I had really been looking forward to Kyoto, not just after reading Memoirs of a Geisha, but because I knew that it was a slower-paced, more traditional area and our hostel was located in Gion, which still has some Geisha (though they’re called Maiko in Kyoto) living there.
As Kyoto wasn’t very far from Osaka, we didn’t leave for Kyoto until the afternoon. When we arrived, we had a new challenge – buses! Fortunately, the hostel provided clear instructions so we made it without much trouble. The main difficulty we had was the fact that we both had rucksacks in our backs and smaller ones in our fronts and it was a busy bus! We finally got seats but this was more trouble than it was worth really as our bags got us wedged in!
Anywho, once we’d arrived at our hostel and checked in, we were delighted to see our rooms – the words deluxe ten bed dormitory don’t usually inspire a lot of joy but this hostel did everything right! After that excitement had passed, we went for a walk to our entertainment for the evening, a samurai show! When we arrived at Samurai Kembo, we realised that we were the only ones there and subsequently had our own private performance! There was a bit of audience participation which was slightly awkward as there were just two of us…but the performers, to their credit, didn’t let it hinder their efforts and it was a brilliant (though very intense) show! We learned a lot about the history of samurai and watched lots of different mini performances, which told different tales. The performers let us pose for photos with them afterwards too!
We really fancied ramen for dinner and found a tiny little place just down the road from our hostel. It was pretty basic and the shop only really sold ramen (plus rice and gyoza on the side if you wanted) but it was very busy and the food was absolutely delicious and so, so cheap! A huge bowl of ramen, side of rice and side of gyoza cost ¥900, about £4.80!
The next day, we were up and out pretty early to see some of the sights of Kyoto. We had a wander around Gion which was lovely and we even saw a Maiko walking around, though it was difficult to spot them as a popular thing to do in Kyoto is to hire a kimono for the day and have your hair and makeup done…and we didn’t have a chance to take a photo.
Just after lunch, we went for a traditional tea ceremony. It was really interesting to learn about and experience the ceremony – a lot of effort goes into making the tea and each cup is prepared individually. As the tea (matcha) can be very bitter, shortly before you are handed your bowl of tea, the hostess asks you to eat a small sweet, this allows you to enjoy the tea properly and makes it more pleasant to taste. It was an absolutely fascinating experience and really interesting to hear more about the tea ceremony tradition and also have a go at making the tea ourselves!
After the tea ceremony, we made our way to the north of Kyoto for a cookery class with a lady called Emi. We were recommended this particular course by one of Alex’s colleagues and it was amazing! Emi is a lovely, kindly grandmother type who welcomes you into her home and teaches you how to cook traditional Japanese dishes in her kitchen. She reminded me of a Japanese Julia Childs at times, she was enchanting! We started by making a sesame spinach salad, then made steamed lotus root with yellowtail and vegetables, then wagyu beef rolls, with mini mochi balls and matcha icecream to finish.
It was all absolutely delicious! Emi was so lovely and giggly and she made us feel right at home. I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes! I think a trip to the Japan store in Shaftesbury Avenue is in order when I get home!
The next day we were heading back to Tokyo but in the morning, we went shopping! Kyoto is a green tea/matcha hub so I was in my element! I bought myself a matcha kit (bowl, bamboo whisk, scoop and of course, matcha powder!) among various other souvenirs.
We caught the train to Tokyo later that afternoon.
Laura and Alex