Geishas in the Wild

Lynn and I have now officially experienced our first typhoon, storm “1518.”  And…it was pretty uneventful, it seems to have come through during the night and by morning it was just a steady rain.  Not letting the rain deter me, I went running in it around the Nijo Castle while Lynn struggled to make the pocket Wi-Fi in our AirBnB work with her phone.  We have learned that pocket Wi-Fi, while neat in concept are actually pretty terrible from a reliability stand point – we have had nothing but trouble with the two in our AirBnB’s so far.

After waiting a while through the morning and realizing the rain was not going to let up anytime soon, we headed out to explore Kyoto.  Having soaked my shoes running in the rain earlier, I wore flip-flops out for our exploring, which would prove interesting 35,000 steps later.  On our way down the block, we promptly bought umbrellas from a local corner store which made the whole thing much more tolerable.

We started out at the Nijo Castle and toured both the shogun palace and the gardens and grounds.  Lynn and I both liked the open environment of the palace but felt the art work left a lot to be desired.  It was mostly poorly drawn animals and trees with some very 80’s looking rectangles thrown in every once in a while.  The best were the tigers that had been drawn “from a description of what a tiger looks like,” there not being tigers native to Japan.  Sadly we were not allowed to take pictures (probably because they are too embarrassed by them) but imagine an animal with weird jelly limbs, very bulgy faces and eyes, and giant beefy arms with sort of tiger stripes.

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Nijo Castle Grounds

After the castle tour we walked through the Nishiki market where we ate a lunch consisting of samples of many different foods.  Our favorites were red bean stuffed mochi balls, and black pepper rice cakes.

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Clockwise from top left: Green tea with tapioca balls, fried chicken strips, mochi ball, black pepper rice cake, almond rum sponge cake, octopus on a stick.

After we had filled up on local treats we noticed we weren’t too far away from the Imperial Palace, which is still used by the emperor of Japan from time to time.  We walked over and saw that you can tour the palace, but it has to be with a free registered tour.  We went ahead and took a time slot for an hour and a half later and walked around the palace gardens to kill time, at one point stopping at a park bench for a bit where Lynn read a brief history of Japan aloud and I weeded some very out of place grass in the gravel.

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A little bit of Roundup would have done wonders.

It was at this point that we realized we didn’t have time to fit in the palace tour if we were going to make our tea ceremony in the Gion district that Lynn had been working off and on all day on setting up, so we started walking over to Gion.  We toured some temples and shrines, and noted that they are all starting the blend together a bit, much like churches in Europe before going to the tea ceremony.

The tea ceremony was great, a group of 11 of us all sat around a traditional tea set while a woman explained the different tools used and how the tea would be prepared.  Then a second woman came out and demonstrated the whole thing.  The process was incredibly methodical and full of symbolism.  Being the first guest to her right I was one the she made tea for and accepted and drank it.  After the tea ceremony was over she came back in the room and explained the proper way to accept and drink tea, and it turns out I had done the entire thing completely wrong.  We then made out own green tea, and drank it the proper way.

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Arriving at the tea ceremony.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the actual ceremony.

After the tea ceremony we hurried over to another part of the neighborhood where we joined a walking tour through the Gion district put on by the city of Kyoto .  Gion, we learned, is famous for its Geisha culture, and a large part of the tour was focused on teaching us about Geisha (called Geiko when in Kyoto) customs, culture, and history.  Our guide was very knowledgeable, energetic and funny in the terrible way that most tour guides are.  We ended the tour with a spotting of an actual Maiko (Geisha in training).

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After the tour we headed for dinner and stopped in a restaurant where neither Lynn nor I could understand the menu, but it looked pretty reasonably priced and we were hungry.  After some initial confusion Lynn ordered for us by pointing at something on the menu and then we waited to see it would actually be.  It turned out to be Shabu Shabu but much better done than we had Nagano, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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It’s hard to tell but this is a circle of food with a pit of boiling broth in the middle of it.  You just knock in some of the circle to cook for a bit and then eat it and repeat.

Exhausted and sore from a long day exploring Kyoto we made it back to our apartment to rest before heading to Hiroshima tomorrow.

Daily Walking Mileage : 16 miles

Daily Fun Facts (we learned a lot from our tour guide):

  • There are actually no trash cans in Japan because the Saran attacks in the 90s used trash cans so they are banned most places by the government.
  • Geisha’s are not actually prostitutes, they are entertainers who perform the traditional Japanese arts of flower arranging, dancing, singing, poetry, caligraphy, and apparently drinking games.
  • We had noticed a lot of Japanese women walk pigeon toed.  We learned this is from a time when women wore kimonos and it forced them to walk like that, now being pigeon toed is seen as very feminine and cute.

3 thoughts on “Geishas in the Wild

  1. Doug- you can come vacation here anytime and pull weeds from the gravel!
    We love reading all about your travels. I’m impressed that you are taking the time to do this every day, especially after walking 15 miles.
    Enjoy your grand tour!

  2. First of all, the thought of tigers with jelly limbs made me lol! Your adventures sound amazing so far! I’m quite jealous of all the delicious food…. It’s gotta be the best (and sometimes worst) part of travel.
    Keep the posts coming!

  3. Around the same time, in a parallel universe, Trevor was teaching son Nick the nuances of English tea making. A bit lighter on the formality and ceremony, but nonetheless, one of those rituals which brings many cultures together across the world. The only ritual with the ‘accepting’ of the tea is knowing how long to let the biscuit sit in the tea to get just the right amount of softness, without losing it to the bottom of the cup.

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