After Miyajima, we headed off to Kyoto. We spent about 4 days in Kyoto and half a day in Himeji.
Our first morning in Kyoto was spent trying to find a way to get to Himeji as there had been an earthquake early in the morning. Some train lines were suspended. We felt the earthquake while asleep in bed! The building we were in was shaking! We didn’t know it was an earthquake then as we were so tired and went back to bed!! It was only later in the morning when I received a message from my Japanese friend that I found out it was really an earthquake!
Luckily the lines started running again within a few hours so we were able to go to Himeji to meet my friends. I stayed with them when I was an exchange student at Himeji Uni in 1999!! We didn’t visit Himeji Castle this time as it is under restoration until March 2015. We walked around Himeji city center and did some souvenir shopping.
I really like Kyoto. Not just because I can say Ookini all the time (Thank you in Kansai dialect but also because there are so many wonderful things to see. Like the Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Heian Shrine and Geishas and Maiko in Gion.
Speaking of Geisha and Maiko, I realised that you could now pay and dress up as one and walk around the Kiyomizu Temple area!! I was very excited when I saw some ‘Maiko’ but then realised that they just tourists playing dress up! Tsk! But I got some nice photos though.
I was also very lucky to see some real Geisha and Maiko in Gion. We were just walking along, minding our business, when out of an orange coloured sky, flash! bam! alakazam! Wonderful geisha came by! (Did you see what I was doing there? haha!) Then I heard snap! snap! snap! I turned around and saw a few Japanese men with large lenses snapping away! Some of them even presented photos they have taken of the Geisha to her. I took some pictures too and thought they must be “Geisha Spotting”. It was only after I posted the pictures on facebook that I realised they were famous!
We also enjoyed eating in Kyoto. We discovered Musashi sushi located at the basement of Kyoto Station. (It is opposite Macdonald’s ). 136 yen for each plate of sushi! We had 34 plates between the two of us!
We also had some awesome shoyu ramen at Dai-ichi Asahi Ramen near Kyoto station. We had to queue up every time we were there as it is so popular. The service was quick but jovial. Every time a customer leaves, they would all say “OOKINI!!” which means thank you in Kansai dialect. They open from 5am to 2am! Yes! 5 AM to 2 AM! On their website they put the opening hours as 05:00 to 26:00!! haha! You can even order the ramen online. They only deliver in Japan of course!
We also discovered Ichiran Ramen in Kyoto. Unlike Dai-ichi Asahi, they are a big chain with shops all over the country and they serve tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen. I love tonkotsu ramen! The atmosphere in Ichiran is also very different from that in Dai-ichi Asahi. Firstly, you will need to get a coupon from the vending machine and choose whatever extra topping you want eg. egg, spring onions, garlic, vinegar, tenderness of the noodle etc. While waiting for the table or while at the table, you will be giving a form to choose whether you want your ramen to have a strong or light flavour, if you want garlic or not or how oily you want it to be. Most of the seats at Ichiran ramen are counter seats. There is also a divider between the seats so you won’t be able to see the person next to you. You can remove the divider too if you want. Also, because of how the way it is set up, I never got to see the face of the waiter/waitress unless I pressed the buzzer to call them over.
Besides enjoying good food and spotting beautiful Geishas, we also managed to see some Cherry Blossoms in full bloom! We missed the peak by about a week! We saw a few here and there but didn’t think much of it. We saw the full bloom Sakura by chance. We were walking past Kyoto Gyoen National Park and decided to go in as we were really tired and needed a rest. (It was another half an hour walk back to our hotel!!). After a rest (Ali had a nap for 20min!!), we walked around the park and saw this:
I was so happy to finally see them in full bloom, UP CLOSE! Aren’t they beautiful?