This is a picture of a mini shrine mixed with several other smaller shrines around one larger shrine in the middle of a shopping district of Kyoto. It was really cool and i’ll  give more information about that market in a later post. What i will share now is just that these little shrines, and that might not be the most accurate word to describe them, were everywhere, and usually not many employees or guards around them. People just came and made offerings and prayed at them whenever they wanted.  After the Jump I’ll continue my story of my first night in Japan, out on my own.

Ok, so where i kind of left off was that i got to my Ryokan and well now i was getting kind of hungry and extremely sleepy. Pushing myself to be adventurous (and also to adapt to the time) I grabbed the maps of the local area and headed out. That is when i realized how nice the air conditioning felt inside. Over the last several years living in LA I’ve forgotten how much humidity can have an effect on you. Glad I was wearing shorts and leaning on the little knowledge I had of the area from the taxi ride i started to follow my footsteps back toward the train station. I remembered that there were some recommended ramen shops down by the train station. I remembered the general direction of where i came from but because it was getting late i decided to stay closer to the main roads and avoid the narrow dark alleys we had driven. Little did I know that those tiny alleys were actually full one way streets in Japan. It is just a tightly packed city.  Also as the days progressed I realized saftey wasn’t really a concern in that area or what seems like anywhere in japan. One i was bigger then almost everyone and two i never really felt unsafe (partly because of one).

Anyway, i crossed a couple bridges over roads and followed some bicyclists down toward where i thought the train station would be. Passing many street signs that would not be helpful later (even though they had translations in English, all the roads names looked very long and similar) and arrived at a very large building i figured must be close to the station and approached it. I passed by many shops including a yoshinoya beef bowl (for those of you not on the west coast these are a chain in america) and a 7/11. I didn’t want something expensive my first night but i did want to sit down and eat somewhere. I decided I’d go into this monumental building (and i use that word because later i found out it was a 15 + floor shopping center entangled with the train station).

Once inside I worked my way past several pastry shops to find some noodle shops, all trying to work my way to where i remembered the train station. I weaved in and outside to discover somehow i was in the basement or underground of the building and began taking staircases and escalators to eventually make it up to what i think was the 9th floor (i had seen a sign that had a “9F” on it and many pictures of food). When i arrived it was easy to see what the shops sold because outside of each in a glass display were plastic (but realistic looking) versions of what were sold inside. Similar to how in America we put menus outside, here they took it one step further to eliminate words. This worked perfectly for me. I walked the floor to find many strange options including some interesting pizzas to some expensive authentic Japanese options.  Determined to have Japanese food and not spend a fortune on it i decided to work my way back down to the basement where i had seen some udon noodle shops earlier. I found one that appeared to be the right price, took a deep breath knowing this would be my first interaction with a local and walked in.

I walked through a curtain to and stood in a tiny shop that was not super crowded, which was good because i didn’t think it could hold more then 20 people and stood near the door. This is when i realized that i had no idea on Japanese customs for seating at a restaurant. I defaulted to my not understanding anything but try and be really kind and nice and hope people realize you are a foreigner, which for me was no problem. A host arrived and what i assumed asked me how many people i was with and i responded with “Ichi.” He turned around and walked off. Taking a moment to survey what was going on i assumed what i said was the correct response and followed him. He sat me down at a table that could seat 6 and 4 other Japanese people eating. I put my back pack down and took a seat. It felt a little strange to be seated across from what seemed like a family and almost next to another person i didn’t know but at least i didn’t have to worry about overhearing or putting up with awkward small talk. I smiled at the others and began looking at the menu. The waiter must have seen my blank face because he quickly brought out an English menu in which i gave him a warm “arigatou” and he returned a smile. I realized they could speak a little bit of English and with that i was able to also use some of my Japanese to communicate. One phrase i knew going in and used right away was “Beero okudosai” and with those magic words a beer appeared in front of me. I also ordered some udon noodles and had a really nice dinner sipping on my ice cold beer and eating some hot udon. While eating they dropped off a receipt at my table with the bill.

At the end of my meal i kind of took some money out of my wallet (i luckily read before hand that japan was mostly a cash society and exchanged some yen before arriving) and sat with the money on the receipt. After a few moments i finished my beer and waited a little bit trying to catch someone’s eye. I did and handed them the payment and they returned me the change and feeling strange not tipping (because you don’t tip in japan) i ventured back to the ryokan. I walked outside and immediately remembered the heat and humidity and even though it was dark out it had not really cooled down much. I didn’t have any problems getting back to the ryokan and when i arrived back in my room i set my alarm for the morning and laid out my futon bed and passed out.

Kyoto Market Shrine / Japan Night 1

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