I heart you.
So, first things first, we made it. Pay the bribe has officially begun without a hitch. After meeting at the airport we headed to Osaka for the night and then set out for Kyoto the next day where we have set up camp. Still jet-lagged, we have spent these first days roaming the city, visiting temples at our leisure, getting lost time and again, and discovering the wonders of sushi on a conveyor belt.
I am going to try to get into the habit of recording my first and last impressions of each place we visit, so here goes - Japan, first impression: harmonious, happy, and unbelievably hip.
I have to admit, Japan was never at the top of my must see list. I expected sterility and relative madness. I anticipated overwhelming masses and oppressive neon. Instead I have found incredible warmth and harmony here. It is peaceful and quiet, and yet still energetic and full of life. Rather than rigid, it is simply ordered; people respect one another and they respect their environment. Even at the busiest of intersections, near collisions end in a polite nod rather than a violent argument. Everyone seems to be on the same page around here. And while I know it would be naive to assume that all of the politeness and courtesy is sincere, I can't help but feel as if there is a general atmosphere of good will everywhere we go.
Kyoto is a city full of giggling school girls, couples in love, happy children, and more bicylces than I've ever seen before. It seemlessly transitions from peaceful gardens and beautiful shrines to modern urban cool. While I've always imagined Japan to be somewhat like America on crack, it is more like America on tranquilizers, or rather is is unlike America altogether. While they enjoy a booming economy and all of the wonders of modern technology and development, they have managed to get there without the apparent stress on the populous and the environment that we have been overcome with in the west. No one here (at least in this area of Japan) ever seems to be in a bad mood. No one is in a rush. No one is too busy to stop and admire a beautiful tree or play with cheerful child. Part of it seems to be that everything is so perfectly constructed so as to make life simply make more sense. Little details like the fact that the bike locks are a part of the bike itself and thus do not need to be attached to any exterior object make things work better - and hundreds of those details add up to a better working society.
Anyway, as you can see, I've been quite taken by this place. It has been a great country thus far from which to launch our adventure. Kyoto exudes such a sense of calm that it is impossible not to take on a bit of it ourselves. I wish I could add photographs of the striking scenery, the sushi train, and our lovely hostel (and by lovely I mean we have old towels for blankets, literally -- Japan on the cheap is doable, but no one said it would be pretty) -- but we've not found an internet cafe that will allow such things as of yet - so that will have to come later. Until then we will continue to soak the sanity up while we can.