Japan may be known for its amazing acceptance and development of technology but it seems to be lagging behind with the kettle. The one in our hotel is a prime example of making water boil as slowly as possible. With very few working parts, it’s difficult to work out how they could have made it not work so well…But they did. Add to that the very tiny cups which mean in order to have a cup of tea you have to make about 12 and it’s very annoying. Thank goodness there’s the toilet.
And so, our anniversary has arrived and the reason we’re in Japan, albeit a year late. We slept in a LONG time after yesterday’s little foray into tourist hell and left the hotel at about 10am. Okay we do that a lot but this time it was because we were asleep until 9.
While I went down and worked things out with reception (booking a restaurant for tonight, bus tickets and how to use them, hop on/off bus, etc) Mirinda walked down the stairs to meet me on the street. We then walked towards the river. And we wound up at Starbucks! It was Mirinda’s anniversary surprise for me. It made a lovely start to the day.
We then started walking down Nishiki Market. What an extraordinary (and very long) place. Imagine a long straight road with a roof with shops either side crowded in one after the other. Imagine no cars just lots and lots of people except where the market crosses the normal streets where cars have to honk to move through the crowds. It’s a magical place that seems to go on forever.
On our magical journey through the market, we came across a chopstick shop. It specialises in the sale of many, many types of decorated chopsticks with wildly different prices. From the plain to the ridiculously ornate, they are all both usable and fascinating. Most of them can be engraved with the name of the owner.
I’ve been wanting a pair of chopsticks (since my jade ones from Beijing snapped) so was actively searching for a pair when Mirinda came up with a brilliant idea. We could each select a pair of chopsticks then get our names and anniversary engraved on them. Which we did.
They are engraved in English and Japanese. Given last year we bought ourselves a stained glass window and this year engraved chopsticks, it has been ordained that we are now going to buy ourselves something strange each year.
We continued down the market until we came to the shrine at the end where young girls pretending to be geisha for a day take selfies like it’s the most natural thing in the world. There are lots and lots of these fake-geisha everywhere. There are outlets that hire the outfits for a day so you can wander (shuffle) around like a geisha for the day. Lots of young girls do it with chums or, sometimes, boyfriends.
The fake-geisha are very predominant in Gion, the actual geisha district where signs warn you not to grab the real geisha. It doesn’t say anything about the fakes. They have no problem being photographed but I reckon grabbing might be considered a bit much.
Hungry, we tried numerous eating establishments which were all full to bursting (there’s a LOT of people in Kyoto but also it was a public holiday today) but then, in a little back street we found Tiger Goyza. It was almost full but we managed to squeeze in and sat down. The sitting as well as the eating was sorely needed. This was good because the eating took quite a while given we didn’t know we had to signal when we were ready to order.
The rude and grouchy Americans on the other hand, managed to gesticulate largely and loudly and had their lunches long before we did. Not that that mattered. It’s always fun watching other people.
By the time our lunch did come, it was delicious. I had pork while Mirinda had a different pork both with rice and some strange bits and pieces to go with it. The Japanese are big on their bits and pieces. Sometimes they are delicious; sometimes they are foul; always they are mysterious. Still, what’s the point of travel if not to try new things.
Eventually, nicely rested and sated, we headed back out to tackle the crowds in the Gion district. As I wrote above, this is where the real Maiko and Geisha hang out (though not during the day) and lots of people just sort of loiter in the hope they’ll spot a real one. Funnier are the fake-geisha who pose in geisha streets, in borrowed geisha clothes, pretending they are real.
We accidentally found ourselves at Kennin-ji Temple, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and the fifth most important. A Chinese tourist wearing a Star Wars t-shirt (it read “I am your father”) told us how the relationship between the Japanese and the Chinese worked. The Chinese think of the Japanese as their weird cousins because they are very similar in lots of ways and then widely diverse in others. Also, he told us, because so many temples were destroyed in China (thanks to Mao) a lot of his countrymen come over to see some real ones…even though they are not as old.
When we told him we were both English and Australian, he said the relationship could be the same as the Japanese Chinese one – weird cousins!
The thing with temples in Japan is that you have to leave your shoes at the door and wander around in your socks or stockings or bare feet. Given you’re only walking on wood or tatami mats, this is not a problem and, in fact, I found it quite comfortable given how much I hate wearing shoes. You also get to see some odd and interesting foot underwear. Mind you, I was the only one wearing different coloured ones.
The funny thing is when you want to use the toilet. In the ladies’ there are slippers for the women to slip into whereas in the mens’, in front of the line of urinals, there is a trough where a pair of wooden thong type wobbly things are positioned ready for someone to step into and…well, you get the idea. It was oddly like standing on two small seesaws.
Sitting on the edge of the zen garden contemplating the world and the smallness of everything was wonderfully enlightening…well, until the heavy machinery started outside the temple. Any zen flew out the window.
We then decided we should head back to the hotel in order to get ready for our special anniversary dinner. It was a little bit further than we thought and it wasn’t long before we were joined by Ms Cranky Pants. In fact she decided to walk all the way back to the hotel with us which was very annoying.
At the hotel it was a hurried change and wash before grabbing a taxi to the Mishima-tei (or Mishy Matey) which is so well known that every taxi driver in Kyoto knows where it is. And thus began our first truly Japanese experience.
First up the shoes have to come off before you can walk upstairs. Upstairs you are escorted to your table in the middle of which is an electric element – your waitress will tell you to be careful because it will get very hot. She will then make sure she has your order right (we decided that when we booked) before getting your drinks sorted. Mirinda opted for apricot liquor and, obviously, I had a beer. While the beer was in a very big bottle, the glass that accompanied it was very small.
The meal is then cooked, in front of you, by the waitress and it was delicious. The steak was unbelievable and the vegetables perfect. Apart from the food being delicious, the entire experience was very memorable.
We then slowly strolled back to the hotel happy…mainly because Ms Cranky Pants had gone on ahead of us.
And today’s video is in the market.