Land of a Thousand Temples: Kyoto Japan

Golden Temple in Kyoto

You’ll often hear people in the military refer to something that’s just shy of two days as a “day and a wake-up. Well, that’s exactly how I’ll describe our side trip from Tokyo to Kyoto… a day and a wake-up. Also known as way too short a visit to the Geisha, Gion, and temples in Kyoto.

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Land of a Thousand Temples in Kyoto
Gion District

Everybody and I mean everybody, who’d visited both including my realtor and a young girl I met in a Daegu cafe a few months ago said you have to go to Kyoto if you go to Japan.
It wasn’t like I didn’t want to go to Kyoto, it’s always been high on my bucket list for its adherence to tradition and its connection with the Geisha (or Geiko in Kyoto. I just didn’t want to short change myself, combining it with the week we had already scheduled and reserved a non-refundable hotel room with. But then my hubby, always the money conscious one, suggested we would have a better chance at accomplishing our “other” travel goals by not going to the same places more than once.
Where we stayed: Karasuma Kyoto Hotel So on the third day of our trip to Tokyo we packed an overnight bag and hopped on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. I’m so glad we did.
https://duffelbagspouse.com/phukets-wat-chalong-chalong-temple/

 

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The City of Kyoto

 

At first glance, the city of Kyoto doesn’t appear to be a traditional city. Kyoto Station is modern and surrounded by other modern buildings… just like any other city. It has modern conveniences just like any other city. It has built up around the more traditional area called Gion and all those temples Kyoto is famous for.

 

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Tourist Center

We stopped in the tourist center and found out our best options for transportation were the bus first, the metro next and taxis were a distant third just because everything we wanted to see could be reached by one or two or one and two. Lol.

We ended up buying 4 day passes on the bus. By far NOT my favorite mode of transportation, but since Kyoto only has two lines and they aren’t very far-reaching our best option. Although, we found out there was a subway station near our hotel that we could also utilize.

Bus 26 took about 20 minutes to arrive. The driver opens both doors, but etiquette dictates that you enter in the rear and exit out the front. Day passes are validated to the right next, to the driver. After which all you have to do is show him the date on the back of the ticket. All the drivers appear to be male, we have yet to see a female bus driver in Asia. We are told it is not a typical job for a woman, but there are a few.

Where We Stayed

Our hotel for the night was the Karasuma Hotel, a nice hotel on one of the well-known streets in Kyoto. And we walked right past it the first time. Once we found it, we were informed that check-in wasn’t until noon. It was a quarter till 10. So again, we dropped off our bags, got directions to a local restaurant, and hung out there until we could check-in.
 
With only a day and a half on the ground, I made my list short of the things I wanted to see and do.
 

1. Kinkakuji Temple

2. Gion Corner & Geishas

3. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

4. Nijo Castle  Tea Ceremony

5. Kyoto Imperial Palace

6. Fushima Inari-taisha Shinto Shrine

Nijo Castle

 

On the bus ride to the hotel we stopped in front of the Nijo Castle, it was undergoing so major renovations, so we scrubbed that from the list. We would end up doing the exact same thing with the Imperial Palace the following day.

 

 

Kinkakuji Temple

 

Since I had booked a tour of Gion that included the 6 performing arts of the Japanese, a zen dinner, and participation in a traditional tea ceremony, our first order of business to visit the Kinkakuji Temple.

 

 
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The temple is also known as the Golden Pavilion– an amazing structure that a monk accidentally burned to the ground in 1950. It was rebuilt a few years later and eventually covered in the gold plate a few years later. It sits on the edge of a pond where its reflection mesmerizes you like the fish in the pond make little waves in the water. It’s stunning.

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Touring Gion Corner

 

After the temple, we headed to our tour meeting place, a fancy smancy hotel. The Kyoto Okura is nice and a beehive of activity. I counted no less than 25 people whirring cute little uniforms in the lobby. They were opening doors, answering questions at the tourist or reception desk. Some were just walking around doing nothing at all.

We plopped down in two over-sized, over-stuffed library chairs to wait for our guide. And this is where the tour that I had been so hopeful, so excited for, so in debt for… went bad.

The tour guide, I don’t even know her name, stormed in 10 minutes past the meeting time, holding up a paper sign that said tour. We walked up to her where she “said” she was late because she went to another hotel to get “us”.

Let’s stop right there. The tour information said you could meet at one of two locations and did not specify a preference or need to specify which one.

Okay… so after we told her who we were, we were shuffled, quite hurriedly out the door to awaiting taxis. Two guys from Australia were sitting in the taxi we were told to take. We rode over to Gion, chatting away, but none have the faintest idea of the actual itinerary or where to meet up again.
 
 

Gion Corner & Geisha

 

The Gion district was built to accommodate travelers and visitors to the shrine. Today it has evolved into one the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan where they and the traditional arts are practiced and performed.

Once at Gion Corner, the nameless tour guide showed up 15 minutes later, handed us a ticket and rushed into the theatre. The last two rows of the theatre where I would learn 1. I couldn’t get a good picture from, 2. had bad lighting and 3. was the result of her being so late to pick us up in the first place… which she blamed us for.

I was there, so I made the best of the situation by leaving my seat and taking up some real estate on the wall closest the stage. And that’s where I enjoyed the entire 2-hour performance.

 

Traditional Tea Ceremony

 

 
First up… the tea ceremony where two lovely ladies demonstrated the procedure for performing it correctly. I was really excited about the one I would actually partake in later.
 
After the tea ceremony, we were entertained with more lovely ladies playing the Koto (Japanese Harp) and Kado (flower arranging) and Gagaku (court music). All the above are skills the Geiko (or Maiko apprentice) must learn in order to work in Kyoto.
 

The Kyogen is the art of comic play. They performed a story where the master was fed up with his servant’s drunkenness and bound one’s hands behind his back and the other to a long pole. However, the thrifty servants figured out a way that both could continue to drink their masters’ sake.

 

 
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Maiko Dance

Then the part I had been waiting for the Maiko dance or Kyomai. Two very young girls appeared on the stage, both between 15 and 20, the age of apprenticeship. At age 20 if they master the skills of the profession they are made Geiko and join their sisters.

They are required to be an apprentice in makeup as well as a TON of chores around their ryokan. They all live and work in Gion and they are very dedicated to their traditional ways and their profession.

 

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Puppet Theater

The last performance was eerie and worthy of a good nightmare or two. The Bunraku is puppeteering a life-size puppet, where the main performer is out in the open but supporting operations to wear hoods and dress in all black so as NOT to become a “visible” character in the play. It was weird and I got a kick watching my husband who seemed perplexed during the whole thing.

 
Once the curtains went down, I asked why. He said that that would give most kids nightmares and wondered why that was considered a kid puppet show. I’m not sure it was. I mean in the end I think the puppet was executed.
 

We met up in front of the theatre and walked the 10 minutes to the ryokan we would eat out a zen meal. I know zen doesn’t include meat and most likely we’d see a lot of tofu which I hate. And still, I was surprised by the menu.

 

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Zen Meal


The meal was as follows:

Protein out of soybeans: Tofu (curdled soybeans milk) Yuba (membraneous layer of protein and fat skimming the top from boiling milk of soybeans) Deep fried soybean paste Protein out of wheat: Fu (steamed raw wheat protein from kneading flour de-starched) Seasonal vegetables: Mushrooms, Ginger, Sweet potato, Lotus Root, Egg Plant, Shiso Leaf (yup a leaf), Green Pepper, Pumpkin and Kelp. Miso Soup (soybean soup with tofu) Steamed rice topped with dried shiso (MY favorite thing besides the LEAF) Tea Sounds delicious, right. Guess what my favorite things were? The steamed rice, the deep soybean paste, which I have NOT liked since moving to Asia, and the tempura leaf. The sweet potato wasn’t bad, but everything else was.

My hubby leaned over and reminded me of the Irish pub on the corner near our hotel and we fist bumped over our fried roots and leaves.

Looking Back

 
 
The tea ceremony was the saving grace and the highlight of the tour. The ambiance was just as expected, the skill level was high, the explanation of the tradition was easy to understand and the was delicious. It was a green frothy tea, a little bitter, but tasty.
 

We were ushered back into a taxi and returned to our hotel. Then we crossed the street and enjoyed a quick dinner that did not include leaves or tofu and an alcoholic beverage. Here’s the link to my review on Viator.

 

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple

 

The next morning, we left our bags with the concierge and caught the bus to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It’s a steep walk up the narrow street that gets even more narrow with the many shops selling souvenir and a lot of candy is crowded by school children apparently on school field trips unless they play hooky and go to the temple instead of the mall. It’s a pretty temple, but a temple all the same. So we walked around a bit, took a few pictures, and people watched.

 

 
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Fushima Inari-taisha Shrine

To save time, we walked to the nearest train station and caught the train to our final destination– the Fushima Inari-taisha Shrine. We strolled to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the view. We passed by the castle on the way back to pick up our bags, but the temptation to stop in wasn’t great enough to ignore all the tarp and wooden scaffolding.

Mos Burger

 

We stopped in a local fast-food chain and grabbed a snack… a Mos burger. From now on referred to a Mos Def burger. I think they stole the concept from White Castle. We ate it in two or three bites before heading back to the train station and the remainder of our trip to Japan.

 

 

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