manages to spend our remaining yen to within the last dollar.

And, the flight goes on time,  lands early, and it is clear in the Bay Area,  enough we can see famous landmarks:

Famous landmark number 1

Famous landmark number one A (THB and DB's loft just above the interchange, across the train tracks from Ikea)