Arrival in Kyoto

Early this morning I left Sawanoya and Tokyo altogether -for good, because I’m not departing from there to get back to France. I was certainly a bit sad to leave Sawanoya, because it was such a nice place to stay, but I was also more than ready to move on. I saw so many different places in Tokyo that I feel satisfied of my visit.

I took the shinkansen to Kyoto. As I had been told to expect, travelling by shinkansen is quiet, it’s fast, there’s lots of room for your legs and your bags, it’s scrupulously punctual, it doesn’t shake or sway… The only disappointment was to find that I had been given an aisle ticket. Egads!

After I arrived in the gigantic Kyoto Station, the hardest part was to make the transfer to the subway -there were literally entire classrooms of children sitting on the hallways. From there, getting to Hotel Sugicho was very straightforward. The place itself looks fairly old, but it’s well kept, my room is enormous, and not just by Japanese standards, it has ensuite bathroom and shower, Internet (by LAN) in the room…

Once I had unpacked, plugged the computer in, written the entry about last night, etc., I took a while to check my guidebook and the two or three different maps they gave me at the Tourist Office, and I discovered that the hotel is two blocks away from Teramachi, the first in a series of interconnected arcades that make up the city centre’s shopping course.

I went there to spend the time I had until I met Liza. It was full of activity, lots of shops, a very nice place to visit. There are some amazing shops interspersed here and there between the more touristy, mass-produced stuff: fans, washi (traditional Japanese stationery), fabrics of all shapes and sizes… I so need to come back before I leave.

I then went back to the hotel to meet up with Liza, and we quickly embarked on a perfect Introduction to Kyoto walk. We began walking a little bit around the commercial district, which in Kyoto is based on the crossing between Shijo and Kawaramachi, with all the big name boutiques but also high-end local crafts. We went to have dinner at Katsukura, a tonkatsu place that is To. Die. For. So delicious! They serve the meat, cabbage and rice separately, then give you a little bowl of sesame seeds to crush to your liking, and then mix it with the sauce to taste. I also tried “chawanmushi” for the first time, which Liza described as “egg custard”. It’s this thoroughly strange thing that once cooled has the consistency of a flan, but it actually tastes like broth -and it has mushrooms or vegetables inside. I wasn’t sold on the texture -but it was certainly very flavourful…

After dinner, we got a quick taste of Old Kyoto by crossing the river to the East, where Gion is, the old geisha district. The atmosphere here changes almost immediately; here the streets are narrow and the buildings are more traditional Japanese. Everybody was out and about, it being Saturday night (and many were already three sheets to the wind at 9PM -ah, the memories of London). Liza illustrated the history of the quarter by pointing out the remaining landmarks. Most of the geisha tea houses have given way to restaurants and bars, but we still crossed two or three maiko along the way. Some of the streets are so narrow that the roofs almost touch each other.

It’s very warm in Kyoto these days, so at night it was the perfect temperature to walk around. Tonight’s overview of the city was the perfect presentation to my visit. Now -I need to do my homework on what to see tomorrow!

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