To ensure we got to the train station on time, we had breakfast at the Hiroshima Washington Hotel. It was a mix of both Japanese and Western style dishes. I tried a whole host of dishes and was quickly filled up and ready for the day. We grabbed our luggage and were off to wait on our bus to the Hiroshima Station. We were waiting about 10 minutes before my sister and I realized that the bus didn’t start until 9:33 and it was only 8:55. We needed a different route so we quickly changed course to hop on the green line trolly. We had some difficulty figuring out how Pasmo cards, the preloaded public transit payment cards, worked to check in but figured it out after watching others for about 4 stops. I got stuck on the way out because I didn’t have enough money left! Oops!
I loaded up my card and we were off to JR line 13 to wait on our train. We got there about 20 minutes early to ensure Ryan, Julia, and I had seats in the unreserved section. My mom went to the bathroom as we were heading up to the platform and she came running back to us exclaiming she had lost dad! Oh no! I took her to the numbered area on the platform for her train car and told her to wait while I went to find my dad. After running around for 5 minutes, I found him patiently waiting right where she left him originally. When I told him we were all waiting for him he said “I thought she was taking a little longer in the loo than usual!”Phew! I brought dad back to the platform and told them to make sure to get off at the Shin-Osaka station for our train transfer to Kyoto. About 5 minutes later, we saw my parents attempt to get on the wrong train headed for Tokyo! Thankfully, they saw our panicked signals to abort and we all ended up getting on the right train. It is never easy!
It took us about 2 hours to get to Kyoto by train. The station was only a quick subway ride away from the main area where the Cross Hotel was located. Our hotel was situated right in the main shopping district and only a few blocks from the Gion district. We were not able to fully check in so we dropped off our bags and took off to explore the shopping area.
There were two main streets parallel to one another that were lined with shops and restaurants. The streets were pretty packed but we made our way around. I found a cute skirt at a boutique and my sister found a few items at a thrift store. We were getting pretty peckish but, with our impending late-night food tour in a few hours, we opted for something a little lighter. We found a fried chicken place and had that with some pork and gyoza.
After lunch, we checked into our hotel. It was so luxurious and our rooms were much bigger than our other hotels. My sister and I decided to continue exploring the shops for another hour before we met up with everyone for a drink. There are not a lot of wine / sports / regular bars or just places to just have a drink in Japan. Even our hotel’s bar closed around 3 PM and didn’t open back up until 6 PM for dinner service. We were lucky to find this “Liquor Museum” right around the corner. It was a small bar with tons of old, cool looking alcohol bottles. When we walked in, one of the patrons looked at me surprised and told me, jokingly, that I did not look old enough to drink! I will take that as a complement!
We had a few gin and tonics before it was time to walk to a designated subway station exit by the Gion district to meet our guide, Mardi, for our night food tour. Mardi was actually from the Dallas area and extended her year long study abroad into 5+ years in Kyoto! She started the tour talking about how the Gion area was for entertaining and had us try some delicious rice cakes with a soy glaze as she talked about the Kabuki theater across the street.
We kept walking up the main road until we got to the Yasaka-Jinja Shrine Nishiromon Gate. The main hall is over 360 years old! Interestingly enough, Mardi told us a myth about a god who had 3 children. The first two, the goddess of the sun and god of thunder, were born from the god’s tears. The third and more meddlesome child was shot out of the god’s nose as a booger! No wonder that god felt he drew the short stick in life! Such a funny story.
We rang the bells of the shine for luck and to make a wish and then continued on through the grounds to a massive cherry tree almost in full blossom. It was beautiful in the evening light and there were a bunch of 20-something year olds picnicking around it and enjoying the evening.
We left the Shrine grounds and continued through the narrow streets of Gion. In earlier parts of our trip, especially in Tokyo, we kept seeing these weird posters of very feminine looking men. Mardi explained and pointed out these high rises with floors and floors of for mainly men, but also women, where hostesses worked and served drinks. There is not supposed to be anything sexual going on at these clubs, more like the hostesses incessantly complement and listen to all of the woes of the patrons. The hostesses also make themselves look nothing like their patron’s spouses in real life, thus the male hostesses look super feminine and made up and the females wear prom-fancy level dresses with full hair and makeup. The patrons do not tip the hostesses in cash, but they do buy them very expensive luxury goods, so there are tons of thriving pawn shops close to the clubs filled with designer shoes, bags, and clothes that the hostesses sell for cash and the patrons buy to give away. Such a strange and unique way of doing things. Apparently this is the equivalent to doing business on golf courses in the US.
We continued to wind down the narrow passages and Mardi also explained that every house / restaurant has to have a bucket of water out front incase of fire. Considering many of the houses had paper walls, I don’t think those small buckets would help too much but it doesn’t hut to be prepared?
Eventually, we got back to the main area and walked to our first, tiny restaurant on the river side for tapas! We were the only people in the restaurant and we tried a whole bunch of seasonally delicious dishes and drank some beer.
After we had our fill, Mardi took us to more of a bar styled restaurant for tempura fries, fried chicken, and sashimi, again all totally delicious.
We were stuffed by the end of dinner and thanked Mardi for such a great welcome to Kyoto. Even though we were so full, we somehow found room for ice cream filled crepes before heading back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.