Learning when you don’t understand a damn thing

I’ve now been in Kyoto for almost five days, long enough to have no more jet lag, and enough time to realize that travel blogging (blogging in general?) can be tricky. Within half a day of being in Kyoto, I realized that if I tried to make this a sights-and-tourist oriented blog, I’d have no time to do anything but write. There are literally thousands of temples, shrines, parks, gardens, palaces, mountain backdrops, and unknown surprises in this city.

And for someone like me, when surrounded with Japanese and no English, everything seems poetic and beautiful. I’m never told, “do not enter,” “wrong way,” or “no parking,” because I just don’t know what anything says. The streets are easier to take in because I’m not distracted by ads or glaring signs. I also mostly have no idea what’s going on around me.

What Kyoto had taught me, so far:
1. In July, it is very hot, and very humid. That makes things unpleasant. That’s all I’ll say on the subject, because otherwise this post will be entirely about how hot I am all the time.

2. It’s really not that intimidating. I thought I’d struggle to get around, and getting to Kyoto required navigating a surprisingly English-free airport, train station, another train station, the subway (!), and a semi-residential neighborhood at what was the middle of the night for my body.  But aside from maybe three extremely confusing and awkward minutes in the middle of a very busy subway platform (wish there was a photo of that moment, I’d frame it), I’ve not felt lost once. I’m not taking full credit though, having a smartphone with GPS is a lifesaver.

3. I dislike the tourist thing.  Paying admission day after day gets old very quickly for me. I much prefer just seeing how people live–ordinary, everyday life. And in Kyoto, that travel style can be both perfect and terrible. Terrible, because some of the most popular tourist sights are actually among the most impressive I’ve seen in my life, even though they’re teaming with people, and I’d go back again and again to see them. On the other hand, some everyday, ordinary life things also happen in absolutely remarkable places, like the onsen (bathhouse) near Eri’s work, which happens to be one of the most iconic bathhouses in Japan. It’s been bathing people for over 100 years, and if you pass by in the evening, it’s full of local men and women who pay $4 to relax with their neighbors. To me, that is awesome. Coincidentally, it’s not in my tour guide. Thank God.

4. Riding a bike had never been easier or more welcome. Eri, being awesome, arranged a bike for me to use everyday. A Japanese bike. Which means it’s the best bike in the universe. It has three gears. That’s all you need. It had a little battery pack to give you a boost up a steep hill. It has a build-in lock with a key so you can literally park it anywhere, unattached to anything. Its lights flash when you ride it, and automatically turn off when you get off. My good friend Sayaka once had one in San Diego, and one day it was stolen. It was the only time she ever complained to me about not having a material possession. Now I understand why. And I can basically explore all of Kyoto on it, which is absolutely perfect.

5. I discovered that I really, really love my husband. Before you laugh, I’ll just say that I wasn’t prepared for how I felt being without him in those first days. I thought I knew what “absence makes the heart grow fonder” meant. I didn’t. It’s been one of the greatest moments in my marriage. It’s so amazing to have such intense confirmation that I love him more now than ever before. And even beyond that, I’m feeling so much more gratitude for having–and actively creating, with a lot of intention and energy–such a wonderful, special marriage. I am feeling incredibly blessed for everything Mike is, more so than ever before.

6. Kyoto natives may not smile at the drop of a hat like we do in the US, but they are possibly the happiest, and among the kindest, people I’ve encountered while traveling.

7. Women (and men) wear traditional kimono like summer dresses here. Eri keeps insisting that they’re not kimono but something else, and while I understand the distinction, to me, it’s a still a kimono and it’s an absolutely beautiful element of the cultural.

8. Caucasian people really do stick out a lot here. It’s quite funny, actually.

9. I have yet to see anyone eating sushi. Just like I’ve never seen anyone eating burritos in Mexico. Aside from tourists.

10. I learned that you shouldn’t drink the tap water here, after four days of drinking gallons of the stuff. All’s well that ends well.


6 thoughts on “Learning when you don’t understand a damn thing

  1. Christina – sounds like you are having a wonderful time and absorbing a lot, which makes me happy. 🙂 I always wondered why no bikes were ever locked up over there…no I know why. 🙂


    – D.

  2. LOL. I love hearing your stories about my motherland. And they’re not “kimonos”, she’s right. It’s called a yukata. Just think of it this way – kimonos = silk and embroidered fabrics and yukata’s are cotton – meaning that especially in the summer time when there are tons of festivals (outdoor festivals) its cooler than wearing heavy layers of silk 🙂 XOXOXO

    • Now I wish I had bought a yukata before leaving Kyoto. They are so beautiful, and so beautifully feminine. Japanese women taught me a lesson in being a more feminine woman O:-)

  3. You can buy them here 🙂 they’re not that expensive in the US and then i’ll teach you how to wear one 🙂 I’m a pro at that.

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