Random People in Kyoto
I love Kyoto. As far as breadth of things to see and do and the variety of locales, Kyoto is a hard place to beat. I can go from a temple that was built before 1000AD to one of the biggest shopping areas in Japan within a fifteen minute walk. Kyoto is one of those places that can go from one cultural extreme to the next almost flawlessly. It is a fun city to explore.
At first, that is why I thought I liked to go there but yesterday I became conscious of another reason. As much as a loathe at times, I really do enjoy people as a whole. I like random encounters with strangers and I find that they usually enhance my experiences. The first few times I had this experience in Kyoto, I bumped into people on accident and then ended up helping them and enjoying the day with them. Now, I think I am more purposefully looking for people that I think would be interesting to talk to and then randomly meeting them. Therefore, I guess it isn't very random but nonetheless, it is kind of fun.
Living in Japan makes it very clear to spot who is and is not a tourist. Just by watching people for a few seconds I can pretty much know where they are from and how much experience with Japan they have had. The key to all of this is not picking out another white person that lives in Japan because most of them are Caucasian rejects that fled their countries to be super heroes and drama queens here. In short, white people in Japan make me want to make little cuts on myself with a sharp razor. Anywho, we return from our brief trip to Tangent Land.
Yesterday, I found a couple in their late-fifties, early-sixties and I could tell they were tourists but I wasn't familiar with their accent so I was automatically intrigued. They looked and behaved like Americans or Canadians but I knew their accent was not Canadian and so I decided they would be my "random encounter" of the day; I wanted to see where they were from. I saw them a couple of times and on the second time, they looked indecisive which is a good indicator they have no clue where they are or what is going on. So I asked if they needed help getting somewhere and they told me that they didn't know what it was they were trying to get to and were basically just wandering aimlessly. Perfect.
I talked to them for a couple of minutes and found out they were from New Hampshire which struck me as odd, because their accent didn't sound like the New England accents I had heard before. As it turned out, they were both educators for a junior college back East and the guy was here on business and his wife just came along for fun. They are negotiating with a Japanese technical institute to set up a student exchange program. Anywho, after standing around for a bit, I asked them where they wanted to see. They didn't know. So then I asked them how much time they had and if they wanted a tour guide. I figured, I had no timetable and didn't have any specific goals for the day so I volunteered to take them on a walk that would end up at Kiyomizudera. They said they could only site see for one day and so I told them that Kiyomizudera was something that they definitely needed to see. So I took them on a walk.
It was a fun experience and they were very nice people. At first, I think they were a tad apprehensive about me just volunteering to show them around but after a bit I think they enjoyed it. If you are a tourist here and you do not have someone to show you around, I think Japan would be a rather difficult place to enjoy. Despite Kyoto being a major attraction for foreigners, it still does not have the support infrastructure to adequately support the tourism it generates. This is pretty typical of Japan as a whole. The idea of foreigners coming to their island was a definite afterthought for the Japanese.
We went to the temple but got there shortly before it closed and I told them that unless they could dedicate some time to wandering around, it wouldn't be worth the money to go in and feel rushed. After the temple, we went into a place I had never been and ordered smoothies. Actually, I did all of the ordering, they just paid. Another reason being a tour guide is nice, free snacks. I had a mango smoothie that was awesome. Anywho, they told me that their hotel was near where I first met them and so I took them back in that direction. General rule for guiding tourists #564: Always put the tourists back where you found them. You can't go leaving stray tourists wandering about because many times they were not paying attention to the route you used to get them somewhere and could end up lost. This is not a fun aftertaste of the experience to leave with your new random friends.
Once they told me where their hotel was, I knew exactly where to go and got them there with no problem. As it happened, the Starbucks was directly in front of the hotel lobby so we stopped in for a final refreshment. They were peeved by it but when I ordered, I told the guy to ring my drink up separately so I could pay for my own that time. The advantage to being the only guy that knows Japanese in the group is you can pretty much make any situation go however you want it to without too much interference. My general rule is that I will not accept more than one free snack unless I have really done something to deserve it. I don't tell people this but I try to stick to it, I am not helping people out to get freebies, I just like having someone new to talk to and I genuinely enjoy showing people places and telling them things that they wouldn't have seen or known otherwise. This is probably the history teacher in me coming out.
After talking for a bit longer in Starbucks, I wrote out the names of two places that they were interested in taking a taxi to the following day and then made sure they were good to go and showed them that the geisha district of Kyoto was just down the block from their hotel so if they felt like relaxing for a bit and then exploring by themselves for a little while after I was gone, that that may be a good spot to go to, given its proximity to their accommodations. With that, we shook hands and went our separate ways. The path I took from there was to a bookstore and then to Wendy's which sadly enough, was one of the reasons I made the trip yesterday to begin with.(Shakes head in shame.)
After this story, you may be wondering what happens if I talk to the wrong people and end up leading around jerks. Honestly, it has never happened. If I watch someone for a minute or so, especially if I talk to them, I can usually gauge what kind of a person they are. I just kind of have a knack for reading people and character, I can't explain it any other way than that. I suppose if I ever did get stuck with goobers and I really didn't like them, I could just ditch them or pretend like I got a phone call and explain to them that I had to go somewhere. After that, I would probably either lead them back to where I found them (see Rule #564)or give them basic instructions on how to get to wherever they were heading and take off from there. I figure, the cards are always stacked in my favor because I am not the one who doesn't know where he is going and I know enough Japanese to survive just about any random event. The people I lead around are usually at my mercy. HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Oops...sorry about that, just had an evil moment.
Aside from Wendy's, the other reason I went yesterday was to take pictures so I will leave you with one that I snapped while wandering about.
This was taken at the front gates of Kiyomizudera. I am happy because it was sunny yesterday.