Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Kyoto Marathon 2016: Day One

My first ever visit to Japan was a bittersweet affair. Too many things happened to me that I really couldn't get the best out of this trip. Nevertheless, I still have a tale to tell so here goes. A fair warning, this might be a long one. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I initially never had any aspirations of running Japan. My initial destination was the Seoul International Marathon but the dates for that weren't out and after checking with the Seoul organizers, they said the dates would be out late November or so and that made planning a reasonably priced holiday all but hopeless.


As fate would have it, my two good and regular run buddies, Jamie and Choon Yuen are advocates of Japan races especially the former who is madly in love with Japan. Now, my wife wasn't really too keen on Japan for a few reasons of her own. This was going to get sticky. How do I convince her that I was now contemplating Japan. She's not an easy person to convince. So I did the next best thing, I brought her along for one of the after breakfast runs and let the chief himself convince her instead. That worked and I was now on for Japan.

Next came which race to choose. I was keen for Kyoto but my two half Japanese friends once again prompted me to throw in my ballot for both Tokyo and Kyoto so I balloted for both Tokyo and Kyoto and secretly wishing I'd get the ballot for Kyoto. The only reason I threw in Tokyo was for a safety net in case I was rejected for Kyoto which was actually stupid cos the Tokyo ballot results would be out way before the Kyoto one.

What if I got Tokyo? Do I let it go and hope to wait for the Kyoto one instead? What if I let it go and lost out Kyoto, then what? This was another sticky little predicament that I got myself into. But as fate would have it, I failed the Tokyo ballot (whoopee) and was successful with my Kyoto bid. I was excited. My wife was excited and now we could finally start planning and making the necessary flight and lodgings way early. Oh, my wife knew everything there was to know about Seoul prior to this and now she had to reacquaint herself to a different culture but she's the queen of research in my book and I had no doubt she would be in a Japanese mind-frame by the end of the week.

Wife's first official Japanese meal at the Kansai Airport

We got ourselves a pretty good flight deal and an excellent rate for an apartment for us with all the facilities thrown in the likes of a kitchen, microwave oven, kettle, washing machine, private bathroom, etc. I gave a quick heads up to Choon Yuen, who by the way also was successful for Kyoto, and he booked the floor above us. I was happy for that and that he's also going. Being first time Japan visitors, his prior knowledge of Japan would be beneficial to us.

With all that out of the way, it was time to start on the important part of my trip, the training for the marathon proper. Now, I wasn't putting any goals for my Kyoto marathon. I wanted to use it as a fitness gauge for my Gold Coast Airport Marathon 3 months down the road. That said, I wasn't pulling any strings in my training. I drew up a training plan. On paper it was a pretty good one (at least I thought so)

With my wife helping me along with my plan by getting up as early as 5am on a workday, we'd both be out the door 20 minutes later pounding the pavements. Of course, we're of a totally different pace group so I run with her as a warm up and then when it was brighter (and safer) I'd leave her to her training and speed off for my proper training run. She knew my route and pace and would catch me again just as I was about to wrap up.

Rinku Town

On days she doesn't run, I'd put in longer runs. First it was a short 12k, then I'd feel good and the next day I'd be doing 15k's. Training was going so well, that at one point I was running 20k's/18k's/15k's back to back every morning on a work week! Weekends would be with the gang, more long runs. I felt so hardcore. Little did the fact I was deviating from my plan and wearing heavily on my body bother me one bit. Even the subtle warnings from my wife was brushed off. I feel fine, was what I would tell her. 

A little more than a month to race day, I sustained a little knee pain. I decided I'd take a few days off as I think I had enough mileage and taper was also just around the corner. Initially the pain didn't go off and I was worried. But after some treatment and acupuncture (my first time ever), the pain slowly subsided. Little did I know it was going to be a problem a little later. By then it was officially taper time and I decided I'd just rest until race day. I lost nearly 3 weeks but I could live with that. I now officially decided to go into the race with a different mind set which was to take care of the leg for GC, run a little more conservatively and see if I was able to help Choon Yuen with his personal best quest, not that he actually needed any help. His training and fitness at that point was top notch! 

Reminds me of Harbour Town in the Gold Coast
But I may have angered the running Gods at some point cos just about 6 days to race day, I landed awkwardly walking down my office stairs and heard a loud pop and shooting pain through my knee. I sat down on the stairs in excruciating pain and my mind instantly thought I'd just torn my ACL. I slowly limped back upstairs and quickly called my wife and told her of the situation and I was making an appointment with my regular sports specialist to have it looked at. Officially I knew my race was gone but that wasn't my worry. It if was an ACL, my entire year was gone! I kept looking out for the most telltale sign of an ACL tear, swelling of the knee and thank God, there was none.

After the check up the next day, it was diagnosed as a meniscus tear, though not as bad as I initially thought but I was still devastated. A 6 weeks downtime compared to months I can live with but this is the second time I've been floored by an injury just before a race. The first thoughts that went through my mind was I should have listened to the warnings my wife gave me. She may not run at my pace nor my distances but she knows my training plan inside out and knows when I'm overdoing things and not getting nearly enough recovery time.

Fooling around was ALWAYS on the list of things to do!

Strangely enough when I told the specialist that I was going to have to miss the Kyoto Marathon, he looked at me solemnly and said he might be able to get me to run the race. My ears perked up like Pebbles when she hears a snack being opened and I asked him how. He said he could give me a cortisone shot straight to my knee and I'd very likely be able to run the marathon. For one fleeting moment I was tempted to say yes. Then I asked him about long term effects and whether I could even run with the meniscus tear. He replied that I've already been running with the tear all this while and it just hit a point where it got too painful. I thought long and hard about the bigger picture and grudgingly declined the cortisone shot. It wasn't exactly cheap either.  

A very hard lesson learned. I told the group of my predicament and they were all supportive as always. I told Choon Yuen I couldn't toe the start with him as much as I wanted to. I seriously wanted to cross the finish with him. Just plain arse luck! Though my race was over, the holiday was still on so that's a good thing. Bittersweet it may have been.

With that out of the way, departure date finally came. Choon Yuen came over to my place and I drove to the airport since I was going to leave my car there. I have this trust issues with our local cab drivers. The ones I've had so far were either half sleepy and falling asleep at the wheel or fixated with Whatsapping while driving. Though I'd pay a little more in parking fees, I would at least be assured I'd make it to the airport in one piece.

A little nap time in the sun

Day One

With a 1am flight we arrived at around 8am to a chilly morning in Kansai. Though a shorter flight than travelling to the Gold Coast, it seemed so much longer. Trying to get any sleep in the small confined place on an Air Asia X aircraft was literally impossible, unless you're a midget. I did get as much shuteye as humanely possible with my meniscus screaming for more leg room.

My first step on Japan soil felt so surreal (yes, that surreal word again) for my wife and me. I never imagined I'd be setting foot in Japan. With CY leading the way we just followed his lead. After getting out of customs and getting his luggage, we went off in search of breakfast. We were famished and scoured the airport restaurants before finally settling for one. That would be my first taste of Japan. It wasn't as good as some of the things I'd eat later but it was sufficient to fill the tummy for now. 

After breakfast, we made our way to the train station as he wanted to take us to Rinku Town seeing as how we had a long time to kill as our check-in in Kyoto was only at 4pm. I was still in awe and it was difficult walking when you have your jaw dragging along the roads.

At the Kyoto bus stop waiting like little good boys to follow the wife's lead

I was totally confused with the trains. There's so many of them and I mean so many lines and types. Most signages were in Japanese. Geez, I'd be lost if it wasn't for CY and my wife. They were the only two who could make any headway of out anything. I was the dumbstruck tourist. Once we got our return train tickets for our departure next week and the ICOCA card, somewhat like our own Touch N Go that we could use on any train line or bus service and stowed our luggage at the station, we were off. After a short train ride, it was a short walk to Rinku Town. The weather was pretty cold for me. This wasn't anything like GC weather. But I could take it. The sun was out so that made it bearable. At least for now. 

Rinku Town was the usual walk, look, see stuff. Nothing really caught my eye though some of the stuff were really pretty cheap. I decided that if I had to go back into a shop a second time to see something, that would mean I really wanted to buy it, if not I'll let it go. A quick bite at the Family Mart convenience store there which makes ours pale in comparison, we continued our walkabout. I think we spent quite a fair amount of time here before it was time to catch the Haruka Limited Express train to Kyoto station.

Got conned by the wife into getting a Hello Kitty ICOCA card

Collected our luggage from storage, made a slight boo boo of exiting the station and re-entering again when we didn't really need to but we finally got on the Haruka Limited Express, found some good seats towards the back and made ourselves comfortable for the 75 minute journey to Kyoto. I have never seen so many different types of trains in my life coming in and out of one station and I'm not fascinated by trains but I was still awestruck by them. As Mr. Spock would say, "Fascinating".

Choon Yuen reclined his seat and dozed off instantly during the ride. I was inclined to do the same but decided to take in and savor every waking moment of Japan as I possibly could. The train ride alone was an eye opener. The houses and buildings we passed were so well structured that even though they were packed closely together, they didn't looked crowded, more uniformed I would say. I was beginning to fall in love with the place and I had only just started. Even my wife was in awe of how beautiful, clean and so organized the place was.

The entrance to our Apartment in Gion
A slight bump in our train journey when just a stop away from Kyoto station, the "train out of service" message popped up and we were told to exit the train and get on another train to Kyoto station with not much explanation or reasons why. That put a little damper on my perception of things. We grabbed our luggage, got out and made some enquiries and were told to catch the Shinkansen line to Kyoto. Cool, I thought, a bullet train ride, I wanted to take one while we were in Japan but the price was pretty steep. Now I get to ride this for free, well not exactly but at least on my cheaper ticket price.

A mad dash to get to the proper track. Now it was at this point all my mental pictures of what I imagined Japan to be came to life. We reached the gates just as a horde of office workers were coming out the opposite gates, all fully suited up in office gear and the sheer amount of people exiting almost overwhelmed me. My mind shifted 5 gears up and my eyes were as wide as those you see in those anime shows. "MY GOD! I AM IN JAPAN!!". If Choon Yuen wasn't there, I would have gone to a quiet corner and cried! After calming my still spinning mind, I chased off after Choon Yuen again to get on the bullet train to Kyoto.

Out first night's dinner. I loved my Ramen Curry Noddles with the wife's below
While sitting in the train for the short but helluva fast ride, I was shivering, not from the cold but more from the excitement and disbelief that I was really in Japan in bullet train bound for Kyoto. Never in my wildest dreams did I for one minute believe I would be here but here I am. I was simply humbled. I know my wife who sitting in front of me, probably had the very same thoughts. All the research she's done is coming to life nicely.

After about 10 minutes, we finally reached our primary destination, Kyoto Station. Once again, I was in awe of the station. Any much more of this and my jaw was going to get locked in place from all the times it hit the floor! We made our way to the bus stop outside to get a bus to the apartment but not before grabbing some buns and drinks cos we were hungry again. All that running around early burnt off whatever energy we had.

The holiday wouldn't be complete without me hugging a pole or something!
Here was where the wife's research came in handy and she was telling us what bus and which direction we must take to minimize the journey time to our apartment and also knew where we needed to get to down. Yes, she was that thorough with her research. So both Choon Yuen and me followed her lead and we finally got the bus to the apartment.

After an uneventful bus ride, we reached our apartment after nearly 22 hours of travelling! I was exhausted but happy that we got here safely. We "checked in", or what can be construed as checking in since there was no reception lobby or anything. We received our QR and electronic codes to enter the lobby and rooms a week before so checking in was really just flashing the QR codes at the lobby and keying in our security password to access our room.

At Issen Yoshoku, I simply couldn't resist helping the lil doggie
Now our apartment was a little surprise. It looked totally different, size wise from the images in Agoda when we booked it but otherwise it was nice and cozy. It came with a bed, albeit a little too low, a small kitchen equipped with cooking facilities, microwave and a minibar, laundry facilities and most importantly for the two of us, was the private bathroom, with a bath tub even! One big surprise that was unexpected was they provided free wifi in the form of a portable device that you could take along with you. That saved a chunk of data costs! The place was very clean and organized and I really couldn't complain, At the price we got it, it was a steal!

After a short rest, hot shower and a change of warmer clothing, we headed out to meet Choon Yuen for dinner. We were famished. Strolled the main road near the apartment and came across a nice cozy (and warm) restaurant which we agreed upon and mustered up some dinner. I opted for the hot Ramen Curry and I can't really remember what my wife ordered but it was something with rice, eggs and meat. Everything tasted yummy and I wolfed my dinner down (and some of my wife's as well) in no time.

Kimono clad mannequins placed to entice drunken men to spend money here
Tummies now filled, it was time to explore the place a little. Exhaustion be damned. We headed down the road checking out stuff. I noticed that vending machines were just about everywhere and the convenience stores here sold out of this world stuff. You could get a full fledged dinner from the store alone! Another thing we both noticed is that trash cans were no where in sight. Choon Yuen educated us on that fact that people here took their trash home to dispose. I was amazed. Such a disciplined lot. No trash cans and the streets were CLEAN! We have trash cans all around the place here but everyone just throws stuff anywhere they like. I felt ashamed of myself, I may have thrown stuff out the window of my car once or twice before and made a vow to never ever do that again.

Is this the drunken men they were referring to? 
The skies were dark but it was still early so we roamed the small back lanes, which housed stunning architecture, each with a life and character of its own. Not just the architecture but the people were so full of character as well. Each doing their own stuff going along their merry way in the cold. Even though some of the back lanes were dark, not for a moment did I feel I was in any danger. I felt so safe walking around not having to look out for thugs hiding in the corner waiting to pounce on you. One thing's for sure I would not walk the back lanes alone at home.

On the way back, we came across one of my wife's list of things to see, a place called Issen Yoshoku selling Okonomiyaki but more popularly known for its kimono clad mannequins, that keep you company thru your meals. Apparently, the mannequins are to trick drunken men as they pass by the night, seeing what appears to be cute single ladies all alone to entice them to step in for a bite. I highly doubt that it'll fool anyone but it sure does open up a host of photo-taking opportunities.

The pictures adorning the walls are more on the 'Adult' side of things
Of course, seeing as how this was on her list, we just had to go in and get a bite of the stuff. We shared a plate of the Okonomiyaki among the three of us and I was hooked by the taste. It was delicious, that it makes the ones back home seem hopeless. After the unexpected supper and lots of photo-taking, we headed back to the apartment to call it a night. It has been a long but satisfying day for the three of us and as much as I would have loved to keep on scouring the place, my body needed its rest. Besides, we had another long day planned for the next day.

On the walk back to the apartment, I reflected on the day and the things I've seen. Japan is a vast difference from back home. While Malaysia is my home, the place I grew up and lived all my life and will probably live here till the end of my days but I feel so short changed. The rest of the world has moved along just fine for the better but we're just getting deeper and deeper into a rut. Banishing ugly thoughts from my mind, especially during a holiday, we reached the apartment and bade good night to Choon Yuen. It was lights out for me the moment my head hit the pillows.

The Okonomiyaki served here was simply amazing and delicious!

Stay tuned for the Day 2 & 3 post and the Day 4 & 5 post. I've got so much that I want to write that I really have no choice but to break them up or no one is ever gonna read them! As it is I'm not sure anyone would even read this one!

Day 2 & 3 post can be found here.
Day 4 & 5 post can be found here.

2 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read the post for the subsequent days..oh by the way is Family Mart at Rinkutown not 7-11

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man, to me all convenience stores are 7-11's ... LOL! Post edited.

      Delete