Ah, the art of writing blogs while on travels. You always promise big things only to be confronted with the dilemma to either spend your time writing about your experiences, or actually ‘experiencing’ what you came here for – And yes, I err on the side of experiencing the adventure.
So as I write this, we are travelling back on the train from Kinosaki to Kyoto, and then on to Tokyo for our last night in Japan. Yesterday we took the train from Kyoto into Kinosaki for a night (and morning) to rejuvenate in the natural ‘onsen’ spas of Kinosaki. I’ll dedicate a separate entry on this in the future, but to net it out, Kinosaki is an ‘Onsen Town’ so to speak – A small seaside village (famous for fresh snow crab as well as regional Tajima beef… which is the cattle that the prized Kobe beef sources from)… and yes, it ‘is’ that good – seriously.
As an old home brewer we stayed at a Ryokan, Yamamotoya, that managed their own brewery. While the stay was great – the beer was on par with my 5th month of homebrewing – very sophomoric attempt at a micro brew – but refreshing break from the Japanese lager homogeny.
Kinosaki as a onsen town has 7 public baths that operate within walking distance of one another (and the selection of Ryokans). When you stay at one of the Ryokans, you are entitled to unlimited free visits to all of the baths in the town, as well as the one in your own Ryokan. As we got in at around 3pm we hit 2 before the kaiseki dinner and then went out again at 9 or so for another two. After breakfast we caught another – and I have to admit that I’m pretty darn relaxed on this train ride back home.
Since I missed writing for the past few days I ‘ll try and summarize the past few days after the wedding. (we do have 4+ hours here)
I was not very sure what to expect in Kyoto – To this point in time, I had only ever been in Tokyo and that in itself is a pretty overwhelming experience. We had originally planned on staying in Osaka (Japan’s 2nd largest city after Tokyo) and taking day trips to Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and other cities/towns around the Kyoto prefecture. After strong suggestion from my Japanese friends (THANK YOU) I decided to plunk down the $ to stay in Kyoto for 3 nights. While I’m not sure that the expenses were justified (just look up what it costs for a night at the Seikoro Inn during fall foliage and you will feel my pain) I’d recommend first timers to Kyoto to take a few days at a high end Ryokan and splurge.
I’ll have to dedicate a full section on the Ryokan experience as I can not do it justice as a part of this post. Do be prepared for some serious seafood – regardless if it it is baby fish, fermented fish or of course, …sushi.
When you first arrive into Kyoto through the main train/bus station – you get the feeling that you might have messed up, as thing look just as chaotic as Tokyo – and you get the view of ‘any city’ Japan. But as the Lonely Planet guide that we were following so correctly stated –there are magic pocket of old Japan, that once you find – will transform your experience completely. (Note – one of the better guidebooks I’ve read… the Kyoto one is spot on)
While there were a few temples and sights that were under construction, the vast majority of sights were open and augmented by the perfect timing of mid-November fall foliage. Highlights and ‘must visits’ are:
The Higashiyama District – Preserved ‘Old Kyoto’ streets:
Fushimi Inari Shrine – Shinto Shrine with thousands of Vermillion collared Tori gates:… (we attempted to walk all up the mountain, yet would have taken all day)
Tōfuku-ji – Zen Buddhist Temple – one of the ‘five great Zen temples of Kyoto’:
Ginkaku-ji – Temple of the Silver Pavilion (Zen Buddhism):
Outside of the overwhelming kaiseki dinners hosted at the Ryokan, we fell in love with Okonomiyaki – a unique Japanese pancake/omelet/crepe packed and topped with an insane assortment of ingredients from noodles to mashed potatoes,… from bacon to dried shrimp – and most of the time, all of the above and more. If you ever have the chance to try this while in Japan (or wherever you can find it) you will be rewarded. (we ate this at least 3 times)
Closing out our time in Kyoto, my wife plotted a course through the Gion district (a night walk, so to speak) – This walk and area gained much prominence from the book/movie, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and for a period of time was discouraged by the government (even after promoting it) due to the number of tourists that flocked to Gion. The net of it was that tourists were running around with cameras looking to take pictures of a Geisha, walking to work at night.
On our walk, there were very few (if any) tourists as we snuck through the dark alleyways off of the beaten path, and I have to say that we were fortunate enough to spot a Geisha in full regalia quickly getting out of an unmarked car, dashing up the stairs to an appointment. Unfortunately no pictures – have to take our word for it.
In summary – minus the earthquake, this has been an outright amazing experience to date – sad to see it coming to a close.