November 6, 2014

I woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready for our first day touring Japan.

We surprisingly were able to leave the hotel at our agreed time of 8 a.m. And since we had Pupuru now, we could finally use Google Maps to navigate our 10-minute walk to Osaka Station.

The station was bustling with people. The commuters walked as if following a current known only to them. We gawked for a few minutes before we finally walked through the surge of people.

I’ve been on trains before, but riding one in Japan felt different. I guess it’s because trains are almost a Japanese cultural symbol; one can read about them in their literature and see it in their movies.

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Inari Station

We had to change train lines to reach Kyoto. But since we didn’t have prepaid cards—we opted to buy single journey tickets for every train ride—we didn’t know what to do at first. At the station where the lines interchanged, we found a ticketing machine that commuters inserted their ticket into and selected a station. The machine then ejected a new ticket. We did the same thing and out came the same ticket we inserted. We concluded that we weren’t supposed to do this at the interchange. So we hopped on the train bound for Kyoto and found a similar ticketing machine at our exit station. It worked this time around. Our brains still worked! And of course we were amazed at the technology.

Our first order of business once we arrived at Fushimi Inari was breakfast. There were food stalls near the entrance to the shrine. We decided to have yakisoba and grilled pork.

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I expected Fushimi Inari to be grander, but it was pretty low-key. It was also orange, not red. I don’t know why, but I always pictured it to be red.

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There were a lot of tourists that day, so it was hard to get a photo with the torii without getting photobombed. We did the whole “praying for good luck” thing, and then we went to Kiyomizu-dera by bus.

The bus was another discovery. At stops, the bus tilted on its left side to level with the sidewalk. I think it was for the benefit of disabled people and children. It was pretty cool.

At Kiyomizu-dera, I went to Okamoto, a kimono rental place, while the guys looked for a place to have lunch. I felt pressured to quickly choose a kimono because the attendant kept checking up on me. It would’ve been easy if the only thing I had to worry about was the actual kimono but it had so many elements—the inner lining, obi, accessories. And there were hundreds to choose from. It was a decision I really didn’t want to rush. It had to be perfect.

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I wanted something with the color pink, but I also wanted to stand out from the many girls already wearing pink. I chose a purple kimono with pink accents. The inner kimono had a green collar to highlight the green colors of the outer one. My obi was beige with pink accents. They fixed my hair in 10 minutes; the whole process took about 40.

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I liked wearing the kimono because it was perfect for the cold weather. The tightness of the obi forced you to stand straight. The narrow hemline forced you to walk with tiny steps. I felt quite feminine. I think the desired silhouette for kimono-wearers is that of a bamboo—straight and narrow. I succeeded at that because my body is already straight even without wearing kimono. The guys enjoyed teasing my kimono-clad self.

We explored Kiyomizu-dera after lunch. The main temple itself was okay. I guess the place didn’t look as impressive because the leaves of the surrounding trees haven’t changed color yet when we arrived. Walking toward the edge of the terrace to join fellow tourists was worrisome, knowing that our collective weight was supported only by thick wooden stilts. Plus, the terrace itself had a slight downward incline.

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After changing back to my clothes, we left Kiyomizu-dera.

We rode the correct bus to Kyoto Station, but it went to the opposite direction. (Just like in Korea!) When we realized this, we got off at the next stop. The driver didn’t make us pay for our ride. He was so considerate.

We hung out for a while at Kyoto Station’s rooftop before returning to Osaka, because we enjoyed the cold air whipping our faces. Plus, it had a good view of the Kyoto Tower and the city’s skyline.

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Kyoto Station
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Kyoto Tower seen from the Kyoto Station observation deck

We were really hungry when we arrived in Dotonbori. It didn’t help that once we stepped off the train platform, the smell of food assaulted our senses. Even if you’re not hungry, your stomach would’ve grumbled in appreciation.

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So many food choices, so little time

We went to Ichiran to eat ramen, thanks to the suggestion of Ruther’s friend. (God bless his life, his family, and his future grandchildren.) It was monumental—not only because it was the first bowl we had in Japan, but because the ramen itself deserved a monument.

Heaven
Gateway to heaven

It was glorious. The broth really tasted like pork, so much so that I remember it better than the actual chashu. It was the perfect temperature—hot but not scalding. It had a dab of chili paste that enlivens the broth. Not one element of the ramen—from the ajitama to the noodles—outshone the other. It was a bowl of happiness and contentment.

Heaven in a bowl
*Hallelujah chorus plays in the background*

We also enjoyed the place’s cubicle setup. We agreed it was designed that way so that you can foodgasm in the privacy of your own space.

Maybe it was Japan or that we were all there together, but it was the perfect way to end our first day.

The faces of happy, satisfied people
The faces of happy, satisfied people

I called my boyfriend after eating at Ichiran because I wanted to share my overflowing happiness with him. He loves ramen more than I do. I will go back to Dotonbori and eat this ramen with him.

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