Friday, October 17, 2008

Days 52-55: Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is one of those cities like Rome, Paris, or London. Indeed, each of these cities is very different, but they each have one feature in common: as Lonely Planet wrote, these are cities that every person should visit at least once in their lifetime.

And after visiting Kyoto, I agree.

It feels very different from Tokyo, as it is Japan's cultural, not economic or political, capital. With over 2,000 shrines and temples (total), the city offers a cornucopia of cultural heritage and beauty. If one gets lost, no matter what the street is, within 10 minutes he or she will stumble upon another temple. Perhaps this is why I like the city so much: getting lost, which I tend to do quite a lot, is actually fun. In its small corners it feels extremely laid back, but just ten meters away is the main thoroughfare, with shopping malls and heaps of people--as well as ultra-modern shinkansen (bullet-trains) not too far off in the distance. It feels like a city of contrasts, with one foot in the present (or future) and one stuck in the past.

Hidden in the alleys of the city (especially in the Gion district), late at night one may find a geisha. Kyoto only has about 100 geisha and maiko (apprentices). A geisha is a traditional female Japanese entertainer, whose skills include performing various Japanese arts, such as classical music and dance. Contrary to popular belief, they are not prostitutes, though they have to remain single during their tenure as a geisha; in other words, if a woman marries, she can no longer be a geisha. I did see one too many of them in Kyoto, though, including two geisha walking around and taking pictures of each other on their cellphones, which leads me to think that there are many knock-off geisha here. Luckily, I did happen to catch a glimpse of a real one late at night escorting a client somewhere.

The weather here, as in Korea, is great in October. Warm during the day, cool in the night--and little, if any, rain. Along with Hangzhou and Busan, Kyoto is definitely on my Top Three list of cities I have visited on this trip.

P.S. So I did get to try soju on my ferry from Busan to Osaka, which was great. The ferry, that is. It has a karaoke bar, a free concert, more space than the Dandong ferry, two restaurants, a store, etc. All of this came at approximately the same cost as the Dandong Ferry, so the PanStarLine ferry is definitely better. Anyhow, a Korean let me try some soju, which was only 20% strong. It didn't taste as bad as everyone says it does. When I asked him, he said that it is still made from rice, and that the prohibition was lifted after the end of the Korean War. So, contrary to the information in my previous post, soju is NOT made from chemicals and is safe to drink... within reason. :)

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