One of the first things I knew that I wanted to do when coming to Japan was to take some time and travel to the breathtaking city of Kyoto. Before I even had a ticket, I began looking up all of the beautiful landmarks and cultural sights I wanted to see. I have been looking at pictures for months, and I must say, everything I saw was far more breathtaking than I could’ve ever imagined. I honestly can’t believe that I was blessed with the opportunity to see a city so modern but so deeply rooted in its history and culture. Kyoto, in just two days, made me develop an even deeper appreciation for the Japanese culture and its principles. I couldn’t have dreamed of a trip this amazing and life-changing.
I took the Shinkansen about 2 hours outside of Tokyo, which is the the Bullet Train! I remember reading about the bullet train when I was little, so my inner child was so excited to see that textbook picture come to life. It was the smoothest ride I’ve ever been on...ever. There is no teetering because of the tracks. It’s completely silent and feels like you’re floating. I booked a window seat, and by chance, I got to see the most beautiful view of Mt. Fuji on my way out of the city. I stared out of the window THE ENTIRE RIDE. (I also ordered a glass of wine to go with the view...not shocking for me at all) It was absolutely beautiful.
I arrived to Kyoto and made my way to the Gion area, which is known as the official Geisha district! (I stayed at the APA Kyoto Gion Excellent which was perfectly located right in the downtown Gion area) Let me tell y’all…. Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favorite top 5 films! I actually watched it the night before leaving for Kyoto to get myself excited. I couldn’t believe that I was in Geisha town, where the story is based and the actual movie was filmed. Ugghh, I was just in awe and was hoping to possibly catch a glimpse of a real Geisha at some point…(that comes later in the evening)
I dropped my stuff off quickly in the hotel, and made my way to all of the shopping! Now listen, I‘ve been doing some shopping in Tokyo, but Kyoto is where I found everything I’ve been wanting to buy! I walked up and down tasting a bunch of food, wine, and of course buying so many things along the way. I tasted a pickled Japanese plum, plum jelly, sake, and a bunch of other delicious things. The street was so packed with people from all around the world. From custom chopsticks, cup sets, stationery, clothing… downtown Gion was the best way to start off my first couple of hours in the city!
I went back to my room to shower and get dressed to leave for dinner. (This is where the night gets super fun!) I put on my favorite jumpsuit and left my room excited for my solo night out on the town. I walked out of my room and down the street a couple of blocks when my one wish for this day came true. I was waiting to cross when I saw an actual Geisha walk right passed me down the Geisha alley and into this small Geisha house. Now, there are a bunch of women walking around the city with Kimonos and the traditional slippers on. They walk around as if they are modeling the latest fashion trends, but this wasn’t that. THIS WOMAN WAS STRIKING. She was completely painted in the white powder makeup, with a kimono on that looked like it was made of the finest raw silk. She had on wooden slippers that were at least 3 inches high and her hair was done up in the most intricate updo, coupled with the most beautiful flowers and beads. She was walking with purpose, almost trying to not be noticed, even though she was clearly the most captivating thing amongst all of these people. I stopped in awe and just watched her walk into the house. I couldn’t believe it. UGH! Sorry, but if you love Memoirs of a Geisha you would understand my excitement! My night was complete.
I continued walking and had dinner at this really busy hole in the wall restaurant that served something similar to an omeltte with shrimp, seaweed, fish, mushrooms, onion, and a bunch of other things I can’t pronounce. I sat outside, people watched, SAW ANOTHER GEISHA, and ate every single bite. It was heavenly.
I walked around after that and was just amazed at how crowded the streets were. I happened to be in the city the same weekend as the Gion Matsuri which is a massive festival held once every year! I had no idea. People fly in all around the world for this festival and I just happened to choose this weekend to visit by chance. Well I don’t believe in chance, that was God’s doing ;) The city was LIVE!
I kept walking and found this street that looked like the party street, so I obviously went down to explore! There were a bunch of bars, pubs, eateries, and live music venues. I was walking and I saw this very nice young man standing outside of the coolest, most trendy bar I’d seen in a long time. He was selling Kyoto brewed beer and letting people taste, so of course I participated! His name was Alexandre and he owned the super trendy bar called FORUM KYOTO. But this place wasn’t just a bar. It was a coffee shop/ wine bar/ craft beer bar/ french restaurant/ music venue/ art exhibition type of a place. IT WAS SO DARN COOL. Alexandre is an artist from Cannes, France who ended up in Tokyo with his own studio and now his own space to showcase his art, and the artwork of his other colleagues, while having some delicious food and wine and music.
I went up to the bar and ordered a Gin-a-Tonic with Kyoto distilled Gin and it was super super smooth. Alexandre was so sweet and such a gentleman that he gave me the cocktail on the house. I met this awesome girl named Meri, who was from Finland and also traveling around Tokyo! She was 20 and just so sweet. We sat there and talked for hours about everything from travels, school, men, food, and of course politics. (It’s so upsetting being halfway across the world and hearing how dissappointed people are in the US… but that’s a conversation for another day)
FORUM KYOTO was partnering with other bars in the area to get people to visit more frequently. We were told that the bar across the street would allow us to get in for free and Alexandre reccommended it. We went to this bar called…. Wait for it….
I told the bartender that I lived in actual West Harlem and he insisted I take a picture with the sign. He was so nice and he proceeded to ask me what it’s like to live in New York and if I was enjoying myself in Japan. At the bar, I met this group of really gorgeous young ladies who were exchange students from the University! They were fascinated by the fact that I lived in New York (which I forget how cool that is sometimes) and asked me a bunch of questions! We danced the night away to a bunch of really awesome techno music, and then I had to make my way home because I had a super exciting but long itinerary planned for the next day! (My hotel was literally a 3 minute walk from the bar, so it was a safe choice)
But before I got to my hotel, I saw this little stand that was selling Sweet Ice which is like a Japanese snow cone! I stood there and talked to the man who was making them for about 10 minutes, as he began to ask me all about New York City! He made me the world’s largest sweet ice and only charged me 200 yen which is about $1.00. He was so nice and sweet that I just had to take a picture with him. He told me to come back tomorrow and he would give me another sweet ice with a different flavor.
I just love spontaneous moments like that. It makes me think of how many moments we miss becuse we are moving so quickly. And that’s one of of the things I love most about traveling alone. The slower pace of moving. I get to do whatever I want with no compromise and I forgot how precious that can be. People are meant to talk and share with others, and because I’m not with anyone that I know, I’m forced to speak with strangers from all walks of life. I’m taking the time that I would normally use talking to my best friend and using it to learn about so many different people. It seems like we are all so different but we are all SO similar. It makes me even more sad in realizing that something so trivial as the color of our skin could make us less curious in getting to know someone who differs from us. The fear of the unknown makes us so hesitant in keeping strangers distant rather than making them friends. I believe in a God who wants us to all come together, no matter how different.
To the french artist, to the young traveler from Finland, and to the sweet Japanese man making me sweet ice, If I could, I would thank you for showing me the beauty that lies within. Thank you for making my first night in such a foreign city feel like a night spend in Harlem with my closest friends. THANK YOU.
And then I went home and crashed, only to dream of the magical day I would have next… I mean, this all happened in only my couple of hours.
CHECK OUT KYOTO BLOG #2