Monday, 5 August 2013

The Kyoto Chronicles: Part One

Hi all,

Currently sat writing this in our Kyoto hostel. I've had a few 'strong zeros' (a local drink) so excuse any typing errors! Just been sat sharing Japan tales with the very multi-national group in our hostel including people from Taiwan, Portugal, Denmark and France, and now Rob is watching football videos with the other lads so I thought i'd get this typed up!!!  

First things first, I love Kyoto! It's so different to Tokyo, and everywhere you look there are remnants of imperial Japan....from the two geishas which we saw last night, to the various older temples (a lot of the ones in Tokyo are reconstructions following WW2 bombing) and the tiny alleyways with typical Japanese buildings. We arrived yesterday afternoon after our super quick trip on the bullet train, and arrived at our hostel in central Kyoto following a quick trip on the subway (not as cheap or efficient as Tokyo's). Our hostel is lovely- it's a converted Japanese house which is over 100 years old complete with a traditional paved entrance, tatami mats, pillows for sitting and futons for sleeping and an outdoor toilet. It's called Hostel Haruya and if you're looking for a central, cheap Kyoto base, I would definitely recommend!!

Last night, we decided to go out and explore Kyoto. We ended up in Gion which is just up the road from our hostel. It's the old geisha district and if you've ever read Memoirs of a Geisha (if you haven't then do) you'll know all about how it used to be filled with okyia (geisha houses) and the various establishments which geisha's patronised! We saw two geishas in full regalia and I was super excited!!!
I didn't manage to get a photo of them but I did get a photo of two locals in proper kimonos.....

In Gion we came across a proper night market which was interesting with various local wares and food for sale along with street performers....

Based upon our hostels recommendation we headed along to Pontocho Alley for dinner which is a street on the outskirts of Gion. It's a really cool narrow street stuffed with bars and restaurants. We both had a really nice dinner in a restaurant we picked at random (me- sesame tuna and Rob teriyaki chicken) but the experience was also really nice. It was a very traditional restaurant- you had to take your shoes off when you walked in and then there were two seating areas- one in the western style (on tables) and one in the Japanese style (on cushions on the floor)

Following our dinner, we started to walk through the rest of Gion but the heavens opened (this is becoming something of a theme) so we took shelter in an 'English' pub called (believe it or not) the pig and whistle!! After a drink there, we headed home to our futons and after a few drinks with the people in the hostel we went to bed for a good nights sleep!!

This morning, we headed out bright and early for some sightseeing around Kyoto. We're really central so we did it all on foot for now, and headed to the various temples in our district. First stop was Chion-in temple which is a large Buddhist complex complete with a pagoda, a main temple and a gardens. It was very zen. There was barely anyone else there and the temple was very traditional.

The one downside of Kyoto is that it is very expensive, and when we went to stop for lunch we couldn't find anywhere in our price range. We eventually stumbled upon a Starbucks and settled on this slightly cheaper option (first non-Japanese food really) and ended up with two ham and cheese sandwiches and a slice of New York cheesecake. Following our refuelling pitstop we headed for our next stop- Kiyomizudera Temple. On the way we passed Yasaka-Jinga shrine so quickly stopped there...

Shrines are for the Shinto religion, and temples the Buddhist. Most Japanese people follow both and actively worship at more than one sight (something that could teach a lot of people about religious diversity) and its interesting to see the contrast between the two. We got a bit lost on the a
Way to Kiyomizudera and as it was 30degrees plus this was a bit annoying. Eventually we stumbled upon it and it was definitely worth the huge hill climb in the high temperatures!!

 There were various temples on the site, a shrine, two love stones (if you could get from one to the other blindfolded, you would meet your true love), and spectacular views. It was the best temple we have been to so far by a clear mile!! We hit the rain again, took a quick stop for some shaved ice with mango and condensed milk (refreshing Japanese delicacy) and made our way back downhill. On the way down we walked through an excellent shopping street packed with every souvenir you can imagine. We were tempted to stuff our rucksacks, but refrained apart from a Japanese doll for me and a lantern for Rob (annoyingly we have to only buy things which will survive the next four months in a rucksack)! 

Walking back we passed another couple of sights (you can't avoid them in Kyoto...) including the Yasaka pagoda.....

Finding our way back was much easier than getting there, and after a quick stop at the local supermarket for strong zeros and some yummy food, we ended up back at our hostel and that brings us to now....think the football videos are over for the night so I'll say adieu and update soon.....TTFN

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