kyoto is a weeb's dream of japan- conjuring temples, geisha, and views of mt fuji- so i am surprised when ian chooses an extra night here instead of extending our tokyo stint.
our second morning in osaka is lazy and leisurely, with a late checkout and my second-favorite ramen find of the trip. ramenjikon is our first experience with ordering via ticket vending machine, and here we devise a perfect strategy for idiots- pressing two disparate buttons at random, one of which seems to be the most expensive or special option. this nets me a shio ramen that is so thick and rich i initially mistake it for tonkotsu. but this is a chicken-based broth with no oily mouthfeel. i fish out the chashu and toss it into ian's bowl- i don't fuck with pork. it is not until literally just 2 minutes ago that i realize one of those pieces was actually smoked duck and now i feel like a fool for giving that up.
we walk to osaka station with our luggage- at this point, i feel much more confident in our grasp on public transportation than my ability to communicate with taxi drivers. when we arrive, i locate the japan rail travel agency station and exchange our jr pass pass vouchers for the real deal.
like every other tourist who visits japan, i have spent a great deal of time poring over the jr pass situation. for $256, it is a free pass to ride any train in the japan rail network within a 7 day timeframe. it is a testament to how many consecutive wine-soaked weeknights i have spent studying japan rail lines and schedules that i can recite a jr timetable more readily than i can recall my own son's social security number.
it is worth noting that while i took endless evernotes on this train situation, ian spent the previous months at home just falling asleep to grim murder documentaries and giving not a single care as to how best to utilize a jr pass.
it is a simple process to exchange our vouchers for the passes. an agent verifies our passports, gives us forms, and affixes the carbon copy of our completed forms to our passes. they are infuriatingly clumsy- nearly letter-sized sheets of what seems like inflexible cardboard. we're not supposed to fold them, so they take up room in my purse and feel like an unwieldy punishment for tourism.
while in the travel station, i notice an excellent brochure for a travel agency's guided tour through kyoto. i have no intention of ever opting for a guided tour, but i swipe one because it outlines an optimal itinerary for kyoto sightseeing. hey let's hold onto this, i hand it to ian. he loses it immediately.
i am h y p e to ride a shinkansen- bullet train. our jr passes allow us to ride the hikari train on the tokaido line that runs from kobe and osaka to tokyo. however, because we are traveling to kyoto and there are no bullet trains leaving from osaka station, we end up accidentally taking a perfectly serviceable rapid transit train that still takes us to our destination in less time than it would take me to drive from dallas to denton. during this ride, we sit across from a japanese man and his children- one of whom is a baby who looks a little younger than james. the father dotes on his infant lovingly and i think about our own son with a heartsick pang of envy.
we arrive in kyoto station and take the subway one stop to gojo station. this is a completely barren little platform only one block away from hotel kanra. this was the first hotel room i booked excitedly for our trip, but it turns out to be just okay. the cedar wood bathtub is good, but it is no opposite house (still my all-time favorite). we leave our shoes at the front door and i give ian the briefest of respites before i start yammering about owls again.
ignited by the joy of witnessing a barn owl get bathed, i spend the entirety of our train ride searching owl cafes and i have my heart set on fukurou no mise's outpost in kyoto. their website contains a work schedule for each owl and i am overwhelmed by the preciousness. i must hold an owl and cherish it with all my heart. my husband has no ornithological interests but acquiesces readily to my fanatical mission.
the owl cafe is located in the teramachi shopping district on the east side of kyoto, and i waste no time in prowling the streets. this turns out to be rather similar to the pharmacy mission- i enlist several different strangers to point me in the correct direction, stalking up and down the street with intense focus but unable to identify anything even remotely owl-related. i worry that the cafe will be fully booked, and i will miss my chance. as it turns out, fukurou no mise is quietly located on the second floor above a shop called SPAGHETTI COLLECTION.
as much as i love spaghetti, i make a beeline for the owl cafe- which turns out to be tiny and relatively barren aside from the family that walks in right before us. our two groups watch a dvd about proper owl handling and are subsequently allowed to select our dream owls. i go for a scops that i assume is pigwidgeon. the next hour is everything i have ever dreamed of. the owls are unbearably soft and perfect. they do not even shit on us, though the other family is not quite so lucky and their daughter catches droppings in her hair. halfway through our allotted time, the owls change work shifts and i am finally united with a barn owl- deko. he is maybe the most beautiful creature i've ever seen- cuter than james but less cute than titanic-era leonardo dicaprio. long after we leave the cafe, and then japan, ian and i reminisce fondly about deko.
afterwards, we eat at a forgettable unadon restaurant that is also another tripadvisor failure. we trek to the gion district, which i vaguely remember from that problematic ass memoirs of a geisha book. the only geisha we see are likely tourists in costume, but i successfully locate a kaiseki restaurant worthy of tabelog. ian has less fond memories of this place than i do, because his hamstrings cramped up from sitting with his legs folded beneath him. nevertheless, the evening is beautiful and our view overlooks the kamo river. adjacent to our table, inside the restaurant, a group of tourists laden with pokemon merchandise is getting lit.
i have a hard time sleeping that night, because i am scrolling through work emails. after two hours of uneasy rest, we wake up and head for arashiyama.
a cursory google image search will always bring up a picture of a bamboo forest. this is my destination, and i will rouse my husband at 5 am for it if i need to. an early start is non-negotiable if you want a photo op that isn't teeming with chinese tourists. i hustle us through gojo station to arashiyama in the west with annoying impatience, pacing in circles when ian takes too long in the station restroom. it is a rainy, gloomy, grey sort of day, but we are armed with umbrellas from the hotel and my relentless focus on the capture. when we arrive at our destination, i recall a blog entry about the scenic route and we follow suit.
the rain and humidity coil my hair into a repulsive frizzball and destroys my makeup, but it is worth it. we are beyond elated to traverse this park, which is nearly totally empty. arashiyama is beautiful in a way that makes me feel nostalgic for a place i've never even know before. the morning fog rolls in slow, elegant waves over lush mountain landscape dotted with lonely little temples. even ian, a man immune to natural beauty as evidenced by his love for me, is stunned by the scenery. i am reminded of a book my parents bought me nearly twenty years ago, a guide to painting watercolor landscapes that came with its own little tray of muted paint colors. no matter how hard i tried, i could never replicate those delicate mists and mountains. even decades later, armed with a leica summilux lens, i still cannot justice to the staggering, subtle beauty of mount arashi.
we stand at that summit view for a long time, watching the fog drift over the river below. i try to hold the memory of this close, burn it deep into my neurons, so that twenty years from now, i can still recall the lean lines of my handsome lover perched over the railing of this secluded ledge, across this mountain view. this fraction of a second, this moment in time, belongs to us alone.
before we leave, ian remembers to facetime his parents in order to see mr. james. our big boi has recently discovered how to climb to the highest point of our house (in the gameroom, above the stairwell, via the sofa) and shouting A DA DA! with unabashed enthusiasm. his fondness for daring heights is an odd idiosyncrasy given that his parents are both placid cowards. nevertheless, we get james on facetime and show him the stunning mountainscape. he doesn't seem to miss us much and fumbles off-screen in search of books and toys instead.
no restaurants in arashiyama are open this early in the morning, so we head back to kyoto station. here, we accidentally stumble across a well-known ramen hall on the 10th floor of south tower. it is by the oddest fortune that my husband- king of falling asleep during all my netflix selections- recognizes a small photo of kazuo yamagishi outside the kyoto station outpost of taishoken based off one errant episode of david chang's mind of a chef. i have always known that ian is my soulmate, but this cinches it.
taishoken's signature tsukemen is the best bowl of noodles we experience in japan.
the rest of this day is a bit of blur. we return to our hotel, and ian succumbs to a midday nap while i traipse miles around the rainy city in search of a readily available shiatsu massage. we visit nishiki food market at night and i finally meet an oyster i don't really like. i get lit off a grapefruit full of rum and eat a delicious bag of roasted chestnuts.
when we retire to our hotel for the night, my facebook feed lights up with news about the shooting in las vegas, back in the united states of ammunition. and i think, for a moment, that maybe we should never return.