Kyoto – 26th July
We travelled by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto which took a mere 2 ½ hours. These trains which are wider than those in the UK, are smooth, have reclining seats, are spotlessly clean & they run exactly on time (of course). A "trolley dolly" came through the carriage selling boxes of sushi & drinks. The ticket inspector periodically came through the carriage & every time he exited, he turned & bowed to his passengers. They also insist that mobiles are switched to silent mode & expect people to go to the end of the carriage to take calls. British Rail take note !
Kyoto was not as I expected, I imagined a quaint city full of parks & temples but it is an ultra modern city with its many temples spread widely & tucked away behind modern buildings.
The first place we visited was Nijo Castle built in 1603 by the Shogun, Iemitsu. It is most famous for its squeaking “nightingale” floorboards which are designed so that, however lightly you tread, the floors emit a squeak like a nightingales cry. This was an early intruder detection system.
The interior of the Inner Palace has 33 huge rooms all sparsely furnished & with big broad-brush paintings on the walls, they are from the Kano School of painting – they looked more like the Rolf Harris School of painting (can you see what it is yet ?). The palace itself was surrounded by lovely Japanese gardens in the grounds.
Nishiki Ichiba known as the “kitchen of Kyoto”, is a fascinating long, narrow, indoor market selling the freshest fish, meat & veg available in Kyoto side by side with antiques shops & craft shops. It was bustling & crowded which was ok until cyclists rode through, which they did frequently.
We then went down Ponti Cho which is another narrow street & one of the most prosperous gay areas in Kyoto & where some of the most expensive restaurants are located.
It is also where Geishas live & contrary to popular misconception, Geishas do not sell “personal services” but are general entertainers, accomplished musicians, Kyomai dancers, games players & good conversationalists & they cost a lot of money to hire.
We had a lovely meal where we had a mini Teppanyaki, a hot plate built into the table for you to cook your own food. We treated ourselves to a rare glass of wine which is expensive in Japan, however, we did discovered a Seven/11 store that stocked reasonably priced Chilean wine, ideal for our “supermarket banquets” in the hotel room.
In the Gion district they have preserved the old houses; turning them into boutiques rather than pulling them down for new development.
We also saw a “Love Hotel” with the hourly rates posted outside. You can take a room for half an hour, one hour or the whole night (Viagra is then supplied free).
On the way back we saw two girls in Kimonos rushing across the road; they were making for a pavement “Smoking Area” to have a quick fag – it looked so incongruous smoking in traditional costume.