4 July 2008
Last night we thought that if weather will be clear we will go to Mount Fuji and extend the stay in Tokyo by one day. But it was not, it was cloudy in Tokyo and local weather forecast showed that it is raining at mount Fuji, so no point to drive there. We have seen the mountain from airplane when we came Japan. It is very beautiful mountain, but we would not see it with the rain. So, this part of the plan was canceled for that day and we took the shinkansen to Kyoto.
As JR pass is not valid for nozomi trains we had to choose between Hikari and Kodama, these are a bit slower. But still the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, which is about 370 km, took 2,5 hours (this part of the railway has many stops). We hanged from shinkansen to JR line (for one stop) in Kyoto station. Kyoto station is very modern building, opened in 1997. Coming to Kyoto The futuristic cathedral with striking steel and glass as a first view was surprising, as we expected to see in Kyoto mostly Japanese history and culture.
We had to find a hotel, more precisely a ryokan, the Japanese style guesthouse. We booked our ryokan Yuno Yado Shoei in International Tourism center of Japan a day before in Kotsu Kaikan Building in Tokyo (JR Yurakucho Station). People there are very helpful and can help to find accommodation or suggest attractions. Our ryokan cost 11 200 Yen (105 USD) per room per night, we had private bath and toilet.
Staying in ryokan means living in a room with Tatami mats flooring, sleeping on a Futon put directly on the Tatami floor and wearing Yukata (a robe) after taking an Onsen Hot spring bath. At first it seemed strange not having a chair or bed in the room. In conclusion we can say that sleeping in ryokan was very good.
After checking in we wanted to book the dinner at Shimonso Beer Garden advertised in the Kyoto's visitor guide's newspaper. We asked our receptionist to call there but it turned iout that it is fully booked already for that evening. So we decided to get the first glimpse of Kyoto by ourselves. We decided to go to Gion district for a start.
After closing the door of our ryokan we saw that something is going on at the next street - people with cameras stood there. We went also there. It turned out that there is a traditional geisha house okiya just next door and there was a ceremony where maiko girls (geisha apprentices) sent geishas to the house.
Just to be clear, who is Geisha, this is explanation from Wikipedia - Geishas are entertainers, their purpose being to entertain their customer, be it by reciting verse, playing musical instruments, or engaging in light conversation. Geisha engagements may include flirting with men and playful innuendos; however, clients know that nothing more can be expected. In a social style that is uniquely Japanese, men are amused by the illusion of that which is never to be. Geisha do not engage in paid sex with clients.
Our first knowledge about geishas is from a book Memoirs of a Geisha. Reading this well written and very interesting book raised the interest towards Japanese culture and may be this was one of the reasons we wanted to visit Japan. Because of that, this was really awesome to see such act during the first minutes of getting to know Kyoto evening.
After that we went to Gion. We walked on the old streets of Gion, enjoyed the architecture and atmosphere. We found the house called Gion Corner. Gion Corner is a popular night spot where tourists can experience an overview of 7 kinds of Japanese traditional arts and entertainment in single setting: Kyoto style Dance, Flower Arrangement, Tea Ceremony, Japanese Harp, Comic Play, Court Music and Puppet Play. There are two shows every evening at 7PM and 8PM and 50 minutes show cost 3150 yen (cash only). It is pretty expensive, but the show was very good giving quick overview. We were delighted and considered it to be a good substitute to the show we could not attend.
After the show we were already quite hungry and wanted to find a good sushi place. We asked advice from several people at the street and had a dinner at very popular (considering that we had to wait for 10 minutes for a seat) in automated sushi bar. Here the sushi and other stuff ran at the carousel and there was also a opportunity to order specific items from screen at every table. At this case the order came by toy-shinkasen. This was fun, and cheap (dinner for two cost about 3500 yen) but sushi was not as fresh and delicious as our last experiences.