Sleeping/waking up in a tatami room was an unusual but gratifying experience! the futons we laid on the floor were actually surprisingly comfortable and the novely factor of the whole thing was way up there. An efficient space saving technique to boot… Although I’m still far from convinced that I could be bothered to make and unmake a bed every day, hmm..
We went to a nearby market to get food for breakfast, where vendors were selling pickled fish, fresh vegetables, japanese style salads and other such fancy things. I have to admit I was a little dubious about how stewed fish would be for breakfast but it turned out to be amazingly tasty. Yuko even fashioned some home-made nigiri for us to eat later in the day because we couldn’t finish all of it and had some left over rice! Star. Incidentally, the rice tasted sooo good – we suspected it was because of the super-clean and fresh spring water! You might be wondering how rice can taste better than usual, but you’ll have to take my word for it…
I was a little frustrated that our first stop of the day was a seemingly boring and standard handbag shop. Apparently the brand is really famous for its quality and the shop was absolutely rammed. Odd. The girls seemed to be having fun but I couldn’t help but think I had better things to do in my limited time! Refrained from sulking though.
On leaving the handbag shop and its wonderful array of drab, yet durable, merchandise we went to Maruyama-koen – the park in the city centre. Here we checked out Yasaka-jinja and I decided to get a love fortune! It was very funny – saying I was to fall in love with an unobtainable woman and that the love would be one-sided… great huh? To make sure my fortunes turn out better I tied the paper to a particular wall of similarly fastened fortunes. Obviously a lot of other people didn’t think much of their fortunes either :) next to the wall we met an old man who was trying to learn english, but it was a bit of an effort trying to get anything other than very basic words out of him!
After a half-hour or so at Yasaka-jinja we wound our way up zig-zagging narrow streets towards the next temple, passing many interesting stores. Plenty of them were giving away free food samples to entice people in so i got to check out a variety of japanese of japanese snacks – confectionery especially! there were some weird (perhaps I use weird too much when describing Japan..) jelly style “sweets”, but they weren’t particularly sweet, kind of like a powder coated, less sticky, less sweet version of turkish delight. Hmm. Some of the flavours were quite good. Others, well, can’t really see them taking off in England :)
The temple we climbed up to – Kiyumizu-dera – houses a number of shrines within its expansive (if not bordering vast) grounds. Apparently one of the balconies, which reaches out over quite a sizable drop, is one of the most famous suicide spots in Japan! Wonderful. Perfect for re-honouring your dishonoured family. No-one took the plunge whilst I was there anyway. The view was serene and beautiful – mountainous reaches and thick forest, over which you could see a pagoda sprouting from amidst the trees.
On the left as one approaches the main prayer hall is a love shrine – literally a shrine dedicated to love. There were some quite scary placards on sale here, not sure if the translation is exactly as they mean it but might be grounds for immediate dismissal if given as present by your beloved (in a non-humourous way)! Within the shrine there is a pair of rocks around 30ft apart which apparently, if you can walk between unaided, will ensure you find true love/have happiness (not sure if they meant for you and your partner or just generally!). I SO VERY NEARLY made it without any direction, but Rena had to correct me around 6″ to the left at the end, which means that she is bound to helping me find my future partner and true love, muha! (lol)
I noticed both girls making wishes/prayers here, at which the cynic in me couldn’t help but smirk inwardly.
I spent a long while leaning over the aforementioned balcony gazing out over the hazy city. It was wonderfully warm and peaceful and I allowed myself to daydream a while, my mind way out over the forest and plains to the shorelines of Osaka beyond.
Dropping down toward the main attraction of the temple (the reason why there’s a mizu – meaning water – in Kiyumizu) we stopped to take lunch at a small place right up against a sheer drop and fairly covered by the forest and a woven canopy. Here I had somen noodles – a delicious summer snack. I was told of somen chutes which use spring water to carry noodles down a hill which you then catch in a bowl at the bottom. Sounds cool! You eat the noodles by dipping them in a sauce made from soy sauce and Japanese vinegar(?) with lots of spring onions, v yummy.
The “holy” water flowing into Kiyumizu comes through a series of pipes into a well/pool type thing a distance beneath the prayer hall balconies. Apparently if you drink the water it does good things for you (rather over-simplified explanation!) but I decided that for 500 yen I’d take my chances!
On the way back down we did a bit more shopping – I bought some monk’s beads which I thought were cool. Not sure how much I’ll use them, but hey. Rena bought some gifts for her family and some truly horrific sleeping shorts for her boyfriend, lol. We passed by loads of beautiful pottery shops too, I’d have loved to buy some crockery to bring home but had no idea how I’d transport something so fragile so had to leave it :(
When we eventually found our way back down to the town, Yuko decided it was time for her to go home so we headed back to the okiya (haha) to get her stuff. Luckily we could keep the accommodation for another night so didn’t have to up sticks and take everything to a different place. Plus, we were given a discounted rate for the extra night, bonus! We walked along the riverfront past all the famous and ridiculously expensive restaurants that only open in summer before leaving Yuko at the subway station and saying our goodbyes. At this point I thought it would probably be a good idea to head to a ‘net café to try and work out the next couple of days’ itinerary, which doubled up as a good excuse to have a rest as was feeling pretty tired by then! We’d decided to go check out another market type place for dinner but foolishly didn’t check the opening times and the place closed really early – not much good for dining out. Rena decided she needed some new bras so she went in search of those while I turned my attention to finding a “Japlish” t-shirt for my sister for her birthday. That actually resulted in quite a funny conversation where the shop girls were asking each other about their bust sizes and I was trying to work out if my sis was bigger or smaller, lol. The fact that they were both very attractive might have added to the enjoyment, of course :)
With our respective tasks accomplished we eventually settled on an Izakaya for dinner (again). This particular one was quite funny because the staff made a point of greeting/sending off everyone who came in or out in unison! Can’t remember what the name of the place was even though they shouted it in our ears quite a few times, haha.
After eating we went to Gion to take in the old part of town (not that the rest of it isn’t old) and were lucky enough to see three geisha within the space of five minutes, which apparently isn’t very common. We were a little aghast at the two Japanese tourists who insisted on chasing the geisha down the street with their cameras considering she clearly wasn’t overly enamoured with the idea of having her picture taken, but what can you do.
The area was a little surreal and creepy to be honest. There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of life, but then again I suppose the majority of what goes on is behind the closed doors of the ochayas and such like. All the entrances seemed to be designed specifically so that it was impossible to get any kind of glimpse at what might be on the inside. I tried to picture what the area must have been like in times gone by, the streets bustling with geisha and salarymen, a dazzling array of silk and colour. The whole area dedicated entirely to enjoyment and leisure. But of course that’s very hard. Many of the old buildings are preserved, however, so at least some of the character is retained. I often find myself wondering the same thing in England, what it must have been like even 70 years ago… I wonder how dull the world has become since then.
On the hunt for more alcohol we passed through some somewhat seedier streets. Alliteration aside, this, I suppose, is what Gion is more reknowned for nowadays. Very sad, but I suppose inevitable, and a similar concept – just for a different generation of impatience and with nothing left to the imagination.
After another bar we ended up in another izakaya(!) for some more snacks and plum wine. It seemed this place attracted quite a large proportion of the youth crowd and it was interesting to try and observe the social dynamics of a different culture in that setting, though apart from some nuances between the boys and girls I suppose it wasn’t vastly different to back home.
Shortly after, we headed back home. Rena was to leave very early in the morning (as in, before 6 early) and the day’s exploration and drinking had taken its toll!