Japan – Kyoto

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Christi at Seikoro Inn with Kiku

We took the train from Kanazawa to Kyoto and checked into the Seikoro Inn, a ryokan in eastern Kyoto a little bit south of the Gion geisha district. A ryokan is a traditional inn similar to the family-run minshuku we stayed at on Hachijo-jima but larger, with meals served in our room instead of in a shared dining room. We met a lovely young woman named Kiku who was assigned as our personal room attendant. She spoke good English and was so helpful to us, giving us advice on getting around town on the bus, bringing us our meals and tea, rolling out the sleeping futons on our tatami mat floor each night and putting everything away each morning

Kyoto is a fairly large city, but it still retains many of the old temples, shrines and gardens that deliver on tourists’ (and locals’) expectations of Japanese culture. It is considered the hub of religion in Japan, with more Buddhist and Shinto places of worship than anywhere else.

Christi in Kyoto's Gion District

We strolled along the Kamogawa, a shallow river that separates the central city from Eastern Kyoto, towards the Gion district strung with red lanterns. Crowds of tourists were there hoping to catch a glimpse of a geisha, and happily, we spied several of them dressed in ornate kimonos hurrying along the narrow side streets en route to their appointments.

We had dinner at a traditional-style restaurant (meaning, we had to sit on the floor, shifting frequently to keep blood circulating in our legs — one of many such occasions throughout the trip — and then took in a variety show at the Gion Corner performing arts center.

Gion Corner kyogen performance

The program included Kyogen (ancient comic plays used as an interlude in Noh theatre), Bunraku (puppetry), Kyoto-style dance called Kyomai performed by geishas or their trainees (above), the maiko, two ladies playing the koto (a large, 13-stringed instrument that produces lovely sounds), and some traditional court music accompanied by high-pitched singing that was slightly more harmonious than fingernails on a chalkboard.

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