Kyoto: Too Many Temples!

I took the bullet train (Shinkansen) for a three-day trip to Kyoto.


I had a feeling three days wouldn’t be enough and I was right, but it was an amazing trip.

Again, I hadn’t done too much research except to book a hotel room. I should have stayed in a traditional “ryokan” (Japanese homestay), but I honestly just wanted an ordinary hotel room and found one in the right place (VERY central Kyoto) at the right price.

When I got to Kyoto train station I was, once again, overwhelmed by the crowd and the size. I knew there was a train or subway that let out within a two-minute walk from my hotel, but I didn’t know which one it was. I asked several station attendants who gave me different answers, walked around scratching my head a bit, then found the “Good Will Information Desk.” They were a God-send and got me on my way quickly to my hotel. Then, when I had no idea which way to walk from the subway exit, I asked someone who gave me directions in perfect English. It was a great start!

All that putzing around in the train station, however, had made me very tired. That has been a theme on this trip – being tired. I have exercised more in the last ten days than in the last ten months. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to kick-start my exercise program for when I get back to Bali.

The hotel is a little gem, and apparently it’s quite old and well-known. The room was tiny but had everything I needed and then some. Even had beer in the vending machine ☺

I did some research about what I wanted to see in Kyoto. A dear friend from DePauw whose mother is from Japan and who lived here for seven years gave me a great list. I also found a “Kyoto in One Day” tour on the internet that looked pretty good. I researched the places that were on both lists and made a plan for the next day.

Unfortunately, I had a great sleep and a very late start. I woke up well-rested but wanting to spend the day in bed ☹ I headed to the lovely Goodwill Information Center and picked up a Tourist Map which turned out to be a God-send (again!). I mapped out my train route and was on my way!

My first stop was Fujimi-Inaritaisya Shrine. This one came highly recommended by Mich, my college friend, and it was not a disappointment. Very quickly a friendly woman saw me taking a “selfie” (ugh) and offered to take my photo.


I walked around here for at least an hour admiring all the red archways.


I debated about hiking to the top of Mt. Inari to get the most out of my shrine experience, but my hips and knees were already killing me from what little walking I’d done. Stairs were a killer, both up and down. I gave that a miss, but spent another hour walking around the souvenir shops, looking for gifts for friends. It appears that the main “only in Kyoto” things to buy are sweets; the rest of what I saw is also available in Tokyo. Not wanting the schlep a lot of souvenirs around or back to Tokyo from Kyoto, I didn’t buy anything except a piece of pineapple on a stick which was FABULOUS!

I hadn’t eaten anything except the pineapple yet and wanted to experience the part of Kyoto Station with the fake food in front of all the restaurants (damn, I forgot to take a photo!) I inspected the offerings and opted for a little corner restaurant that had a noodle dish that looked (sculpted in plastic) quite tasty. It was. But after eating that I promptly went into a food coma. It was already around 3:00 and I desperately needed to rest. One thing I’m realizing is that traveling even just five years after my first solo adventures is much more difficult on my body. By looking at the map I saw, however, that my hotel was only about two miles from Kyoto Station, and I decided to walk back to check out the action on the streets.

My first stop was a temple that is currently under renovation: the Higashi- Hoganji temple. From what I could gather, earthquake damage was being repaired. It was a nice, quiet little stop and I was happy to see another temple that day.



On my walk back I spied three Starbucks, two McDs, a Patagonia store, and a North Face store. But I also noticed that the streets were really quiet and clean. People were polite and helpful when needed.

I went back to my room, had an amazing shower (the hotel’s water pressure nearly knocked me off my feet!), and had a rest. Dinner was nothing special as I ate in the hotel lobby restaurant.

Back in my room, with my “Kyoto in One Day” tour suggestion and my friend’s notes, I mapped out my plan for the following day. I knew it was quite ambitious, but that was all the time I had left and I wanted to make the most of it.

First stop was MEANT to be the Bamboo Forest leading to the Tenryu-ji Temple which is also a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately/ fortunately I overshot my stop by three, and got to experience some gorgeous nature that’s just to the west of Kyoto.



This train stop boggled my mind, as I looked around and saw NOTHING nearby:


When I realized my mistake, got off the train and asked a station attendant what I needed to do: just get on the next train back to Kyoto and get off three stops later. I can’t believe I had missed this stop! But I was happy to have seen that huge slice of greenery.

My walk to the temple was through a very quiet residential neighborhood. I was amazed by how quiet it was, just a few miles outside the city center. This is when I started to think about Japan as a wonderful place to live. But I’ve since been told that summers are very hot and humid and winters are VERY cold there. Not so sure I could do it…

The walk through the Bamboo Forest and the temple were very crowded (for me) but beautiful.


The flowers and grounds here were especially breathtaking and gave a sense of peace that having so many people there could have otherwise ruined.


I sat down in a resting spot and looked at what my “Kyoto in One Day” guide recommended: taking a taxi to the next temple on my list. However, when I looked at my map carefully, it looked like I could take public transport at least part of the way, saving on taxi fare (taxis are quite expensive in Japan). When I got to the station there were instructions in English about what buses to take to the very temple I was going to! So I found my way to the bus and used that instead. Score!

On the bus I met a nice woman named Denise who is from Canada. She studied East Asian Culture in college and was traveling alone in Japan for a while. We went through The Golden Pavilion (Rokuon-Ji Temple) together.


This one was VERY crowded, but she was nice enough to take some photos of me before I split. I had seen the Pavilion and was on a time crunch. She understood. But she did tell me that there was a special little temple not too far from the Pavilion that I should see. It was good advice.

I could have taken a bus to this temple, but I decided to walk the two miles instead. It was a nice walk, mostly downhill. There was a Zen Garden on the way that I could have stopped at, but I decided not to.

The temple she suggested, Ninnaji, was almost empty and really beautiful – my kind of place.



It’s also a World Heritage Site.


I walked around and enjoyed the serenity, took some photos, and thought about what to do with the rest of the day. Across the street was a cute little food shop that sold the most delicious udon soup.


I took a nice long break and enjoyed the air conditioning.

I consulted my map and once again decided that the “Kyoto in One Day” guide had it all wrong. Took a bus back to the city center and walked to a temple my friend Mich had recommended: “lots of Buddhas,” she had said. I REALLY wanted to see this one. It was about a two-mile walk from the bus station, but I actually felt a lot better on this day than the day before. So the walking wasn’t bothering me that much.

The Sanjusangen-do Temple is by far my favorite thing I’ve seen in Japan. The main attraction is a long hall full of Buddhas – 1001 statues of Buddhas in many different shapes and poses, and one large seated Buddha in another temple. The hall of Buddhas reminded me of the Terracotta Warriors – many warrior-like Buddhas were lined up in rows behind the “28 main” ones. They were made in the 12th and 13th century! Photos were not allowed, which was a bummer, but something I can understand. This site was also where men had arrow-shooting competitions for hours and days to prove their strength. I loved it!

By this time it was 4:00 and I was pretty far from anything else I wanted to see. I went to my room and consulted the map. Took a shower and got ready for an early dinner. I had every intention of getting to Gion to try to scope out some Maiko (NOT Geishas, as Dana told me) but I was BEAT. Still did manage to walk quite a ways for some lovely sushi where I met the friendliest Japanese couple.


They treated me to Sake and some beautiful white wine they said was only available in Kyoto. I felt guilty ducking out early on their hospitality, but it looked like they were gearing up for a big Friday night. That was the last thing I needed the night before I was to leave! I thanked them and walked back to the hotel.

Now I’m on the bullet train back to Tokyo for a Fourth of July party at Joe’s house. It will be fun to meet more of his friends and colleagues, and to see what a Japanese Fourth of July party looks like ☺

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Japan: The Epicenter of “Cute”

As mentioned in the previous post, I haven’t blogged in ages for so many reasons. Now I hope to change that. Sitting on the train this morning mulling over and writing about what I had done in Japan so far was actually quite fun. So I hope I can keep it up this time!

I set aside two weeks at the end of June/ beginning of July for vacation this year. This was a time when I had no weddings or teacher trainings planned, and when tutoring would slow down. I had time to think about where to go, and was really stumped. Cambodia or Vietnam again? The U.S. again? Australia? Nowhere really nagged at me.

I thought about Japan because I have a colleague and some students there. I’ve been teaching my colleague Joe’s son English for almost two years via Skype; I also help him with other tasks with his Japanese English college students. Japan had never really been on my bucket list, but the more I thought about it, the more interesting it sounded to me.

I asked Joe if he and his students would be around then – there was no point just going to Japan on my own to travel. He said that they would be around and actually would be happy for a visit. I found a great deal on Malaysia Air (you know, the one that had one plane disappear and another shot down over Russia last year)? I didn’t do a whole lot of research – just let Joe know when I’d be there. He graciously has opened his home to me for as long as I will be here.

The flight to Tokyo was a red-eye through Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea how tired I was from preparing for this trip until I got on the first plane and slept through dinner service! I have never done that before, as I don’t normally sleep well on planes at all – much less by accident!

I arrived in Tokyo at 7:40 a.m. the next morning, completely disoriented, exhausted, and knowing little other than I was to go to Shinjuku to wait for Joe to finish work. I got some yen out of an ATM and found my way to Shinjuku via train. I honestly had no idea what Shinjuku was or what I would do there all day. Unlike previous trips, I “winged” my arrival. Not such a great idea, but thanks to Joe and his family’s hospitality, it’s all working out.

Shinjuku is a HUGE busy train station in the midst of a very large busy shopping area. I got out of the station and saw a McDonald’s – FREE WIFI!!! This was an exciting development for me. I had a meal and settled in to let Joe know I was there and figure out how to spend the day waiting for him. Unfortunately a completely crazy woman sat down next to me and proceeded to have an argument with herself about something quite serious. That just made the day more interesting, really!

The first thing I noticed about Tokyo was the crowd. I had arrived during rush hour so getting around with my wheelie bag was a bit cumbersome. I needed to ditch the bag and change into some cooler clothes (I was drenched from hauling that bag around). Meanwhile I found the Japanese Old Navy – Uniqlo – and did a little shopping. Scored some cooler clothes I’ll also wear in Bali. I went into a bathroom in the train station and changed clothes, found a locker, and locked up what I didn’t need for the day. The station was so big that I took a photo of where the locker was so I could remember. Technology is GREAT!

Besides the crowd, the second thing I noticed was how QUIET and orderly people are. They are polite and keep their voices down in public places. Also, the streets are immaculately clean; cars stop for pedestrians, and people ride their bikes on the sidewalk in special bike lanes. Pretty cool.

I hung out, shopped, ate and had a couple of beers waiting for Joe. I met him at a famous bar in Shinjuku called “The Dubliner” and we enjoyed a couple of pints, and then IT WAS ON! Joe picked up our pace and we were hot on the trail for food for his family’s dinner and the commute home. The supermarket was overwhelming, but I didn’t have more than a very few minutes to check it out.

The next 24 hours are a bit of a blur, as I was completely exhausted and drank a little too much wine with Joe at dinner 😉 But I was so happy to meet my student, his mother, and his little brother. This is the sign they have on their wall:


I couldn’t have found a better family to host me 🙂

The next morning was an early one, as Joe has his big day at one of the universities where he works. I was in survival mode. The commute was a crowded rush of trains and I had to run to keep up with him at times. In his first class I met some students preparing for the TOEIC test (an English fluency exam that measures some rather odd skills and is used for job placement/ salary advancement). They were EXTREMELY shy to talk to me, but also seemed interested to meet me – maybe horrified?!? I don’t know. But it was fun sitting in on Joe’s class and seeing what he does here in Japan as an English teacher. (He’s a fabulous teacher BTW!)

Then it was off for the fastest lunch ever. I was almost in tears at lunch (don’t tell Joe) suffering from serious culture shock, exhaustion, a tiny bit of hangover (oops!) But I stuck in there through his afternoon writing class which only has two young men in it. I have been emailing these students (and the students in two other classes) as a “pen-pal” to help them with their written English, so it was great to put faces to their names. We talked pretty much the whole class about everything you can think of, and had a lot of laughs.

Joe mentioned that if I wanted to hang with him for the rest of the day, it meant that I would have to stay on campus until 6:30 and then go to a “drinking party” at his other university. I told him there was no way I would make it that long – I needed to go back to his house and basically pass out (I think he thought I would go do touristy things but that was clearly not going to happen). I was SOOOOOOOO tired. He gave me excellent directions back to his house via train (the trains here are awesome) and the combination to his house lock – minus the numbers, just the keyboard pattern.

I got to the first subway station with no problem, then couldn’t find ANY maps with English names of stations on them. Doh! Seriously walked around scratching my head for about an hour. Then I just guessed how much the fare would be and used Joe’s written directions to get on the next train. I must have paid the right amount (or over-paid) because I made it to the station! Took at taxi to his house, then roused the whole neighborhood by setting off his house alarm ☹ I was so embarrassed. Thankfully a neighbor called Joe’s wife who explained (very differently than Joe’s directions) how to do the combination. She is a gem – not just for that!

Joe’s younger son who I don’t work with yet came home from school around 6:15 (late for a little guy, right?). I’d had a shower and a nap and was feeling good. I kind of thought he would think it was weird that I was the only one home, but this little friend is about as outgoing as you can imagine a kid to be. He proceeded to come into my room and show me his card collection, write on a white board in English (at 7 he’s just learning how to write but can read Japanese like a champ!) We had a nice time getting to know each other. He’s super-cute and fun.

Yoshiko got home and made an incredible home-cooked Japanese-style meal. She and Joe cook almost every night, and they are pros. Besides not eating anything here yet that I didn’t like in general, these two have served me some of the best meals I’ve had.

Wow this is so much more like a diary than a fun blog post…

Anyways, Saturday was a day to rest and relax for everyone. I actually did venture out a bit and collected my Japan Rail (JR) ticket for my trip to Kyoto. This involved my second solo trip on the trains and went without a hitch (no pun intended). Sunday we attended his elder son’s basketball game. Students here are VERY involved in their clubs (sports, music, etc.) in their teens and even into their college years. He has chosen basketball. They practice EVERY DAY for hours and hours. The game was interesting for so many reasons. First, I got to see him play, which was the most important part (we talk about basketball a lot during our lessons). But it also gave me a chance to sit, observe, and think about some of the differences I was learning between the American and Japanese (and Indonesian! and Balinese!) cultures. I feel like I could write a book about that already….

We rode bikes to the game – so fun but I haven’t been on a push bike in ages. Thankfully Joe’s elder son has pretty much permanently lent me his bike to get to the subway stations nearby while I’m here. The bike has been a God-send, but my arse is killing me! So then we rode bikes to a ramen place and ate lunch – yummy. Then back to the house where I mapped out my plan to go to Harajuku for the rest of the afternoon.

Here are some photos:






I didn’t know about the Meiji shrine being in Harajuku, so that was a pleasant surprise and really beautiful – lush and green. Then, after several “drive-bys” I forced my crowd-phobic self into the main shopping street for a look.


Harajuku in general seems to be the epicenter of “cute.”


There are lots of girls dressed up like dolls, goths, and any other type of person (and tourist) you can imagine there. I didn’t go into any of the shops because I sniffed out an H&M right outside this shopping street and had my sights set on that. Disappointment ☹ Then I stopped in a pub to have a beer and headed back to Joe’s. I think he was surprised that I had negotiated that trip without even asking him how to get there (I have a couple of great apps on my phone now that are making things a lot easier).

Monday was GAME ON again – we had to get up very early for Joe’s commute to his other job at the beautiful Soka University. This commute involved a 20 minute bike ride, a very crowded train, and a taxi (could have been a bus but we were running a little late).

Soka University has a lot of money because – and I could be telling this all wrong – its affiliation with a religion like the Mormonism of Japan(?!?). I need to ask Joe more about this. The campus was lush and huge with amazing facilities. Students were motivated and again, fun to meet and talk to. The ones I had emailed with were especially talkative. I thoroughly enjoyed them. Two young men took me down to the vending machine to purchase some tea. They told me the tea I wanted was “afternoon tea” but that “it was okay to drink in the morning” – PHEW! Japanese people are really gracious like that, and I always think it’s cute. Lots of cuteness here….


With more help from Joe I found my way back to his house, changed clothes, and headed out on the bike for a little while, kind of just exploring his neighborhood. Came home to another beautiful home-cooked meal, helped his young son with his Japanese writing homework (does that one look like that one? Giggle giggle.) And crashed hard.

Tuesday I met Joe at the first university to interact with more students with whom I’ve been emailing. They were lovely and very talkative once they got over their initial shyness. Topics were/ are all over the place, including “what do you want to be re-born as?) Clever, bright students!

I ventured down to Asakusa after the uni just to look around. Saw a temple.




This is a really big tourist area, but it was almost empty when I was there. It’s rainy season right now and so the weather is unseasonably cool and perfect for sightseeing. I looked at all the trinket shops to see what I might buy for friends but didn’t buy anything yet. Had an excellent meal and a couple of beers (I’m on vacation!) then headed home.

Today I’m headed to Kyoto – a recommendation of Joe’s students. Another friend recommended the bullet train, from which I am writing this right now. It’s raining quite a bit and I’m a bit concerned that it will be raining the whole time I’m there, but honestly I don’t care. The cooler weather has been an amazing break from the heat of Bali. And the bullet train is so cool! My friend Rika, who I hope to see when I get back from Kyoto, made sure I bought my bento box (lunch) and a can of beer for the train so I could do like all the Japanese do:



She was right! Great call!!!

In all, when I first got to Japan I was crazy worried that it would be as difficult for me to navigate/ negotiate as China. But it has been the exact opposite. Joe’s and his family’s hospitality has MADE this trip. I’m slowly learning to ask people for help (and they are ALWAYS helpful) and finding my way.

Kyoto is the next adventure. I hope it won’t be too long before I have time to blog again. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Asia, blogging, English teaching, Heather Boylan, learning curve, scared shitless, teaching English, travel, travel writing, traveling with Heather, travelwithheather, Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment

Welcome Back!

IMG_1412Welcome back! As you can see, it’s taken me more than three years to get back to writing here. I could make a million excuses but I’ll boil it down to just these two:

1) The last post I wrote was extremely emotional. It was a mind- and heart-dump of colossal proportions. After that one, I felt spent, empty, and worn out. Hence, no blogging.
2) My “theme” (AKA layout) got completely screwed up after a WordPress update. I asked a few “experts” to look into fixing it for me, but no one was able to find this ridiculously small problem. This technical difficulty, paired with excuse number one, made me frustrated enough to procrastinate the writing part. I brainstormed MANY ideas for posts but could never get down to the writing. Then, just last week, I used a service called Fiverr ( and paid just $5 to have my theme problem identified and fixed. Then I tweaked a few things that I knew how to do myself and VOILA! Here we are! Back in business!!!

I want to say a huge “thank you” to all the people who wrote, both publicly and privately, about my last post. Your outpouring of support, empathy, and encouragement got me through what would turn into a pretty challenging time. Lots has happened since May of 2012, both good and bad. That’s the way life works, though, so now it’s time to reflect, regroup, and start sharing again. I am looking forward to getting back to traveling, to pushing myself, and to really living once more.

So, as a teaser, here are some of the topics I have in mind:
1) Transitions: tourist to expat; married to single; homeowner to homeless in the USA; young-ish to middle-aged. Too many transitions to mention here!
2) Challenges of living in a foreign country, in particular in Indonesia/ Bali: language; making friends; cultural ignorance; visas and doing business; distance from “home;” starting over.
3) Building a business alone from scratch.
4) My cats (had to get that one in here!)
5) My feet – because they have also starred on m Facebook page and have influenced a great deal of this journey.
6) Tropical diseases: skin conditions; mosquito-borne ailments. You know, just to keep it real and disgusting.
7) Health care.
8) My latest travel adventures: last weekend was in Bali, but I will travel to Japan at the end of June for work/ pleasure. That will be quite a trip, I think!

I hope you will continue to follow my adventure as it takes a different turn. My friends both far and near are an incredible lifeline. Every day you help me scare away the lonely monster and find the courage and strength to persevere. Thank you again for your continued care and support!

Posted in aging, Bali, blogging, English teaching, growth, Heather Boylan, Indonesia, lessons, marriage, marriage separation, mid-life crisis, reality, reality check, scared shitless, southeast asia, teaching English, travel, travel writing, writing | Leave a comment