I find that it can be tricky leaving time in my day for blogging, what with all the walking and touring I’m doing (it wears you out!) so here we are almost a week after my first day in Kyoto and I haven’t really written much about it. I rather figured it made sense to focus on at least uploading my pictures to WordPress while I had access to a laptop. That access is now, alas, over, so it’s back to using a tiny touchscreen keyboard with a bizarre autocorrect. Typos under these circumstances are not my fault! And now enough wittering on and back to things people would actually like to read about: what I did in Kyoto.
My first full day there had a bit of a theme, due mostly to proximity of the sites to one another: royalty. (I use that term loosely as we are actually discussing an imperial site – the gardens around the Imperial Palace – and one from the shogunate – Nijo Palace.) This was the day both of the cheese curry and the running into a bridal (I think) party with the bride and groom in traditional clothing which I can best describe as looking like the clothing worn by dolls used in the Festival of Dolls (and if you don’t know what that looks like, go look it up!).
The Imperial Gardens made a nice break from the crowds in the station area where I caught the subway; since it was Sunday, the tourists were out in force, and it was rather overwhelming. (As a side note, almost all the tourists were Japanese. After that, I heard a lot of French spoken.) It was early yet for cherry blossoms, but there were some lovely plum and apricot trees in bloom. The wide, gravelled paths of the garden remind me of the French style of public gardens. I wandered all around, relishing the chance to sit in the sun.
Then off to Nijo Palace, known for its Nightingale floors. These are so called because they are built to squeak when walked upon, so nobody can take the ruler unawares. Everyone had to remove their shoes before entering, so there were crowds of stockinged feet tourists walking around looking at the lovely gold paintings. I have to say, taking off ones shoes in the middle of a day of touring can be quite refreshing for ones feet!
That night I returned to the Hanatouro because I had missed the free Meiko (geisha in training) dance the night before. I also wanted more street food, which is much easier on the budget than a restaurant.
I decided to continue the walking theme the next day by walking around downtown the entire morning. It starts with broad, busy streets with major department stores, but pretty quickly you can step down a side street and find a different world. I walked through the covered Nishiki Market and the other covered streets around it (boasting wider roads and more shops than stalls). It was strange to me that it was so quiet at 9 in the morning, but most shops in Japan open at 10 it seems.
I then walked east towards the Gion neighborhood, passing the Ponto-cho neighborhood of atmospheric narrow streets, past other neighborhoods whose names I don’t remember but whose old houses and crooked streets will remain one of my most charming memories of Kyoto. When I exited these neighborhoods, I found myself near the temple of Chion-in. So of course I decided to explore that hilly but lovely complex.
I was ready for a hearty lunch after the temple (hill walking will do that to you) and it was starting to rain. Somehow I found myself back on a street I hadn’t walked down before in Gion, where I saw a Meiko who had just becone a Geisha get introduced around the tea houses. I also had a good meal in the area, though it is certainly a good thing that nobody has ever died from embarrassment. No, it wasn’t the chopsticks this time. It was the fact that my grilled chicken and vegetables were supposed to be mixed into a bowl with a raw egg, the heat from the food then cooking the egg. Well, by the time I got up my courage to ask what I was supposed to do with a raw egg, the food had cooled enough that I just had raw egg on my mixed-in food. I can tell you that I debated the merits of salmonella and general grossness factor versus embarrassment before I called over the waiter to please take the mess I had made over to the grill to cook it more. And he did, and it was delicious. And as you can see, I’m not dead of embarrassment, though it was a close call.
You’d think at this point I’d call it a day, especially since it was pouring by now, but no. I went in quest of things to do indoors, which in this case turned out to be the Handicrafts museum. I thought of all my textile-loving friends when seeing the hand painted and handwoven fabrics and kimonos.
And then I headed to Nishi Temple, which I thought might have an indoor component to it. Since there were services going on, I was mistaken, but this is the temple where I saw a painted wooden gate down a deserted lane behind two temple complexes in the atmospheric rain. It was worth getting wet for.
Then, finally, it was time to head home, with a stop at the 7/11 to pick up convenience store dinner.