After leaving Tokyo, we took the bullet train to Kyoto (home of the Geisha). All very easy, super civilized, and fast.
Kyoto is everything you think it should be. The former Japanese capital is far less manic than Tokyo and steeped with mysticism. A city of zen shrines, lush gardens, wooded mountains, and exotic geisha. Oh, and some Ninja training. Yes, ninja training. When traveling with children, especially boys, and you end up in Kyoto – you attend ninja school.
Fushimi-Inari – Taisha
This was my favorite shrine in Japan. You might remember it from the movie: “Memoirs of a Geisha”?
The shrine sits on the slopes of Mt. Inari-san. Dazzling burnt orange Torii (Shinto shrine gates) cover the forested and mountainous trail. It’s a bit of a climb to reach the top…maybe 5 K, but worth it. Good views of Kyoto at various points. The hike to the summit brings you to several shrines set deep in the woods.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha enshrines Inari, which is the God of Rice. The “fox” is the messenger to Inari. Hence you see loads of fox statues scattered around Fushimi-Inari.
In the center of Kyoto, you will find the covered Nishiki Market. Go hungry as there are loads of tasty Japanese treats to try.
If you want to experience authentic, traditional, and cultural ninja training complete with ninja attire, shuriken (ninja stars), ninja swords, and other ninja weapons then Ninja and Dojo in downtown Kyoto is the place for you. Trust me, it’s super fun.
At NInja and Dojo you get to play with all the bad-ass toys:
- Kunai (Daggers)
- Kusarigama (Sickle with chain)
- Kunai with ropes
- Shuriken (Ninja star)
- Stick type shuriken
- Chopsticks technique
- Ninja blowgun (blow darts)
Note: Ninja were covert bad
Bad-asses in feudal Japan. Their functions included: espionage, deception, surprise attacks, and silent assassins. Their methods of irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and frowned upon by the samurai. Even though the days of shoguns and samurais are long gone — there are a few surviving ninjas. However, once they’re gone — it will be an extinct art.
Gion – Geisha District
Gion is where I shamelessly stalked geisha (geiko) and maiko on their way to work. I did a bit of research and found the best time to catch them was between 5:00 and 6:00 as they were walking to various tea houses and restaurants. I then coerced my family into an early dinner in the Gion District. Like I said, shameless.
The maiko (apprentices) were shy and a little girlish. You could hear them giggling from a block away. Right behind them marched a geisha, like a mama bear, stoic and in charge of her babes. I found the maiko & geiko positively fascinating and stunningly beautiful.
Note: Today geishas are highly trained performers: trained in the art of dancing, singing, playing instruments, and the art of conversation. They are not prostitutes.
Geisha numbers in Japan peaked at 80,000 in 1928, but now only 1,000 are left.
A dinner with a geisha present can cost around 80,000 yen ($785) a person, depending on the venue and the number of geisha.
After my geisha stalking was complete, we wove our way through the 17th-century streets of Gion. You could easily lose yourself in the traditional machiya (wooden houses) and the dim lantern-lit pathways. Great restaurants were tucked into every corner.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
The Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyōto Gosho) was the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868.
The current Imperial Palace was reconstructed in 1855 after a fire. Today, the Imperial Palace is used mainly for enthronement ceremonies and as a tourist attraction.
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Stay tuned for: How to Eat Like an Okinawa
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