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Day 7: Geisha Stalking in Kyoto

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After we had enjoyed some excellent coffee and toast in the ryokan it had dried up a bit and we were able to head for the western hills of Higashiyama where the vast majority of Kyoto's ancient treasures are located.

Taking a beautiful trail through the cherry blossom we made our way to several of the larger temples on the western slopes with some beautiful gardens and stunning views over the city. We were very fortunate to literally bump into a geisha doing a bit of temple hopping herself and I managed to get atleast one decent shot. Sanj took a slightly paparazzi approach and was rewarded with some beautiful shots.

We continued on up the hills checking out a few more temples before stopping for some refreshment in a tea house with the most amazing zen garden - complete with its own waterfall and enormous carp, the place was just picture postcard perfect. The green tea was also something of an experience being the consistency of a light soup and tasting strongly of something akin to boiled wheat grass, not something I'll feel the need to search out again.

From here we drifted on to a beautiful park which is known all over Japan for having the most stunning weeping cherry blossom tree. Sadly most of the blossoms had already fallen by the time we arrived but you could certainly understand its renown. The ominous grey clouds finally gave way and we scurried for lunch cover in a nice little tempanyaki bar which gave me my first experience of Japanese style furnishings. To say that I am not built for traditional dining would be an understatement and after much re-arranging of my long legs under a very short table, I eventually had to accept defeat and sit side askew to my meal. I am clearly going to have to take up a crash course in yoga before my next trip to learn how to eat in blissful harmony in the lotus position.

After lunch, I was keen to get some blood back in my legs so headed north into the hills once again but sadly the weather really took a turn for the worse and I was walking in some quite torrential showers trying to make my way up the forest slopes. Interest in the different temples was definitely starting to wain slightly under the heavy downpours so I turned back and tried to make a beeline what had been described as the most beautiful street in Asia. I must admit that I went with just a hint of skepticism but I should never have doubted the Lonely Planet as Shirakawa-Minami-Dori is simply stunning. A cobble lane with weeping trees on one side and endless cherry blossom over hanging a small stream on the other, it really is picture perfect Japan. Even in the heavy rain it looked stunning.

From here, I dropped down to Gion and no sooner than I had entered the famous district I spotted one or two geisha out and about. Even more interestingly I stumbled upon a small side street which is clearly home to all the local supplies of the tools of their trade. There was a shoe shop selling incredibly elaborate slippers, a hair piece shop selling their wigs, several kimono shops and finally a music shop full of the three stringed shamisen instruments. Very interesting to see.

Back to the hostel for a few complimentary beers (how fantastic an idea!) before we decided to go back up and see if we could spot a few more geishas. We weren't to be disappointed and if anything Shirakawa-Minami looked even better by night. All the blossoms were illuminated and across the stream connected by small bridges were a series of very exclusive restaurants. We popped into one and could see through the door a musical performance being made by several geisha. Through the windows of the other establishments we could groups of business men being entertained - singing and board games seemed popular - by two's and three's of geisha in beautiful kimono - truly a stunning and special Japanese sight.

We managed to find a great little Indonesian cafe close to Sanjo-dori and enjoyed some very nice mesai goreng and satay. The locals at the bar were getting pretty wasted but only got interested in us, and Sanj in particular as we finished our meal. They seemed to be particularly taken by our little 'Indo' but struggled to find the words - either through lack of English or too much drink, it was hard to tell.


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