If You Wear That Velvet Dress

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
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Trip End Aug 27, 2010


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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Phew! After a whirlwind tour of central Japan, we're back in Kyoto. This time we’re staying in a western style hotel as Derek has to work and so internet access is crucial. While on the topic of internet access, it’s interesting to note that most of the hotels here don’t have wireless access….instead most rooms have good old fashioned LAN cables i.e. a hardwire connection to the internet, so much faster than WIFI and do you really need to be able to wander around the room while sending your email?

Sometimes when you’re travelling you just need to take some downtime and after the non-stop action of the last week, it was time for a breather and we spent a lazy day hanging out at the hotel and doing a little shopping…..not that we bought very much, but it was strangely relaxing to be back somewhere familiar.

The rain put a bit of a dampener on our planned activities for the following day too, and so we rearranged our schedule and Derek was able to get Sarah and Lauren booked in for a shared birthday treat. We took the bus across town and found our way to Maika, a company located in a small non-descript building next to a bank. Sarah & Lauren checked in while Derek and Alex waited for the transformation to occur. The sight that greeted the boys an hour later elicited genuine astonishment…..the girls had been made-up as Geishas! You can see the results for yourself, but we think Lauren looked particularly cute. The conversion was quite the process; first step is to strip down and put on a very thin cotton kimono/hospital gown and some very attractive white socks split between the big toe to allow for flip flop wearing. Then it’s a quick trek upstairs to the make-up room, where order of the day is a good thick coat of white paint followed by various finishing touches of pink, red and black. Next, the Geisha-to-be traipses to the next room to choose a kimono and then stand like a very patient scarecrow as various layers are tied, wrapped, draped and bound around her. Finally (with a lot more difficulty this time) it’s up one more flight of stairs for a wig fitting and ta da…..our wanna-be Geishas are complete and ready for photos! The entire get-up really is quite restricting to wear and surprisingly heavy. There was only a short period allotted for photos before it was time to reverse the whole process. I think it took twice as long to remove the make-up as it did to put it on!

We didn’t realize the cultural importance of this role in Japanese society until spending some time in Kyoto, the epicenter of traditional Geisha World. A Maika (as per the store name) is really just a Geisha-in-training, learning all the entertaining, etiquette and tea-making skills required (at least, these are the skills employed by the vast majority of Geisha, contrary to popular belief). With dress-up fun behind us and the weather still damp and dreary it was time to get some of the mundane stuff done, so the kids got stuck into school work while Derek headed off to the gym and Sarah set about unpacking and repacking the bags so that we could mail more trinkets and trash home.

The sun had decided to come out to play by the time we woke up next day and so we set off to explore some of Kyotos finest sights. What better than to start with a culinary treat of more okonomi-yaki (no, I’m not explaining this one again, you’ll have to review an earlier blog if you’ve forgotten). We took the bus out to the edge of the city to visit the Ryoan-ji Temple home of a world famous Zen rock garden. The garden is relatively small (about ten by twenty five metres) and consists of fifteen rocks crarefully placed on a manicured bed of fine white gravel. No matter where you sit to study the garden it is only possible to see fourteen rocks at any one time. The longer you sit and gaze at the garden the more you can see within it….at least that’s what they say, but with a hundred other tourists all battling for position it’s hard to imagine anyone ever attaining a zen-like state (during opening hours anyway).

We finished the temple like all good holiday makers and stopped for an ice-cream – but not just any old ice-cream we had some really good green tea ice-cream.

Another of the 17 UNESCO world heritage sites in Kyoto is Nijo Castle and we arrived just in time to sneak inside for a peek before closing time. Like the Imperial Palace this was very formal and impressive with its many rooms, through which invited guests would have advanced sequentially prior to visiting with the Shogun. And, as with other attractions and maybe even as a formal visitor to the palace, it seems that one has to follow the set route, woe betide anyone wishing to disrupt the process flow!

We seem to enjoy the gardens of these places more than the buildings themselves, and Nijo was no exception, although the cherry blossoms were mostly done.

Having been in Japan for two weeks now, we realized that we still hadn’t done some of the most stereotypical Japanese things and decided to spend an evening Japanese style….so what did we do? Karaoke of course! We found a Karaoke place and booked a room for one hour, however it was too much fun and so a couple of hours later having lost our voices and a good chunk of our spending money we left! Note, that if you’ve ever heard any of the Moody family sing you’ll know it wasn’t worth listening to, and it was in fact so bad that the internet owners have forbidden posting of any of the videos!

With Karaoke checked off the to-do list it was onward bound for Sushi – yes, yes, we know we’ve already done the Sushi thing here, but we haven’t done conveyor sushi and as luck would have it there was one next door to the karaoke place. It wasn’t the best sushi we’ve had here, but it met the need and the kids thought it was great to pick and choose food as it rolled by. Surprisingly, they’ve become really big fans of sushi, not your normal kid food, but they’ve been very good all trip about eating whatever we’ve asked them to (apart from the guinea pig) and it’s neat watching their tastes evolve.

We still have a couple more nights left in Kyoto and we’re enjoying it immensely here….sayonara!
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