Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Kyoto Day 2 (part 1)

Lot of pictures, so 3 posts for this day --- On day 2, joe and I woke up at a reasonable time, but just missed breakfast, which was a large and not-included buffet at the hotel. Eager to get started, we grabbed some pretzels at a nearby store and headed for the emperor’s palace to sign up for a tour. We were told to return in a couple hours. In the meantime we walked west toward the castle. The castle was neat, but overpriced. We walked to the emperor’s palace and met up with the tour. The palace itself was neat, it had a ton of inner buildings and rooms, sadly we were unable to enter any of them. The reasoning of the tour guide was kind of sketchy. Apparently the rooms are off limits because the palace is still in use by the current emperor… Ok, that’s fine, but then the guide told us the emperor uses another area of the grounds that is entirely separate from the ones we were viewing. Odd. Interestingly, as we were on the tour it started to snow. I say snow, joe says it was a wintry mix. I saw precipitation moving horizontal and up and then down, so I say snow. Luckily, whatever it was, it was light and transitory.

After the palace, we decided to visit the temples in the northeast area of town. We started looking for the orange gates, or as we learned they were called, toris (rhymes with corey). We found the orange gates and saw a ton of temples. Interestingly though we don’t really know what temples we saw. We thought we were approaching a couple particular ones, but never found them. Still, for the next three hours we did travel further up the mountain seeing what appeared to be at least 4 distinct temples/shrines. What make this unexpected excursion even more delightful was that the sun was setting and the vistas from the high parts of the mountains were beautiful.

Interestingly, as the sun was setting we were approached by another Japanese who was intrigued by two Americans. This gentlemen, however, was far more normal than the woman at Hamarikyu gardens. For starters, Joe and I were off the beaten track, so his surprise to see us was more understandable. Secondly, his demeanor was far more calm then the lady’s was. Finally, he was quite knowledgeable about the surrounding area and so we learned a little while he was practicing his English on us.

After the sun set and the temple grounds’ closed, we took a train to the Gion district. This is the area famous for its active Geisha community. Geisha (for those of you who don’t watch movies), according to travel book, are female professional entertainers who talk and accompany men to various events. A more sexual version of Geisha developed and so traditional Geisha are now called geiko. As opposed to many japanese women who still dress traditionally, the Geisha/geiko generally wear white makeup on their face and bright red lipstick. Although Joe and I didn’t see throngs of these women, we did see some walking around, which was pretty neat. After buying presents for people in the gion area, we sought and eventually (after about 30 minutes) found somewhere to eat. It ended up being an Irish pub, which seemed to be run by a Japanese woman, as odd as that sounds. However, as we were leaving, I was surprised to hear a live entertainment warming up. One of the singers had a right-off-the-boat Irish accent, that added immediate authenticity to the place. After dinner, we called it a night and we back to our lovely hotel.

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