Monday, 30 May 2016

Week 6 into 7 - Kyoto

On the morning of our departure Daisuke came to say goodbye, and wish us well for the rest of our trip. I really enjoyed staying in his guesthouse, it certainly felt like a home away from home.

It took 3 trains, and a lot of money, to get to Kyoto (travel in Japan is really expensive). Once we arrived it was clear to see that we were back in the city once again, the train station is huge and was ridiculously busy, surrounded by skyscrapers and offices. We took a bus to our hostel, and once again got lost, but a nice man at the car garage pointed us in the right direction, and we were soon at our hostel, Guesthouse Kabuki. Kabuki, is a traditional ryokan, ran by a little old man on his own. Again you have to remove your shoes at the door and tread lightly on the tatami mats, but still I’d take this over a hotel any day of the week…unless maybe it had a pool, then I might stay for a night or two.

As we arrived late in Kyoto, we had a small wander around our area before heading for tea. Ramen, rice, dumplings and chicken…it was delicious. The best part though, we didn’t make it ourselves in the microwave from a 7/11, we actually went to a restaurant for the first time in days.

In the morning we woke early and took a train to Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. This is the main shrine at the base of Mount Inari, which we then walked up to see the many smaller shrines which cover the 4km trek. It was amazing to see how many shrines had actually been built, and pick out the old from the new. It was also hard work in the heat, but we made it to the top and could look over all of Kyoto.

On the way back down we got lost (this seems to be becoming a habit at the moment), which wasn’t such a bad thing as we stumbled upon Tofukuji temple. Decorated in black and gold, this is one of the largest temples which we have seen so far on our travels. The gate for this temple has been one of Japans national treasures since 1897. There are many buddha statues around this temple, and the rooftops are decorated with Japanese masks.

We headed back towards the main shrine and the local food market, where we enjoyed rice cakes, meat wrapped rice and Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki, is a sort of pancake filled with cabbage, noodles, ginger, egg, spring onion and meat, its then topped with soy sauce before being eaten with chopsticks. For pudding we had little ice balls, which at -40 degrees made you shit yourself when they stuck to your tongue.

We walked to the top of Kyoto station on our return, which is an architects dream. A modern building with metal beams and bright artworks scattered around. From the top you can see Kyoto tower, and all around the city, a view which shows you the many temples scattered around the modern city.

Before making our way back to the hostel we went to two more temples, Hongwanji and Kosho-ji. We were able to enter these temples which have doors lined with tatami mats, and giant golden lanterns hanging from the ceiling..truely breathtaking and a lot more peaceful than the one which we visited in Tokyo. 

For day 2, we took a walk down Shijo Dori street, Kyoto’s main shopping street…we obviously couldn’t afford anything here, but used the stores air con for a break from the heat. Plus this was on our way to Nishiki market, a vintage lovers paradise. The market is filled with vintage stores and trainer shops, we both agreed that if we didn’t have 10 months to go and had more space in our backpacks, that we would of bough ALOT stuff. The market also has a cat and owl cafe, which at 500 yen for 15 minutes are very expensive, so we just has a quick peak through the windows at the people sat among the animals. You can also visit a shrine or temple about every 500 metres along the market.

Here, Kyle also decided to have a go on a Pachinko machine. Pachinko is kind of like a pin ball machine, but with lots of balls, and you can win money to play on or take home. Safe to say Kyle was rubbish, even the staff tried to help but were too busy laughing. It was a great experience, the Japanese love it, even if the rooms are a little loud and noisy.

Things got awkward when we had to go to a chemist and ask for some ‘poorly tummy’ tablets and the woman didn’t speak english, but needs must. Feeling crappy, we decided to have a travel break and went to the cinema to see Civil War (finally, I’ve only waited 5 weeks). All of the seats are bigger and comfier than VIP, they even have little snuggle booths for couples, we however, passed on those…I’d waited to long to see this movie and didn’t need any distractions! At the end of the movie, when the credits were rolling, we noticed that nobody left! Normally people are fighting for the exit by this point, but in Japan they politely wait until the credits have finished and the lights come back on before exiting.

On the way back to the hostel we walked through the food part of the market, all of the stalls have little samples for you to try…which is amazing for our budget. We also decided to buy a delicious, Kyoto beef burger, a steamed bun with beef and pickled veg and a deep fried potato, bacon and onion thing…Kyle ate most of that one!

Day 3 saw us take a trip to Arashiyama and the Bamboo Forest. We got there early to avoid the crowds, and spent an hour wandering through the forest and into the surrounding temples. Being the rebels which we are, we snuck off the path and into the actual forest to get a closer look at the bamboo. An act which we paid for when we noticed the 100 mozzie bites later that evening! The shade made for a refreshing break from the heat, and it was nice to escape the city into the mountains once again. We walked through the little town and visited the Tenryuji temple….although we are starting to get a little templed out! 

We took a stroll over the Togetsukyo bridge, and along the river watching the other tourists and people struggling in the rowing boats, with the woods and waterfalls on the other side. It was a peaceful area and a relaxing stroll, before having some food and making our way back to the hostel for a much needed nap….with the air con on high!

I was really excited for day 4 as we were headed for the Gion district, home of the Geishas. As we were wandering around the beautiful parks and temples in this area we were surrounded by young women in rental kimonos, its easy to tell that they are not real Geishas as they are quick to pose for pictures, have faces full of make up, and carry their own selfie sticks. However, as we were made our way further into the Gion district and into the cobbled streets with the old buildings of Kyoto we were lucky to see two young Geishas in training, and they were stunning. Their faces were beautifully painted and they wore bright kimonos, easy to tell apart from the others as they were shy and trying to hide themselves…definitely a highlight for me. 

As we we made our way to the Kenin-Ji temple, Kyoto’s oldest temple, we were stopped by some school children and once again practised a little English with them and posed for photos, we’ll be famous in schools around Asia soon. Anyway, once we arrived at the Kenin-Ji temple, we were asked to remove our shoes and proceed quietly around. This temple is especially famous for the dragons painted on the ceiling, which are the size of 108 tatami mats and take your breath away when you see them.

Day 5 was laundry day, as we were running low on clean pants, and surprisingly chief washer man, Kyle’s first time in a launderette. I wanted to reenact the scene from friends where Rachel is fighting for the laundry cart, and Ross comes to the rescue to pass some time, but Kyle couldn’t remember that one. Whilst our stinky socks were getting clean, we read the guest book which had been there since 2000, and it was interesting to see the increase in western notes left inside over the past 16 years. It was also sweet as the owner had taken the time to reply to each person individually and thank them for their message. 

On our final day in Kyoto we went to the Shoseien Garden, one of the quietest places we have visited as we were two of a select few people in there. These gardens are located close to the city centre and are filled with old tea houses, a bee house, water lilies in a huge lake and heron flying around or lazing in the lake. It was a peaceful stroll and just what we needed after a busy week. 

We followed this with a trip to the Higashi Honganji temple, known as the mother temple. This temple has been rebuilt four times due to fires, and they use rope made of human hair donated by followers to carry the beams to the right places when rebuilding. Here we were lucky to catch a service, and sat quietly in the main hall whilst the local people sang their prayers, it was a very calming experience.

We have four stops left in Japan, and tomorrow we make our way to Nara…thankfully this time just a short one hour train journey. Nara is a stop I am very much looking forward to, to visit the large park and see the holy deer. I’m also hoping that it will be a refreshing break from the city once again before making our way to Osaka.

Love Carrie xxx

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