Kyoto: Gion District, Kyoto Tower

Leaving the charming geisha district of Kyoto was not easy. All the little streets and traditional Japanese architecture beckoned us to stay. I could feel the culture slipping away as the quiet town of yukata and kimono clad-citizens began melting into a more modern setting. We took a bus to Kyoto Station that afternoon and booked a night at Kyoto Tower Hotel in preparation for our train ride the next day.

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For dinner, we experienced a new style of dining wherein the customers go up to a machine and input their orders themselves. Payment is also accomplished by feeding yen directly into the order machine. Naturally, as everything was in kanji, we couldn’t understand a thing. A waiter quickly rushed over to assist us in our despondent attempts to order food. In the end, we made off with two delicious meals of sea bream sashimi and seafood tempura served over rice. They both came with sides of poached eggs and pickles. The clincher was the amazing seafood broth or “dashi” that we were instructed to pour over the rice in whatever quantities we so desired.

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We encountered a street food vendor sitting in the back of his van with an ingenious setup for serving fried octopus balls or “takoyaki”.

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From Spain printed coords and shoulder bag | Stradivarius heels | Samsonite trolley

Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera Temple

A lot of my dreams came true that day. No, seriously. I fulfilled my exotic hime-sama (princess) reverie. I teetered on the brink (have you seen the slope of the temple stage?) between fantasy and reality. Earlier that day, even before I was magically transformed by the amazing staff of Okamoto, I was already commandeering my imaginary subjects in my mind.

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We stayed at a lovely “ryokan”, a traditional Japanese inn, the night before and my family truly enjoyed the experience. We discovered it with stellar reviews from Booking.com. It was also quite convenient to book our stay with said website- I only have positive things to say for their efficiency! Gion Ryokan Q-Beh had simple but beautiful interiors, and the customer service was the best we had during that trip. Umi, our wonderful receptionist, was quite fluent in english as well as being very pleasant. (As soon as she introduced herself, I asked if her name was really “umi”, like the ocean. I was very pleased that my meager knowledge of Japanese was at least functional to an extent.) I hadn’t actually done any research into which kimono rental stores we could visit that day, so we relied on Umi’s advice to make an appointment with Okamoto Kimono.

Gion Ryokan Q-beh 祇園旅館 休兵衛
Address: Japan, 〒605-0072 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Washiocho, 505−3
Phone: +81 75-541-7771

Okamoto Kimono Rental, Gion Branch
Address: 523 Washiocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0072, Japan
Phone:+81 75-746-6980

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While waiting, we popped into a small dessert cafe not more than a minute’s walk from the kimono shop to grab quick snack. My sister ordered some kind of parfait; I do forget what kind it was. What are those orange things half-buried in whipped cream?

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So, the smallest koi was the size of my forearm. Magical beasts, really.

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And since we were in Japan, I thought it only appropriate to order a frothy matcha ala mode. There was also a small traditional Japanese garden on the cafe property that I explored for a bit. It was humbling to see a little old man tending to the koi pond and putting to order the shoes that the customers had left by the entrance of the tatami-floored cafe. Especially when we saw the staff showing him deference and we realized that whom we had thought a caretaker was actually the owner of the shop himself! Regrettably, I forgot the name of that little cafe.

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Upon entering Okamoto, we were overwhelmed by the amount of kimono there were to go through. As the staff didn’t really know English, we decided to brave the sea of silk unassisted. Really, there were so many options it was difficult to narrow it down. Finally one of the younger assistants and I were able to communicate with what adjectives I knew. Akai-iro, onegai. Red. Like blood. Please.

When I finally plucked a vibrant red kimono out and held it triumphantly, a middle-aged shop assistant rushed over and began spewing rapid-fire Japanese at me. After staring at her in puzzlement for a minute, she asked me what my height was. Apparently, over 80% of the kimono available were for women less than 170 cm tall. Excellent. What were the odds I’d be exactly that? Not to mention, I’d been digging around in the petit section of the rack.

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In the end, I was able to find a kimono I was very happy with. The shop keepers assisted my sister and in choosing obi, obi-jime, bags, and sandals to match. We were then ushered through a long tatami hallway into an old-fashioned Japanese dressing room. It was definitely a, shall we say, communal experience. Women were being stripped down to their undergarments in a very matter-of-fact manner by the straight-faced oba-sans (aunties). They were then wrapped in layers and layers of padding and robes in order to achieve a perfectly straight profile from shoulder to ankle. Flat-chested sisters, rejoice! We endure considerably less instruments for suffocation than those gifted with ample bosoms. To top it all off, the package we paid for included hair-dressing services. I was surprised with how well it turned out considering they didn’t do any blow drying or straightening. Also, the names of different kinds of of “looks” they could produce were hilarious. And no, I am not making this up. You could choose between cute, cool,  beautiful, and elegant. Is there a difference…? Cute and elegant would have sufficed.

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And so I ventured forth into the streets of Kyoto for some shopping and sightseeing, kimono and all. I’m just glad the weather was pleasantly cool. Otherwise my attire would have been stifling.

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Stopped by the purification fountain by Yasaka Shrine’s entrance.

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Saying a few more prayers, I only later noticed the heart-shaped wishes to my left hinting that I had been imploring the aid of a love god.
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The cutesy Japanese aesthetic is so well pulled-off here! Just look at that frilly umbrella.

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Can we just take a minute to appreciate “randoseru” backpacks? The red one even has a plush bear keychain.
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Just kicking myself now for not taking the opportunity to buy these delicate paper umbrellas.
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If I’m not mistaken, these are Shinto prayer beads.

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I’m amazed by how the children of Japan can walk to school on their own from a very young age. These kids could not have been in elementary yet. I suppose this practice of early independence says something about how safe their environment is.

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I only have eyes for you, my sweet.

The road leading up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple was lined with a variety of souvenir shops and food stalls. Of course, it was also filled with tourists.  And since it was an old street, it was pretty narrow, aggravating the problem further. Nevertheless, I was determined not let it stop me from living out my princess dreams. So further up the hill we pushed after partaking of some refreshing, cherry snow cones.

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Otowa no taki (Otowa Waterfall) has long been known for its clear waters; “golden water” as the locals put it. It’s believed to have life-prolonging properties, and as such, features in some of the Temple’s purification rituals. Visitors come to drink the water from the three flowing streams to detoxify their senses and make wishes.

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The expression of the girl on the left is priceless.
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I really appreciate this considerate touch. Some people drank directly from the ladles instead of pouring water into their hands.

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Thanks for letting me drag you all over the city, Ynez! (And for taking my photos.)
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Can this be my life? I just want to wear silks and frolic in temples and shrines forever.

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Smile for the camera, dear!
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Hydrangea. So if I chew on this, will I live forever? (Reference to Sankarea.)

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All these people come to honor the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon, whose statue is housed within the Main Hall’s nainaijin (innermost sanctuary).

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Look at the slope of that stage. It was steep enough that Ynez refused to go closer to the edge.

Absolutely breathtaking. The landscape is completely transformed depending on time of the day and season. I have to make it back to see the forest and sky come alive with the hues of spring, autumn and winter.

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How ever did they tie my obi? I can’t make sense of it.

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Aaaand, cut!

I actually really love the tourist community. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to go up to a stranger, smile, and offer to take their photo for them. Just the fact that we can trust each other with our cameras makes me feel that we’re that much closer to being better as a society. It was also very fun to meet people who wanted photos with me and the other kimono-garbed women. It felt as though we had just stepped off of the film set of a period drama!

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Even now I’m not sure if it was all real.

 

 

 

 

Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji Temple, Yasaka Shrine

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The first thing I caught sight of upon entering the Kinkakuji complex was this beautiful amber-hued tree. I knew to expect a golden pavilion, but I wasn’t expecting to have the surrounding fauna garbed in the same expensive manner!

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No, this isn’t a good luck charm or a fortune. It’s the Temple admission ticket!

The sheer volume of tourists reached its peak at this particular tourist destination. I was feeling a bit suffocated, so I took the time to look up. Take notes: never attempt to visit this temple at noon again. I should have asked the locals what time would be ideal.

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If one pays close enough attention, they’ll see the mass of tourists partly concealed by the tree branch.
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Cue my triumphant smirk at having caught a brief window of opportunity to get a photo alone!

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Japanese landscaping really is beautiful. I just want to swim over to that little island and take a nap.

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The way the gold plating captured the afternoon light was breath-taking. I really do wonder how the caretakers are able to maintain the sheen of the pavilion. Apparently, the Japanese frequently reconstruct their temples at the slightest sign of deterioration. One has to admire their diligence and excellent attention to detail.

From Thailand floppy hat | H&M skirt | Stradivarius sneakers | From Spain shoulder bag

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This inviting threshold so reminded me of the movie: Memoirs of a Geisha.

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Later that night, we decided to search for a place to eat in the Gion district. It was impossible not to get side-tracked in our quest for food however, when the great gate of Yasaka Shrine loomed overhead. Of course, I ended up dragging my family in to explore further.

Japanese Shinto tradition always insists that visitors perform a kind of cleansing ritual just before entering shrines in order to expel impurities or foul spirits. As I tried to follow suit, a little tabby kitten leapt up on the fountain to look me over. I melted as it sniffed at my hand. Regrettably, it came and went too quickly for me to catch it on camera. Ynez and I were duly amazed, however, when it stretched out its neck and began drinking not from the water basin, but from the pure, fresh water streaming out of the bamboo tubes. What may have merely been an intelligent cat was instantly elevated to a Shrine neko (cat) god in our eyes. I won’t forget my quick brush with the divine.

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I suppose we passed the purification test, as Neko-sama sashayed off without further comment.
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I was expecting geisha to make an appearance at any moment, however we didn’t get to catch a glimpse of any.
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Whoops, that’s the green light. Let’s move, move, move!
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Over to the right we can see my parents hastily abandoning me on the pedestrian crossing.

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Hermes scarf | Stradivarius coat and heels | H&M knit sweater and velvet skirt

Arashiyama: Bamboo Grove, Kimono Forest

I really had hoped to arrive at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove by 8 am and evade the demon hordes of tourists. Due to a combination of factors, that plan failed miserably. And so we were greeted by a cacophony by all manner of people come from all over the globe. The worst part was when a woman dressed as a geisha began walking through to take pictures with people. She would stop after about 3 paces to pose for photos and the people just coming. The congestion was ridiculous. Despite all, the majesty of the infinite bamboo stalks disappearing into the clear sky could not be discounted.

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Just to add to the magic, I spotted a little hat perched atop the walkway fencing. I would have put it on and walked away with the abandoned souvenir but for its petite size. I wonder if anyone else happened upon it. Where could it be now?

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In spite of my best efforts, I could only reduce the number of tourists to two at least.

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I would have liked the chance to ride this stunning wagon. A shame we didn’t have the time.

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Train to Busan, anyone?

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My favorite prayer block read: “KAMISAMA BLESS MY GPA.”

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It’s been years in the making, but finally, finally I made my very first prayer to the Shinto gods. “Kamisama, accept my humble offering and grant me a heavenly GPA.”

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I think this is a cemetery. Er… So I’m just going to assume there are no bodies under the forest of memorial stones.

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But wait-
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It’s easy to get lost in the details.
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“Komorebi” light filtering through the leaves.
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Itadakimasu! An excellent (and inexpensive) bowl of nishin (herring) soba.
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Clearly, I didn’t care to stop eating for the photograph.

There really is nothing like a well-anticipated meal after getting lost in the bamboo. Sanchu is a small food stall just directly outside the Grove. The service, pricing and convenient location can’t be beat. Return to it, I implore you.

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Who defaced the last two buddhas? Ah well. Beauty in the imperfection, as they say.

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See, the attire of the wagon drivers baffled me, to say the least. I don’t see how booty shorts and socks in place of footwear are meant to make their lives any easier.

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Don’t mind me, I’m just one more breathtaking vista Japan has in abundance.
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I love that they paired the purple, retro-looking tram with lavender flowers.

Hearing the words “Kimono Forest” had me racing over to Randem tram station in a flash. It was a bit underwhelming, however. I quickly realized that the rows of lit-up kimono on display don’t have nearly as much impact when there is yet light in the sky. Were it pitch black, the vibrancy and the chroma would have been much better highlighted and appreciated.

dsc_0182dsc_0186H&M skirt | Stradivarius sneakers | From Spain shoulder bag

Arashiyama: Sagano Torokko, Tenryu-ji Temple

I must say: dragging my family from airport to train station to bus terminal to bus stop to Airbnb to train station and further through the streets of Arashiyama was a logistical nightmare. But as soon as we scrambled aboard the Sagano Romantic Train with a good 20 seconds left to spare, my ill-contained ire flew to the winds much like most of our hard cash.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any pictures from outside the train before it started moving due to innate Japanese punctuality combined with the Filipino lack thereof.

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We took the pleasent, old fashioned ‘torokko’ along the scenic Sagano railway running alongside the Hozugawa River. It moved at a relatively slow pace, as its purpose is really to have its passengers appreciate the seasonal views. From our starting point at Torokko Saga Station it took us less than thirty minutes to reach the end of the line at Torokko Kameoka Station.

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This beautiful bridge really reminds me of stereotypical anime stills. I half expected to see Japanese students – nay, cartoons – riding their charming bikes with ringing bells atop it on their way to school.

dsc_0016dsc_0022This scene was definitely my favorite thing about the whole train ride. I thought it would make for a good picture when I noticed the next car was filled with Japanese middle-schoolers. I was hoping none of would look up, catch me taking their photo and think me a creep. To my surprise, some of the girls on one side of the car began jumping up and shrieking- they weren’t trying to report me. I believe there was an insect of some sort on a chair. And I thought my previous all-girls school classmates were skittish.

I watched, dumbfounded as an attractive male teacher walked over to check on them, smiled, appeared to catch something the offender and promptly toss it out the window. And as he did so, I swear the girls swooned. Anime culture is not an exaggeration. This shit actually happens.

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Oh the milky white scenery is to-die for.

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From Kameoka there were three ways to return to Arashiyama. The first being to get back on the Sagano Torokko’s return trip (and pay double, god forbid). One could also take a Hozugawa River raft downstream. However we weren’t feeling up to the adventure so we ended up taking the JR train back.

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“Bake-danuki” or Japanese monster raccoon dogs.

These darling tanuki figurines were there to greet us at the end of the line. I looked it up later on; these are the “bake-danuki”. They’re the mythicized versions of ordinary tanuki and are said to bring economic good fortune as idols. For some reason beyond me, along the line people decided that the bake-danuki needed to be portrayed possesing unreasonably sizable scrotums in order to grant said luck. No really, google it.

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The quiet Japanese countryside draws you in. It felt like coming home.

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I think this may be a shrine to honor the dead. I’m not entirely certain- I thought those were usually found indoors.

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I have no idea what’s going on here but I love it.
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Welcome to Tenryuji Temple.

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Not sure where this babbling brook was trickling down from; it looked to be a hut of some sort. The area didn’t seem accessible. I gather it could be for the caretakers of the shrine.

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Channeling my inner Chihaya ala Chihayafuru. Really wishing for karuta cards in this shot.

We had to take off our shoes within the Temple itself. It’s taboo to step on tatami with shoes steeped in the ‘impurity’ of the outside world.

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I scared the little soft-shelled turtle away because I was too excited when he showed up.

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Just taking it all it. I haven’t had enough of this place, even now. Guess this means I’m definitely heading back.

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GetBlued hoodie | H&M skirt | Stradivarius sneakers | From Spain shoulder bag