Stories from Kyoto
And again, if you want the whole story of my adventures, as this is only an abridged version, go to my Flickr and browse through all the photos in my Japan set.
Last I left off, we were on the train to Kyoto, where we arrived in the evening and tiredly hauled our bags to our ryokan. The ryokan, The Aoi-So Inn, is run by a wonderful old man, who spoke very good English and even a word or two of Finnish, and carried our big, very heavy bags up to our room on the second floor and then back down the stairs when we left!
Even though the common areas were without heating, and thus freezing in the winter time, and we had to pay for heating in our room and hot water in the shared facilities (again, with 100¥ coins that we'd begun to treasure like the most precious of precious things), it was a lovely, homey place to stay at. I really liked the worn-in, comfortable scruffiness of everything, and the feeling of lived in history.
Once we'd checked in to our accommodation, we headed off to the Funaoka Onsen (a sort of a spa) for a well needed soak to wash away the weariness and dust of travel.
After a thoroughly enjoyable bath, we had supper at Sarasa, a darling cafe near the onsen, where the food and drinks were delicious and the atmosphere comfortably bohemian.
On our first full day in Kyoto, we hopped onto a bus and went to the Sagawa art museum. It was... well, I've not words enough to describe how wonderful it was, how everything is utterly perfect and thought out to the last little detail and how completely striking it all was. We had a guided tour of the museum's tearooms, which were a treat for all the senses, and again, every element was so incredibly, thoroughly perfect.
The museum presents a truly stark face in the winter, especially on a grey day like the one when we were there. We were the only splash of colour in the austere landscape, with the pools and the sky and the buildings all only sporting various shades of grey. Apparently the look and feel of the whole museum, inside and out, changes with the seasons, being grey and stern in the winter and green and alive in the summer.
Photography wasn't allowed inside the museum or the tearooms, but then again, I'm not sure mere pictures would really do justice to it.
The next day we had plans to visit a few temples and shrines, but the day turned out to be dreary and rainy, so we simply puttered about the city instead.
First we visited the Kyoto Manga Museum (where, once again, photography wasn't allowed), browsed their literal walls of manga and their little Showa-era tin toy exhibition and then we went to what, in my opinion at least, is the happiest place on earth, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi!
At the Cat Cafe (which is exactly what it says it is), we petted many cats, had a cup of tea, were sat on by many cats and generally just cooed over the adorableness of all the kitties. :)
While there, my camera ran out of memory, so afterwards I went and bought a new memory card so I could keep on snapping photos! After the spot of impromptu shopping, we had way too much to eat at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, and then headed back to our ryokan with our bellies full of yummy food and hearts full of happy memories.
The next day, me and Jenny headed to explore Gion, as Jenny had an appointment at a Geiko Henshin (a studio where they dress you up as a geisha and you can have your photo taken) there. After Jenny's geisha-experience, we did a bit of sightseeing and really hoped very hard that it wouldn't rain like it had during the night (it didn't).
The whole Gion area emanated history, with temples and shrines everywhere you turned.
Having spent the day on our feet sightseeing, we went to bathe and relax at the onsen and had dinner at Sarasa again in the evening.
The next day, which dawned sunny and bright after the past days had been rather grey, we visited the 2013 New Year's exhibition of modern paintings and chado (the art of tea) impliments at the Chado Research Center Galleries, and then we took a stroll through the Hoponji temple after that.
With a lot of the temples we saw, the dichotomy of a historic, grand (even the little tiny temples seemed grand) temple with the sleek, modern high rises surrounding it was always a bit jarring, or it was to me at least.
We spent the rest of the day doing a copious amount of shopping at the Shijo shopping district and eating an alarming amount of cake at an all-you-can-eat cake buffet, fittingly named "Sweet Paradise". Then we headed back to our ryokan to sleep, with the moon smiling down at us. :)
(You can just make out the smiling moon in the middle of the picture. In Japan when the moon isn't full, it smiles, where as here it's simply a crescent.)
The next morning, we got up very early to put on our kimonos and head back to the Chado Research Center to spend the day at the Midorikai school, attending their lectures and practice. It was a super opportunity to get to do so, and a humbling one at that too. I felt like, even after studying chado for nearly four years now, I still don't know anything at all -but in a good sense. It was good to realise that there is so very much to learn yet, that what I know now is just a little snowflake on the tip of an iceberg and that the learning never stops.
In the evening we packed our bags, having to sit on them to get them to close, and then went out to have our last supper at a little local eatery.
We had Okonomiyaki, as that was what we had as our first meal in Japan, and it seemed fitting that it should also be what we had last. Then we said our goodbyes to Aliisa and headed back to the inn for one more night.
It snowed during our last night in Japan, and while it was only a light dusting visible in places that went undisturbed and that melted almost as soon as it fell, it was like Kyoto wanted to show us this just before we left. :)
With our bags stuffed full, and our hearts already aching to come back we left Kyoto early in the morning and sat for two hours in an airport taxi as it drove through majestic mountains and equally imposing cities to Kansai airport, where we boarded a plane, said our farewells to Japan and flew back home through fluffy clouds to Finland.
I already miss Japan something awful, and I started to long to back the moment our plane took off from Kansai.