I’ve wanted to visit Kyoto for years, just to see real-life geisha. We started the day on a Lonely Planet recommended walking route of Southern Higashiyama, which started at Kiyomizu-dera (an incredible temple), and then north through a beautiful park, another amazing temple and then ended up in Gion – one of the main geisha districts.
We wandered around Gion Corner and marvelled at the authentic buildings that still house tea houses and boarding houses for geisha today before joining a geisha walking tour. The guy’s website sounded … interesting … I though he sounded like an arrogant jerk and Alec thought he sounded like a perv, so it was a relief to see about 10 other people turn up for the tour – all normal looking travellers like ourselves.
The tour was very interesting. It went for about two hours and Peter gave us basically a history lesson of the area and the people who lived there. He explained the workings of geisha culture and the meanings of the symbols and so on around the geisha district. We saw a few geisha hurrying home from their performances to get ready for the evening ahead. They may be small but they can really quickly on their high shoes! I was struggling to get a picture of them – most of my photos are from behind as they bolted into the alleyways.
Kyoto is just amazing. So beautiful, especially right now with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We’re right on the edge of the season. We were told that they’re one rain storm away from losing the blossoms completely.
One more note on how amazing the people here are. I left my shopping in a restaurant and was walking about a block away when I see this tiny little lady risking life and limb dashing across a main road to return my shopping to me … similarly, Alec left his train ticket in the machine in the subway and a business man dashed after us to return the ticket. Amazing. I love Japan.
We work up at 5:40 this morning to attend 6am services with the monks. The service lasted for about an hour and a half, and was full of chanting, incense and candles. We were invited to partake in the service as well. It was FREEZING at that time of the morning! We were then served breakfast in our room – again, some strange but interesting food I couldn’t identify, except for the rice, and checked out. It was about eight degrees when we checked out, so I don’t even want to think of how cold it had been when we got up at 5:40am!
After checking out we took a walk around town and visited the main temple, which had once been the centre for Buddhism in this area. It also had the largest rock garden in Japan, and we watched the rock-rakists in action. What an amazingly time-consuming job, but it looked fabulous when they were done.
We then walked back to the temple to collect our luggage, played with the temple dog, who was wearing a very stylish hoodie, and caught a few trains to get to our nest stop – Kyoto.
By the time we got to Kyoto we were exhausted. One cable car, three trains and one bus. Enough! We rested up for a bit, then head on out again to check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
It was pretty interesting to see original manga artwork from the 1940s, but it wasn’t as large as we had hoped for. Never mind! We found a place to eat called Mr Young Men, had some miso ramen and edamame – delicious!
I’m excited about tomorrow – we’re going to look around the old park of town. I’m hoping to see a geisha and more cherry blossoms.
We shopped in the morning, going completely nuts in stored like Big Camera, which is a 10-story building filled with every kind of electronics you could imagine – for insanely cheap prices.
We then caught a train and cable car up in the mountains to Koya-San, a Buddhist community, for out temple stay evening. After we booked into our temple and were shown our traditional-style room, we walked around town. It was a lot colder up in the mountains, but also really beautiful. We checked out the cemetery, which was huge and filled with ancient trees and headstones covered in moss.
For dinner we ate traditional Buddhist vegetarian food (no meat, no seafood, no onion, no garlic) which included lots of tofu and strange things we couldn’t identify. It was served with great ceremony by two of the monks, who then returned later to lay out our futons.
The only down-side for me was the lack of private bathrooms. There were shared co-ed toilets and a communal bath. I wasn’t adventurous to try this, but Alec did, late at night when there was no-one else around, and he said it was amazing.
The day was overcast, but with only a short time to fit everything in we decided to catch the train down to Hiroshima. We stopped off at the A-Dome and Peace Park Memorial before catching a train and ferry to Miyajima island. The dreary day meant bad weather for taking pretty photos of the cherry blossoms that were out in full bloom. We did see some crazy scatty deer on the island … they weren’t as cute as Bambi unfortunately.
I’m loving how friendly all of the people here are and even if they can’t speak English they go out of their way to try and communicate. All I can say is “thank you”, and I’m saying it over and over again every five minutes to more strangers who are helping us out.
Food though is hard. Everything is written in Japanese characters and the pictures aren’t clear, so it’s tough finding places to eat thus far. I had hoped to lose weight on this trip, but just not eating full-stop is not what I had in mind!