Today we explored Kyoto. What we had planned for the day was to go to Nijo Castle in the morning and attend a tea ceremony in the afternoon. We were undecided on whether to take a taxi, bus or the subway to get to our destinations. However, since it was a beautiful day and we wanted to explore the city, we decided to walk to Nijo Castle. It was a great idea, but as we walked through the back streets of Kyoto it caused us to get side tracked from our original plan and we ended up doing so much more than we had planned.
You can read Linaka’s account of the day here: “Day 13, Kimono’s, Tea and the Nightingale Floor“.
A morning trying on kimonos
As we started our journey to the castle, we walked down back streets and found many shops. Linaka was on a mission to find more accessories for the kimonos she purchased in Tokyo which, incidentally, were originated in Kyoto. One shop in particular displayed kimonos outside and it drew Linaka in like a magnet. It seemed like a very formal place. There were kimonos that ranged from cheap to very expensive. You could even get a custom made kimono there. The lady that attended us spoke very good English and she did most of the translating for us as well.
Linaka wanted to buy accessories; however, the kimono expert suggested that she bring in the kimonos she had purchased in Tokyo. We were quite lucky since there were no appointments that morning and there was no guarantee they would be available in the afternoon. So we returned to our accommodations, picked up Linaka’s kimonos and were back in the shop in no time. The main kimono expert was a teacher who taught visitors and locals how to wear and move in a kimono. She was kind enough to examine and put the kimonos on Linaka that morning. It was fun and amusing watching them look at the kimonos. They talked about them and I watched Linaka try them on. To make a long story short, it was a fun morning trying on kimonos. We both learned a lot.
A short visit to Nijo Castle in Kyoto
By the time we had finished at the kimono shop it was already noon. So we went back to our accommodations, dropped off the kimonos and decided to take the Kyoto subway system to get to the Nijo Castle. Surprisingly, it was quite easy to use the subway and quick to get to the castle. I would say it took about 15 minutes. Since we needed to be at a tea ceremony at 3 p.m. We did not have much time to explore Nijo Castle. We purchased our entrance tickets and commenced our tour. I did not realise how big the castle was. There was an outer moat and an inner moat. Essentially, an outer wall with a security section and an inner sanctuary for the Shogun to stay in whenever he was visiting. I could easily imagine what life was like back then.
Nijo Castle is also famous for it’s Nightingale floor. I wasn’t sure why it was called that until I went in. Linaka told me about a book she was reading which talked about this particular floor. It’s difficult to really explain it and it is something you have to experience. When you walk into the building you have to remove your shoes. As you walk on the old wooden floor, it starts to squeak, making noises to alert people that you are in the building, but the noises it makes sound more like a birds call. There was so many tourist walking about making so much squeaking noises it was hard to distinguish when I made the floor squeak and when it was the person behind me. It was quite an experience and a very large castle to explore. Although, I hear that Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan, Nijo castle did seem quite big in area.
Attending a tea ceremony
Time was ticking and after a couple of hours at Nijo Castle, it was time to move on to the tea ceremony. We took the subway to get to Gion, a sub-division of Kyoto and the area where the tea ceremony was scheduled for. Since we were a little early, we did a little exploring of the area. Kyoto lives up to it’s name and reputation. You could walk a short distance and find modern buildings next to ancient traditional ones. Walk a little further and you’ll find temples and shrines.
As we continued to explore around Kyoto, we also found cafes. We hadn’t had lunch and we wanted to get something to eat before attending the tea ceremony but we did not have enough time to wait for any food to get cooked. So, we spent a little time out before getting to the ceremony.
The actual tea ceremony was interesting. A lady in a kimono came out and explained to us how the process would work. She gave us an overall summary of the tea ceremony, followed by the actual performer. The entire experience lasted about 30 to 40 minutes in which a young lady dressed in a kimono went through a traditional ritual of making tea, pouring water and moving bowls and utensils around. It was a nice ceremony to watch. I was; however, falling asleep through part of it. LOL. But luckily it was a summary performance. The tea lady told us that a normal ceremony could last between 3 to 4 hours. How lucky of us that it was a short demonstration.
Part of the ceremony required that we make our own tea. After making it we were suppose to drink it. I only drank a little bit because it had a very strong flavour. Linaka seemed to enjoy hers because she drank all of it. Anyway, it was a nice ceremony and afterwards we were free to go out and continue exploring around Kyoto. We returned to one of the cafes we had passed earlier and had some waffles and ice-cream.
The rest of the day in Kyoto
For the rest of the day, we continued to explore the Kyoto. We went to a craft store where Linaka purchased some souvenirs and then we did some more exploring where we found a budo centre. It was a large building where you could hear people practising their martial arts. We weren’t sure if we could go in, so we decided to come closers. We could see people practising inside the building and as we got closers we heard the instructor yell out “leave!” LOL. I am sure he did not say that, but we interpreted it as the English word and decided it was best for us to move on. We ended the day with some nice dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant and headed back to our place. Tomorrow we attend a session to dress up in traditional kimono and then we are supposed to attend a traditional dance where geisha dressed in kimono will be performing for us.
Overall, Kyoto is a beautiful place to explore. We only touched on a few areas today, but to in order to see more you would have to spend months exploring all over the city of Kyoto. The back streets are a treasure trove of hidden discoveries waiting to be found. Kyoto has many traditional places to visit, temple and shrines and beautiful ancient architecture. If you like tradition, Kyoto is the place to visit.