Saturday, April 6, 2013

Kyoto at night

While my friends and I were visiting, Kyoto and Nara were at the peak of cherry blossom season.  We really hit the two cities at the perfect time though we had thought we might be too late for cherry blossoms... Of course all over Japan people are enjoying the cherry blossoms by strolling through parks and temple grounds during the day.  But the larger parks have night Cherry Blossom Viewing parties and after a quick stop at our hotel we six ladies hit the Kyoto streets at night.

Though Kyoto is a modern cosmopolitan, there are little side streets here and there and small alleyways filled with eating places and traditional tea houses.  And there is a section of Kyoto called Gion where night life is always bustling.  Gion is famous for its geisha.

Recently I have been re-reading the book Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.  (The movie Sayuri was based on this book...  but I didn't see the movie.)  The book is excellent and I wanted to read it again to understand a bit of the flavor of the Kyoto geisha district. 

So here I was passing through Gion and peering into the alleyways leading to exclusive tea houses.  I imagined pretty geisha tripping lightly down the steps on their way to different parties.  Any geisha around here?

Oh my!  A geisha!  Or maybe a Maiko (there is a difference but I don't know what).  She was hurrying down the street before turning into a small cobbled path and this was the best I could do for photography.  I did see one more geisha like figure swishing herself gracefully into a taxi but she was gone before I could get out my camera...  Well I am satisfied that I saw a geisha in the geisha capital of Japan!

Not as glamorous perhaps, but a delivery boy carrying boxes of noodles or sushi or something deftly manuevered his bicycle down the street and parked right in front of me so I asked if I could take his picture before he hurried on.  Imagine balancing all that and weaving through the little streets filled with motorcycles, cars and tourists like me who are not looking where they are going!

My friends and I finally reached our destination of Yasaka Shrine where a humongous cherry blossom viewing festival was in progress.  We didn't see much of the shrine through all the booths selling food and drink along the approach and in the center of the grounds the crowds were parked under the trees in full drinking atmosphere!  The red low seat area seemed to be reserved places for company parties while private parties were held if and where one could find space.

I wonder how much cherry blossom viewing got done with all the drunken gaiety...

We finally reached the famous weeping cherry tree, a huge, old tree near the shrine grounds.  It looked like the branches were supported by hundreds of wires which were interesting with the night lighting, though I couldn't tell how exactly the wires were rigged.

My friends and I were tired after a day of walking (18723 steps this day!) and after a noodle dinner we took a taxi back to the hotel and played card games until we dropped off to sleep one by one...  Dreams of cherry blossoms and geisha that night!

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