Kyoto Arrival / Gion

One thing we hadn't been looking forward to was dragging our suitcases back through the streets of Ikebukuro and taking a rush hour train to Tokyo Station. We discussed strategies as we ate our last breakfast at the Sakura Cafe. Would it be better to try to get on the first car or the last? Should we split up and get on different cars? Since the Yamanote Line is a circle and Ikebukuro is about midway from Tokyo Station, would it be better to go in the direction of Ueno or Shinjuku? .

As it turned out, the train wasn't nearly as crowded as we expected, and we arrived at Tokyo Station with plenty of time to ponder the bento choices before our departure time. There are always bento stands at major train stations, and the variety of offerings is impressive. Some bento contents are unique, and there are even department store events where you can purchase bentos which are normally only available at distant locations. Relaxing in a comfortable seat, nibbling on a variety of foods as the train rushes through the countryside is a wonderful way to travel.

On previous shinkansen trips we had left our bags in a compartment at the end of the car, but for some reason the trains we traveled on this trip didn't have that option. Our bags were too large for the overhead racks so we had to jam them in between our legs and the back of the seats in the row in front of us. It was tight, but bearable.

We had booked a room at the New Miyako Hotel which is located across the street from Kyoto Station. That might might give you the impression that it's easy to find, but the station is huge and it took awhile to stumble upon the correct exit. It was quite a change from the Sakura Hotel. We were welcomed by a doorman wearing what seemed to be some sort of British costume, the lobby was huge and brightly lit by chandeliers, and our bags were loaded onto a cart and taken to our room by a pleasant young woman. The room itself had 2 twin beds, a fold out sofa bed, a television that showed CNN in English, and a Japanese toilet with special features I never figured out. We had booked the room through our local JTB office, and the rate was considerably less than the price quoted on the internet. Sadly, there was no internet access in the room which sent Walt into a major funk. When he needed a cyber fix, he had to go downstairs to the "business center" and do battle with a Japanese keyboard and operating system.

After we were settled, we decided to set off to Yasaka-jinja, the guardian shrine of Gion.

Walt decided to return to the hotel, but Lisa and I carried on. At the back of the shrine, we passed through a red torii gate and into Maruyama Park. A man who looked American sat beneath a tree playing his guitar and singing country music. The two women in the picture in the top row on the right were engaged in a lengthy conversation with a duck. We continued through the park and up the hill.

Eventually, we stumbled upon a remarkable place - Choraku-ji Temple. Few other people were around which was a pleasant change from the usual crowds. We wandered further up the hillside to an old cemetery with a beautiful view of the city.

I took these pictures on the way back down through the park. If you look closely, you can see ravens in the tree.

It was too early to return to the room, so Lisa and I decided to go on the walking tour of Gion which was described in my guidebook. We soon lost our way, but it was very interesting to wander down the narrow, twisty streets lined with many small clubs and restaurants. We saw many women dressed as geisha, but dressing up as a geisha is a popular activity. Many stores rent kimonos and provide the requisite make-up and hair styling.

In the course of our rambles, we came upon a street with a stream meandering along one side. Sculptures had been set up in the water. On another section of the street you could look across the stream into elegant restaurants.

A popular assignment given to students studying English is to have them approach tourists, ask some questions, and take their picture. While Lisa shopped for some snacks, I was approached by 3 high school girls. They thought Margo was a "very nice" name and practically burst with glee when they learned I live in Hawaii. Just then Lisa, who was wearing her knit hat with ears, walked up to us, and they wanted to know if her hat was a Halloween costume!

Eventually we wandered back to the Tatsumi-bashi bridge where 2 street musicians were playing lively South American music. When Lisa gave them some spare change they responded enthusiastically, and their joyous music accompanied our long descent into the subway.