I’ve couchsurfed, rented an apartment in Bangkok through Roomorama, and just recently, I stayed at an apartment in Kyoto with an AirBnB host. What’s next?
Having just visited Japan four months earlier, I preferred not to live in hostels, during the country’s busiest season. This time around, I was interested in a more local experience away from the crowds. What better way to do that than in an apartment smack dab in the center of Kyoto? Off of Karasuma-dori (main road in Kyoto that leads to the city center from Kyoto Station) on a quiet side street near Shijo station is where I hibernated away from heavy tourist traffic for one week. And with my favorite go-to convenience store, 7/11 just on the corner, I was in heaven.
If there’s such a thing as delving too deep into a local culture, it happened in Kyoto, Japan.
If there is one thing I really admire about the Japanese, it is how much use they make out of such little space. It’s a level of minimalism that had me throwing away everything when I got home. Their apartments are literally sanctuaries only used for sleeping, relaxing, or conversation. Many kitchens don’t come well-equipped to cook a full meal (as was the case in my Kyoto apartment, but it’s okay because Japan already has too many delicious cafes and restaurants to try), but it can be done.
Let’s not forget the toilets. Oh the toilets! Japan may no longer be one of the most technologically advanced countries, but heated seats and built in bum washers are gifts from God. Can’t forget to mention how clean the apartment was. Not saying it was completely spotless, but if I spilled even a drop of water, I’d have a mini panic attack over whether or not it would leave a stain. Their cleanliness is a testament to how proper and poised the Japanese culture and society is.
Speaking of which, during the Kyoto portion of my trip, I really started to see the human elements of life in Japan beyond the businessmen in suits, pretty faces and smiles, and genuity. All of that is still there of course, but I also saw how hard people really work and the resulting exhaustion on their faces (they’ve trained themselves to sleep standing up and even sleepwalk). Even my host, Satoshi, claimed that one of Japan’s many problems are that people are overworked and stressed out, speaking from his own experience.
Additionally, I was publicly shamed twice for not being able to speak Japanese which I admit was difficult to shake off because it was like being called out on one of my worst insecurities. I noticed people shoving past each other on the streets and onto the subways, something I hadn’t previously witnessed in Japan but behavior that was prevalent in South Korea. I encountered my first “tiger mom,” and this time around, in trying to have a conversation with people, it was like pulling teeth battling their low self-confidence. In more ways than one, those moments and experiences were very frustrating. Strangely enough though, it made me love the Japanese even more because it revealed they’re not as perfect as I had previously built them up to be in my head.
As I mentioned before, I had just visited Kyoto in November so when Satoshi asked me what I wanted to do while I was there, I didn’t have a good answer. I truthfully admitted, I just needed some place quiet to hibernate and work for a week. I would do some sight seeing, sure, but it would not be the focus of my visit this time around. Though I think he was deflated by my answer, he gracefully understood.
Satoshi is a very quiet, sweet, and gentle soul. Sure, he loves karaoke and a night out with friends, but when the weekend comes, his activities are very low key (i.e. sleep, studying html/css, movies, etc.). Why? Maybe it’s because he works from 8:30am to 10pm every M-F. As you already guessed, because he works such absurd hours, I didn’t see him much during the week. By the time he came home, we were both so tired from our busy days that all we could muster up were a simple “how was your day?” and a drifting “yasumi nasai” (means goodnight in Japanese). We did manage to share our love of travel through stories and natural curiosity for exploring new places.
On my last day in Kyoto, we decided to go walk around in Gion which was too crowded, but we ate omen udon as our last meal together, visited Chion-in temple, and walked through Nishiki market. He loves to aimlessly wander like I do so he made the perfect sidekick with which to explore.
Booking an apartment in the hopes of getting work done didn’t exactly pan out the way I’d planned. For the first 4 days I was taking day trips, going out exploring, and I quickly learned that it is not easy to achieve a work-life balance, especially with the Spring weather tempting me to go play outside. As I got more and more behind, I just gave in to Kyoto’s natural charm.
On my way into the city, Mt. Fuji made an appearance making me wish it were the right season to go climbing. Alas, it will have to wait until next Summer. Other stops during the week included my first visit to Fushimi Inari Shrine, randomly perusing the back streets of Gion, marveling at sakura, day trips to Himeji and Arashiyama, attending an international exchange party in Osaka, and the Imperial Palace.
Situated near Shijo-dori, that’s where I went searching for my daily meals, and of course, I made some great discoveries. Marugame Seimen (丸亀製麺) on Kawaramachi-dori (just before you hit Sanjo-dori) has an English menu and different udon selections, many of which are 500 JPY or less. I went back a few times for curry udon at 380 JPY. Can’t beat that. There are a few dumpling places in the back streets of Gion near Nishiki market that were very good as well as a stand-up noodle bar on Shijo-dori near Holly’s Cafe before you hit Kawaramachi. I apologize for not knowing the exact names of the restaurants, but when I become fluent in written Japanese, I’ll update this post.
Unfortunately, since writing this post, Satoshi has moved back to Tokyo, but perhaps the new resident of his old apartment will decide to use AirBnB one day too. Who knows?