We started the day in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where we had been stationed during this portion of our baseball tour. Having arrived at the tail end of the monsoon season, the weather was generally warm and humid, with periodic sunshine and showers. These conditions made being outside tricky, but we braved the elements to explore Kyoto during the morning hours.
We utilized local mass transit in Kyoto, as the area was too expansive to walk, given the weather conditions. The concierge at the hotel provided us with bus passes for the day at greatly reduced prices. Should you find yourself in Kyoto, check with the hotel staff to purchase a day pass.
Our first stop was the western edge of Kyoto. Nestled between the foothills of the Hira Mountains and the Kamo River, the view was spectacular, even if the weather did not cooperate. The area was very popular with tourists, and the walkways and the restaurants were jammed on this cloudy and humid morning. We walked toward the foothills, reaching the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove toward late morning.
In quieter times, I envision this place being peaceful, almost spiritual. However, on this day, the masses of people moving through the grove made it less so, though the walk was still worth the visit. At the end of the grove, there was an opportunity to visit some of the local wildlife.
A path in the mountains leads to the Monkey Park Iwatayama. The snow monkeys are located above the grove, about a 20 minute climb into the mountains. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the climb, missing out on an opportunity to feed and walk with the monkeys in the cloud shrouded peaks above. If you are interested in visiting the monkeys and taking in the views of Kyoto (should the weather allow it), you can learn more here.
Following our visit to the bamboo forest, we backtracked across the Kamo River on the Togetsu-kyō Bridge. Wandering along the river was peaceful, especially in between waves of tourists. Sitting along the river offered wonderful views of the mountains, though the higher peaks were obscured in clouds. It isn’t difficult to understand why the Japanese see this place as a cultural or moral center. Kyoto harkens back in time, and is often viewed as the Japan the way it once was.
We ate lunch at a local restaurant just off the beaten path, on the edge of the foothills. In addition to a wide variety of Japanese dishes, the restaurant also offered Italian cuisine. We’ve seen this in our travels across Japan. Perhaps the Japanese view Italian dishes as a “safe” alternative to Japanese dishes for tourists, or maybe they just like Italian food. Either way, having a limited and decidedly non-adventurous palette, I opted for the ravioli, which was surprisingly good.
After lunch, we wandered through the Arashiyama section of Kyoto. Despite the many cultural touchstones of Kyoto, I found my attention was riveted by the natural beauty of this place. Having crossed the bridge back into a more city like setting, we saw geishas in training, as well as a number of temples. In between temples, there were many, many places to buy souvenirs and take pictures. Having spent much of the early afternoon exploring, we caught the bus back to the hotel to rest before the game in Osaka that evening.
2. Getting to Osaka
Following a short rest at the hotel, we started out for Osaka to catch a a game at the Kyocera Dome between the visiting Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Orix Buffaloes. We took the Tokaido-Sanyo bullet train from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station, a trip of about 30 minutes. Upon arriving at Osaka Station, we boarded the Osaka Loop Line (using our Suica card) for the 20 minute ride to Taisho Station. From there, we walked about 700 meters to the stadium.
3. Kyocera Dome
Arriving not much more than an hour before game time, we walked to the Kyocera Dome box office to purchase tickets for the game. At virtually every other NPB ballpark, this might be a risky strategy. Most teams draw very well, with few day of game tickets available. However, the Buffaloes don’t draw well, and to our surprise, there were very good seats available.
Fortunately for us, the box office staff understood enough English help us purchase the tickets. The ticket was more difficult to read than most, with no English and little obvious information containing the location of our seats. We followed some advice given earlier in the trip, and continued to hand our tickets to staff members until we were shown to our seats.
Since we had some time before the first pitch, we visited the team store. Unlike most team stores near or within the ballpark, the store had a large selection of souvenirs and apparel. After paying for the game tickets with cash, I didn’t realize that I had little money left when I attempted to pay for a Buffaloes cap (which was FAR more expensive than I originally thought).
In search of funds, I found an ATM in the stadium. As I had expected, my card was declined, since it was NOT a Japanese issued card. My brother came to my aid, but in my haste, I laid out near $100 USD for a cap that should have cost closer to $30 USD. This was my first mistake with Japanese currency (which was abetted by my misreading of the label). From that point on, I made sure to have enough cash on hand to solve most minor problems.
Returning to our seats shortly before the first pitch, we got the feel for the ballpark. The Kyocera Dome is a large indoor stadium, that seemed even larger with a sparse crowd. The park was reminiscent of Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, FL, in that it felt dim and empty. The Orix Buffaloes do not draw well, and that was evident in the stadium that night. As is typical, there was a sizable contingent for the visiting team in attendance, and there were times when the visiting team’s fans out cheered the home team’s fans.
The Kyocera Dome also has a unique roof. The roof looks like the underbelly of an alien ship, casting a presence over the entire field. Against the backdrop of the huge roof, the thin crowd made the park seem nearly empty. The visiting Hawks scores early and often against the hapless Buffaloes, to the delight of the Hawks’ faithful in the left field stands. Though the Buffaloes did scores some runs late, the Hawks held on for an 8-5 victory.
The fairly sterile environment, lack of fan support, and the poor team on the field made this stop the least enjoyable on our Japanese tour. While we may visit Osaka again, it is highly doubtful that the Kyocera Dome will be on the agenda.