Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Arriving in Kyoto

Geishas in the Gion area of Kyoto

As I think we all imagined, the 'Shinkansen' left Nagoya on time and arrived in Kyoto on time, 40 minutes later. By comparison, our own railway system in England is so utterly third world, it might as well be steam-hauled. The trains here are spotlessly clean internally - I don't just mean the 'Shinkansen', the local trains are all the same. Only the Oigawa Steam Railway stock was scruffy. All the stations are clean, as well. The big stations are confusing to get around but at least there's usually some signage in English - larger stations have almost entirely bi-lingual signs. Today I'd got all my luggage with me so I used a taxi to get to my Kyoto Hotel. Driving through the city, Kyoto didn't look much like the cultural capital of Japan - it looked as nondescript as all large cities usually do. I'm at the Kyoto Brighton Hotel. I wonder if Brighton has a 'Kyoto Hotel'? It's a fairly large, modern hotel with all the rooms set off corridors overlooking a large atrium.

Another good thing, so far, is that each hotel has been expecting me and there's been a minimum of fuss in getting to my room. I started off by having a bath. The hotel-supplied bath salts turned the water a rather startling bright green but, after the initial surprise, that was fine. I'd been booked on a walking tour of the older parts of Kyoto, where you find the traditional, private tea-houses and Geishas practice their craft. So, I had to see about getting myself downtown again, since the 'Brighton' is a few miles North of the city centre, in a mainly residential area near to the former Imperial Palace. Kyoto has just two subway lines, one North-South, one East-West, with an interchange at the improbably-named Karasuma-Oike. I needed to walk about 10 minutes from the hotel to the subway, travel on both lines and then walk a few blocks to the meeting point for the walking tour (outside the Miamiza Kabuki theatre in the old district of Gion). All this passed off without incident and soon the pavement was littered with people obviously going on the walking tour - mainly young and American-sounding, but with a smattering of seniors. Shortly Peter, the guide, appeared and after waiting a few minutes for stragglers, we set off walking the narrow alleys of the district whilst Peter explained a little about the history of Geisha.

We had a fascinating ninety minutes and our 'bag' was two Geiko in traditional white make-up (the post-apprentice Geisha - during the lengthy training they're Maiko), one older Geisha not in white make-up and a couple of off-duty Geisha. Peter said that photos were OK from a distance. By the time we'd finished our walk, it was pitch black although only just after 6.00pm. I managed to re-trace my route back to the hotel and, feeling rather peckish, had a proper evening meal.

The good news is that the hotel's computer has given me back the apostrophe - the bad news is that it keeps jumping into Japanese when I mis-key and I struggle to get it back into at least partial English, plus I can't get the photo-upload to work at all. More when I'm able.

My pictures of Kyoto
Pictures of Japan's modern railways