Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kyoto, Japan...The Asian Sensation!

Danny and I were lucky enough to have a long weekend, so what did we do?  We were OFF TO JAPAN!  I honestly didn't think I cared to go to Japan, but in the end I'm soo glad we went.  Danny and I say that Japan is what Korea "should be".  Now before I offend anybody, I'm not saying that Korea is bad, I LOVE KOREA, actually!  But what I am saying is that Japan really has the tourism/smell/trash thing working for them.. i.e. the the tourism industry is down to a science, the streets aren't covered in litter, there aren't garbage "drop offs" wherever you walk, and the markets (even in the fish section) don't smell like rotting fish!  It's awesome!  The only thing I missed was that Koreans are more friendly to Westerners than the Japanese... nobody called us handsome or beautiful once! ; )

Danny and I started our Japanese adventure in Kyoto, which is the "cultural" mecca of Japan.  It is such a beautiful city filled with mysterious looking tea houses, quaint cobblestone streets, and tons of great food!  It is also one of the places that you can go to see geisha's, and as Danny liked to call it, I was on a "Geisha Hunt" the whole time we were there.  I saw a lot of japanese women in kimonos, but I only saw ONE geisha as she got into the taxi.  I was pretty excited to see her with the painted white face and red lips and I was just amazed that is still apart of their culture... apparently there is less than 1,000 geisha's left in all of Japan and they can be paid up to $3,000 for a night of singing and dancing!

Danny and I loved Kyoto because you could easily get around it by bicycle, and thanks to our awesome hostel, Sakura House, we rented bikes for the day for only about $10. 

Kyoto has lots to see by bicycle.  We started our trip riding by the river that runs through Kyoto.  All along the river there are beautiful restuarants that are bustling at night, and people are everywhere exercising and enjoying the outdoors during the day.
Man feeding the ducks along the river.

This scene seems very "Japan" to me.

After about a 15 minute ride from our hostel we went through downtown Kyoto on our way to Nijo Castle.  The downtown is one of the best shopping areas I have seen and has a huge indoor/outdoor mall filled with tons of crazy shops.  We found high fashion stores as well as trendy and vintage stores selling old American Tshirts... we even saw an Air Force Academy shirt and a Fort Collins Bank shirt!  Koreans basically dress all alike so it was fun to see unique styles for a change.

Kyoto's downtown shopping district.

I loved all the different fabrics at a kimono store.

One sight we saw while we were downtown that we were shocked to see was that people actually lined up for the bus in Japan.  Koreans sort of go for the mob/group mentality and push their way into a bus or subway, but the Japanese have more of a refined way about it.  I think that going to Japan would be interesting for anyone, but Danny and I especially enjoyed comparing how different Asian cultures can be coming from Korea.  I thought that Asia was all pretty similar when I was younger, but I am now seeing how each country is unique in their own way.

After downtown, we headed to Nijo Castle.  Danny and I heard that castle in Japan are beautiful and we weren't disappointed.  They were exactly as I imagined them full of paper paneled windows, bamboo mats and old wooden floors.  I was especially interested in the floors because they called them "nightengale floors" because they chirped when you walked on them.  This was to alert the residence of the castle if there were any ninja intruders.  Obviously we didn't make a sound as we walked on the floors seeing that Danny and I have awesome ninja skills ; )

I have gotten used to taking off my shoes wherever I go in Korea, and the Japanese also go by the same rule of thumb.  Thankfully they are again a little more organized and have everyone remember where their shoes are by number!

The grounds of Nijo Castle were especially beautiful and were exactly as I would imagine a Japanese garden to be!

Students touring the castle.
Probably my favorite thing that we saw during our time in Kyoto was seeing the Fushimi Inari Shrine just outside of main Kyoto.  This shrine is one of the most famous sites in Japan and it is really amazing to see.  This shrine is filled with thousands of orange gates that you walk through, and the colors in contrast to the beautiful forest around is just awesome.  You can tell that there are some older and more faded gates as you walk through, so I was amazed to see a man who was painting some of them.  Being that there are thousands of these gates, I imagine that your job might never be finished, but at least it's simple with only two colors!

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Another place that Danny and I really enjoyed was the Kiomizudera Temple.  This temple was only about 5 minutes from our hostel, and had a great view of the whole city.

People fetching water from a temple fountain.

A monk asking for donations.

One of the last highlights of our time in Kyoto was the Golden Pavilion... a Japanese temple covered in 14K gold.  Although the pavillion was really cool to see, the reason it was great was meeting Mr. Kobayashi.  Danny and I were riding the bus to the Golden Pavillion when a old Japanese guy got on the bus and sat behind us.  He started up a conversation with us, and then after a little while, he asked if he could join us on our sight seeing tour. 

Even the entrance tickets are beautiful in Japan!

Danny and I accepted were laughing about the situation that we find ourselves in.  We wondered what Mr. Kobayashi's plans were for that day, or if he always just rides around on buses hoping to meet foreigners to tag along with : )  He ended up being a really great guy to talk to... we learned asked him all kinds of questions about Japanese culture and history, and even though we offered to pay for his ticket because he was our "tour guide", he ended up being the one who bought us tickets, got us a Japanese souvenir, and took us out to coffee afterwards!

He was such a nice guy, and really made me realize how connected we all are if we just reach out to people.  Mr. Kobayashi said that when he came to America, people were so nice to him that he just wanted to return the favor in a way, so I only hope that I can meet a Japanese tourist on the streets of Colorado and show them the same kindness! 

Danny and I having coffe with Mr. Kobayashi.

Overall, Kyoto was a fantastic place to visit and now one of my favorite Asian cities.  Women walking around in beautiful kimonos, people drinking tea, and the sun setting over the ancient temple really made us feel like we got to experience Japan and we loved every minute of it! 

In the next post, I will tell you more about things we loved about Japan in our time in Osaka, especially the fashion, so stay tuned!

Another "mysterious" tea house.

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