Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini.               

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Japan on $1000/day
Day 1: Sticker Shock
Day 2: Among the Dead & Dying (Fish)
Day 3: Budda & Broken English
Day 4: Magic Toilets & Poisonous Fish
Day 5: Aircraft and Elevators
Sidebar: An Attitude of Quality
Day 6: Squirming Shrimp & Karaoki
Day 7: Pirate Ships & Long Flat Silver
Day 8: Country Inn at City Prices
Day 9: The Inside Scoop
Day 10: Hot in Hiroshima
Day 11: Castles in the Sky
Day 12: Where the Deer & Bon Jovi Play
Day 13: Doom
Day 14: The Summer Cottage
End: Have Toilet, Will Travel
Japan on $1000 per Day

Day 13: Doom.

Kyoto. We began the day badly by sleeping in. You don’t want to sleep in at $1000 a day. Then we walked three blocks through the 242° heat to a famous old Kyoto restaurant that shall remain nameless, where we would savor a kaiseki repast. Kaiseki, according to our Frommer’s travel book, reflects "the gourmet dining style of the upper classes during the Heian Period more than 800 years ago."

Our meal consisted of multiple courses, many of which had indeed been cooked at least 800 years ago. The first course was a lovely grey cake of tofu. Actually, it had been kind of dark blue on the bottom, but it had been flipped over on the plate, so now the blue part was on top. Spooned over this cold confection was a clear slimy substance with all the cheerful composition of human saliva. Julie took one bite and turned green. Being a doctor, she has a really high threshold for most bodily fluids, but she has zero tolerance when it comes to spit. I ate it handily, having been in training the day before when the deer and I had been exchanging spit while eating our rice cake wafer.

They then brought on delicate slices of inside-out fish. Or perhaps it was inside-out fish stomach. We didn’t ask, because we didn’t want to know. It had the appearance and flavor of thick, wet terrycloth. The procession of cold dishes continued for what seemed like hours, with Julie picking at each dish in horror, while I ate all of them down, no matter how bad the tasted, so the Americans didn’t look like total dorks. Along the way, a group of three Japanese were ushered into our dining room. The man asked the waitress if they didn’t have another room. It would appear he didn’t want to be in the same room with the gaijin. They were sorry; it was the only room open. He sat with his back to us and chain-smoked, two at a time, through the whole meal.

By the time we stumbled out of there, we were both feeling fairly bilious. Kaiseki is indeed a marvellous experience in Japan, as long as you are not in Kyoto or it is not Summer. The dishes change completely with geographic location and with the seasons. No cold food would ever be served in the Winter. No inside-out fish would ever be served in the North.

Just a Three-Hour Tour

We were slated for the afternoon tour of Kyoto, and we stumbled onto the bus still feeling more than a little sick. The first stop was Sanjusangendo Hall, built in the 1200s and dedicated to Kannon, the Buddist goddess of mercy and happiness, and run by the Ancient Order of the Obsessive-Compulsive.

Sanjusangendo Hall in Kyoto

Not happy with a single, large statue of this goddess, they carved up a few life-size extras. More than 1000 of them, each covered in genuine gold leaf. The place looks like a 400 foot long warehouse for giant chess-sets.

Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

Our next stop--and Julie’s last--was Kiyomizu Temple (above), another hill-topper reached only by climbing on foot past several hundred gift shops and souvenir stands. Looking at the picture above, you can see how few people actually made it to the top. Most failed somewhere around the middle, either from coronaries or, due to certain gift shop excesses, they were now destitute.

It was only after once again removing my shoes that I was allowed to enter the temple. The Japanes smoke cigarettes everywhere, but they are very strict about footware: It is only legal to wear shoes within the sanctity of your own home. Unless, of course, you have children, who might be affected by second-hand fumes. Or a spouse who cares about your tearing up the tatami mats.


Julie was not up to the trek up the mountain and elected to stay aboard the bus. By the time I had returned, she had left the bus just long enough to throw up all over the front bumper and was now back in her seat, wheezing like a carp out of water. (Unlike the President of the United States, George Bush, when confronted with a similar dinner, at lesast she managed to wait until she was out of doors.) I was prepared to bundle her into a taxi back to the hotel, but the bus driver insisted that he would be happy to swing by the hotel on the way to our final stop.

He swung by it alright, but only after swinging through most of the mountains of Japan. We were off on the Nature Sightseeing portion of our tour. It felt like we were careening around corners for hours. Julie swears she caught a glimpse of the Matterhorn, we both remember seeing the Great Wall of China, and I think I caught sight of a sign reading, "You are now leaving Vladavastok. The Kiwanis Club meets at Town Center." just before we re-entered the outskirts of Kyoto.

By the time we pulled up to our hotel, Julie was a bright, florescent green. She was beginning to blend in with the surroundings. That night, we both came down with a rather severe cold, one that would dog us for the rest of the trip. Based on the germ theory of disease, we can pretty well rule out our kaiseki lunch as a cause. Nonetheless, the lunch didn’t help.

We discovered later that the lovely park we could see adjoining the hotel behind our room was the home of the Kiyomizu Temple. We had been less than three blocks away when the bus driver convinced to stay aboard.

In the next episode, things begin to look up when we discover the cottage of our dreams, a cottage we intend to recreate on our side of the Pacific pond just as soon as we get our hands on all of Bill Gates's money.

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