Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Monday, April 2, 2007

As cherry blossom season approached, accommodation in the Kansai region was at an absolute premium, something that I almost found to my cost after leaving Hiroshima...

I`d booked my hostel in Kyoto some two months in advance, but I had two nights to kill before that began, so I ended up back in Osaka in another hotel, this time with a double room to myself. Getting there was a little traumatic though as I had no map indicating its whereabouts, so I had to get a taxi, but of course the taxi driver spoke no English, couldn`t read the non-Japanese script, and had never heard of the hotel in question when I read it out loud! He ended up calling them on his mobile phone, and had a frantic ten minute conversation in which the word "gaijin" was repeatedly used (probably preceeded by the Japanese word for "stupid!"). Add to that the fact that it was approximately 7.30pm at this point, with reception at the hotel closing at 8pm, and you can appreciate that it was a close call...

Drama over, and I`d actually landed on my feet as it was a decent place in a great location in central Osaka. It was within walking distance of Yodobashi, a huge electronics building, so I browsed around there the next morning as I desperately needed a new camera before Kyoto. Nothing really tickled my fancy, so I refrained and went to meet Andrea at the train station, and we had a relaxing afternoon watching A Night at the Museum at the cinema, before having several competitive air hockey bouts in an arcade (including an amusing 17-3 drubbing!).

On Wednesday, I got the train to Kyoto and made my way to K`s House, a hostel voted `Best in Asia 2004.` I was booked in for a week, and it would have been longer but for the fact that they were fully booked more than three months in advance - this problem never arose when I was travelling around New Zealand! It seems that Japan goes `sakura crazy` at this time of year (you can even buy cherry blossom flavoured KitKats), and I`d timed my stay to perfection as the cherry blossoms had officially started to bloom just two days earlier. Optimum viewing time is usually a week after the initial bloom, before the trees begin to lose their petals soon it`s a brief (but beautiful) spectacle.

My first task was to buy a camera, something that I achieved within a couple of hours of looking, and I`m more than happy with it as it`s a high quality one with a good zoom. I used it for the first time the next morning when I got the metro to the Imperial Palace, as there were numerous brightly coloured cherry blossom trees in full bloom, and I spent a while relaxing in the sun and admiring their beauty. This was followed by a walk to Toji Temple in the afternoon which was also beautiful, although it was clear that full bloom there was still a few days certainly whetted the appetite for the cherry blossom viewing that was still to come...

I did the `Philosopher`s Walk` the next day, a famous walk along a canal lined with cherry blossom trees, and had a stroll to the colourful Heian Shrine. In the evening, I explored the Gion area of Kyoto and even spotted a geisha, albeit very briefly. Gion is the place where most of the geishas can be found, especially in and around a tiny, narrow old street called Pontocho, and I walked up and down it a couple of times. It was quite eerie wandering around some of the old streets as they were almost deserted, and I knew that I could bump into a geisha at any minute...

I met up with Andrea on Saturday, and again on Monday, and we had a great time usual. Despite living nearby for six months, Andrea passed the tour guide duties over to me, and so we started with another trip to the Imperial Palace to see if the sakura had bloomed anymore than on my previous visit. It certainly had, and there were many different varieties of blossom on show, and as it was a Saturday, lots of Japanese people were gathered for hanami (which basically means sitting around the cherry blossom trees and drinking lots of sake!).

In the evening, we headed off to Maruyama Park to view a huge cherry blossom tree in full bloom...and eat plenty of candy floss (or "cotton candy" as Andrea calls it). The Japanese certainly come out of their shells after a few drinks, and we caught the attention of two guys who came over and started talking to us in English (and French for some reason). One of them had his arm wrapped tightly around me, while the other one `seranaded` us with his guitar was too bad that we couldn`t stay as they were very funny guys!

On Monday, we had a busy day as the cherry blossom was approaching full bloom in many places, and we began with a trip to Daigoji Temple. This was followed by a walk through Higashiyama for Andrea to see the Heian Shrine. We paid to walk around its vast gardens, and I`m glad we did as it was home to many cherry blossom trees, and some tranquil ponds with stepping stones to little was all very quaint.

The previous day, I`d heard someone talking about a geisha show at the hostel, so after checking with Andrea, I went ahead and booked us tickets for the last show on Monday. We arrived in good time at the arena to ensure decent seats as the `Miyako Odori` is extremely popular, and sure enough our view was spot on. Andrea was particularly excited as she`s written geisha-related essays in the past, but I was also looking forward to it...

The traditional spring cherry blossom dance, in its 135th year, turned out to be a fascinating spectacle, as the graceful geishas performed for exactly one hour. I was especially amazed at how they moved with such elegance, gliding across the floor with the minimum amount of effort and movement of body parts. The colourful kimonos were also lovely to see, and it had been great to get a tiny peek into the mysterious world of the geisha...

We ended the day with a bite to eat, another session in the arcade, and a romantic stroll down by the river. With just a week to go before I head off to Kyushu and Shikoku, Andrea and me will be spending plenty of time together in the days ahead...although something tells me that I`ll be returning to these parts again in the not-too-distant future...
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Where I stayed


burington on

gaijin means foreigner
Hello, gaijin means foreigner, not stupid.
From Yokohama Japan.

Nelly Santos on

Wahh! their are soo many pretty places to visit! i would like to go their someday. I would really like to see a cherry blossom tree. I would really like to walk along the "Philosophers Walk"!

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