Kyoto - Memoirs of a Geisha

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Saturday, May 17, 2008

After looking at the other "attractions" that Hakone has to offer, the only one that seems remotely interesting is climbing Mt. Fuji and apparently that is only allowed during June and July because the mountain needs a break during the off-season?  Keeping in mind that the other various tourist spots seem mediocre at best I decide to make two stops (mainly because they are literally next door to my ryokan) at the Samurai Museum and the Musee du Petit Prince de Saint-Exupery!  I know, what the heck is a museum to Le Petit Prince doing in Hakone, Japan?  It turned out to be pretty cool as it played to my inner child and I did love that book.  Highlights included The Hunter's Staircase, Boa Constrictor Lane, Businessman Road and of course the B 612 Asteroid fountain in the front.  Talk about the perfect French class trip!  The Hakone Mononofu No Sato Art Museum (a.k.a. Samurai Art Museum) is utterly unimpressive save a quite glimpse of the weapons and armor.

On to Kyoto, I grab the shinkansen (bullet train) and am there in no time flat.  Unfortunately it seems that not booking a place here was a bad choice as apparently all of Tokyo grabs the same shinkansen and winds up here for the weekends.  After an Italian girl tells me the only places left are over $400 a night, I find the Kyoto information center and they help me find a room at a ryokan for $60 a night, and it was nice!!!

My first move is to rent a bike because it seems very much like a good city to bike and after my experience in Beijing I have decided that this may be the best way to see a city... I find a blue beauty (named Blue for future reference) to take me around and head up the mountain side for a strenuous bike that spits me out of a cemetery into Kyomizu temple. 

The temple is pretty cool, but its really the view over the city that captures me the most.  The bike back down to the city brings me through Gion, which is the neighborhood famous for its geishas.  I'm skeptical about whether or not I'll see Geishas especially because of how many tourists appear out of nowhere when I turn the corner onto the "backstreet" of Hanami-Koji.  Then I see what can only be described as Japanese paparazzi standing on the corner.  I stop to ask them what everyone is waiting for, knowing full well the answer, but they don't respond and are the first people to be rude to me since I got to Japan.  I push the issue and ask them if they are "paparazzi" and they turn and walk away quickly... guess I hit a nerve? 

Anyways, not more than a few minutes of rolling around on Blue and you wouldn't believe what I saw... A GEISHA!  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was rather anti-climatic.  She wasn't breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination.  She was covered in chalk-white paint, except for a little pattern on the back of her neck, and had trouble walking on the high platform shoes.  Her robes were beautiful and she was clearly on a mission as she slipped into a hidden door less than a block away from where she emerged from an equally hidden doorway.  Then I began to wonder what she was up to.  Then I began to think about how many hours it took her to get ready to go on that short walk.  Bottom line, I could never date a Geisha!  Talk about high maintenance... Having said that, the tradition and culture behind them definitely gives them a mystical importance and commands a certain respect that is clearly evident by all the on looking spectators.  I see a few more of these geisha celebrities from high atop Blue but am more intrigued by the neighborhood's historic architecture and charm than the intermittent supposedly gorgeous girls walking around seemingly pointlessly...

After deciding that I felt sorry for the Geishas because of everything they have to go through to uphold this aura of perfection, I head back to the hotel to regroup.  I'm putting my shoes back on to scope out downtown and find dinner when I meet this Californian guy, Bill.  He seems nice enough and I invite him to come with me through the Ponchodoro area with me to find some dinner and drinks. 

We explore this very traditional river-front neighborhood where the food prices are high but well worth the price of admission.  We wound up eating small meals at a bunch of different places and they were all expensive and delicious!  Bill is just finishing up school at the age of 30... haha.  Keep in mind that he has now graduated from Stanford 3 (THREE) times, undergrad, business and now medical school and worked at Goldman Sachs for 2 years in the interim... the guy is wicked smart!  A few beers, some good conversation and we call it a night. 
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