Japan trip, day 11 – Kyoto sightseeing and beer

Saturday was a day for sightseeing in Kyoto. I’d already seen plenty of temples in Koyasan, so I got up and caught a local train from Kyoto station to Arashiyama – just a 15 minute train ride. It’s an area in Western Kyoto that seems to be a popular tourist destination as when I got there, the streets were mobbed with day-trippers.

With the sun shining, I paid 500 yen to walk through Tenryu-ji Temple’s gardens which have been designated a “Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan”.

After wandering through the gardens, I found my way to what I’d wanted to see in particular – the area’s bamboo groves.

They were as spectacular as I’d hoped – just hundreds of bamboo trees with a path in between them. It felt really peaceful (despite the tourists) just to be walking between them, and it was picturesque too. I’m not sure if photos I took do it justice to be honest, which is frustrating.

I was surprised to see lots of women – and some men – walking around in kimonos – I’d seen some on the streets in Kyoto as well. I’m not sure whether it’s just a weekend thing, but I hadn’t noticed them during the week. It wasn’t just elderly people either, quite a lot of young people were wearing them.

After walking through the forest (which only takes about five minutes), I headed back in to the main street in the area which was filled with cafes (my Mum would have loved that street!) including one where a slightly creepy yet very friendly Japanese clown was playing a hurdy-gurdy which saw “When the Saints Go Marching In” fill the air. I didn’t go in.

I did pick up a souvenir for my niece and nephew though – a bib for Hamish and a bunny towel for Cecilia – I got their names in Japanese embroidered on them, which I thought would be a nice thing for them to keep. I strolled down the thronging street, and picked up a couple of chopstick rests and a tacky present for my sister Ailsa who’d be arriving in a couple of days, and walked on to the Togetsukyo Bridge before heading back to the station.

The train back to Kyoto Station was absolutely heaving – I mean there was no room to breathe. And at every stop on the way back, more people were jamming in! It wasn’t particularly pleasant in the heat!

I’d discovered a cool looking cafe online, so headed there for lunch – Cafe Bibliotic Hello! It seemed to be in a designer part of Kyoto filled with small interesting interior design shops and lots of hairdressers. The shelves were filled with design and cookery books, and it was just a really lovely chilled out spot. With a menu in English too, which was good! I opted for a herbed chicken toasted sandwich and a mocha shake which was delicious.

Then I headed to the older part of Kyoto, an area I hadn’t yet had time to get to. Called Gion, it’s full of traditional merchant houses and also home to some of Kyoto’s most exclusive – and expensive – restaurants, where geisha entertain.

I walked past one modern building in the area, and there was a small crowd gathered – all clicking as a geisha left the building. I think it might have been a geisha school or something. Again this area was pretty busy with tourists, but turning a corner, I found myself in quiet streets where it seemed I’d found the really traditional Kyoto. I spotted a Geisha speaking to someone on the doorstep of a restaurant and grabbed a photograph.

Heading back to my hotel, the sky was dark but bright, so I took the opportunity to get some photographs.

That one’s blurred but I like the light streaks anyway. Once back at the hotel, it was time for a shower before I met Ben and his Mum from Australia – who had been on my cookery class. Ben was a saxophonist, so I arranged to meet them in a tiny jazz bar called Hello Dolly, which was situated down a tiny street in Kyoto’s nightlife area. We sat in a room through the back of the small and narrow bar, and I ordered an Asahi as the drummer, pianist and double bassist (?) started to play. I don’t know anything about jazz, and won’t pretend to, but I could tell they were really accomplished musicians. Then, a female singer joined them – she sang in English without any trace of an accent, and had a voice that was honestly like chocolate. If that makes sense.

After about five or six songs, it was time for the next sitting of people to come in, so we headed up the street. After a knockback at the first bar (we suspect they didn’t welcome Westerners), we headed up a flight of stairs to a random bar where the beer was local and the staff and customers friendly.

We sat at the bar and had a good old chat as I knocked back two beers and began to feel the effects ever so slightly! A sure sign I was a bit tipsy was that I had my photograph taken with the staff – and the barmaid was gorgeous!

It was about 11 by now, so we walked back to our respective hotels. I had to move on to Tokyo tomorrow, and Ben and his Mum were headed back to Australia. It was a good night, and I was glad to have had a bit of a night out and some company – and not get completely wasted! Oh, and seeing as I hadn’t had dinner, I did finally manage to get hold of a 7-11 tonkatsu sandwich.