The following is a summary of Riku-san's experiences in Kyoto using his own words.
My trip to Japan
First of all I would like say that before this trip I had only visited few different countries in Europe. I know only the very basics phrases of Japanese, so I really canít say Iím able to speak the language, and neither can I read Japanese writing. The next couple of things Iím going to write about are probably something very ordinary in Japan, or at least in Kyoto, but still they were something that made me stop and wonder. It was actually quite funny that I found so many of the ordinary things interesting, but I'm sure I've just seen a very small portion of it all. I probably understand now better than before that I really don't know that much about Kyoto and itís traditions, even though I thought I knew at least something before going there.
It was already a surprise when I got the e-mail saying that I
was nominated for the Win a Trip to Kyoto part IV, so it was really even greater surprise, when I
got the e-mail telling me, that I had actually won the lottery. I was just
stunned, since I really couldn't believe that this sort of luck could fall upon
me: Iím really going to Kyoto! It took me many days to calm down, thatís how excited I
was about this trip. And it really was a worthy trip.
When I arrived at Osaka International Airport and came out of the plane, the first thing that was very
much different from Finland was of course the weather. It was very warm day, around
+35 degree Celsius, the sun was shining and the humidity was really something.
To be honest, the only thing I had problems to cope with was the weather. Still
I tried not to let it bother me, just had to drink lots of water and try to
stay out of the sun when possible in order to avoid dehydration.
I took a bus from Osaka International Airport to Kyoto with help of a Japanese lady, to whom I'm very grateful,
and finally arrived to Kyoto Station, where one of Tozando's international team
employees, Yu Bo, was waiting for me. After a short introduction we took a taxi
in order to get to the Tozando Main store and office, and during the trip I saw
a little of the Kyoto's city center. At the office I met another employee of
the international team, Gavin, and together with Yu Bo they told me some of the
basics of how to get around in Kyoto, gave me a map, and also some bus tickets. At this point
we also made some plans regarding the next few days. After that I left for my
first short walk around Kyoto.
While walking around the streets I was already amazed by
how different everything was compared to a city in Finland: the traffic, streets, architecture, just everything.
The streets are much steeper and buildings are built very near by one another,
which is very much different from the area where I live in Finland. Also the traffic is left-sided in Japan, so it took me some time to get used to it (in Finland itís right-sided). I must have looked like a real
tourist, since I was taking pictures of pretty much everything I saw.
During my first short walk I visited the Nijo-castle,
which was rather near by the main office of Tozando, and also the Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden. I was already amazed by the castle and the garden, they
are just so magnificent and very much different from the castles and gardens
Iím used to. When I returned to the main office, I got a chance to meet Tozando's
manager, Yamamoto-san, which I consider a great honor for me.
After the first day I got a ride from Gavin to the
Tozando guest house which was in a place called Omi Maiko. It was 42 kilometers
away from Kyoto, and thatís where I was going to live for the duration
of the trip. The guest house was a very nice place to be staying at, and I
really did enjoy my stay there. Also I was very happy that the guest house had
an air conditioning system which really was needed after the long and warm day,
and also after the days to come. It was also nice that Gavin actually lived
quite near by the guest house: when he was going to work Iíd get a lift from
him, so it was very convenient and easy for me to get to Kyoto. Of course during the weekend I took a train, which was
actually quite easy to use, even though I was rather nervous about it at first. The following days I visited many different shrines, temples and gardens which
are located around different parts of Kyoto. I was happy to get some recommendations from Gavin and
Yu Bo, and also from some friends of mine from Finland, since I didnít know which places I should visit. Though
now I think that it really doesn't matter which of the places you visit, since
every one of the places is really worth seeing. Every single place I visited
was really a wonder to look at: very beautiful, massive, full of stories and
questions but still in a calming and relaxing way. I really enjoyed my long
walks in the gardens, shrines and temples.
At the beginning of my trip Yu Bo was going around Kyoto with me, answering my questions to his best knowledge
and teaching how to get around easily by bus and how to use the bus tickets. He
really seemed to know a lot of the places we visited, and I really enjoyed
listening to the stories and facts he told me about the temples and shrines.
The places that struck me the most during the trip were probably Daikaku-ji
temple, Kinkaku-ji temple, Heian Jingu shrine, Fujimi Inari area and Kiyomizu
Dera area. Also the Higashi Hongan-ji temple was something very amazing in my
opinion, even though it was under some heavy reconstruction, and I wasn't able
to see all of it. Out of the modern places, I really enjoyed visiting Kyoto National Museum and Kyoto International Manga Museum and also three different stores Tozando has around Kyoto.
Before my trip I actually didn't know that Tozando has
different stores around Kyoto, so those were also places I wanted to visit. The stores
specialized in different products: the 'Main Store' specializes in Kendo,
Aikido and also some other martial arts, The 'Shogoin Store' specializes in Iaido
and Samurai armor among other things(obviously my favorite store of the three,
since Iím practicing Iaido) and the third I visited was called 'Gallery 369'
and had different kinds of decorations and Buddhist statues made out of wood
and other materials. Of these three stores, we used the main office as a place
where we would meet up if needed.
With help of Yu Bo I had little chats with the people working in the different stores. It was actually a pleasant surprise that in the store which specializes in Iaido, the woman behind the counter, Tsuchiya-san, was able to speak English. Also at the main office there were employees who were able to speak English. All of the stores were very nicely decorated and had a nice traditional feeling to them. The staff was always very helpful and polite, so it was very easy for me to ask anything from them, if I had a question about a product or about anything. At the Main Store it was also interesting to watch when a few of the craftsman employees working there were actually crafting the pieces of equipment needed in Kendo.
During the walks I visited different kinds of restaurants
and I have to say Japanese food is very good. I was very happy to be tasting
all those different, and to me rather exotic dishes. Yu Bo took me for lunch to
couple very nice restaurants, and during the days I was going around by myself,
I just went to different restaurants without knowing what to expect. I really
have to recommend a little restaurant in the Arashiyama area called Ichi Kyu
(Iím unfortunately not sure if it was spelled like that). The food was
absolutely delicious and the service I got there was really top notch. I also
met an old Japanese couple there, with whom I had a very nice conversation
with. Of course there was a little problem with the language, since Yu Bo wasn't with me during this day, but we managed quite alright with a little
English, very basic Japanese and also with different gestures.
On the 12th I got a chance to watch Kendo and also Kyudo practice
sessions. I had heard about Kendo, and I had watched some Kendo matches from YouTube,
but Kyudo was completely new to me. Iím practicing Muso Shiden Ryu Iaido
myself, so I didn't take part in these two. I had never seen how either of them
is actually practiced, so it was very interesting for me to just sit and watch.
It was also interesting to see what kind places the Dojo's are in Japan. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take part in Iaido
practice session even though we tried to arrange for that, but I really didn't
mind. There was so much to see that I really didn't think it was that bad to
miss a training session. Perhaps Iíll get my chance to practice Iaido in Japan another time.
I was lucky that the Gion Matsuri festival was going on during my visit. Occasionally I saw one or two of the carriages being built, and I thought that I really should see them when they were ready. On the 17th July I went to see the main event of Gion Matsuri, the large parade, and again I have to say I was rather stunned. It was just very impressive; every carriage was so massive and so many people were needed to pull this very big event off. And the music which was played added very much to the atmosphere of the parade. It was very crowded during that day in the Gion area, so I really got a feeling that something big was going on. Itís actually a shame that I didn't do more research about Kyoto before going there. Perhaps I would have understood better the reasons behind everything that was happening during the Gion Matsuri, and about many other things too. Still even though I wasn't completely sure what was going on it was really amazing. And in my opinion it's very important that a tradition like this has been preserved all these years. I had never seen something like that before.
Another thing I never got tired of was the nature and the
mountains surrounding Kyoto and also Omi Maiko where I was staying. In Finland we have no real mountains, so I was very excited to just
look at them and let my eyes rest on their beauty and greatness. During two of
the days of my stay I was walking around in Omi Maiko and admiring the
surrounding forests and the mountains. There was also this large lake called
Biwako near Omi Maiko that really got my attention. It might have been nice to go
and have a walk in the wild, but I couldn't manage to do everything I wanted in
such a short time. Perhaps I'll get a chance to do that if I'm ever able to
visit Japan again!
The thing that made my stay at Kyoto so easy and carefree was probably the fact that everyone
was so polite and willing to help me if I needed help, even though I donít even
speak Japanese. The things I really did enjoy in Kyoto were the politeness, the helpfulness and also the very
good manners that people had there. It is unfortunate, that I canít speak
Japanese, and therefore couldn't have conversations with the people I met
during my visit, but of course when Yu Bo was with me, he would translate the
conversation, if we were speaking with someone. Also I noticed very soon that I
was bowing to everyone, even though thatís not a custom in Finland, but still I thought it was very nice. It was quite
catching and it becomes a habit quite fast. Perhaps I should keep bowing even
though Iím back in Finland at the moment!
Overall I'm very satisfied with the trip. There's nothing more I could have ever
asked for this kind of trip, and I'm very grateful to everyone at Tozando for
giving me this great opportunity and honor. Special thanks to Yu Bo and Gavin
for taking care of me during my stay and for arranging everything for me. You
really made my visit to Japan unforgettable. Iíll be sure to keep supporting Tozando!
Riku Huomo (Finland)
Winner of Win a trip to Japan IV
Ps. There is one more thing to be mentioned. Three days
after my arrival in Finland, the custom Iaito I had ordered from Tozando
arrived. It truly is a piece of art and so far I've been very happy to be
practicing with it. It arrived at the perfect time after my trip: I was able to
come home and settle down, and then the Iaito arrived. It was a good way for me
to go back in time and remember what I had seen and experienced in Kyoto, and also a good reason for me to check every
single one of the photos I took during the trip again.