Kimonos and Culture in Kyoto

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Khaosan Kyoto

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kyoto, now this was the place I was really looking forward to seeing. A previous capital city, it was described as the place you'd imagine Japan to look like. Gorgeous gardens, a world famous market, a score of world heritage sights and most excitingly of all, the home town of the Geisha. 

A quick train ride from Nara got us right into the heart of the city. We were staying in a hostel that had just opened two days prior to us getting there. The moment we went in we were struck by the amount of plants and bouquets that were surrounding the reception area. The girl who greeted us said they were mostly from other hotels and hostels in the area. Another glimpse of a different and fascinating part of Japanese culture. 

The hostel itself was perfect. Built in a 'ryokan' style it had a gorgeous common room with sliding paper doors, a huge flat screen TV, giant cushions to lounge on and a fully equipped kitchen. We spent many hours in this common room chatting to other travellers, doing research for our trip and for the first time since we left, watching TV!. The Internet speed was so fast here that I could even watch X factor and Apprentice programs at the click of a button. Sad I know but it brought me hours of joy. (I'm still gutted that Cher didn't win). 

Of course the best bit of all was the city itself. As we were round the corner from the famous Nishiki market this was the first place we visited. It's set in a narrow but very long road which makes it feel quite crowded. Now whatever you imagine a market to look like, this wouldn't fit the bill. It was spotlessly clean with every stall displaying it's wares in an orderly colour coded fashion. You wouldn't see a mount of prawns just thrown on top of each other, instead you'd get five or six of them lined neatly next to each other. Same goes with the fruit. I had such a great time there tasting all the weird and wonderful things on offer. Bar-b-q'd eel, all sorts of condiments and concoctions. I was heaven! 

Although heavenly is how I would describe the place we went to the next day, Arashiyama which was a short bus ride away from our hostel. Although of course we managed to complicate the process by going half way to the other side of town before changing onto a bus that took us straight past our hostel. But I digress. This place is gorgeous and another must on a trip to Japan. It's set by a river which immediately gives it impressive views. When we got there we made our way to the Bamboo forest which is spectacular. Tall giant stalks of bamboo line a narrow path, giving a green hue to the surroundings and a feel that you're on the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (Yes I know that that movie is set in China, Paul pointed that out too). I kept expecting to see a ninja head peeking from behind a stalk, or a ninja star (shuriken, I looked it up) to whizz past. Very cool!

Although we hadn't seen the best bit yet. We went into these world heritage gardens to chill out after a whole day walking around the town. Wow we were absolutely gobsmacked. This garden was designed by the gods. Yet again, it was like we'd stumbled into a postcard. After taking thousands of pictures we remembered to just sit down and take it all in. The gorgeous, carp filled pond, the trees with the turning leaves, the little pathways, everything about these gardens was breathtaking. 


One thing, or rather person I was really hoping to see was a Geisha. You can tell them apart from other kimono wearing women by their arch like hairstyles and painted white faces. The modern day Geishas are an interesting part of Japanese culture. Their main art is the tea ceremony, which in true Japanese fashion takes years to perfect. Five years of study in fact! Clearly this is not your typical Tetley tea bag affair. They will also have at least one more talent up their kimono sleeve. Be it singing, or playing an instrument. Rich men pay thousands of Yen to be entertained by a Geisha, and yes it does stop at the tea pouring and singing. Geisha numbers have dwindled significantly since the 1920's. Whereas then there were over 80000 geishas in Japan today you will only find about a thousand. Maybe Japan's modern woman finds the tradition outdated? 
We did catch a glimpse of a couple on the streets but we could only admire from afar and not take photos. We were in luck though. As always, without any forward planning we'd managed to be in Kyoto during the only fortnight where Geishas set up and perform in a play. Hooray! As we discovered this on the last day of the play we quickly ran to the office booth to buy tickets for that afternoon. The ticket also included a short tea ceremony by a geisha and her young apprentice which was great to see. The play though was even more fascinating, I was enthralled by the gorgeous costumes, the intricate hair-does and the white faces. It didn't matter that we couldn't understand a single word of the play, the spectacle of colours was enough. It was a very special afternoon. 

Kyoto has some amazing little side streets. There is one that runs along the river and has the most amazing looking restaurants I have ever seen. Each restaurant will specialise in one dish and from the outside all you will see is a few lanterns lit and the famous wooden sliding doors. You can not actually see inside the restaurant but you know that the food is going to be out of this world. It is the complete opposite way of thinking to how restaurants work elsewhere in the world. Normally you would want to look in and see how busy and clean the place is before deciding to enter but in Japan they are so confident of the quality of their food that they do not need to show you inside. Another amazing side street we went down is actually dubbed the prettiest street in Asia and who are we to argue. It had a stream running through it, beautiful wooden houses, lovely red trees and yet again, amazing restaurants lining the road. We wanted to move there! 

There are temples everywhere in Kyoto, it's a bit like curry houses back in Brum. Although slightly more opulent. We only saw a few of them as to be honest we were a bit cultured up! One we ended up in had Monks doing a ceremony and chanting. We sat and listened for a while almost in a trance like state. 

 The great thing about Japan is the architecture and Kyoto train station is like something out of Star Wars. We loved it and it was nice to see a giant Christmas tree up. Talking of Star Wars, on one of our days in Kyoto we managed to stay in 3 different types of accommodation in 1 day! We woke up in our hostel, had an afternoon kip in a capsule hotel and then spent the night in a love hotel! I should explain really shouldn't I! Okay.

I have always wanted to sleep in a capsule hotel since I was a kid and luckily there was one on the same street as our hostel. So we went in and booked 3 hours in the afternoon, what a great excuse for a siesta! It was the cleanest and most futuristic place I had ever been in. All white tiles and white furniture. The floors are separated into gender so we said our goodbyes and went on our way. I first went to the changing floor / shower room got changed into my funky sleep-wear and headed to the capsule bed. It was soooo quiet inside the room and there was hardly any lighting. (I have done a video clip which i will put on Facebook when we have the chance.) Needless to say I slept really well for 3 hours. They have had Capsule hotels in Japan for 30 years and they are a brilliant idea if you miss your train home or you just want to chill for a few hours. 

Our next choice of sleeping establishment was a Love hotel. Now let me explain the concept of a Love hotel. Basically as Japanese apartments are so small and the walls are paper thin when they want to get jiggy with it they rent a room in a Love Hotel for an hour of privacy. They are not places where prostitutes go, it is just regular people renting the room out at really high prices. There are separate entrances and exits for Men & Women, and you do not see any staff of the hotel whilst you stay. When you first walk in you choose your room by selecting it on a computer, you then get your room key from a machine. When it is time to leave you swipe your credit card in another machine in your room. So you can actually stay in a hotel and never see any of the staff. All very bizarre but good fun. The best thing is at night the rates drop drastically so you can get a huge suite for about 40. At least that's what we paid for our love hotel stay which goes by the name of Broccoli!!!??? Nice and romantic. All the Love hotels have different themes but we could not work out our one! Ha ha. We were originally looking for another place but to no avail even with the help of a courier who ran off with his parcel to drop it off, then came running back
 with the Police and a map! Ha ha, brilliant. So there were Kaz and I, 2 policemen and a courier all looking for a Love Hotel. What is there not to love about this country? So we ended up in Broccoli and had a huge room with a jacuzzi, an Emperor sized bed (if there is such a thing) and a foot massage machine. It was well worth 40! After a great nights sleep we discovered that we could check out by midday. Amazing value. We could not work out the payment machine in our room, surprise, surprise so the receptionist had to come up and sort it for us. I think she was more embarrassed than us! Bless her.

So that concludes Kyoto. A really cool city with hints of ancient Japan on every corner. We are now going back to Tokyo as Karen has two days work back there. Yes, that is right, work!

Until then,

Karen & Paul xxx 
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