Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Japan: Kyoto 40 - Gion

Let's see my knowledge of Gion before I went there came from reading books. I knew it was the place I most wanted to see in Japan. It is the most famous geisha district. It is indeed very unique and soooo cool. The small walkways and architecture were magical during cherry blossom season. I read that if you're lucky you will see a geisha on the path sometime in the evenings on their way to tea ceremonys.

We were recommended to take the "Higashiyama strolling path." It starts from Maruyama Park and ends at Jishu shrine. It is a historic area lined with gardens, shops and many souvenirs and items made in Kyoto. Tourists particularly buy the fans, crafts and sweets here. Other popular places are the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo and Gion Corner.

I highly recommend buying advance tickets to see the Miyako 0dori. This is the spring dance geikos perform annually. It was absolutely beautiful and different. Of course after reading the book, Geisha, A Life, I was dying to see what all the hub bub was about and what a traditional Japanese dance looked like. It was colorful, full of costumes, dancers, musicians and singers. The group moves in sync w/another and constantly moves in pairs.

Useful websites I used to plan our trip:

Japan: Kyoto 39 - Arashiyama

First day in Kyoto we when to Arashiyama:

Arashiyama is northwest of Kyoto and was recommended to us by our Japanese teacher. It was alot of fun. Here are the highlights:

Togetsukyo Bridge
The landmark it is known for is the Togetsukyo Bridge, means "crossing moon bridge". It was once an all wooden bridge (however, now reinforced w/concrete). Across this bridge, we found the Monkey Park Iwatayama...

Monkey Park Iwatayama
Very cool. As we started the long climb up this mountain, there were no monkeys in sight. I figured this might be one of those tourist hoaxes to get you to pay an admission fee and say sorry the monkeys are sleeping. However, as you get closer to the top, there are monkeys galore! I have never been so close to a monkey in my life. They're not even bothered by people. They'll sit next to you and not even care. There is a feeding area at the top where you can buy apples or bananas to feed them. They're very greedy and smart. Be aware the little boogers will reach thru the fence and grab the whole bag right out of your hands. Then 30 seconds later, all I saw was the plastic bag floating down from the roof. I hope he got sick.

Bamboo Grove
It's a bamboo grove.

Japan: Kyoto 38 - *%#@ Bonkers about Sakura!

Sakura season - the infamous Cherry Blossom season is typically during the end of March, beginning of April, depending where in Japan you are. Lance and I decided to go to THE place to go for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and geishas: KYOTO!

Everyone in Japan is bustling to get ready for cherry blossoms - stores are selling little pink desserts, even pink rice; ladies are putting on their spring kimonos; and people are planning hanami parties. The weather man is literally massacred if he does not predict when sakuras blossom correctly. Truth is, it is very difficult to tell because the weather fluctuates so much in Spring. The news shows their forecasters with cherry trees daily monitoring them.

So how does one view cherry blossoms?

Hanami parties are everywhere - this is basically a picnic with friends or co-workers under the cherry trees. Someone goes early in the morning to pick a spot, lays down a blue tarp and camps out all day til their friends get off work. Then the fun begins with mini grills, food, sake, beer, and even portable hand held karoake machines. Occasionally it's been known you might see a drunk man strip naked - unfortunately for us, we actually did.

Also cherry blossoms are in bloom for only one week out of the entire year. So if you happen to plan any special trips for it, there is always the risk that you may completely miss the peak. Luckily our trip to Kyoto was right on! And they were gorgeous....

Japan: Hirshima 37 - I've been a slacker

Hi to everyone who actually reads my blog!!! Sorry I've been a slack! Luckily I will have alot to write about because I've been traveling. Also at the end of the month I will be going to Africa and will have a ton to update...

Thanks to all who are entertained by my ramblings :)