SYNOPSIS:  About Geishas, Kyotites, temples and shrines (in the post script). 


Geisha for a day?  Probably not.   Kyotite for a day?  It seems to be a booming industry.

I finally figured out why there were so many kimonoed young girls who were tipping around in their wooden clogs and open slippers and were constantly photographing themselves.  They weren’t geishas or truly traditional women.  They were dressed-up Japanese tourists (I also saw one Western girl).  For $30 per day plus tax, you can outfit yourself to look like a maiden from the Edo period.  And if your man goes along with it, you can put him into a Jukata and clogs, too.  And to leave nothing to be desired, these outfits exist in all sizes, as I spotted entire dressed-up families today.

This certainly makes for some colorful scenes, and the wearers of these outfits seemed to enjoy themselves.  I would have liked to try this, but not alone.  You need the right company to do this and you need somebody to take your picture at various spots — that is obviously the point of it all.  Where are you, Celibeth, when I need you?!

Instead, I did my temple round in my sweaty old clothes.  Kyoto has 1600 temples and 400 shrines, for Pete’s sake — where do you start?!

It took me two nights to fully map out the prime spots.  I circled about 30 possible spots.  Not that I necessarily will hit them all.  It’s more to know where not to go.  If there is a circle on my map I know at least that there is something that recommends this one over all the others and I might stop.  For some special places I will go out of my way and there are the obvious spots which everyone hits when only in Kyoto for a day or two — I will do those, of course.  For starters, I identified the world heritage sites — 17 in all.

Kyoto is a lot bigger than I had imagined it.  Realistically, and that is if I am out of the house by 8 AM and on my feet for 10 hours,  I can do four sites a day since I do not have a bus or taxi to take me straight from one to the next site.  I have to maneuver public transportation and add a lot of walking time.  And there is a festival coming up!  That is one of the reasons I am here, now.  One full day will go just walking around and hoping to catch a glimpse or two of the procession, the floats, the dancing, the music.

I started at the famous Gion District and managed six things today, two of which really were right next to two other.  About those in the post script.

Several streets in the Gion district are geisha quarters and lucky, who sees one!  I actually did, at 11 AM in the morning.  It was a bizarre thing and I am still not sure I know what I was looking at.  A Western man boarded one of those rickshaws with a Geisha at his arm.  I was quite a distance away, but I whipped up my camera and zoomed them in — too late!  The pull-man drew the shades and their faces disappeared — almost.  They came closer and I caught a glimpse of them again.  The Western man did not notice me, but the geisha did and smiled at me.  And when I looked at her for that brief moment as they were riding by, something did not seem right.  Was she a cross dresser?  Was this a man dressed up like a geisha?  I could have sworn she was.  (S)he actually smiled at me — check it out.  What do you think?  Man or woman?

I wonder if the Western man hired her for the day.  What if he was gay and dressed up his partner?  What a way to have a Japanese experience!  Wow.

Later, I ran into three more geishas.  They were definitely real.  They were quite gracious about all the attention and the camera snapping that occurred when they departed from a taxi and started to walk down a small alley.  One woman managed to line them up for a photo — I took one of the four of them since I was right there.  But they disbanded in seconds.  The most distinct feature of the geisha is the white facial makeup and the stark accentuation of brows and lips.  They were gorgeously dressed and their hair was immaculate.  That was around 2 PM.  I wonder where they went.  When I strolled up and down the tea house/restaurant lane in Gion later at night — the area where you are supposed to be if you want to spot a geisha, not a single one in sight.  Mostly they work inside these houses and you can have tea or food in one of their establishments.  Again, not exactly the kind of activity I would do as a budget traveler on my own.  For that, I have to live vicariously, and am grateful for having seen them at all.

I can tell, Kyoto will be hard work.  10 hours out, heat, and visual overload…

Perhaps, I should be grateful about my solitary confinement in Kamikatsura.  If there were any more stimulation or people after a day like this, I might explode.


Good night.


Post script on today’s temples and sites:

Yasaka Shrine — it will be the starting point of the upcoming festival.  Preparations were in full swing.  Lanterns were put up, banners strung.  The shrine is big and visually impressive.  There was a curious pagoda shape nearby which I could not place.  It had a phoenix on top.  Wish I knew what that was.

Kodaiji — 17th century temple founded by Kita-no Mandokoro in memory of her husband Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Nicely landscaped garden with an interesting memorial hall featuring intricate ceiling designs.

Entokuin — adjacent to Kodaiji and originally part of it.  Museum with lots of small-scale paintings of shoguns — quite nice!  Wish I had one.  Beautiful fusumas with paintings by Hasegawa Touhaku.  Most noted to two old gardens, one of which is a famous viewing garden designed by Kobori Enshuu.

Kanninji — Zen temple of huge proportions, the oldest Zen temple of Kyoto.  Home of the famous double screens depicting wind and thunder god on gold by Sotatsu.  Impressive garden as well that is based on the circle, square, and triangle motif.

Kiyumizudera  — touristy hot spot — voted one of the favorite places to visit for its veranda propped up on high posts.  Great views over Kyoto.  A miniature 3 tiered pagoda is part of the complex opposite the veranda.  To get there takes a bit of a walk.  Some of the temple is undergoing restoration — parts are covered, unfortunately.

Jishu Jinja — we would put something like this into Disneyland!  First, I thought the Easter bunny had gotten lost.  But it really is part of folklore in which it had to strip its skin (for lying or some other bad thing) and then had it restored by a kind fellow.  Now it somehow is involved in match-making.  This entire shrine is dedicated to love making, relationships, etc.  Lots of teenagers were spending a lot of money there on various charms and activities.  They were also having loads of fun, for example walking from one love stone to the other (10 yards away) blind-folded to have a good match (or a bad one), or having their troubles resolved by writing things on rice paper bunnies…  But all this in a shrine that takes itself seriously?!