Who ordered rain for today? It certainly wasn’t us. However, the day started with drizzle, and the forecast promised 90% chance of rain showers with possibly 2″ of rain. It was going to be a great day for photographs. Yeah, right.
We started off our day by grabbing a plain bagel (yes, bagel for $2.70 each) at a little boulangerie in the train station. We hopped on a bus, and headed to Kiyomizo-dera Temple. It was a steep hill climb up to the temple, but that wasn’t a big deal. The big deal was that it was class picture day for dozens of local schools. They come to the temple steps for a large school photo. There were hundreds of uniformed students of all ages everywhere we looked. How great is our timing?
The narrow road leading to the temple is lined with trinket, snack, and drink shops. Each shop was bustling with students wanting to spend their allowance. I’m sure the shop owners breathe a sigh of relief when the kids get on their buses.
As we reached the main temple steps, an older student asked if she could take our picture. We laughed, and agreed. Immediately, we had about 20 teens crowding into the shot with us. We were the tall Americans that came to see one of their sacred spots. It’s funny how even though we don’t speak the same language, we can share a laugh and a common respect for each other’s culture.
As the temple was extremely crowded with students, tour bus groups from China, and local tourists, we decided to head back down the hill. One of the snack shop clerks was offering free samples of a Japanese delicacy: Red bean candy. This treat looks like a small, thin green crepe filled with a dark, lumpy filling. The clerk barely spoke English, but he assured me that it was “good”. With trepidation, I took a tiny bite. To me, it was far from good. Maybe it was my taste buds. Maybe I’m missing something. I wanted to spit it out, but I swallowed the bite, and pitched the rest. Tony didn’t care for it either. Dakota wouldn’t try it, even with our coaxing.
We needed to rinse out the candy flavor, so we opted for Green Tea ice cream. After sharing a cone, we spotted a drink stand. This stand offered a variety of drinks that originated in Taiwan. What makes the fruit juice drinks unique, is that the bottom of the cup is layered in tapioca pearl balls. These black, marble sized balls, are slimy, chewy, and flavorless. We got the melon juice flavor, and shared. Interesting, sums it up. It is hard to chew your drink. I recently saw on a documentary that several of these tapioca pearl drink shops are opening in the US. Tony thinks they are too weird to become a trend. I’m still on the fence about them.
We walked down the hill, and caught a bus to Gion. This is the famous geisha district that was mentioned in the book Memoirs of a Geisha. Most of the geishas come out at night as they travel to their entertainment appointments. If you are extremely lucky, you will see one running errands during the day. Today, this area was full of camera toting tourists looking for a glimpse on the main road. We didn’t want any part of crowds.
We decided to walk through the narrow alleyways, away from the crowds. We walked around for about 30min. As we turned down a quiet alley, we spotted a geisha in full dress and make-up walking towards us. We were walking single file as the street was very narrow, and we didn’t have out our camera. I was the last in line, and as I passed the geisha, I smiled and she gave a shy smile back to me. It was like seeing morning sunshine on a delicate flower. I felt privileged to have been acknowledged by something so beautiful. Tony thinks that she was relieved that we tourists weren’t clammering for a photo of her. They are a lovely, and mysterious culture that doesn’t care to be photographed. After she walked past, our son took out our camera, and took her photo from the back. We all felt that we had been awarded a special glimpse that most tourists are never granted.
Later, we walked through the narrow side streets of Ponto-cho. This area is door to door sake bars and restaurants. I’m sure that it is magical at night all aglow with paper lanterns and exotic japanese sokyoku music playing in the background. Just like in Gion, you feel like whispering while walking down the narrow alleys during the day. Something in the atmosphere encourages you to keep quiet and enjoy the view around you.
At this point, the rain really started to come down (and I had lost my umbrella somewhere in Gion). We wondered over to Nishiki Marketplace. This is a covered market full of at least a hundred booths selling exotic, asian ingredients. Here you can find: fresh and dried seafood & fish, unusual fresh foods like rutabaga, persimmon, and quail eggs, fried foods like squid on a stick, fresh flowers, sake sets, silk, and incense. The sites and sounds are amazing, and I wish a had a few days to sketch the vendors, customers, and items for sale.
After walking the length of the market, Dakota found some colorful candy that tasted just like rock candy. He bought some to share with his friends back home. Tony found a booth selling Takoyaki (battered & fried octopus balls). As we had eaten soba noodles (which are delicious buckwheat noodles served hot or cold) when we first got to the market, Tony was too full to try them. We would try to come back tomorrow. I found a shop that roasted huge chestnuts. I had to sneak over for a free sample. They are nothing like roasted/canned chestnuts. These are hot, soft, and taste similar to a well done baked potato. Not bad tasting, but a bit strange.
On our way to the bus stop, we spotted another Chicago vintage/thrift store. As I’m a sucker for vintage, I had to check out their wares. Sure enough, I found another japanese jacket. This one was blue, and has a gorgeous scene of Mt. Fuji on it. It cost me $13, but it will be worn and loved for many years.
Today was a really busy day. I’ve tried 4 new foods today: red bean candy, tapioca pearl melon beverage, cold soba noodles & sauce, and roasted chestnut. Talk about an adventurous eating day!
We were all exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel for the night. Our hotel in Kyoto wasn’t the Hilton, but it offered a bed and shelter from the rain and humid temperature.