Temples, castles, geishas and eels

Still buzzing from the best skiing we’ve ever experienced, Jess and I started the lengthy journey to Kyoto – the cultural capital of Japan and home to some 2,000 temples! Our timing to visit Kyoto was both good and bad – the cherry blossom is arguably seen at its finest in Kyoto but as a result attracts hordes of locals and travellers to its streets. Finding accommodation was a nightmare and we ended up paying an exorbitant amount of money to rent an entire house through airbnb. Writing this blog as we’re about to leave Kyoto I am relieved and happy to say it was well worth it!

You could spend weeks in Kyoto and not take in everything it has to offer – apparently even the Japanese themselves journey to Kyoto to learn about their culture. In order to keep this blog entry below novel size, I will focus on the highlights.

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a trip to Inari Taisha and its series of approx 2,000 torii gates that wind their way up through a forested mountain. The sunlight plays through these gates making for an amazing sight along with a cracking view from the top earned after a sweaty hike.

After taking in another temple (Kiyomizu) we walked along two gorgeous streets called ‘Ninen-zaka’ and ‘Sannen-zaka’ – these are lined with old wooden houses, cherry blossom trees and food stalls to satisfy any culinary desire. Jess and I managed to pick the smallest restaurant in town and waited 1 1/2 hours for our food – thankfully the portions were enormous and the tempura prawns to die for.

Our next stop left us a little disappointed – we were reliably informed that a certain park in Kyoto (Maruyama) is THE business when it comes to cherry blossom viewing. However, as we experienced in Tokyo, we were just a little early for the blossom AND once again we saw no uninhibited behaviour on display 😦

Thirsty after a long day on the tourist trail Jess and I headed into the entertainment district (Gion) in search of a cold Asahi. Many of our best travelling experiences have happened totally by accident and this evening was to be no different. Jess stumbled (not due to the Asahi beer) across a theatre which was soon to be showing a world famous Geisha dance. The Geisha are for all intents and purposes entertainers. They have observed rituals such as dances, flower arranging, tea preparation, plays and musical performances for hundreds of years. Watching them perform some of these was incredible – mostly the dancing but even the flower arranging (yes, the flower arranging) had a serenity to it. They are so meticulous in every movement and facial expression they make – it’s unlike anything we’d ever seen.

The following day featured more temples but without doubt the highlight was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If any of you have ever seen ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ you will remember scenes in a bamboo forest – well it is even better in the flesh. The bamboo towers above you and again the light plays through the trees and is beautiful. It’s also a short walk from there to a house, formerly owned by a samurai film star, with incredible views from its gardens back across Kyoto.

Our experiences of Japanese cuisine to date have been nothing but delicious – this was however until Jess and I sampled eel for the first time over lunch that day. Jess coughed, spluttered and damn near spat the offending eel out across the table. Unless you like something that resembles white rubber and tastes like it has been marinated in vinegar for 10 years, we’d suggest you steer clear.

Recovered, we went for a lovely stroll along the Kamo-gawa river and watched people run, cycle and booze on the river banks as the sun set. A great day all round.

Our final day in Kyoto featured 3 brilliant things:

1 – We went to Nijo-jo castle, notable for the fact it’s not a temple (trust me there is such a thing as ‘temple fatigue’) and it has ‘nightingale’ floors, built above bits of sharp bamboo that when stood on emit a bird like chirp – assassins trying to kill the emperor were heard before they were seen.

2 – We met Mika, the sister of Mami (who lived with Jess and family in Devon for 2 months) – much like Mami she was sweet, funny and very kindly bought us lunch!

3 – We went to Kyoto’s most famous onsen (hot bath) for some naked time (separately I might add) – nothing like it after a long day on your feet.

Kyoto was really special and our little house the perfect base to explore – even if it did cost ONE BILLION YEN (doctor evil laugh).

Next – Hiroshima 😦

R&J xxx

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