And now more of my travel log from last year's Japan trip.
|My buddy Kyle on the train from Osaka to Kyoto.|
After we woke up in Osaka, Kyle was itching to get out of the big city and see some nature, and I had heard that Kyoto was more relaxed than Osaka (in the off-season, anyway), and so we decided to head out there via the Hankyu line, which our Korean acquaintance from the airport bus had told us cost a mere 380 yen (about $4). It was exactly that price, and the trip was only 30 to 40 minutes. We didn't have a proper guidebook and my knowledge of Japanese geography was woefully lacking. I knew Kyoto was not too far from Osaka but I had no idea how to get there, so it was a good thing that we had asked someone and that getting there was so easy. We left for Kyoto after breakfast.
The video I took really shows how little I knew about Kyoto and the whole Kansai region at the time, as I make a number of erroneous statements pertaining to the local geography (I have since learned a lot more). This shows the importance of researching the places you visit before you go. Always do your research, my friends; don't be ignorant like old Alex and sound like an idiot when you talk about things (for the record, I knew Orangina wasn't Japanese -- I was trying to be funny). Moving on . . .
The previous evening we had booked a single night at a hostel called Haruya. Initially I thought it was in Gion, which is why I say so in the video, but our hostel was actually down the street from the Kyoto Aquarium, in a wonderfully low-key part of the city (apparently it's a sister hostel called Haruya Aqua). The hostel operates out of a 200-year-old house and has traditional tatami rooms and sliding doors -- very charming indeed. Because the hostel was virtually empty that particular evening, we were upgraded to the main tatami room, which was very spacious and visually splendid. I'd always wanted to stay at a place like this and I finally got my wish.
|The main tatami room at Haruya Aqua.|
|This izakaya was located at a quiet intersection in a residential area near our hostel. It was too charming to pass up.|
|Here's me posing with our hard-won Asahi. I was trying to look like one of those foreigners who occasionally appear in Japanese advertisements.|
|This is the path leading to Yasaka Shrine in Gion. It was practically empty when we got there.|
Our first mission was to find a restaurant that was not too expensive (the area is quite popular among tourists and prices there seemed to be higher than elsewhere). Eventually we found a ramen shop that was part of a popular chain and ate there. Not exactly glamorous, but we were poor students who still had six days in Japan and were heading to the Philippines afterwards, so we couldn't exactly splurge. After that we wandered around the main street of Gion, looking at shops and things. Having heard that Gion was a historical geisha district, we hoped we might spy one of the modern equivalents of geisha.
We did actually see one walking along; she was decked out in a pretty kimono with the traditional wig, powdered face, and red lips -- quite a sight indeed! We also noticed a lot of rather attractive, somewhat heavily made-up women (think gyaru style -- *look it up here) wandering the streets, calling out to men as they walked by. Some seemed to be soliciting and others were handing out flyers for what I can only guess were hostess bars. I'm not sure if any of them were actual prostitutes or whether they were strictly hostesses, but I was certainly not used to "ladies of the night" being so forthcoming. We got a few calls ourselves, and then we turned a corner and ended up in hostess-bar-land! There were hostesses, escorts, mama-sans, and patrons all over the place! I'd never seen such a sight!
|The winding backstreets of Gion are full of restaurants and attractive bars. This area was just beyond the Kamo River.|
The bar we eventually chose (at random) was rather pricey but not lacking in character in the least! It was a tiny little place full of middle-aged Japanese men and women singing karaoke. The bartender was transgendered and sang duet songs doing both the male and female parts very convincingly . . . seriously, I'm not making this up. It was yet another charming place, and the customers seemed quite amused that two young foreign guys had randomly wandered into their bar. Still, it wasn't the least bit shady and the customers seemed like artist types and regulars. We had some Suntory whisky and I sang a few songs. After some time we decided to head back to the hostel and catch some shuteye to prepare for the all-day biking trip we had planned for the next day. We'd had our first taste of Kyoto and we were liking it, but it wasn't until the next day that I really started falling in love with the place.