This is a photo is taken just before the staircase leading up to Ryoan-Ji. This is Tammy, our guide on our first day of the tour and at the first stop on our tour. Many people asked me what my favorite part of the trip was and i really can’t answer because everything was so amazing. I’ll be posting another image of Tammy soon so i will take this opportunity to just post a photo i like and continue on to my story from the airport to how i spent my first night in japan after the jump.

So were i left off i kind of got through immigration. Looking back i completely overreacted in my mind. But that’s kind of who i am. Things were never going to go badly and i may have been really worried but mixed with how excited i was to be there and how sleep deprived i was, well i just loved feeling full of every emotion. OK enough with that, out of the terminal!

So i walked with my two bags (both backpacks), one slung over each shoulder. That’s right i looked like a traveling pro. I was going to be so mobile over the next two weeks..or so i thought. I walked out into the airport to see a group of people standing around waiting to greet their friends or clients and i was one of those lucky people. One of my worries going into this trip was getting off the plane and to my ryokan and samurai tours set those worries aside. Not only did they plan out where i was going to stay, they also set me up with someone who met me at the airport to get me there. And i’m glad because i found out i was going to have to take a train to Kyoto (because i actually flew into Osaka) and then from the station take a taxi to the ryokan. As i stated before, or at least i hope i stated, my Japanese was not up to par to be giving directions to a cabby. So when i rode the escalator down i saw a middle-age lady with a kind smile on her face holding a sign that said “SAMURAI TOURS.” No more worries for me.

I smiled and greeted her with a nice Japanese…well American Japanese “KONNICHIWA!” in which she excitedly returned the greeting and asked me if i was Mr. Larson. It’s going to take me a while to get use to that name but i guess i’m headed toward it. I really wish i could remember her name because this lady went way out of the way for me, as did everyone involved with the samurai tours. She explained i was her only traveler from that flight and that we had some spare time before the train and asked me if i needed help with anything. To go with a certain beer motto, I don’t always take help from people, but while in a foreign country with someone who speaks English i sure take all i can get. I mentioned i two things i wanted to do before the train. 1. Pick up a rental phone so i could call my friend and 2. Pick up my JR Rail Pass for my second week in Japan.

We started with the phone and she brought me to a counter that had “soft bank” phones, which apparently is the name of a popular phone company in Japan similar to our AT&T. I just have no idea where the name comes from. Basically this is how it went, they said something in Japanese, my guide lady (not the one in the photograph i should mention) would translate for me and they wanted way too much money. I kind of read about this online before flying to japan and was prepared for it to be expensive and kind of told myself, well i won’t deal with this now, i can figure it out later because i wouldn’t need a phone for a week.  So i told my guide it was too expensive and we moved on and she told me i did well because i was a bit confuse with the conversation rate.

Next we tackled the JR Rail pass. Which i guess i should take this as an opportunity to say if anyone is actually reading this in prep for going to japan, get this pass! It’s basically a free travel on any JR system (buses in certain cites, farriers, and trains including the bullet train.) I guess i shouldn’t say free because it was a couple hundred dollars but i find it well spent because i traveled all over the country. Ok back on track (PUN). So it was great to have this guide along for the JR station because they spoke … not so great english in there and my guide gave me a couple tips. Mostly that it would be really busy on the rails and if i wanted to guarantee my travel i should make reservations ahead of time. I had no idea so she tried to help me make the reservations however my plans were still kind of up in the air so we really only made the first one which was going to be Kyoto to Osaka on my first day traveling on my own. I don’t know if i would have been able to fully communicate to get the pass settled without the guide (this name seems too formal for how friendly she was). After that we enjoyed some green tea from one of the vending machines and went down stairs to the train rails to board the train for Kyoto.

I do not remember our conversation as much i would like but on the way to the next stop the guide got to know each other. Kind of our back stories and then she gave me just some tips and sights to see in Kyoto when i was out on my own. She was amazed that i was so awake but i had so much energy from finally being in japan that i couldn’t be tired and that was good because i would need to stay up until the night to make sure i got over jet lag as quickly as possible. In Kyoto station the guide told me of some famous ramen places to eat in the station and some really cool sights to see. Then she showed me this little store that sold these tiny extremely thin papers. Apparently these stores were all over japan (which they were) and girls would come here (or guys for their girls) and buy these papers to use to wipe oil off their faces, and she got us free samples for me to try, which after not showering in over 24 hours that paper soaked up some oiiiiillllsss. Groosss, i know but that comes with the job…of traveling…to japan?

Anyway she brought me to the taxi and gave me an envelope to hand to the driver when i arrived. She handed the driver a map of how to get to the ryokan. Now i had read in the Samurai tours guide not to tip anyone, but being an American where we love our tips over here my conscious couldn’t believe that was true. So as she came to see me off i said thank you and went to hand her a tip and, as the guide book said, she backed off and said “No no no no no, you do no tip, it is not necessary” which calmed my mind a bit and kind of made me wish America was a bit more like that. But i could rant for hours on how i feel tipping in America is to the extreme.

So the taxi brought me to ryokan as the sun started to set. It was quite relaxing. When we arrived i handed him the envelope and he handed me back the change and opened my door to let me out and handed me my bags. Now i didn’t know where i was going and i am one to always act in confidence and not admit help so when i got my bags i looked around, not knowing where to go, and walked into the closest building. As this was happening some people came out of another building and asked the taxi for a ride. I quickly realized i had made a mistake in the building i choose and i knew the taxi driver also knew i made a mistake and was debating getting me but he had new passengers now and didn’t want to leave his car (which i didn’t blame him.) But refusing to seem a fool (because this next part is logical) I hid in the building until the taxi drove away. It took a longer then i would like to admit but once he was gone I ran across the street to where the others had exited and checked the sign. “SAKURA HOUSE” It was my ryokan. I had made it.

Guide at Ryoan-ji / From Airport to Ryokan

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