Spring Break 2010 – Day Seven

On this seventh day of our visit to Kyoto we had the entire day set aside to travel by train to Arashiyama. This is located on the west side of Kyoto nestled up against the hills. This is a very traditional Japanese area filled with temples, shrines, historic sites and shopping areas. Something for everyone as our time in Kyoto quickly draws short.

Instead of riding the modern fast trains from Kyoto station, this day we used the older lines. This first train got us from a few blocks from the school all the way out to the Arashiyama station. From there we were going to ride an open air train up into the mountains and then take river boats back down through the rapids of the river.

It’s amazing what some people start to miss when away from home. Some of the students brought their favorite things with them. One student pulled out a Monster energy drink at the train station. Another student ran up and offered to buy it from him. He did not want to part with it, as it was his last one (and they were nowhere to be found in Kyoto, especially in this size of a can). The bidding war began and when all as said and done, this single can of energy drink sold for 5,000 yen (about $50).

He wanted this picture taken to memorialize the transaction. So here it is posted on the PacRimX blog and now being archived into the history of the Internet (and PacRimX).

I had seen pictures of Arashiyama on the Internet. Even with the cloud cover, this was still everything I had expected. It is what I think of when I think Japan. The cherry tree lined streets, the traditional Japanese architecture, the river setting, the rolling hills with splotches of pink blooms, all of tiny restaurants serving delicious Japanese dishes.

We walked a few blocks and boarded the open air “Romantic Train” to go up into the hills. We were disappointed to find out that it had rained too much the day before and the rapids had picked up considerably overnight. We were told the boats could not safely come down the rapids with such a current, and that we would have to take a train back instead of the boats.

When we reached the end of the line, we were greeted by many badgers (we were told they were badgers, but in looking them up on the Internet it appears that they are raccoon dogs), the symbol of prosperity that is often displayed near the entrance of a business in Japan. It’s an interesting symbol of prosperity. These badgers are well endowed, and yes, that’s a turtle shell on its back. His name is Tanuki.

Because we did not have tickets to return on the train, and this is a very popular attraction, we had to buy tickets in the standing room only car for the return trip. Not as much fun as the boats, but we did make it back down to Arashiyama. Hopefully next year the weather will be more cooperative and we will get to experience the boat ride down.

When we got back we hiked over to the famous bamboo forest. This was an amazing area to walk through on our way back to town.

I find that in Japan you need to keep your eyes open and look everywhere while walking if you want to see everything. There are so many little statues and other things tucked away in interesting places. Sometimes they are right beside the sidewalk (like the picture below), and other times they may be on the roofs of temples, on the downspouts of buildings, and other interesting places.

On our way to the Monkey Park we saw the boats parked for the day just up the river from the bridge we were crossing. We gave the students a place and time to meet up later, and let them go to explore this area on their own.

The snow monkey park it at the top of the hill just outside of town across the bridge. It’s quite a hike up to the top to see the wild monkeys. Many of our students struggled to get to the top, as they were not active hikers prior to this trip.

There were a whole lot of these snow monkeys walking around up at the top of the mountain. You were high above Kyoto, looking down on the Kyoto Tower in the distance. The monkeys were actually pretty aggressive. I saw one that looked pretty friendly, I slid my camera up into a position to snap a picture, and before I could click off the shot the monkey screeched and jumped forward in an aggressive display.

People could feed the monkeys sliced up bananas for a few yen. However, unlike the zoo, the people had to get in a cage to feed the monkeys outside.

Scott and I were the last to head down the path back to Arashiyama. We heard some yelling and yelping down the hill, and as we approached we knew that the sounds were not from more monkeys, but actually from our students having stumbled on a small playground on the way down the path.

This was a great day at Arashiyama. Many of the students got a chance to do some shopping for gifts to take home. And how many people can say they stared down a large snow monkey face to face and lived to tell the tale?

We headed back to the train station to go back to school. There were many ways to get back to the train station, some more traditional than others.

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