Kansai Maigo – Day 3

Day 3 in Kanazawa. I was glad that I had cleared most of the city’s attractions the day before. The fair skies had been replaced by a light drizzle.

There was no time to go out for breakfast. I had some coffee and rice ball bought from the Family Mart the night before and hurried checked out and headed to the only remaining item left on the itinerary in Kanazawa. Myoryuji, or the ninja temple. 

The temple was tour by reservation only. It was possible to register on the day of course but there was no guarantee for a spot. I had booked months ahead for a place in the first tour of the day. 

Originally I had wanted to bike down there but it was raining, I boarded a bus from the station and got off a few stops early at Katamachi. I had left early to give a good buffer in the event there was traffic and given time to have a stroll along the cherry blossom lined riverside. 

The south end of Katamachi nestled up against the north bank of the Sai river. The shorefront shaded by branches of pink that drooped over verdant floodplains. The riverside had been reshaped into a public green space. People came for walks, or as a shortcut getting across the city without bothered by roads or traffic. 

I was just another umbrellaed passerby in the morning drizzle. The blossoms themselves slumbered in the sound of rain, unaware of appreciating gaze. 

Round the south east I crossed to the other bank. The bridge’s railings were pink, I noted absently how well it matched against the flowery backdrop.

My pace picked up. The flower or the rain had slowed me down more than I had allowed for. I bounded up back to the main street and turned south to Myoryuji. I watched my progress on google map, counting the streets before I needed to turn into some alley. I missed it, doubled back, and somehow passed it again. I looked about the empty parking lot near a convenience store and compared it against google map. Finally I fixed my eyes on two parallel rows of storm water drain running perpendicular to the main street. It could not be wider than a metre and a half, yet, this had to be it. My gaze followed the storm drains in and sure enough, there was a small opening in the walls of the neighbouring block which had to be the alleyway.

The alleyway turned into an L shaped bend which at its corner, was a small gate that had the name of the temple written on a small plaque. The temple could not have been any easier to miss. 

I went in and circled to the front of the temple where a large mob was already waiting. The majority of them were foreigners, each just as puzzled as I am as to where we should be waiting and looked to each other as assurances in number.

Eventually some temple staff came out and herded the crowd into the temple. Shoes off, as many places in Japan required. And they took the roll and the 1000Y fee on the way in.

Behind the office there’s storage space for our bags. In the main prayer hall, two gas heater burned warmly and we crowded around it appreciatively. No photos allowed within.

We were asked to split into foreign and local groups. For us they handed out english guide pamphlets to be returned at the end of the tour. I gave it a quick flip through; it was numbered and contained short descriptions of the rooms and clever defenses we would soon be shown.

The Japanese went off in one direction and we went in the other. The guide’s english was passable, not great, but definitely better than the average Japanese english guides. He went through a couple of rules necessary due to the confined nature of the many passages and rooms.

The guide was quick to first dispel the notion that the temple had anything to do with ninjas despite how it’s commonly called. A nickname which I was certain the temple administrations had no small part in promoting. 

The prayer offering box was built into the floor. It seemed a little odd at first look but seemed innocent enough as an aesthetic choice; in fact during times of danger the offering box’s cover could be removed and then in the dark room becomes a pitfall for any enemies who charged in. 

Like many temples the hall consists of a central portion with elevated high ceilings reflecting the heavens, and beyond the ring of pillars was an outer hallway space. Between the pillars were decorative boards that divided the space overhead between the outer and inner hall. Here a secret room had been built behind the dividing boards so the daimyo could visit and pray at this temple without being seen by the regular worshippers. 

Why a temple was built with these strange contraptions was because of the complicated political situation of the Kaga domain in the early Edo period.

In the Edo era daimyo was only allowed a single castle and were not allowed to raise additional fortifications. This removed the ability of any daimyo who dared to challenge the shogunate to resist an invasion. This presented particular danger for the Maeda clan for while they were awarded for their contributions in the Battle of Sekigahara, the clan had historically not been closely affiliated with the Tokugawas. In fact one brother of the Maeda clan had fought for the opposite side. Their award for fighting for the Tokugawas made them one of the largest daimyo in Japan and simultaneous made them a potential threat to the shogunate for they now held too much power, and relationships between the daimyo and the shogun was uneasy and the domain was ever under watchful eyes for its every move. Things were serious enough that the shogunate had drawn up plans to suppress the Kaga domain.

Under these circumstances, the Maeda clan was forced to take measures to defend themselves. Myouryuji was one of several temples built by the daimyo for such purpose.

Seen from the outside as an inconspicuous two level temple, it was in truth an anchor in a series of temples and houses that formed a defensive network. The temple itself was actually a six level fortification built to resist attacks and safeguard its inhabitants. It was ready to defend Kanazawa castle without drawing attention from the agents of the Tokugawa such it’ll give the shogunate the excuse that’ll force the temple to serve its intended purpose. 

Thankfully such fierce fate never came to pass, and the temple became just a curious marvel of architecture.

The main wing of the temple circles a large well, it’s said that this allows most rooms a direct access to the well where people could hide in, and it’s rumoured that within the well, a secret passage leads to the castle.

Contraptions complex and simple are scattered all over the temple, their purpose to confuse and deter enemies and buy time for the defenders. 

A small passage between a concave in the raised half level, at ends end was a flight of stairs leading up. But remove the planks of the passage and it’s revealed the stairs continue down into the basement. The stairs also had their own special designs. The rise was not made of wood but translucent paper, the shadows of whoever step on the stairs would be quite visible to those hiding beneath the stairs, aiming with a sharpened spear ready to thrust through the floorboard. 

A side entrance to the building was built in a funnel like angle, from the outside the right hand side of the sliding door was angled outward while on the inside the double door was flat, this left a small triangular space between the outside and the inside. In the triangular space was a slight of shallow stairs leading to the level above. If a defender was retreating from the enemies from the outside, he would dash in, close the door behind him and run up the shallow stairs. When the enemies follow in and open the door, it would naturally slide over and cover up the stairs leading up, leaving the enemies looking left and right at the empty corridor in confusion. 

Closer inspections would, no doubt, draw attention to the strange dimensions of the sliding door and reveal the hidden stairway, but not before the defender had escaped upstairs to raise the alarm and prepare a defence. 

Since the temple had to have the appearance of two storey construction on the outside, the inside was a series of half levels. The main reception room was connected to the guard’s room via the top half of a closet. The ceiling for the rooms were also lowered to hinder the swinging of swords and spears. 

There were some twenty odd rooms, many of them interconnected and accessible through many different corridors from different approaches, providing multiple avenues of escape and confounds the enemy. 

The main tea room was painted a verdant blue, which I had learned from Higashichaya to be a most luxurious colour was the pigment could not be obtained locally. The main tea room was connected with another room in the back via an arch bridge, perhaps to depict a bridge over great waters. Above the tea room was the formal tea room, accessible only through a concealed stairway hidden behind a wall. This might have been where the daimyo treated his closest vassals and supporters.

Because the temple had to maintain the facade of a two level building, the tea room could not afford more than a small slit of windows. Guests could not be entertained with magnificent gardens or distant mountains. To overcome this they carved a vista of Mount Fuji into the wall itself, layering a shelves as clouds within the circular alcove, and the back wall hollowed in the shape of Mount Fuji, taking advantage of the neighbouring corridor to give it the feeling of depth and space, one could appreciate the tea and gaze into the distance. 

Atop the tea room was a watchtower built into the roof space where defenders could look out the slits in the ridge cap of the roof and observe happenings outside. From here they could monitor both in the direction of the castle and the main approach to it across the Kaga plains. Due to the deteriorating condition of the structure of the watchtower, regular visitors were forbidden from going up. 

Toward the back of the building down the middle of a narrow flight of steps, a small room extends off to the left, its door small and the room cramped. Within the room is another room. Together the pair was isolated from everything else in the building. It’s said that this was the room for seppuku. When everything else fails and escape was impossible, the lord would retreat here with his most loyal servants. While his men defended the outer room with their lives, the lord would prepare for ritual suicide and kill himself in the inner sanctum to the honor of his house.

But a samurai is cunning and death is a last resort. The aim is to escape. Behind the main buddhist altar is a secret panel that opens up to the floor space beneath, from there someone could choose their direction of escape and emerge from under the building. The panel is concealed and cleverly secured by integrating the rails for a cabinet door right into the floor panel itself. While the cabinet door is closed it sits on the panel locking it in place and prevents anyone, especially anyone who has crawled under the house from the outside, from lifting it while also concealing the cut in the board. Only when the cabinet door is opened to one side is the panel free to be raised. Making both the cabinet door and the panel as a kind of one way lock combination.

There were many other secret passages and hidden doorways, the geometry of the walls ensuring one could never be sure where one was within the structure. It was unsettling for someone usually fairly good with orienting oneself within unfamiliar space and directions such as myself. 

The thoroughly entertaining tour took just over an hour. It was great insights to the ingenuity of past craftsmen and the historical context of the time that compelled a daimyo to go to such lengths to protect his rule. The only shortcoming that could be nickpicked would be that the guide was pretty much reading off the script; I would be keen to hear what the Japanese group side heard, perhaps some small funny stories or rumours to the temple’s past. 

It was still raining so I took the bus directly back to the hotel and took out my luggage. I first went to the station and bought my ticket to Hikone. The Hokuriku rail pass covered my journey down to Tsuruga but after that I had to pay the difference. I had been a little concerned with purchasing tickets in this way, with part of it covered by a pass, but the lady at the counter seemed quite familiar with such usage and as soon as she saw my pass and my intended destination, she punched in the tickets I was expecting.

After this I considered my options. Here my decision to not buy the gold leaf ukiyoe the day before was starting to haunt me. The station’s Hakuichi store to my disappointment, sold only the high priced gold leaf lacquerwares and not the ukiyoe sets. I could go back to Higashichaya but that will be close to an hour round trip, in the rain no less. 

Perhaps the better choice would be to see what other gold leaf items I could find in the other stores. The agitation had gotten to me and I spent an unreasonable time going back and forth between the handful of shops selling gold leaf souvenirs, closely looking over all the items trying to find one suitable. 

Finally I settled on a pen holder with five pointed leaves and cherry blossoms, symbolizing the spring and autumn.

The delay made me miss the initial train I had planned to be on, the next one was due in just over half an hour. Time perhaps to squeeze in a lunch to make up on lost time. It had to be within the station though, and fast. 

I settled on Go Go Curry. I already went past it the night before while looking for the ramen place and since it was the most well known Kanazawa curry shop, it would serve a good point of reference to Turban Curry. 

The shop was not very busy which was good, the last thing I needed was pressure to finish my food. The menu was very similar to Turban, just with more choices in portions and toppings. 

The standard curry I chose came in no time. It was also strongly flavored as Turban was, but lacked in the same depth in richness. The terms to describe some delicate differences was beyond me, other than there was some lack of attention or enthusiasm in Go Go’s Curry that made it feel a decidedly plain affair. 

The stack of take home curry packs arranged on a table by the entrance did not escape my attention. Was it its taste that allowed the chain to be known nationally, or was its success in commoditizing that allowed it to expand and assume the face of Kanazawa curry.

The train from Kanazawa to Hikone was just over two hours, with most of the journey on the white egret Shirasagi express, with a transfer at Maibara for another 5 min on a local train. 

Around Fukui I fell asleep and woke up as we approached Maibara. Maibara, the station in any case, I’ve been through several years ago while visiting Toyosato on my K-On pilgrimage. The transfer presented little of note.

I reached Hikone close to 1pm. Right outside the station Ii Naomasa greeted from atop his bronze horse. The great general and warrior was a favored retainer of Ieyasu and he was given the lands around Omi province as rewards for his bravery in battle. The clan ruled this vital junction on the Tokaido road and built Hikone Castle as their seat of power.

Hikone Castle was one of 12 castles in Japan that still retains their original keep, and Hikone contains many features rarely seen elsewhere. 

Situated about 800m away, it’s a straight line down the main street. I first lock up my luggage at the tourist centre at the bottom of the stairs on the left. As usual there was a shortage of coins, solved by exchanging with the tourist help desk. 

A few Hikonyan welcomes and directed guests toward the castle. The street was fairly empty and one glance told the tale of a town in an economic spiral. The awnings and shop fronts were old and rustic, yet the sidewalk was well paved from hotpodged and ineffective attempt at revitalization. 

Hikone was just an hour from Kyoto, as a bed town it was not facing depopulation but since most retail needs could be better served by the city and local business had little hope of competing. Then its semi-rural surroundings meant households had to have a car and every day shopping needs shifts toward the outskirts near main roadways. The town center lacked the means to remain the center of livelihoods. Even with the famous castle, the lack of shops aimed at tourists would suggest that numbers were not great, or tourists saw the castle as a single point of interest with no need to linger. 

During planning Hikone had always remained a marginal choice. It was just far out of the way that coming out here required dedicated effort. For a castle town that should be steeped in history, the town strangely had no well known sweets or confectionaries, no local crafts or cuisine. The town lacked a story, a story like Kanazawa had successfully woven around it, true or not. Other than the castle I could not identify any other attractions of appeal. 

Hikone also needed to compete with Omihachiman. The other major attractions on the east bank of Lake Biwa. As two towns with similar background, one being a castle town and the other a canal town, and only twenty minutes apart, they should complement each other. Unfortunately their proximity to Kyoto seems to just as often relegate both to half day trips, with Omihachiman coming out on top. A whole day was just too much to ask when one had an endless number of temples within Kyoto, and for day trips places like Hifune and Uji inevitably ranks higher. 

Hikone and Omihachiman was not first rate attractions. It only made the list since I passing Lake Biwa from the north anyway so Hikone was not that big of a detour and I’ve already got a good collection of castles so I might as well keep up the stamps. 

In any case, I reached the outer edge of the castle in less than 10 minutes walk, where a gokoku shrine was. From here on the castle moat was lined with cherry blossoms, though they were slight past their full bloom compared to Kanazawa. 

The castle was protected by a set of double moats, creating an outer perimeter sandwiched between the two. Within this protected space the lords of Hikone had built a garden on the north side and remains of the barracks and stables can still be found in the south. 

The stable was one of its largest kinds still found intact and considered an important cultural treasure. The building was in an L shape and had space for keeping as many as 21 horses. Above each slot was hooks for hanging up the saddle and reins. 

The path was lined with giant festival lanterns written with the names of the sponsoring business embraced by the season’s pink flowers.

Upon crossing the inner moat was the ticketing gate. I went with the 1200Y complete set which included entry to the castle, the garden and the museum also. 

The museum was host to a large collection of the treasures of the Ii family, including the national treasure Hikone Folding Screen which was only put on display this time every year. The screen was painted on gold leafs and depicted the pleasure quarters of Kyoto. There was woman playing shamisen, men and women playing board game, an early example of the genre as usually such scenes would be considered too crude for adherents of the formal painting schools of the time. The screen was very well known and often depicted in other paintings..

The Ii family was well known for the red armors the warriors under its banner ride into battle in, many wore by successive generations were on display, some menacing, some fierce. 

Within the museum is a real Noh theater from the Edo period, built in the 1800s, and performances are hosted here several times a year. 

The former residence of the daimyo has also been restored as an extension to the museum. Visitors can admire the rooms and connecting hallways and the views of the surrounding garden they afforded. The main building was the lord’s living spaces and where he might have entertained some of the guests. Deeper in the sanctum through a long hallway, was the lord’s private space and study, adjoining was a small two level building, the only one in the complex, where the ladies of the household lived. 

Upon leaving the museum, I was confused by a crowd ushering into the now open gates next to the museum into the lord’s garden. I followed them and soon found the answer. It was Hikonyan, putting on a show on the engawa of the residence. 

Hikonyan is basically a white cat mascot wearing a horned red samurai helmet similar to one worn by the Ii clan in the museum’s collections. It was based on the legends told of the 3rd lord of Omi domain, Naotaka. It was said that during a storm the lord was beckoned by a white cat to take shelter in a temple and was saved from a lightning strike. 

The performance was… hard to understand. The mascot could not speak and it relied on the host to narrate, the lack of context made it difficult for me to parse out the words. 

I broke away from the performance and took the opportunity to head up to the castle while the crowd was occupied. 

It’s a steep climb up to the top, the steps were laid in uneven gait, said to foul up the momentum of those charging up to the castle. Near the top the path goes between two stone walls and underneath a wooden bridge. The path circles about onto a ramp from which connects to the castle’s main gate over the bridge. 

This is the only place in Japan where this castle bridge design can be seen. The bridge could easily be destroyed in war time to prevent access by attackers. 

The approach and the bridge was defended by a long row of hoarding with many arrow slits and gun ports. 

From here up to the honmaru was another flight of steps that passes a time bell, said to be amongst the best 100 sounding bells in Japan. 

Within the honmaru were many more cherry blossom trees, providing that postcard perfect view of the keep towering above canopies of pink. The keep has three levels above the stone basement. The exterior was decorated with different gables creating an intricately layered appearance. In total there are 4 design of gables, two for each north-south, east-west facing.

From the top of the keep one could see the western courtyard known for its thousand cherry blossom trees, a rolling canvas stretching from the castle keep to the distant watchtower. If the sun was out it would truly be a sight to behold.

The back trail circled down the hill to the garden on the north side. The Genkyuen was a garden built by the daimyo for entertainment. By this point it feels like just about every castle of note have a garden. Which was only reasonable of course, as this was really the only means for daimyo to experience lands far away without embarking on travels expensive in both time and money. Even a trip to the nearby mountains was an endeavor in the past.

The garden was modelled on the gardens of the Tang dynasty, there were ten supposed sights, at its center was the pond with four islands interwoven with nine bridges. Not as large or well maintained as the major gardens, the many bridges and twist and turns did make the garden very interesting, and the islands and bridges could be viewed from many different angles. 

Next to the garden was the Rakurakuen, the residence of a later daimyo. It was undergoing renovations so it could only be viewed from the outside. 

After this I headed to the west side, where Yume-Kyo-Bashi, a shopping street restored in the appearance of a castle town street, with old wooden shop frontages and well paved sidewalks. 

It was past 3 by this time, the shops were starting to close on a regular week day and short of a handful tourists the street was without spirit. 

Then I discovered that due to the incredible amount of schedule shuffling I had forgotten the chicken restaurant I had my sights on was closed on Wednesdays. I dragged myself to this side of the castle for nothing. 

Annoyed, I went back to the station, hoping I’ll figure out the next plan during this time. I took the path around the main part of town instead of doubling back through the castle, it took me through the two supposed shopping streets of the town. Neither could not even be described as struggling.

The train to Kyoto takes at least 50min and the next train was not due for almost twenty minutes. Thus I could wait at least an hour and 10min to get to Kyoto before finding some food, or I skip the next train, use some time till the one after that to find some food, then when I do get to Kyoto I won’t need to be hungry while sorting out check-ins and buying the things I need.

There’s not much choice near the station, which was good in this circumstance. I picked the only eatery, checked the menu and went in; an item on the chalkboard had caught my eyes. Omi-beef suji curry udon with rice. I didn’t know what suji was at the time. The word was not unfamiliar to me, just temporarily failed to connect in the context of food. What mattered was that it sounded good at the time.

There was only one other customer. I found myself a seat and sipped on the cold water offered. The Japanese eatery was an old couple operation. No fancy affair but very homely. The space was neatly cluttered, the tables old and shone with decades of attended care. For the state the township had looked the eatery looked to be in good shape.

The old lady asked if I wanted rice with my beef-suji udon… which had me confused, wasn’t it meant to be included? Either way, we were able to meet an understanding that yes, I would like rice.

The udon was covered in a curry dark and saucy, with a generous garnish of spring onions. I poked around at the strange glutenous substance and realized that suji was, of course, tendons. I had ordered a beef tendon udon.

The mystery resolved, I quickly enjoyed my 930Y dinner. Using the rice to balance the curry. It was excellent, though mostly unremarkable. 

After the meal I used the remaining time and poked around the Heiwado retail complex opposite the station. It’s a bookstore home living shop.

I arrive at Kyoto almost at 7pm. It felt much later, it had begun to rain. My stay, Smart Stay Shizuku is one major street block down the main station front street and a small block off to the right.

The Global Cabin I had stayed at last time in Tokyo was more of a bunk with private study space, so Smart Stay Shizuku was the first true capsule hotel for me. It’s a fairly new hotel that looked pretty slick from the website images. The reason I chose it was two fold. 

Firstly, hotels in Kyoto with good locations is very hard to find, especially around Kyoto station. Most of the new low cost hotels that sprung up in the wake up of tourism boom congregated around the retail district of Kawaramachi, where old buildings are aplenty for conversion. 

Kawaramachi is by no measures a bad location to stay in Kyoto, it’s by the bank of the Kamogawa river and close to Kinshichi market, Gion and Kiyomizu temple. It has access to Hankyu and Keihan private rails that links to points of interests south of Kyoto such as Fushimi and Uji, and further south to Osaka, and the metro is not unwalkable at Karasuma. Being the heart of the retail district it’s also a foci for buses that spans every corner of Kyoto.

Kyoto station works out a little better for me because I had to bounce in an out of Kyoto so the less transfer needed the better, and Kyoto station had plenty of lockers and even luggage keeping service if it came down to it. 

The other reason was because I booked really really early, I managed to get off-peak price for the capsule hotel in the middle of cherry blossom season. It’s a steal at one third the price which rendered a lot of other factors moot.

And right now a third reason, for most of the way it’s connected by an underground passage. There’s an underground passage from Kyoto station, adjoining the station front underground mall, and runs beneath the station front street for one major block, so I was spared from the weather for the most part. Underground connections always contributed to my considerations though never did I appreciate it as much.

From the end of the passage it’s a mad dash up the stairs to street level and about four buildings down the side street. I ran past a small izakaya and thought how cozy that looked. But, I digress. Onto the hotel.

Shizuku’s street front was of modern Japanese style, with a small rock garden before large glass panes illuminated with the warm wooden glow of the interior. Immediately on entering is a foyer raised about 10cm from the ground, there’s a ramp so dragging luggage is no concern. On the walls of the foyer are shoe lockers where guests have to lock up their shoes. The shoe lockers comes with a key that need to be handed to the front desk for the access wristband, and on heading out the access wristband for the shoe locker key. It’s a labor intensive but clever process that ensures the access wristband is never taken out of the hotel and people entering and exiting the hotel have to pass through a staff member to filter out any suspicious person. 

I announce myself, got my wristband and paid for the stay at the nearby machine. There’s also an options to include breakfast. I saw no reason to pre-order since breakfast can also be paid on the spot the next day at the same price. Who can tell what I feel like tomorrow, I’ll look at what’s on offer and what time I wake up before deciding. 

The staff quickly gave some rules and instructions and introduced the layout of the hotel. Room on level 5, shower and bath on the first floor down a passage next to the lobby. Lounge and breakfast on third. 

The hotel’s key is a wristband with a magnetic knob which is needed to gain access to points throughout the hotel, such as the elevator, the shower and the door to your capsule’s floor. Such control is pretty common for modern capsule hotels and makes me feel pretty safe leaving behind luggage and keeps the genders separate for security.

The capsule floor’s entry door didn’t respond to the wristband initially and took some tries. A fellow guest saw my struggle and opened the door with his wristband, giving me a big grin. I laughed appreciatively and made a comment about the stupid wristband. 

The floor was neat and utilitarian, the black and wooden themed space lit with relaxed dimness. There’s subdued quietness, the long hall swallowing up any noise both in and out.

Along the wall are luggage spaces where there’s a bar with cable locks on them where one could secure luggage to. It won’t protect against anyone rummaging through them but it does prevent a quick snatch and dash. 

There’s two doored away areas, one is the toilet room with generous number of stalls and another a washroom, a much appreciated separation. In the washroom are basins lined both sides with mirrors and disposable toothbrushes, shavers and other amenities,. 

My capsule is the lower one. It was easier to get in and out and to organize luggage; could simply pull the pack right up along the capsule. The capsule measured 1.1m wide and high, and depth of 2.1m, it’s more spacious than the average capsule hotels, many are only 1.05 or 1m. It feels more spacious than I expected, I could sit up, could roll over or curl up, all without worrying about running out of space.

The width is actually even wider as the capsule design here included a cleverly utilized side cavity. At the center of the sidewall is a nook about 15cm deep. In it hung the TV and the nook acts as a bedside table which I’d later find immensely useful for placing phones, glasses, toothbrushes, breakfast buns and other various small items. Beneath the nook was a slide out table, also of good size, enough to balance my chromebook on it plus a drink. The nook space made the inside of the capsule less claustrophobic and the eyes have something to look into. 

The feature most valued had to be the small lockable cabinet occupying the space by the nook. It’s deep enough to fit in my backpack with space left on top to cram in a jacket, a camera, a book and whatever other things I have out. Throw in the luggage cable key and lock up the cabinet, then all I have to carry while inside the hotel was the wristband and the cabinet key, which I’ve found easy enough to tuck under the wristband also.

Not all capsule hotels have lockers, and not all that does have the locker right within the capsule. Some provide storage space but no locks. Smart Stay Shizuku’s design allowed me to keep the backpack within easy reach without taking up precious sleeping space, while secure enough to not require it be carried everywhere within the hotel. 

I feel comfortable enough to leave things in the cabinet for short stints away from the capsule without taking the important things with me. Going to the toilet, checking on the laundry, a coffee break at the lounge. It made the experience much less stressful for one overly cautious like me.

The only shortcoming was the location of the laundry and bath. Located at the back of the first floor it was impossible to go there without bumping into freshly arrived guests coming in from the reception with huge suitcases. It made for uncomfortable pass bys, carrying towels and changes of clothes or bag of laundry. 

The number of laundry machines was also gravely inadequate, only 2 sets of washing machines and dryers. The washing machines was not such a problem but dryers take at least 2 cycles to get to moist-enough-to-hang-up-overnight dry and had far less capacity than the washing counterpart, it made for awkward waits. There was, at least, the vending machine right next to the laundry to get a drink to pass the time. 

I hit the bath, taking a quick shower. The shower and baths are very well equipped and kept to a very high standard. Then I threw my accumulated clothes into the laundry and went upstairs for a coffee.

The third floor was Shizuku’s statement for what image it wished to impart on its guests. Split into two halves, the back portion was a manga lounge with shelves of free to read manga, other books, comfortable couch chairs and massage chair, and TVs. 

The front half was the bar and dining area. The bar served light meals such as curry and pastas, dishes that did not require a full kitchen to prepare, and alcohol and non-alcoholic and snacks. There were plenty of tables and row of window counter seat as well as seats at the bar counter, enough for one to enjoy some personal space. 

The lounge and bar level made the hotel feel a little piece of home. One is not confined to the small capsule and had plenty of space to lounge out, read, relax, have some food, chat and make friends. 

The nice thing about Shizuku was that I did not even need my wallet with me to purchase a coffee from the bar. The staff took my order and scanned my wristband. Any purchases made was paid on check out. 

The coffee was typical Japanese black, with added cream. The bar did claim it was their own roast and indeed it was of decent quality, better than I expected for a capsule hotel. 

I sat down with my laptop and coffee. I was now in Kyoto. It was time to plan.


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