Kyoto. Traveling back in time


WARNING!
Well, we don’t know for what strange case of fate, but we have lost almost 80% of the photos taken during our adventures in Kyoto. The photos you see are the ones that survived and stayed with us Thanks photos. Enjoy! ;-)

It all starts an afternoon. After 20 minutes by train we arrive in Kyoto Station. The kids fell asleep during the trip. I have Lia in her baby carrier and backpack on my shoulders, I’m pushing the stroller while Julien takes care of the luggages: we’re ready to go. Japanese inspiration. The station of Kyoto is very modern, on two floors, made of iron and with escalators that create structured patterns. Not the ancient, traditional and a bit crooked view you would expect. This is Japan, melting modernity and tradition naturally.

 

We rented an apartment not too far from the station but at least at 30 minutes walk away. We step in the city following the rhythm of our walks. We get to the apartment at sunset, perfect moment. Now it’s even easier to realize and become aware of the silence of the streets. The cars are electric and people are extremely respectful and careful that we can even hear the beep of the traffic lights from our apartment.

Down in our street a daddy is showing his daughter how to ride a bike. People spend their lives in these minor streets, two floors tiny houses with tiny windows, exactly how we see it in the movies and cartoons. Our apartment in Kyoto is exactly like this. Two floors, stairs (that we keep safe for the kids by blocking it with the couch), a tiny but well furnished kitchen, a bathtub/shower space and a separate toilet with one of those Japanese spatial waters (see the chapter: how to deal with a Japanese wc). At the first floor there are three tatami on the ground that become valid supporters of golden dreams. This place is our dreamland!

We’ll spend the best moments here. Morning coffee and milk with cookies, the little race cars everywhere on the living room floor, taking long bathtubs together imagining to swim in a big pool (or in an aquarium, with the bath soap becoming a white shark and the tooth paste a hammerhead. Our personal chef cuisinier Mr J cooks a chicken with a delicious sauce, despite the tiny cooking grill. The dinners in front of Netflix where we’re mixing an episode of Friends with one from Chef’s Table (don’t watch this if you’re a sweet tooth) and just another movie from Adam Sandler. And of course, our argument with the new toilet. While Teo was taking a pee (proud mama note: he left the diapers in just one day! good job!), Lia the velociraptor suddenly arrived and pushed all the possible buttons before we could do anything and Teo run away rapidly from the wc and of course the spray of water arrived right in my face. G r e a t.

The Shichijo metro stop is a ten minutes walk away from our home. Kyoto’s metro system is a bit less intuitive than Osaka’s one. On the first day we take the wrong way. Of course this is just the first of many other times we’ll get lost.

We decide to discover the city from a must see: Fushimi Inari Temple. It’s a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Kami Inari on the namesake mountain, well known for its typical red Japanese portals (torii). There are long paths of them, one portal after another. Every torii of Fushimi has been donated by a Japanese company (Kami Inari seems to be the protector of business). We tend to avoid touristic spots: too many people and noise, souvenirs shops everywhere, the human relationship is on the background of the commercial relationship and places lose their true soul. Once we get to Fushimi Inari we notice queues of people, souvenirs everywhere, tourists rhythms. We’re in a special place and we know it.

The path to the top can be very harsh. After the first two galleries of torii usually people stop. But the real experience is when you start getting to the top of the mountain. Two kids and a stroller? Nothing can stop us now (or better said: two adults with a slow pace won’t stop Teo and Lia). The longer you walk the less people you’re surrounded by and finally we start breathing the magic. The kids are well exercised to hiking. They hold each other’s hands and walk through the torii, climbing the mountain.

In a moment I’m standing in front of them, bend on my knees, my skirt is touching the ground, the camera is in my hands. I hope I focused properly. What we get is one of those pictures that we call “the jewels”. one of those to show them when they’re older and far away from all of this. The memories will be on paper, but this magic will keep sparkling within us for a long long time. They hold each other’s hands and I almost don’t see anymore the age difference.

We’ve seen many temples. Teo goes around devoutely repeating “interior peace, interior peace, interior peace”. Is this the remarkable sign of a bright karma or Kung Fu Panda influence? We’ll let the historian judge. In front of a small temple Teo asks to Julien “daddy, is this Buddha?”. We will celebrate this moment. Our three year old child starts being aware of spirituality. We’ll celebrate in front of a good Ramen.

Kyoto offers a good portrait of a more ancient Japan. Some neighborhoods have been untouched. And with the blink of an eye and a few metro stops you are suddenly teleported in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. The area that makes us feel right there is Gion, well known for being the district of geishas or better, of geiko, as they call them here in Kyoto. It’s so rare to see a true geisha: the ones you see in the streets are mostly tourists wearing typical clothing. A Geisha is a master in arts such as dance, music and traditional ceremonies (like the tea tradition) and there are not many left. It’s an elite job that requires a lot of effort and sacrifice and years of practice since a very young age. Before being a geisha you are a maiko, and the life of a maiko is not a simple one.

Hanamikoji Dori is the main street of Gion district. On our first visit (many more to come, also dressed in typical clothing, but this is another story) we decide to walk it all. The most interesting scenarios, however, are not from the main street, but from the narrow little streets that cross it. It was so fun to walk through them! There you can breathe the real feeling of Japan. The small wooden and bamboo houses in the streets, the deep silence: it all contributes to the magical atmosphere. It’s a labyrinth of white linen dancing in the wind outside the houses. The real Geishas show up at sunset, when the tourists are all gone, to go crawling in quiet little restaurants with one of those tiny doors and where you eat sitting on the ground. We’re lucky enough to assist to a real geisha performance at Gion Corner. Because of a little bump in the road the managers offered us a free ticket. Again, we’ll end up the day eating an amazing ramen, to celebrate another beautiful day.

The real party will be after dinner when we get lost to be found again on the Shirakawa Minami Dori. The lanterns, the lights and the canal atmosphere. We had no choice: it’s time for our musical moment. Together with us Florence and The Machine, ladies and gentlemen! Listening to: Dog Days are Over.

 

Higashiyama, the walk up to the Zenkojido Temple, right in front of the Kiyomizudera Temple, where Lia starts following another kid just because she had the unfortunate idea of showing her that she had some cookies. Matsubara Dori, memory souvenirs and artisans. And then a sandwich and a coffee in the most beautiful Starbucks we’ve ever seen (really).

We get lost again (we thought we had a good orientation, then we arrived in Japan). Our data doesn’t work that well and regarding kanji, hiragana and katakana we’re not exactly au point. Consequence: a whole afternoon spent understanding how to get to pagoda Yasaka, but in this way we also found Yasaka Koshindo, a beautiful praying temple made of little colored balls. So it was definitely worthy to get lost again. We arrived during the golden hour, Japan loves us as much as we do love it.

After this we discover the Nishiki Market with its incredible products. We will not linger too long just to avoid dealing with one of those terrific toilets. There is a mall close to home where we tasted Udon and the best tempura ever and a crazy huge toys shop. Teo wants to buy a Curious George doll as never seen before and Lia a sushi toy. Later on Lia will change her mind but Teo won’t give up on his Curious George and that’s how we ended up to the mall again. Second round, second Curious George.

Their first kimono, the supermarket grocery where you can actually go out without paying but the level of respect is so high here that no one does. Running under the rain in the evening because we spent so much time in that supermarket - and the kids never complain, will they ever stop surprising us for their ability to adapt?

We spent in Kyoto more time than previously planned, so we had to rent another apartment, waving goodbye to that delightful place that it’s been home for a while. We arrived in a real Japanese house, hidden in the bamboo plants of a super silent residential neighborhood. Then we arrived and the silence it’s quite gone. The atmosphere is so incredibly Japanese, it feels like in a movie. Walls are so thin that it’s forbidden to shower after 21 to avoid bothering the neighbors.

Maruyama Park, we get lost again (just for a change) and some scholars wearing the typical uniform help us. We then take a picture together with an old plastic camera, so 90s.

The Daigo-ji Temple. We arrived here running after we got lost again (really!?) 10 minutes before it would close, with an A4 Map on our hands, entirely in Japanese that a nice agent gave us when he noticed we were totally struggling with orientation. Maybe we should re evaluate our orientation talent, perhaps we’re only part of the Google Maps generation.

Kyoto is also made of its people. Not only of the nice agent or the scholars, but also of Airi, a lovely girl to whom we asked a quick indication but we ended up spending together 20 minutes of our lives. She offered to take us to our destination and we waited for her friends to come, friends who also borrowed us their umbrella. The extremes of kindness! We ended up talking about the hundred ways you can say “Buongiorno” in Italian, French and Japanese. We have to admit that Airi and her friends were way more prepared than us. However, we learned that hair in Japanese is yatta, and this is cool enough to make us feel satisfied. Another lovely meeting was with a girl with super black short hair who stopped us asking “May I help you?” (after seeing us running wild and red-faced in a deserted parking after finding out how difficult it is to find the meeting spot with our landlord - yes, again. I know). “Yes, please!”. She brought us to the meeting point guided by her phone. Once we arrived, she waited to make sure we would really be in the right place, and also came back after some time just to double check everything was ok. Japanese people make amazing technology, cook a crazy ramen and perfectly know how to help strangers asking for nothing in return.

And then it comes the evening and we’re watching the only tv program that could lock Lia’s attention in front of a screen - she’s probably the only child who doesn’t appreciate cartoons but this time she got hypnotized in front of Japanese cats jumping on beds. She wouldn’t move or talk anymore.

Our days are filled with endless toasting at any sip of water with Teo’s cheering “This is to you, and to me!”, or the wine drunk in a paper glass when the kids sleep on the living room’s chairs, holding their knees with their arms.

“Do you remember the first stop of our trip?” “Sure I do, it’s been so tough. I have the feeling that we’ve really been brave. Now it’s all a bit easier. We’ve been living to the fullest and unconventionally.” “You’re right, I think the same. We all grew up in these past months. And now we’re here living in a house with a heated toilet.” The heated toilet is one of the greatest inventions we’ve ever tried. Together with the rolling sushi restaurants, the chop sticks adapter for kids and the okonomyiaki sauce.

With a Lot of Love - #miljiansgotojapan