I slept surprisingly well. When we were planning this trip, and in the final days leading up to the trip, we had watched the weather forecasts for Kyoto so we could pack the right clothes. It was supposed to be kind of cool (60’s) and dry (Kyoto usually has high humidity, especially in the summer months). It was apparent to me that this forecast had been wrong. Kyoto was experiencing an unexpected heat wave. I slept the first night with my sliding glass door wide open, and awoke to a very pleasant sunny morning.
This was the street my hotel was on, and the way I walked to school each day. Notice how narrow the street is, and that there are no lines on the road down the middle. We also discovered that in Japan the cars drive on the left side of the road. Our students had to quickly relearn how to look both ways when crossing a street. When riding in a car down these narrow roads it’s amazing to see how close they get to each other when passing. It feels more like a game of chicken than a legal drive through the city.
Remember my comment on space? Here’s a garage I walked past everyday on my way to the school. This is the only entrance to this garage, there is no side door that this car was driven through. How many would want to park their car this way? I really knew we were not in California anymore when I walked past a Kentucky Fried Chicken on my way to the school.
Amazingly, all the students arrived at the school on time (or early). They came by bike, train, car, bus, and walking. Some had to come from distances over an hour away (my son Corey had to take a bus and a train to get to school each day). This was definitely a new experience for almost all the students who are used to driving themselves everywhere, or getting rides to school back in Modesto.
Another custom we were not used to was taking our shoes off when entering buildings. At the school they have racks of slippers (or indoor shoes) for the students and staff. Many keep their own at the school in lockers, but there are plenty of loaners for guests. I found the only problem to be that they only went up to about a size 10, hardly a good fit for a size 12+ foot. I walked around in my socks most of the time. This year I’m taking a pair of indoor shoes to leave at the campus.
We quickly learned that you can get to anywhere from anywhere in Japan by walking. Our first day we went to Ryoanji, the Golden Pavillion and the Kimono factory in the Textile section of Kyoto. We only took a few short bus rides the entire day. I think we walked over five miles this first day. Again, sot something many of these students are used to doing back in the States.
We only got a few blocks from the school and the students found something familiar, a 7 Eleven. They begged to go in and get some snacks for the morning. We agreed and told them to make it quick, that we had to keep on schedule. Each day a teacher escorted us on our trips to make sure we got everywhere planned. Once they walked through the doors they quickly learned that snack foods were very different in Japan. The one thing that most found to be irresistible were the “American Dogs”. These were corn dogs that had a thick heavy corn batter that they all swore tasted better than any they had back in the States.
The walk to Ryoanji was wonderful. The students were exposed to so many different things on the walk it was amazing. Houses and flats in Japan are very small. People are very creative in using what little space they have to its max. They use scale to make areas look much larger than they really are. A perfect example was this beautiful yard we passed on our way to our first stop. I love flowers, so I especially like this house and snapped a picture.
Here’s another example of maximizing a very small entrance to a house and making it look larger. Notice how very narrow this building is with streets on both sides.
As the students started to finish their morning snacks they quickly realized that there were no garbage cans anywhere. Even by the vending machines there were only recycling cans. They asked our escort what they should do with their trash. She told them to put it in their backpacks and to throw it away when they got back to the school. Collectively the students observed that there was both no litter in the streets and no garbage cans. In our minds this made absolutely no sense, how you could have one without the other, but here it was. We all wished we could bring this habit back to the States with us.
And remember those Kit Kat’s in a can. Here’s a picture of them from these vending machines. With the exchange rate at the time we were there, these cost a little more than two dollars (at the time we got 94 – 97 yen to the dollar).
We were very lucky to have been visiting Kyoto during the peak of the cherry blossoms. Here is a picture of a main street on our way to Ryoanji lined with cherry trees in all their Spring glory.