Our first trip out of Tokyo was to the old Imperial Capital of Kyoto. It was an eight-hour trip by train (Japan didn’t yet have bullet trains, but they did already had very fast, air-conditioned trains, however they were expensive). We had the brilliant idea of taking the midnight train which we would sleep on, thereby getting to Kyoto at 8 AM rested and ready to go. I don’t remember when we got to the train station, but what ever time it was, it was too late. The train was standing room only.
Japan was in a heat wave and the temperature was over 35°C outside, at the Tokyo station, it was hotter inside the train. Most, or at least many, of the people on the train had stripped down to their underwear, hanging their clothes up on hangers so they would look nice and neat when we all got to Kyoto. This was before I read about the Japanese ability to compartmentalize behavior, still being in a stifling hot railroad car with a group of people in their underwear was not as weird as it sounds here. Part of it was that underwear in those days, in conservative Japan, was modest in the extreme and part of it was that we were naive in the same way that gullible people are naive, anything seemed possible and, even, normal.
Terry and I slept sitting on the floor, leaning against the closest seat. Being young and in the Army, I was more or less able to sleep anywhere, or so I thought. In this case, we didn’t get much sleep and arrived in Kyoto ready for bed. The fact that Kyoto was even hotter and muggier than Tokyo didn’t help either. Of course, checking into a place to stay at 8:00AM was out of the question (we found out when we tried). So we spent the morning of our first day wandering through some magnificent buildings, zombie-like. Kyoto was the largest city in Japan and the Imperial capital for many years and it is full of treasures like the Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Daitokuji Temple, Heian Shrine, and the list goes on and on, we zombied many of them.
On five dollars a day – our approximate budget was actually six bucks a day – we had to sleep in cheap hotels and cheap hotels in Japan are ryokan, a kind of Japanese inn almost like an old boardinghouse. That meant we slept on mats on the floor in rooms with sliding soji screen doors. The bathroom was a squat toilet down the hall or down some stairs and the shower was a communal hot tub in the basement that we couldn’t use until we washed off – usually – with a garden hose. They did come with breakfast which was a money saver except that breakfast was fishhead soup with some very rubbery, chewy, things we called Dunlaps (after the tire). Looking back on it, they were more charming than this sounds and, at the time, some were less charming. Never the less, they were cheap.
After our afternoon rest, we hit the town. One of the highlights that night was a strip club where the strippers were dressed in about the same fashion as the women in their underwear the night before on the train. At the strip club, the Japanese patrons went crazy. Really crazy, running at the stage crazy. It was a shock and we kept asking ourselves Why don’t they just take a night train ride.
The next day, we started sightseeing in earnest.
One of the Kyoto sights that was high on my list was a famous – even then – Zen rock garden of Ryoanji-Sekitei. My mother thought of herself as somewhat of a Japanophile, and – in addition to exposing me to Japanese food – she taught me an appreciation of Japanese art starting with the art of the Zen garden. Our hotel was near the train station and the rock garden was at a Zen temple across town, strangely near the strip joint, and it was a long walk (in the muggy, smoggy, air). But, when got there, it was worth it.
Close by is the Zen Golden Temple of Kinkaku-ji and it was even more worth it.
Kinkaku-ji was not the only temple with water a water garden, we ran into several others in other cities, but this was our first.
And just down the road was Osaka and Osaka Castle. As I remember it, Osaka was a pretty dismal, industrial city, but the castle was terrific. Years later, while reading Shōgun by James Clavell, I came across a section in which a feudal lord and a samurai are standing on the parapets of Osaka Castle, pledging allegiance while thinking about how they are going to double cross each other. I said to myself, I’ve been there.
To be continued (and finished).