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KYO (Capital) TO (City)


sunny 26 °C
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After taking such a liking to Osaka we stayed for much of the next day to enjoy the city before taking another bullet train to Kyoto. A 30 minute journey saw us arrive at the former Japanese capital city early evening ready to explore. Our hotel is funny, all 80s glamour a la Dynasty basically, which is a good opener to Kyoto as it has a distinctly kitch feel to many parts of the city.

Day 1 in Kyoto we enjoyed a tour of the city. Having learned our lesson about early starts, we met our guide for the day (Kaz) at 10am, ready for a day of sightseeing. Another lovely Japanese lady like our first guide, Kaz has six grandchildren so a total pro with Ollie.

Unlike other cities, Kyoto is more about buses than the subway (there are only two lines N to S and E to W rather than a whole network). Because its the ancient centre, Kaz said digging metro tunnels involved all manner of checks to avoid damaging buried relics, so they just stick with the buses. So, first bus stop took us to Nijo Castle, a huge Shogun palace set inside a moat with beautiful gardens. This was a kung-fu film fans paradise! Shoes off as usual, we took the walk around the castle, so much to learn; first off, creaking floorboards. Not accidental we learn, this is Nightingale Floor, created to squeak when walked over to alert the resident ninjas to intruders. Next we learn why Samurai ninjas carry two swords, one long, one short; long for fighting, short for suicide (hari kiri) should it go that way! Visiting Samurai would have to leave their long swords at the entrance, and wear extra long trousers (not kidding) to make it harder for them to pick a fight with the Shogun or his ninjas. And so on and so on, hidden doors with backup ninjas behind them, symbolic wall murals (pine trees to show Shogun strength in visitors waiting room), Concubines, tea ceremony, who sits where (raised floor levels key here!) and ornamental gardens……a pretty impressive place, all in immaculate condition.

Next on to the Golden Temple, also formerly under Shogun ownership, now open to all. The central feature is a three story temple next to a small lake. Its literally covered in gold and the three tiers were set up for different classes of visitor with the top being for visiting Buddhist monks. Subtle it is not, see photo! There are lots of other gardens on the site too, as we expect now they all have heavy symbolism in their execution, not much happens without careful thought it seems here in Japan.

To bring us back to the future, we head to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant for lunch, Ollie has been looking forward to this!! Every dish is 80p and you feed your dishes into a plate post box at your table, to calculate your bill. Every five plates sets off a video game on a screen hovering over your table and alas despite three rounds, we didn’t win a cheap toy (much to Ollie’s disappointment!). If you order off-converter belt from the on-screen menu, your dish speeds towards you on a second conveyor belt, which Kaz calls the sushi bullet rain (she’s very lovely). Oh and the sushi is really good too!

Fuelled up we take another bus to the last spot for the day, a meditation rock garden, made popular by none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself who visited and was very complimentary; after which Japanese tourists started visiting. Nice work Liz. We’ve included a photo from the bus journey which was quite sweet. It’s school trip season so there are lots of teens in Kyoto, and a group on the bus were keen to practice their English with us. They are quite shy on the whole so Ollie did most of the talking, asking them if they’d seen pretty much every film he’s every seen much to their amusement. The rock garden was lovely, walled in a courtyard style next to a temple building. It was a little wasted on us (tricky to meditate with three yr old in tow) but as usual set in beautiful gardens with a fountain we especially liked, see photo. Exhausted and with brains full of new things, we return to our hotel via a bus and the subway, saying goodbye to Kaz who has given us a brilliant day. Picnic tea in our room and sleep.

After an indulgent tour day, we get back to basics; three loads of laundry at the coin-op launderette near our hotel in Kyoto!! Being away for nearly four months means basic clothes and washing at least once a week so when we’re not self-catering that equals launderette. Whilst the washing is on we relax in a nearby square, snacking and watching an open-air school music performance. The kids are really good, playing a mix of Jazz faves and a little rock band section, cute-central actually. Leaving Ollie and Scott having lunch, I walk back to launderette to switch loads from washer to dryer and crossing the road see mountains in the distance, smart tower blocks in the foreground. And I have a little moment of “this is pretty mad, I’m crossing a road in Kyoto, Japan. We’re all the way round the world. This is amazing”….then I carry on ready to sort pants and socks.

Chores done we’re off to check the other side of Kyoto to temples, gardens and castles; downtown Gion. This is lots of fun. More crazy Japan i.e. shopping malls (where we buy a new camera, thank goodness) and neon lights everywhere. We stop for dinner at a restaurant that is similar in style to our hotel, but a few decades earlier, its all fifties glamour, leather booths and lounge chairs, with a menu to match (glace cherries on ALL desserts)!! We walk after dinner through tiny more peaceful streets, lined with two-storey traditional buildings containing eateries, tea houses and locals. Sadly we don't see any real Geisha, but lots of people in kimonos which is quite endearing. This part of Kyoto reminds us of the old town in Nice, France, so we like it even more! Back to the hotel for sleep before tomorrow's last train, back to Tokyo.

On our final day in Japan we have a last run around town, Tower Records, toy shop (again) and home to pack for our next (and possibly most testing leg) - China.

In summary Japan has been everything that we'd hoped for plus a lot more, we have truely loved every moment - friendly and welcoming people, rich heritage and history, great food and culture - all encapsultaed within a crazy-futuristic, yet safe and fun city....minds blown. 10 days scratched the surface just, but we will be back to explore more, that is certain.

Posted by Bakerfam 19:09 Archived in Japan Tagged #japan #bakertravels2014 #tokyo #kyoto

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Japan sounded brilliant - I am waiting with breath held to hear about China though... Can't wait for the next update.

Stay safe guys :-)

by Ross

The Japan leg of your trip seems to have been a truly wonderful experience. So much to take in, we can understand your desire to return one day.
It was lovely seeing you and talking on Skype this morning. After mentioning a few moments from your Chinese experience, we cannot wait to read the full report in the next blog.
Stay safe, travel well and make the most of lovely Fiji.
Much love,
Mum and Dad B xxx

by Mum and Dad Baker

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