Kyoto P1 – A Taste of Japan

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My second trip to Japan allowed me to see more of Kyoto and Osaka this time around. Being a free and easy traveler, where independence is a necessity, it also forces me to put that rusty Japanese language which i’ve been locking away for 16 years into good use finally. Well, as good as my degrading memory allows it, at least. Which is nothing much to shout about. Haha.

Mingling with other lone travelers, i realised what a big place this world is, and how little i’ve seen and experienced. Heck, i learned of the existence of a small but beautiful island called Pulau Kelabit off the coast of East Malaysia, from a young chap from England. Felt so ashamed that i’ve never even heard of this place before, and he’s traveling half the globe to visit it.

Japan is truly different from all the countries i’ve been, the efficiency of the people and how things work is truly amazing, everything operates just like clockwork, to save time and minimise inconvenience. Seeing is believing, and coming from a country like Malaysia, where service levels in general left much to be desired, i experienced an eye opener here.

People queue up for everything, from buying stuff to boarding buses to taking photos with lamp posts (no kidding!). They are a helpful lot too, never hesitate to ask for directions or any assistance when needed, some folks even go out of their way just to extend a helping hand. Like the passerby we met in Nara, who actually diverted from his own passage, knocked on some stranger’s door and asked for directions on our behalf, and personally escort us until the doorstep of our destination and even enquired the entrance fees for us, before leaving us with a bow and a big cheerful smile. I don’t think i’ve ever been shown this kind of courtesy before, in any other countries i visited.

There isn’t a dustbin to be seen anywhere along the streets, but neither are there any litter too. Well, hardly. And the toilets are all oh-so-clean! Not a drop of water on the floor and the toilet bowl set comes with all sorts of cute little buttons all designed to serve the convenience and comfort of the user. One button especially amuses me, it’s labelled “flushing sound” so i tried it out of curiosity, and can’t stop grinning to myself inside the cubicle. It seems that the Japanese are so shy about their bodily sounds being heard by others, that they made a background music that sounds like a real flush to drown out whatever sounds are currently discharging from your body. You can even adjust the volume of this flush sound to suit the “intensity” of your business. Haha! 😉

One thing baffles me though, why do they keep apologizing for everything? It’s really amusing the way they bow to everyone and everything. It was the first time i witnessed a train conductor bowing 90° and repeatedly apologizing in a well rehearsed train-speed-Japanese to each and every passenger personally just to “disturb their peace”. He didn’t even dare to touch the ticket while inspecting it from a distance. Such high regards they have for their valued passengers. And every patron who exited the shopping centre will also get a 90° bow from the concierge, whose head will stay down until the patron has fully exited the door. Imagine doing this for the whole day…., it’s a wonder if Japanese don’t get back aches… Oh, and the bowing also extends to deer. We’ll get to that in later parts.

Some areas around Shijo Kawaramachi where we stayed :-

Gion and Pontocho

Night entertainment areas. Gion has a long history since the medieval times as an entertainment area with lots of cha-ya, originally restaurants serving patrons of the Kabuki (traditional performing arts theaters), but later evolved into high class night clubs. The modern day Gion is known as a high class red light district, yet the ancient traditional buildings still preserve the atmosphere of the olden times, and fully-dressed Maiko and Geisha are not an uncommon sight here.

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So I went out one night to the back alleys of Gion, where a single male walking through here can’t walk in a straight line of 10 meters without being stopped 10 times by both men and women soliciting business…. That’s what happened to our new friend whom we met at the hostel. And so Ming and i decided to go with him again on that last night so that the 3 of us can walk in peace to explore the area without being stopped by anyone. Oh and we spotted a geisha too. Or was it a Maiko? I can’t really differentiate the two. Anyway, after we left Kyoto, he went back again into the darker part of Gion, not sure where he picked up an Italian paparazzi this time, but apparently they took some videos of real geishas at work. Too bad we missed the stalking fun. Haha!

Nishiki Market

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Known as the kitchen of Kyoto, it’s a stretch of wet market selling all sorts of food and especially seasonal ingredients – Kyoto pickles and vegetables, all sorts of fish and other fresh seafood, dried and preserved foodstuff, etc. Lots of tasting here. But it’s kinda weird to taste pickles though.

Cat Cafe (Neko Kaigi)

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This was my first visit to such an establishment. Another only-in-Japan thingy i suppose. Being a cat lover, i needed to see it for myself. A normal cafe except the cats are the main focus here. Charges by the hour, you can play with the cats but you can’t wake a sleeping cat. Cats are extremely clean; they make you wash your hands with soap first before even entering the cafe. The cats here are rather weird though. They seem to enjoy it when you whack them really hard on their butt. They even fall asleep on your lap if you hit them hard and consistent enough. My hands got tired of ass-smacking these cats after a while. Think i still prefer gentle, purring, head rubbing and less sadistic cats. Haha 😉

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More about KYOTO attractions in : Kyoto : PART 2 – Temples & Shrines

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