August 28-29, 2002
Now I'm looking for old Japan. Kyoto would be the place for that, though I've heard how other foreign people have been disappointed. Where are the samurai sword slingers, leaping ninjas, fanning geisha girls imposed of the backdrop of wooden temples and bamboo? This is a very modern town :(
And so it is from nearly all approaches. The train station looks as though from the Jetson's age with glass and steel escalators leading up and to the sky. It's actually all-open on the top, another poetic idea that this building fades into the sky and doesn't really end. It's a work of modern art. Along with the tower nearby designed to look like a giant candlestick.
Down the old winding streets, I was in the sought for element. Bamboo rain gutters, rough wooden frames with inside paper-thin walls. There's even meiko/geiko and geisha hidden away, though I missed getting a glance at them as the time and place was missed during our dinner and bar visit apparently. Now things were only getting better. We were here being hosted by Ritsuko's dentist friends, being treated to a top hotel, restaurants and a very exclusive bar. At the bar, they were interested in my view of Japan and Kyoto. Knowing my disappointment in missing meeting a samurai or geisha, they gave me a special treat: a fan from a real geisha! They use these as some sort of advertisement or souvenir. Geisha are quite misunderstood, particularly by Westerners, and only barely still exist in Kyoto. They are not ladies of the night, but of the evening. Not prostitutes, but skilled conversationalists on many topics and great secret keepers. They often live off one very wealthy client as well. After the bar, we went to "a drinking street" as it was described. Here were the hostesses. Very pretty girls that you can talk to in a bar or sing karaoke with all at a very high price. Women need not feel this is a place just for wealthy business men. There are clubs with pretty boys at front for wealthy women just the same.
Shrines and temples are scattered through out the modern city and some grand ones on the outer edge also. We did the tourist circuit through some of them. Photogenic Kinkakuji, aka the golden temple, is actually covered in real gold! There was a "silver temple" that was created by an ancestor of the Kinkakuji, but he ran out of money before he could silver plate it, so it stands today just as the wooden base.
More great food from our hosts and time to play with one of our friend's pet Aibo robots (they have 6 personal entertainment robots at home and know I have a special interest as another 'pet' project). Other pictures below: washing hands before going to a temple, prayers and wishes written on paper, uniformed girls training to be tour guides...
At the water shrine where the three different waters are supposed to have healing powers, I noticed some graves on the hillside with bibs on them. This was a burial place for babies and young children. Further down the hill was the adult cemetery.
"People work in Osaka. They live in Kobe. They come to Kyoto to play," our Japanese host, Beisho-san explains. Thanks to him and the Mizu-no-sans for making Kyoto a place that didn't disappoint me even though I didn't meet a samarai warrior. (I did, by-the-way, learn of a "ninja school" elsewhere in Japan)