First stop – Kyoto
What a tourist friendly city – all the signposts, street signs, bus announcements and subway signs are in English as well as Japanese.
The transport system puts ours to shame with seamless transitions from bus to tram and rail, and lines for passenger management marked clearly on every platform
The city is pristine in its cleanliness although the muted containment of the streetscape is shockingly contrasted with the garish advertising in the malls.
Old people enjoy department store cafeteria meals and people are polite and kind there as everywhere.
It’s an auspicious beginning on the first night when on the short walk from the ryokan to the ramen bar an elegant crane struts the urban footpath. A few blocks away the Kyoto Tower shines.
This family are foodies so off to the Nishiki food market, a five block narrow covered bazaar of small stalls with every known speciality from pickled vegetables, seaweed, teas to mullet roe at prices I couldn’t even imagine.
Lunch on the top floor of the Daimaru department store was reminiscent of the old David Jones (or was it Mark Foy’s?) cafeteria. For the first time the press about the ageing Japanese population strikes home…. The clientele mirror lunch at the local senior citizens.
It’s hard to beat a good ramen bar but dinner one night at a Samurai themed shamo (local game bird) restaurant was worth the experience if only to see the constrained daytime crowd become a boisterous bunch of partygoers; had forgotten what a smoke filled restaurant was like. Conscience got the better of adventure and the whale and the horse were not ordered.
On the street
Only one rainy day –the temples in Gion were a wash out, so best spent in a gallery or museum; Kyoto National Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art were closed for renos but at the Museum of Kyoto we see the prolific “Impressionist at the Waterside” exhibition with some of the best of the genre I have ever seen. Sisley is always a favourite and there was a Monet Sunset at Dieppe that took my breath away.
OK so we missed the wonderful gardens and the 1600 temples that Kyoto is famed for; however, notching up another two UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites, we joined the crowds at the Golden Pagoda and the Nijo Castle. At the pagoda you can buy your fortune in English for either 10 cents of 10 dollars; I forget which. Mine said: “How good your fortune is….Nothing to worry about. Work hard…” And as if a cautionary condition of this happiness, “ Do not give yourself up to drinking or illicit love”. I did not consign it to the Fortune Dust Bin (sic) that waited for those predictions not so well received.
A highlight and its black moment
Our last night in Kyoto was the annual Hanatoro – the lantern festival in Higashiyama. Thousands of lanterns shine in the streets and parks and most temples and shrines were illuminated. Temple Park displays are reminiscent of Vivid in Sydney with imaginative installations bringing a smile of appreciation.
Well, it was not to be missed so we joined the evening throngs wending our way to a temple on the hill. I strode ahead and Sunday, our splendid blond, beautiful and bespectacled 7 year old bobbed up next to me, said hello and ran back to her parents…(pause)…. only she missed them in the throng and kept on running against the crowd. Ten minutes later we discovered she was with neither of us.
I did not panic. I knew Japan was a safe and law abiding country. Her parents ran down both legs of a forked road and finally she was found. A kind man had walked her to the closest event centre and was waiting. She sobbed explaining that the translation App on the phone she had been minding had not worked for her.
Clutching the children even closer we went on to the illuminated gardens and light show at the Chion-In Buddhist temple. Beautiful and life affirming after a wrenching 20 minutes!!