Trains, Gold and Geishas

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November 27th 2012
Published: November 30th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Train Ride Train Ride Train Ride

Described as Romantic Train
Day 11

Once again we were up early as we had to go to the station to buy tickets for the "romantic" train joureny from Arashiyama to Torroko. It was a clear day, but the temperature had dropped quite a bit, meaning that those of the tour group from south of the equator were frozen! The tour company had tried to buy the tickets in advance, but they had all been taken by the large Japanese tour companies. There was however, one car for un-reserved tickets that is open air. We were there that early, the shutters were still down. Our tour guide managed to get tickets, but for standing only.

We got onto the train, and the conductor, dressed as a devil, ushered a couple of the party to seats. To be honest we were better where we were as there was some shelter from the openness of the carriage. The view down through the gorge was stunning, the autumn colours were really vibrant against the bright sunlight. We saw some brave tourists in boats going down the rapids, freezing if the water splashed up at them.

When we got off at the station and made our way to the small exit, there were rickshaw guys touting for business. These were the man operated sort, not the cycle versions that you see round London these days. More interestingly, was their footwear - based on a climbing shoe sole but shaped like a camel toe - unique to Japan we assume.

The footpath took us through a bamboo grove where they were prolific, and had grown to quite a height. Interestingly, they seemed to not be the vivid green colour we are used to seeing, but a darker shade. There certainly were enough of them! The only down side, was that some visitors had chosen to view the grove by taxi, and really there was not room for them to get down there. As we reached the end of the grove, we were nearly knocked down by a taxi that insisted on reversing where all teh pedestrians were walking. We made our feelings known to the driver, but he seemed oblivious. Just at the end of the grove was a very small temple, which we had a look at, and just paying his respects was a yakata clad chap wearing the wooden slippers with the block sole. We then walked towards the town, and were given some free time to do some shopping before having to meet back at the coach. It was very busy, but there was a little more variety in the shopping available. However, we never ceased to be amazed by the Japanese appetite for sweets, buns and cookies, and the fascination with displaying plastic food outside your restaurant.

Our next stop was the Golden Pavillion at Kinkaku-ji, which as the name suggests, has the roof entirely made from gold. This again is a remodel, the original having been torched by the monk that had been tasked with caring for it. People around the world collected together more than 7million yen to rebuild and re-gild the temple in 18ct gold. Luckily, the weather meant that the sun was bright and the leaves made for a great picture. No-one is allowed inside the temple, but there were some pictures showing the inside. The top level has a lacquared floor which reflects off the ceiling supposedly representing the sea which actually is miles away. Outside, Russ bought a steamed bun. We had seen plenty, and tasted a few in other places before with mixed results, so he only got the one. Lunch was "on the hoof", and the pork filling was really good, and we wished we had got one each.

We next went to the Nishijin Textile centre, where there was a 15minute fashion show of kimonos. The models tottered out in different colours and designs, but the most beautiful part of the outfits were the obi's (sashes). Upstairs after the show, you could go and see the reason why a good quality kimono is so expensive. There were demonstrations of the hand painting that goes into the designs, plus you could see the silk worms.

We then went onto our next temple - busy programme today! To get to the Kiyomizu Temple, the coach again had to negotiate a steep and narrow road to the parking area. When we got out, we had to avert our eyes from the parade of shops that led upto the entrance to the temple. This is a multi purpose temple, really not belonging to any religion in particular. The 11 headed Kannon , which is prayed to is only on show every 33 years - the next time will be 2033. The temple is held up by pillars which have no nails, and the structure was very impressive, and it offered great views over Kyoto. Slightly oddly as well, was that there were lots of young girls that had hired geisha outfits for the day, some with a boyfriend, and were tottering round in full dress with hair done etc. The only thing they didnt have was the white face paint. At the bottom of the temple, was a water fall offering 3 spouts. Drinking the water from each one of the spouts offered a cure to either health, wisdom or the search for love. Both Russ and Jay went up to try the water - it just lacked a hand dryer! On our way to shopping down the main street, both Russ and i were collared by Japanese school children trying to practise their English. Kim had previously explained that their spelling and grammar would be good, but they lacked coversational English, as they had no opportunity to practise. In my case, the students each asked me a different question, then i had to have my photo taken with them, and finally they asked if i could send them a postcard back from England - so they could get good marks. They were from a high school in Nagasaki, so i will be responding when i get home.

It was walking distance, mainly downhill, to the next temple and gardens at Kodai-ji. The Zen garden currently has two dragons in it, which are a parent and child. The temple was given to the wife of the shogun after he died and she became a nun. Her remains are buried in one of the buildings underneath a statue of her - i hope she was prettier in real life! The roof and some of the other decorations were actually original, and it was nice to see something that wasnt a replica. We then in the temple's small museum - 1 room, and the only good thing was the samuri costumes, and the rest we couldnt understand as it was in Japanese.

We then walked further down into Kyoto, to Gion, where we were hoping to spot a a real life Geisha. Kim told us that girls in Japan all want to become Geisha's and they go through a 5 year apprenticeship as a Maiko before actually becoming a Geisha. Only in Kyoto are there the Maiko, of which there are just over 100, and actually in Kyoto there are only 73 Geishas. This is a very respectable profession, and rates for 1 Geisha and 2 Maiko are approx £2000 an hour, and you can only use their services if you are introduced by a current client, they don't accept "casual" clients. They dance, and perform music for you, and the Geisha will be knowledgeable in politics, economics etc, and there are no extras.

We made our way to a crossroads, famous for where the Geishas leave their boarding house to rush to go to work. They normally emerge at about 5.30pm, and we were a little early. As we stood there, more and more poeple loitered on their way past, along with tour buses, taxi's and a couple of people that set up tripods. Then, suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and a Geisha hurried past, head bowed down trying to walk as fast as possble and avoid the cameras. Getting a shot was almost impossible, as the light meant it was incredibly difficult to get a good photo, and the small point and shoot we have which is great in less light, the battery had run out! However, but running along the street, some of the group had managed to get a couple of photos. We then took a quoick vote - stay and see if we spot any more, or go to dinner. The group opted for seeing 1 more Geisha. We waited another 15 minutes, and just as we were about to leave, and had actually started walking down the road, 2 more appeared - fantastic.

Once we had seen them, our night was complete, and we hurried to the restaurant for dinner. It was cold, and the group rushed to a building that also contained a nightclub and nail bar - interesting. Dinner was shabu-shabu, which is essentially boiling meat in water with veg and dipping it in a satay sauce. It certainly needed the sauce to give it flavour. Once we had finished we waited to be collected by the coach to go back to the hotel. It was quite a long day, as we had packed in a lot of sightseeing, but we were pleased we had seen the Geisha's.

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