Published: May 18th 2012May 16th 2012
Hiro and I took the bullet train from Tokyo, and I got off in Kyoto, while he continued on home to Kyushu. Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan, and there are hundreds of Shinto shrines, and over a thousand Buddhist temples. There are 17 UNSECO World Heritage sites in Kyoto, designated such by the UN in 1993. I took the bus from the train station to the Gion district, home of the famous Geisha. I stayed in a traditional Japanese guesthouse, and slept on tatami mats and a futon, in a tiny single room with sliding screen doors. The bathroom and showers are shared, and there are only 6 rooms or so, the place is called Guesthouse Rakuza and it cost about 45 USD per night for a single room, which is cheap compared to most hotels in Kyoto.
I explored the Gion district and spotted my first Geisha! They are traditional women of entertainment, and are essentially hired for the evening, usually by businessmen and such, to eat, drink, and talk with for the evening. They look exactly as you imagine them to, white faces, big hair, and traditional Japanese kimono, with socks and wooden slippers. Quite
a sight to see! I didn't think I would be that impressed but when you see one on the street in real life, it is exciting!!
The Gion district is a few streets full of restaurants, all in wooden buildings with screen doors, and the streets are filled with tourists and gawkers looking to spot a Geisha. I spent the afternoon visiting the oldest Zen Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, called Kennin-ji. Founded in 1202, this place has beautiful gardens, painted screen doors, and in the main hall, an amazing sight. For the 800 year anniversary, they painted twin dragons on the ceiling of the main hall, above the golden Buddha statue and altar. It really is hard to put into words how beautiful the artistry is, and how intricate the woodwork of the buildings. The grounds are quite large, and allow for one to wander and find a quiet place to sit and reflect. Kyoto really is magical.
Everything is very expensive in the Gion area, since it is so touristy, so I decided to cross the Kamo river to search for a place for dinner. I found a great place called Ootoya, which is a
fairly popular chain, with a variety of set menu choices, like breaded pork cutlet over rice, chicken and veggies in a clay pot, all kinds of fish, and each dinner comes with miso soup, tofu, some pickled veggies, and hot tea. I was complemented by a local who told me that she was so impressed with my skills using chopsticks!
I wandered around Ponte-cho, an area of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, for the evening - people watching and just enjoying the perfect evening weather. It has been about 75 degrees all day, and in the evening there is a cool breeze along the river. Also, there are butterflies floating about all over the place! It feels so magical here, with the lanterns lit along the river, geishas popping out from the corner, and a hidden temple or shrine around every bend.
The following day, I took a bus to see a World Heritage site castle, called Nijo-jo, which is the former residence of the Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. Built in 1603, the castle is huge and contains an outer moat, and an inner moat surrounding the gardens. Inside, the floors are called " nightingale" because they were
built to creak and squeak in case a spy samurai somehow snuck in to the castle. The gardens are very well kept and also very extensive, so I spent some time relaxing and taking in the scenery. It was much warmer today, in the mid 80s, which called for shorts and a tshirt! I went to a famous ramen place for lunch called Ippudo, where I had delicious noodles with pork, onion, and fresh garlic. Included in the set lunch was some gyoza which were amazing. They serve a reddish tea, perhaps barley tea? It tastes like rooibos red tea, and even though most places don't speak English well or have English menus, it is easy enough to order from the picture menus. Kyoto so far has proven to be one of the most interesting places I have ever been, and more to come!
There are more photos below