Kyoto is the former capital of Japan, a city with over 1,600 temples apparently, so it obviously attracts a lot of tourism. We got the train from Fuji in two and a half hours, then walked a mile to where we were staying, and with heavy backpacks on, and in the cold, that wasn’t easy, but it seems to get easier the more we do it.
We checked in to the room and went for a walk around the back streets to explore the city; in places it is empty, in other places busier than Tokyo, everything is still very Japanese, but with a little more western influence than Tokyo. There are quite a few European Restaurants around, and perhaps more English spoken in the city centre.
One thing we were both very interested in was the culture of Geisha in Japan, or Maiko and Geiko as they are known here. Kyoto is one of the very few places left in Japan that still has a working Maiko and Geiko system. Both are Geisha as would be known to the outside world, but the Maiko is the trainee or apprentice Geisha and Geiko are the qualified Geisha.
We had heard that the Gion district was where this culture could still be seen, but it wasn’t easy to see a Geiko or Maiko as they stayed away from the large numbers of tourists walking in this area. We went for a walk around the back streets to see this old part of Kyoto and immediately noticed a new entrepreneurial system of charging tourists (mostly Japanese) to dress them up in traditional Japanese dress, not entirely like a Geisha, but similar. So lot’s of young girls would walk around in the traditional Japanese Kimono and take pictures in the beautiful back streets of Gion.
We had been walking for about five minutes around Gion, when we saw a sight we didn’t really know how to comprehend, a real life Maiko, we were a little star struck and didn’t know what to do so we just walked past, admiring, but respectfully we hope.
Staci read up a little on the subject afterwards and it seems Maiko and Geiko can be very private here and are used to the few tourists who see them trying to take photos with them, so we think we did the right thing not to. An amazing sight, only to be seen here in Kyoto.
In Japan, drinking can be quite expensive, maybe only western prices, but more than we would be willing to spend in bars most of the time, to combat that, there is a few chains of restaurants that have set up a system where pretty much everything on the menu is 280 yen (£2). We walked by one of these one night in Kyoto, so decided to have a drink. A beer for me, red wine for Stac. Three ‘pints’ (with ice) of red wine later, it was a good night all in all 🙂
Nara was the former capital of Japan before Kyoto, before the 8th century. So it was even older than what we had seen so far. I had read up about Nara before we arrived, but didn’t tell Stac what was so special about it. Once we got there, we walked through the high street and past some beautiful scenery before arriving at Nara park.
We turned a corner past the temples and I could see in the distance the famous wild Deer of Nara. Of course we had to go and feed them, twice. I don’t think these Deer here have to worry about where their next meal was coming from, there wasn’t masses of tourists there, but enough to make sure they all got fed.
One amazing sight to see with these Deer was that they are so tame with humans and living in harmony with them without being kept in gated areas, they would wait to cross the road until traffic had stopped, even using the crossings with the people there, and would even give the traditional bow to the person feeding them before they got fed.
The Deer roamed all through the park and town and round the major attractions, and it was an absolutely incredible sight to see, perhaps the best thing we have done yet. Nara is proof that humans and wildlife can still live together in harmony if humans respect them.
We were recommended to go to Uji by a Spanish guy living in Kyoto, he told us that the Byodoin temple in Uji was one of the most famous in the country as it was the only temple in Japan to appear on their money. It was close by on the train route back from Nara, so we stopped off to take a look around, after a five-minute walk through a nice small town, which happens to be the home of green tea in Japan also, we arrived at the simply stunning temple and it’s grounds. It is an impressive sight.