Our third day in Japan was a little bittersweet for me because we were moving from Kyoto to Osaka. We had been really enjoying Kyoto, and there were still so many places to see. Already, I knew I was going to miss that convenience store where we bought cinnamon cookie-flavored KitKat. I was going to miss the McDonald’s where I first had McGriddles. The Yoshinoya where we had dinner! (Why is everything related to food?) I remember feeling a little sad because I wanted to stay for a few more days. In hindsight, we should have just made Kyoto our base and gone on an Osaka day trip instead of moving there completely. But I think the move made me appreciate Kyoto more that day, and I promised myself that I would come back to get to know the city more intimately. Coming back for ya, Kyoto.
Six months after the Day 1 post, here we are again! Better late than never. Here’s an extremely long one to tide you over until the Day 3 write-up, which I may or may not write after six months.
The bulk of our second day in Japan was for our first guided day tour around Kyoto care of Viator. We were heading to some of Kyoto’s famous spots: Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Shrine, Sanjusangen-do, and Kiyomizu Temple. Though Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is a superb city, Kyoto is what I first envisioned Japan would be. Dozens of historical sites perfectly preserved all around the city, ladies in kimonos on their way to dinner and tea, strangers so helpful they’ll literally go out of their way just so you can check that temple off your itinerary. When first-time travellers to Japan ask me which city they shouldn’t miss aside from Tokyo, I always, always say Kyoto.
The last time we went abroad as a family was for our Europe trip. We were a little late leaving the house, which translates to being very late given the traffic in Manila, so we were worried about missing our flight. I remember my mother getting agitated as we got nearer to the airport. She told everyone to haul ass, get the bags, go through check-in, and get on board the plane. Well, we hauled ass so much we got down the car and shut the doors at the same time, trapping the car keys inside and activating the automatic lock. With all our luggage still inside. Balls.
We were getting desperate to the point that smashing the car window was more bearable than missing our flight. Luckily, we found a guy who jimmied the lock loose using a piece of wire. You know, no biggie, the same thing carjackers do(!). Long story short: We made our flight, had a lovely vacation, and came back to tell this story again and again and again.
Fortunately, our departure for Japan this time was very smooth. We left the house around 1:30 AM to get to the airport by 3 AM. Our Cebu Pacific flight was scheduled to leave by 5 PM. Everything went off without a hitch. Four hours later, we were in Japan. Blessed by the travel gods.
Here was the plan:
Day 1: Land in Tokyo, but transfer to Kyoto.
Day 2: Explore Kyoto.
Day 3: Explore Kyoto more. At night, head to Osaka.
Day 4: Explore Osaka.
Day 5: Head back to Tokyo. DIY Tokyo tour.
Day 6: Mt. Fuji-san!
Day 7: Tokyo day tour.
Day 8: Manila, Manila… I keep coming back to Manila…
My first experience in Japan wasn’t tasting amazing sushi, seeing a dolled-up cosplayer, or eating a life-changing bowl of ramen; it was going to the bathroom to pee. I had been hearing a lot of wonderful, strange things about Japanese toilets—how advanced they are, how intimidating for people who have only experienced pushing a lever to flush.
The first thing I did when I encountered the control board beside the toilet was look for the flush button…and I couldn’t find it. I pressed a blue button that said FLUSHING SOUND, but nope, that one was just really for a flushing sound and no actual flushing. Unable to hold back the call of nature any longer, I did the deed while the flushing sound was still playing, hoping people would ignore the noob in the first stall. I pressed the STOP button and took a minute to let myself be amazed at the heated seat, the “powerful” deodorizer, the bidet, and all the other mysterious options. Wow. I haven’t left the airport bathroom yet and I was in awe already.
When I was younger, I knew Japan only by the anime I watched after school. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who considered Heero Yuy to be quite a big part of childhood.
Since then, I eagerly acquainted myself with all things Japanese through their films, their food, and the stories of people who were fortunate enough to have traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun. I came to love Japanese culture, which has an aesthetic, value system, and a way of life I find very enchanting and exemplary. To me, the Japanese are a truly unique people unlike any other culture I’ve read about. Filipinos are a melting pot of Asian and European influences, fueling spirited debates about what it really means to be Filipino. The Japanese are Japanese, unquestionably. Before my family went to Europe, I was excited. When I got a whiff of budget plane fare to Japan, I was manic. I immediately sent a Facebook message to my parents and brothers telling them “I have to eat here! I have to go there! I can’t leave Japan without experiencing these!” I remember feeling an acute mix of thrill and stress after I put away my credit card away and emailed the itinerary receipt to my parents. That must be how people feel when their dreams really do come true. It was finally going to happen. We were definitely going to Japan.
I was adamant on fixing our itinerary myself, confident we could go around on our own in a country that had a completely indistinguishable language and writing system from English, but my mother wasn’t too keen on that idea. We’ve always availed of tours, which make travel incredibly convenient with air-conditioned coaches and English-trained guides, but I’m always left wanting by the end of our trips. Pre-arranged tours are meant to be efficient and homogeneous. The itinerary and schedule are inflexible and must be followed at all costs. Many a times I wanted to spend an extra hour here or there, but it wasn’t possible unless I wanted to catch up with the bus somewhere somehow. For Japan, I found this way of travel inadequate. I had seven days to explore Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. I wanted to experience everything.