Sunday, June 19, 2016

Kyoto, Japan, Part 2: Bamboo Forests and Geishas

Part 2 of Kyoto adventures!  

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Day 2 in Kyoto - and Mark, Kate, Sarah and I headed for Arashiyama, a part of Kyoto that's famous for its vast bamboo forests and temples (there's also apparently a monkey park but I loooove monkeys and since we didn't go to this part, I'm going to tell myself it doesn't exist).  Fun fact, I've been here once when I lived in Japan, as Arashiyama is also a great place to go to watch the leaves change, as the surrounding mountains are covered in trees and you can see tons of vivid shades of green and red and yellow.  It's stunning.

Arashiyama's bamboo forest!  As you can see, it was an incredibly, incredibly rainy day (Japan is currently in its rainy season).

So much bamboo. Pandas would love this place.

The rain ensured my shoes (and feet) were sopping wet all day

Umbrellas do make nice props tho

Creating little zen rock gardens

  • We walked around Arashiyama for a bit in the dampness, then holed up in a tiny cafe for a snack (a slice of matcha cake and a matcha tea, of course). Sarah unfortunately had to take a train back to Tokyo after the end of the weekend, so we saw her off at the train station, and then I moved my stuff to Kate and Mark's AirBnB - it was their last night in Kyoto (before heading back to Tokyo to fly home, CRYYYYYY), so we had a slumber party!

For dinner, we went to a soba place nearby their AirBnB had recommended. This place had no English menu, but the lady was the nicest in trying to explain what everything was, and the place was totally charming.  Kate and I settled on some duck soba, which the lady said was best. AND IT WAS.

  • And as a last big hurrah to Kate & Mark's Japan adventure, we had a snack-a-palooza!  We headed down to the convenience store - there's one on every other block here, and the convenience stores in Japan (and Asia) are insane. They are so, so much better than convenience stores back home, as they're crammed full of fresh food, makeup, cakes, AMAZING snack choices (crazy candies, chips, and my personal fave - the BREADS), all the drinks you could want, etc. I'm obsessed.  Anyhow, we played a game where each one of us would pick out a sampling of different snacks - and we went home and went around and explained our snack choices, then tried them each and rated them.  A lot of these snacks definitely veered towards the "weird" categories, but some were pleasantly and surprisingly delicious (BBQ-flavored air puffs, YOU WIN).

Coffee-flavored bread, creme brulee bites, pizza bread, shredded dried squid, fried pork cutlet chips, egg-filled rice balls - only some of the samplings we tried. 

  • It was all great fun, and I was super sad to see Kate & Mark leave the next morning.  I stuck around Kyoto for a couple of extra days after they left.  The day they left, I walked down to a super-busy shopping street in Kyoto (WANT TO BUY EVERYTHING), and then wandered over to the old-school district of Gion.

    Look how pretty Kyoto is!

    Here is Gion, with its old wooden traditional buildings and such. Here, they tell you to keep an eye out for geishas, because you will occasionally see them wandering these streets.  I think I saw one! It's kind of hard distinguishing them from the hoards of Chinese tourists who pay to dress up in kimonos to walk around this district and the local temples (this is totally a thing, by the way).

    And then I went to the Gion Temple

    Lots of wishes

    THIS. Do you see how many tourists pay to dress up in kimonos to wander around temples (and basically take zillions of photos by themselves?!)  I have to admit, this is the part that kind of bothered me - 11 years ago when I was in Japan, this wasn't a thing at all. But due to the huge influx of Chinese tourists (which happened a couple years ago), everything now is so commercialized and aimed at these tourists. And it takes a little bit of the authenticity of the place away, in my opinion, when you hear people speaking Chinese more than you hear Japanese, and everywhere you go is just tons and tons of Chinese tourists taking photos of everything and pretending to dress up in the local garb. It just makes me a little sad.

    • Overall though, Kyoto was just as beautiful and inspiring as I remembered. I was sad to leave, and not just because I couldn't sing "Big Bird Goes to Japan" theme songs anymore.  Up next, Osaka!

    Fun Facts of the Day:
    • Japanese toilets are the shiz. They usually have tons of crazy settings and options and electronic looking things poking out of them - you have options ranging from bidets to butt-washing to heated seats to automatic seat lifters to dryers to fake flushing noises. Yes, fake flushing noises. Japanese women are so modest that they used to constantly flush the toilet while they were using them to hide any potential noises - which wasted a ton of water. So now, a lot of the toilets have a button that makes a fake flushing noise - so no water wasted, but sounds hidden. Voila. 
    • It is considered rude to eat something while walking.  Or standing around in public. Japanese believe that meals need to be sat down to be enjoyed.  This makes it impossible when you are holding a delicious bread in your hand that you've just purchased form the local 7-11, and you can't just tear it open on the street and eat it.  I've definitely done some stealth-eating while waiting for the train, like secretly shoving hunks of bread into my mouth when no one's looking.
    • The word for "I" or "me " in Japanese is "Watashi."  However, they don't really use this because it's considered very direct, so most Japanese people refer to themselves in the third person constantly. 

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