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Journey in Japan Part 17: Cicadas of the Lost Park

Today I wake up at 8am. I go outside and take a short wander. It seems that Kyoto is still sleeping. I return to the hostel to steal a few more hours myself. At 11am, it seems that Kyoto is still sleeping. Shops are closed. Nothing really happening. I decide to do some ‘sightseeing’. I walk from the hostel in a straight line on the same road for ten minutes. I then arrive at Kyoto Imperial Palace Park.

I am fortunate to be staying in Downtown Kyoto; a lot of places are within walking distance. Very convenient as I am sick of trains. The gardens here are quite impressive, they feature Omiya Palace, Sento Palace, multiple shrines, a peach grove, and of course, Kyoto Imperial Palace. The peach grove is odd, the peaches are within arms reach, I can steal a few if want to, but don’t. The best looking shrine is the Isukushima Shrine; it sits quietly over a lake.There are signs in some areas of Kyoto Imperial Palace Park that say, “Not to be visited by tourists.” There are little to no other tourists here anyway; perhaps the signs have driven them all away. There are hordes of homeless people though. Some of the paths are overgrown, others forgotten many years ago. I see one gardener delicately pollarding the branches of a tree. Just one gardener for a park 1.3 kilometers in length.

As for the Kyoto Imperial Palace, it is behind a moat and a tall wall. The water in the moat has dried up. The wall too high to see the palace beyond. Even if the wall wasn’t there, it would be completely shrouded by trees anyway. I quite literally can’t see the Palace for the trees.

There is one thing I do like though, and this is the sound made by the Cicadas. These little insects just love to sing. The trees here are full of them. And there are a lot of trees; ten thousand trees in the Palace Park alone. The noise these insects make sounds alien to me, maybe robotic; but calming. I spend a full hour wandering the park.

It is another hot day. Well over 30°C, as usual. A woman outside sprays water from a hosepipe around the path leading into her shop. I believe this is to keep the dust down. I cross the Kamo-gawa River; much like the Palace moat, it is dried up from the heat, the fish left behind for the birds. As I walk through the shopping arcade I realise that there are loads of crêperies here. At least eight or nine shops selling pancakes. A sign in one of the pancake shops attempts to forecast the weather:

Back at the hostel, I sit opposite a guy as he flips through a popular guidebook. “Where are you going today?” he asks, half for the sake of conversation, half for idea of places to visit. He waits for me to list off all of the same places as everyone else.
“I’m going to a Kaleidoscope Museum,” I tell him, proudly. His expression full of puzzlement. He desperately flicks through his guidebook, presumably the ‘Kyoto’ section, but to no avail.
“Hmmph.” He utters, suggesting that if it isn’t in his guidebook, then it doesn’t exist.

I walk halfway across the city, only to find that the Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto is closed today. I will be back, I say to the locked door with a shake of my head.

One thing I like about Kyoto, is that on street corners there are nice little plaques in English offering a little bit of insightful history about the area. A nice touch. I feel a little hungry, so decide to swing by a local café at the organic market. I pay ¥940 for a soybean croquette, a cheese croquette, and a beer. The food and drink aren’t particularly photogenic, so I skip the photograph.

I decide while I am here at Nishiki Market, to sample some of the local foods. There are more than one hundred shops and restaurants here. They sell seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties; such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi. I buy three different traditional Japanese snacks, and take them back to the hostel.

On the left I have Gobo Tamari Zuke, or pickled burdock root; marinated in sugar and soy sauce. I wish I had bought this in Okayama to go with the dandelion. In the middle, some sort of Matcha snack. It is basically Turkish Delight coated in a fine green tea flavoured powder, instead of the usual icing sugar. On the right, Japanese traditional cake with soy beans. It has been made for approximately 150 years using the same traditional manufacturing method. I am told by the packaging that, “One piece of one piece is the cracker which I baked carefully.” The cake costs ¥400, and is my favorite of the three.

After trying my snacks and finishing my book, I head out for dinner.

I spot a gyōza restaurant. Gyōza is a type of Japanese dumpling, usually with a meat filling. This restaurant has an English menu outside, it states that one of the fillings they offer is shrimp. I order the shrimp gyōza with a beer and a spiced cucumber dish as a side. The cucumber dish arrives as I wait for my dumplings, the spices make a good balance to what would normally be a dull snack. Three pieces of shrimp gyōza show up. I was expecting at least five pieces. Then, after I finish my first of the three, a plate of ten fried dumplings are placed in front of me. Bonus!

As I eat, I mishandle my chopsticks. One of the dumplings falls and lands in the saucer of soy sauce, the sauce splashes up and hits me in my left eye. It stings. I spend the rest of my meal with tears rolling down one side of my face. The restaurant is rather cheap, and I pay a total of ¥1570 for eight pieces of shrimp gyōza and two pints of Asahi Beer.

I head back to the hostel, to the bar. I see a guy reading ‘Women’ by Charles Bukowski. I tell him that I hate Bukowski. It turns out the guy is from Surrey. I spend the rest of the evening in the bar talking about literature and politics.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I explore some Kyoto temples and learn all about Kaleidoscopes by clicking here.

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