Kimono fashion show, golden temple and birthday surprises
For those eagle-eyed people who have been reading our blog for a year (how has it been a year already??), you may have realised that today is a special day- Alex’s birthday. This was his second birthday away from home although this one was a little harder as we’ve had no address to receive birthday cards from home. Keiko, however, had lots of stuff in store for us so Alex had a jam-packed and fun day.
It began (after a great nights sleep on the Japanese beds) with an early start as we wanted another dip in the Hot Springs. We both found them pretty empty which was surprising as you could see the surrounding mountains in the daylight and it was quite serene. After a rush to check out we got our second bullet train, this time a slightly longer journey to Kyoto. It was great as we’d all been peering out of the windows to see if we could see the elusive Mt Fiji. We managed to see her briefly and the local people around us obviously saw how excited we were and a little while later an elderly Japanese man indicated to us that she was back. We all ran across to the window, pressing up against the glass, squeezing around each other to try and get photos. Luck was obviously on our side as she was so clear and we could see her in all her glory. We were only slightly disappointed that she didn’t have her normal snow cap.
In Kyoto we dumped our bags in the hotel and headed straight out. Keiko had noticed how excited we’d all been at wearing the kimonos last night so she took us to a kimono fashion show for the next season’s styles. The models themselves were beautiful and walked down the catwalk with such elegance and poise. The kimonos were absolutely stunning and the detail that was put into their designs was incredible. We ‘oooooed’ and ‘ahhhhed’ all the way through and were staggered to learn at the end that the hand stitched, intricately designed ones could cost up to a million dollars!
Next on the list was the Kinkakuji temple, or the Golden temple. As there are so many temples in the Kyoto region, Keiko wanted to pick the best ones for us to see. She made the perfect choice in this temple as it was fantastic. Overlooking a small lake the setting sun lit up the temple brilliantly and the gold shone so brightly it nearly hurt your eyes. As we made our way back to the group we stumbled across a stall that offered green tea with gold leaf floating in it and it was actually really sweet to taste.
The tea was just a sample of what was to come as we headed to a food market, which had over two hundred stalls in one long strip. We sampled a few delicacies although we did skip over the octopus on a stick (pricy!). At the end of the market was a Japanese photo booth, an incredibly popular place for young teenage girls where you can draw and add things to the photos. We went in with Keiko, Steve and Danny and had a good laugh posing and editing our pictures.
Sufficiently hungry by this point it was time for dinner. Keiko had chosen a restaurant which served hotpot; basically you get given a broth, a gas cooker and ingredients and let the meal cook in front of you and it was certainly delicious. Towards the end of the meal Alex was surprised when suddenly a chorus of Happy Birthday sprang up. Keiko appeared with a cake and candles and party poppers had exploded all around us. After blowing out his candles Alex then received a birthday card that all the group had signed. He was really overwhelmed and touched by the effort they’d made.
Alex would have been happy if the day had ended then but there was still one more activity of the day. We were in the area of Gino where the Geisha’s teahouses are and Keiko wanted us to go hunting for Geishas. They only appear when they’re going between teahouses so you have to be quick if you want to take a picture of them. We divided into smaller stealth groups and crept around the streets looking out for them. Every so often you’d hear a shout of “There’s one over here!” and everyone would sprint to take a picture. Unfortunately most of ours were of their backs but luck was on our side and we managed to see around six Geishas and the last walked right towards us. We looked like the paparazzi, a long line of flashes going off and we finally got a great picture.
Tired but extremely happy we headed back to the hotel.
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- Pray or wish really hard to see Mt Fuji as she’s a crafty one and often hides behind clouds.
- Try and get to see a kimono fashion show as it’s a great, free way to see a key part of Japanese culture.
- If you go Geisha hunting they really don’t like it if you ask for photos with them. Just stand back at a reasonable distance and let them get on with their walk.