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.