On Friday morning we got up and had sort of planned a day in Asakusa, at Senso-Ji and then taking an afternoon shinkansen to Kyoto. We decided to drop our bags for storage in Shinagawa station, as our shinkansen was leaving from there at 3:30. Only problem was we had not for even a moment considered that the G20 summit that was taking place in Osaka would affect our travel plans. All the coin lockers, in all the shinkansen stations were unavailable for 5 days. Baggage storage was not allowed, and rubbish bins were also unavailable. I have never seen this level of security in the stations, and all the staff had armbands on saying they were “ON ALERT”. So, quick change of plans, we decided to change our train tickets and leave earlier for Kyoto. Dragging suitcases around Tokyo is no fun for anyone!!
So, Mum and Ted’s first shinkansen trip and another mind-blowing experience. Firstly, the cleanliness and the convenience, but then for Mum, that there is a smoking room, on the train, that is immaculately clean and well ventilated. I love travelling on shinkansen. It really is so easy. It has started several conversations over the last few days of why we don’t have one between Melbourne and Sydney. The central location of the stations, the lack of having to check baggage, and go through security and then the speed of the trains means that you are moving from one place to another much more efficiently.
We arrived in Kyoto and grabbed a couple of taxis to Guesthouse Soi. For those that read often, or know me, this is my home away from home. I first stayed at the guesthouse during cherry blossom season in 2015, with my two kids. We became firm friends with the owner, Maki-san, and her two girls. Our girls got along so well on the first trip, we changed our ongoing plans and accommodation in order to come back and spend more time with them. We came back 9 months later and stayed 2 weeks. Then again, twice, in 2018. Needless to say, I love Kyoto and I love staying at Guesthouse Soi.
After a long, sticky and sweaty journey, we all got settled, had showers, freshened up and chilled out. Maki’s girls returned home from school just in time for dinner. Maki had made an enormous Japanese beef curry for dinner and we enjoyed a meal together. After dinner we left the kids to catch up and headed off on a bus to Gion. We wanted to show Mum and Ted our favourite little back alley bars and the geisha districts of Kyoto.
We jumped off the bus at Yasaka Shrine, a Shinto shrine right in Gion. Construction began in 656 and most of the buildings were built around 1000 years ago. It is striking at night, the very orange/vermillion and the lanterns all lit up. It is also peaceful and the garden is pretty, even in the dark.
We then walked down towards the Kamogawa (Kamo River) and into Gion. The biggest of the hanamachi (literally flower town~ geisha district), it is reasonably unchanged, for probably several hundred years and the narrow roads are so aesthetically pleasing, with the charred wood and cobblestones and paper lanterns. I had joked around with Mum and Ted, and said that despite being in Gion many times, I had only ever seen very fleeting glimpses of geiko (Kyoto geisha) and maiko (geiko in training). However, tonight was to be a lucky night for us. Kyoto was very quiet, in the summer humidity, and perhaps because of the G20 and many dignitaries being in town, there were geiko and maiko walking the streets, unhurried and very natural. We saw seven, in total and I was very surprised. It was pretty special to be able to see this with Mum and Ted.
We then revisited a bar in Ponto-cho that we had found in March last year. A little Japanese gin bar, with a very funny bartender. Super Sake Boy wrote a super blog about that experience. You can read about that here. We tried a selection of Japanese gin, Kozue, Kin-O-Bi and Wa Bi Gin. Teddy had a beer… I really love the Wa Bi Gin, it is a shochu based gin, and it has a really interesting flavour. I thanked the bartender for looking after us the previous year, and we had a bit of a laugh, especially about Super Sake Boy’s Japanese nickname. Mum and Teddie had had enough by this stage. It was late, had been a big day, and Teddie had done a lot of walking. We popped them into a taxi and sent them home…. We continued our adventure, to the sake bar…..