Kyoto, or the Old Capital, was almost the reason Laura and I went to Japan. There are other places that I’d like to see, like Okinawa, Hokaido, and Tokyo, but on the real: Kyoto is the place to visit. It’s a land of one thousand temples, foods beyond imagination, mountains and rivers, bamboo forests, and mystery around every corner. If you’d like to spend your days in a department store, you can. If you want to stroll through hundreds of Shinto shrines, you can. Possibly overdo it on food every thirty feet? That’s also in the cards in Kyoto. It really was a land of happiness and secrecy.
See, Kyoto was not only our culinary peak and temple heaven of the trip, but also the origins and residence of geishas. Yes, geishas still exist in a large way. And Laura wanted to see one with a fiery passion, so Kyoto was an obvious choice to fulfill all of our requirements for this trip.
Arriving in the Kyoto Train Station for the better half of two and a half days, Laura and I wanted to see and do everything possible. After a brief walk through the south end of town, we arrived at our hostel, which was welcoming and full of internet access if we wanted to take leave of our borrowed French guidebook. We actually chose to stay with the Western European friend, and trudge on. We tried planning two days of intense sight seeing and food indulging, which turned into a legitimate workout, and culinary delight.
Setting out from almost the middle of the city, we headed East, across the river and into the mountains where temples sat upon palaces and the winding roads served as a reminder that it wasn’t always true that large trucks could deliver endless amounts of food and commodities to large numbers of people. They also served as reminders that maybe, just maybe, life could be better off if it were slower and the intricacies of architecture could be appreciated for their hard work.
The first half of the day really was dedicated to being in the presence of amazing temples and monuments to years past scattered about with modern day souvenir shops. Above the Gion District we romped and frolicked and found people dressed in kimonos and wondered where we could try one on. We drank from holy waters and thought about dinners and lunches and where we might go.
I, the lucky one that I am, was cleaning my lens of my camera as Laura gasped and yelled toward me. I didn’t listen, because it was just that important to clean my lens. What was she yelling about? Two geishas in full regalia on their way past us. She didn’t take their picture because she was too shy, so I have absolutely no evidence that I was in the presence of geishas, that ancient tradition. But believe me. Have I lied before? Maybe. But this time, I swear!
That night we strolled along the philosopher’s walkway – a small road cut in half by an ambling stream and overlain with drooping trees, through Pontocho Street on our way to a soba noodle place that was just all the rave in the guidebook and in my friend’s “have to do” list.
Soba is a noodle that is generally served cold, alone on a slotted plate with a sauce off to the side in which you dip the noodles to really distribute the umani and savory flavors present in the soy sauce, the buckwheat noodles, and the pickled onions. On the side there were tempura=style vegetables to enhance the rich flavors being presented to us in beautiful black and red dishes. The whole meal gave almost no hints of sweet, but balanced well on our palates. It was cute, because in the back of the English menu, there was a how-to guide as to eating soba.
Generally I don’t enjoy cold noodles, unless they are egg noodles served with ketchup, salt and I’m five, but these were delicate, hearty, and satisfying in all ways. Laura, ever so conscious of space’s demand in Japan, wanted to get in and out of the restaurant, so we dined with speed, and headed on our way into the night, to revel in the fact that we were exactly where we wanted to be.