This post is being written as we leave port in Ishigaki Japan headed back to China and covers our first full day in Kyoto back in late September 2019.
Kyoto turned out to be the highlight of our time in Japan. There was lots (too much?) to see, everyone we met was friendly, and we got in a groove of getting up relatively early and sightseeing, having lunch and then returning to our hotel during the heat of the day and then venturing back out after sunset.
The first morning we met the Kyoto Free Walking Tour just outside one of the stations near our hotel along the river. We have done these tours in several places and they have always been very good for an overview of a new place and this was no exception. There is no charge but at the end of the tour you tip the guide whatever you wish.
This tour met beside the river which is well used in the daytime as a bike path and exercise site. We loved seeing how the Japanese behavior of not wanting to offend extends to even the trimming of hedges. Not only were there cones places along the sidewalk, but one of the workers held up a screen while the trimmer was running and when someone approached on the sidewalk, they stopped work and bowed slightly. Once we passed by, the trimming started again. Imagine any one of those happening in your town!
Our tour started in Gion which is the old part of Kyoto, known for the Geisha culture and narrow streets. This part of the city has had its electric lines buried so it comes as close as possible to looking like it did back in the day. It appears that in order to maintain the appearance of ancient Kyoto, they even camouflage traffic cones with bamboo covers! The last picture was taken on another visit to Gion but gives you an idea of how it looks at night.
We had hoped to see a Geisha or a Maiko (geisha in training). Alas we saw neither though we did learn about their history, practices and training. Geishas aren’t prostitutes, rather are entertainers and in more modern times escorts (more or less).
The houses which train the geishas are by the wooden blocks above the door each identifying the ladies who reside within.
There is a highly defined pecking order and rules regarding their appearance, how they wear their kimono and even lipstick. 1st year Maikos only apply lipstick to their bottom lip! The rules of Gion apply to us tourists also. Apparently there is such a problem with people touching the Geishas that the city had to put up signs to insure proper behavior. (No touching the geishas, no leaning on the buildings, no drinking, eating, littering (all of these are true throughout Japan-again that making sure to not impact others) and no selfie sticks!)
I (of course) was intrigued with some of the construction details, especially the tile roofs and the ornaments found on them.
Leaving Gion, our group headed towards a Buddhist Temple (or was it a Shinto Shrine?-they were starting to run together, especially if you don’t go fully inside. Anyway, the title photo for this post is of a pagoda we passed along the way. Apparently it’s temple burned down but the pagoda remains and is a landmark throughout this part of town. We saw it going up to the shrine and then again on our way down.
The shrine area was quite peaceful and beautiful. We had planned on trying to go back and really explore but time (and our feet) ran out. The last picture shows the tea bushes that serve as a hedge for part of the shrine. Originally, the monks used these to grow their own tea.
Leaving the shrine we headed downhill along a narrow shopping street which included (of course!😢) a Starbucks. Though if you blinked you might miss it.
At the bottom of the hill was a large and beautiful park that stretches from a Torii Gate uphill into the woods. It is full of cherry trees and is the favorite place for people from Kyoto to come and enjoy their blooms. It would be beautiful to see in the spring! There were also several other shrines we visited during our tour. One was the Three Monkeys Shrine. Here people bought stuffed monkeys and left them with their prayers.
You can see “See No Evil, Speak No Evil and Hear No Evil” along the top of the entrance gate.
Our tour ended at this spot and luckily for us there are also a lot of vendors in the park and we took advantage to have a quick nosh. Both the dumplings and the yakitori of chicken and scallion were delish!
While we hadn’t seen any real Geishas, we had seen plenty of fake ones. Apparently from our guide told us, lots of Chinese tourists rent kimonos (and hire rickshaws) for sightseeing selfies.
After a return and rest at the hotel (and presumably some lunch?) we returned to the subway station via a walk along the river to head to Fushimi Inari Takisha, probably Kyoto’s most famous sight.
This Shinto Shrine is famous for its 10,000 Torii Gates. So famous in fact that it is overrun with tourists. While researching I ran across a blog post describing the author’s visit during the evening. Not only was it cooler and less crowded, the darkness added a mystery to his visit. He had me at cool and less crowded!
We found our way on Kyoto’s subway system (didn’t even have to change lines!) and arrived just as the masses who came for sunset were leaving. We spent the next hour to hour and a half, walking uphill through the shrine and the seemingly endless pathway of gates to more altars. We didn’t go all the way to the top as it would have been a three hour trip oneway! We really enjoyed our time at the shrine and I highly recommend an evening visit. ‘Nuff said, here are some pictures so you can see for yourself.
After returning to the subway station, we got back to our neighborhood and as the Soba Noodle place was already closed we opted for conveyor-belt sushi. It was great fun and we happened to be sitting beside a graduate student from Houston doing a year abroad at Signapore University. She was with some fellow students and they said they had had eaten conveyor belt sushi everyday they had been in Kyoto and that this was the best! Lucky us. 😊. You pay by the plate, the different colored plates represent different prices. As you can see we had plenty!
After a very full, tiring but great day we returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep! Tomorrow, we are off to the original Imperial Palace!