Life’s Lessons

At the end of a trip I like to look back and reflect on lessons learned and things I would maybe do differently next time.

Don’t get a hair cut before you travel – especially if you’re going shorter than you’re used to making it tricky to put up in the heat or on a bad hair day.

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When packing – less is more.  We did a super job this trip.  I’ve finally learned to pack light.  Every item had a dual purpose and we wore every item we took – even if it were for 5 minutes (hat/scarf/gloves).  Credit where credit is due – well done us!

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Downloading apps and subsequent extras, like maps BEFORE you leave home is a fairly important lesson.  You never know when you’re going to have free WiFi.

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My good friend, Marie will shudder at this next point, but you really don’t have to take your own shampoo and conditioner.  Hotels will give you something that is workable for the couple of days you’re staying.

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Be willing to try new foods.

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Always, and I mean always learn the language basics, even if it’s hello, goodbye and thank you. It shows respect; that you are trying; most people will humour you and help you along; and it’s fun!

Thank you in different languages

If you are going to a country where you will struggle with the language beyond the basics, brush up on your mime skills before you go and have a practise on the plane.

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Bandaids, ziplock bags in varying sizes, small containers for creams/lotions and shower caps to cover the bottoms of your shoes in your case –  amongst other things are invaluable items.

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Pick some easy jewellery that goes with everything that can be worn in the shower and the pool so you’re not taking it off and putting it back on all the time – you’re less likely to lose stuff then…… and probably leave the diamonds and rubies at home.

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A smile says 1000 words in all languages around the world – sure some are more creepy than others, but that’s a whole other lesson!

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Happy Travels campers……

Until next time, take it easy and watch out for wankers!

Shopping Disaster

So, you know how I said that we were thinking we might buy an extra suitcase for all our purchases?  Well, as it turns out, there is nothing to put in an extra suitcase…. hence an extra case wasn’t even purchased.

It’s a sad day for shoppers everywhere.

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Let me talk you through it….

Yesterday we had an ok day and we found a couple of pairs of shoes at the Sungei Wang Shopping Centre – a place that was recommended to us when we asked for something ‘middle of the road’ – not cheap shit and not Prada.  But after our one purchase, the shops thinned out considerably and we didn’t even slow down as we passed them.  Hope was given up momentarily until we headed over to The Pavillion Shopping Centre which was new and glitzy and full of promise.  We hardly went into any shops let alone purchase anything – all too expensive or too small or too gaudy or too fru-fru (that’s a word), so we simply had dumplings and came home very light on.

Today we were on a mission – to find – ‘something’ – ‘anything’.  We first went to the Suria Shopping Centre under the  Petronas Twin Towers – we’re talking high end labels – your Tiffnays, your Cartiers Darl’, your Louis Vuittons, etc….. so looking around that entire centre took about 10 minutes.

We did manage to capture a little pic to prove we were actually there.

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To our thinking we needed to take it down a notch or two and headed to the Central Market.

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For those of you thinking you might want to go there, we can save you the trouble.

We’ve done it for you.

No need for you to go anywhere near the place.

You’re welcome.

We spent about 15 minutes at these markets, 10 of which was taken up looking at the map trying to figure out where to go next.

So, we headed back to The Pavillion – for more dumplings, as you do.

Dismayed, disillusioned and downright bored with shopping, we decided to pack it in and head back to our hotel for swimming, packing and a little afternoon tea in the air conditioning.

We definitely needed my lovely cousin, Chris with us here – she has a black belt in shopping, and not just because she bought it!  Chrisso, you’d be so disappointed with our performance here.

This is not a picture of my lovely cousin Chris

This is not a picture of my lovely cousin Chris. My lovely cousin Chris is so much lovelier than this lady and even if we did disappoint, my lovely cousin, Chris would never be so flippant and flamboyant in displaying her disappointed emotions like this.

Kuala Lumpur has been interesting and I’m glad that we stopped here, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I need to come back again.

So we are leaving with pretty much the same weight in our small cases as when we left!  We’ve jettisoned a couple of clothing items that have done their job with gusto, but unfortunately are not making the trip back.  Having said that,  whatever weight we’ve lost has certainly been made up by the socks that I’ve collected along the way.

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Getting our dumpling on in Kuala Lumpur

If you were going to pick a place to wind down after a jaunt to Japan, then KL could be your place.  And when I say ‘wind down’, I totally mean ‘go shopping’!

We only took very small bags with us and have only bought 2-3 very small items each the whole trip.  So now we’re ready to cut loose and maybe even buy a second suitcase to accommodate all our purchases.

First though, it’s important to build your strength on dumplings.

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This is the best dumpling place in the world – as far as I am concerned.  We tried to go to one of their restaurants in Singapore, but there was an hour wait for lunch, and then we went back for dinner, but they don’t do dumplings at night – selfish!

So, today was our day.

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If you’re in KL it’s on the 6th floor of The Pavillion Shopping Centre or the Garden Mall – Mid Valley City or, if you’re in Singapore – here’s the website with all the locations and you too can look like this….

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We watched the chefs making the dumplings in Singapore and one lady was on ‘filling’ duty, then she would pass them on to the man who was in charge of crimping.  She was going so fast that she ended up tossing the dumplings at the man…. sometimes it’s better not to look.

Still tasty though!

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Japanese Delights

Our favourite things in Japan were:

The cherry blossoms

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We were so lucky with the timing.  We were too early in Tokyo, just right in Kanazawa and they were just ending by the time we got to Kyoto.

Mout Fuji

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We had two of the most perfect days to look at Mt Fuji.  It was quite mesmerising; like the ocean or a fire, you could just sit and look at it for hours.

Kyoto

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Out of all the cities we visited, Kyoto was the prettiest and the most user friendly.  It seemed to have more restaurants and quaint shops.  It’s definitely the place that I would return to if given the chance.

Shirakawa-go

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The UNESCO village up in the mountains.  I love that they are trying to preserve a piece of their history even when the  Tokyos and the Osakas are building high rises all over the place.

The Food

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We loved the sushi, the sashimi, the seaweed and the rice balls…. oh, and the steak!

The Trains

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The fast trains – I’m not sure how we’re going to cope having to travel at only 100km (or 110kph between Safety Bay Road and the Manjagoogoodap Road Exits on the Kwinana Freeway).  It really is the best way to travel!

The only Japanese wanker in the village

Our last night in Japan called for one last search for sushi.  We asked at the reception desk and there was not much joy.  You’d think that other people would have asked the questions of “where’s a good sushi restaurant?” before, but apparently not.  There was much discussion and asking of colleagues which resulted in some blank faces.  It was also a Monday night, where it seemed lots of places were closed.

So, a quick bit of googalising and we were off.

Our first attempt thwarted us with this sign…

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One was full and another one was closed.  Then we found this place.  We were excited.  It was full, but they asked us to sit and wait for a spot at the bar.  This was where the action was.  We watched the chefs interact with the customers. There was laughing and handing over of freshly made sashimi and sushi.  There was sake being drunk.  Excitement.

Jenny was more excited about these baskets under the seats.  We’d seen them before and Jenny just couldn’t believe what a great idea they were and why we don’t have them….. probably because your stuff would be flogged and you wouldn’t know about it until you got up to leave!

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We finally got our spot at the end of the bar and the chef down our end having clocked who his new customers were had a look on his face of palpable distain.  No welcome, no hello, no reply to my ‘konbanwa’, no konichiwa, no smile – nothing.

We ordered our first dish from a picture menu by pointing to which he said “ok” and then said something in Japanese to the chef next to him who looked at us and said something back to him – it felt exactly like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine goes to the nail salon with the Korean staff.

This is what we ordered…..

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And this is what we got…

One might say that he had a lacksidasical approach to his craft.

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The rest of the dishes were ok looking, and all tasted delicious.

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He seemed pretty happy when I threw out an “Oishii” (delicious) and he replied “thank you” with one raised eyebrow.  Then I thought – well, it’s raw fish, how much credit can he really take for it?

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He made no attempt to converse and then when a French couple sat down next to us who spoke as much Japanese as we did, he almost rolled his eyes, said a few more things to the chef next to him and they sniggered!  They sniggered!

It made for a fairly awkward hour and we left stomachly satisfied, but certainly not culturally.  It made me want to go home, learn Japanese and go back there, sit and order, eat my food and at the end of the meal after he’d rudely whispered whatever to his mate in Japanese, I would triumphantly speak in Japanese making him realise that I had understood every word he’d said.  Sure it’s a long range revenge tactic, which will require a fair amount of work on my part.

Or I could be like Jenny who just said, “Stuff him!”

The Kyoto

Today was all about the shrines of Kyoto – we weren’t going to see ALL of them, but we were going to go close.  Today we had a tour guide who was going to take us to all of the ‘must see’ spots.

Our first stop was the Golden Shrine.

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On the way through the gate there was this small pavilion with a large bell.  People go there and put in their wish for their future – apparently it’s a very popular spot on New Year’s Eve with people trying to get their resolutions in before it’s too late.  Our guide said it gets very noisy with all the bell ringing.

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This is us red red ready to see ALL the shrines.

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Our ticket for the Golden Shrine – it gives you passage through the gate and it also wishes you good luck.

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Here we are.

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Our guide, Hideck insisted on using his tour guide flag in case we lost him although we were never more than a meter away from each other at any one time.

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This is what the Gold Shrine looks like in winter.

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And this is the inside of the upstairs section.  The floor is painted with lacquer to give the illusion of water.

Nobody is allowed inside the building except for very special occasions or if you’re George Bush Senior – he got to go in there once on a visit.

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There are beautiful gardens and ponds all around the shrine.

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There was a special section where you could have tea.

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Burning incense is an important ritual in the Buddhist religion.  The smoke is very symbolic and people like to make sure that the smoke touches their body, especially their head as they believe it will heal them or make them smarter.

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Then they ding this big bell to wake the spirits and make sure their thoughts and prayers have been heard.

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Seriously – we were walking along an empty street and Hideck still thought it was necessary to use his tour guide stick.  He was not going to lose his group – no way – not on his watch!

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And the pointer comes in so handy for other things….

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We were now at the second of today’s long list of shrines – the Ryoanji Temple.  Inside the gates is the Kyoyochi Pond.  This pond was made in the late 12th century.  Until recent years many mandarin ducks were to be seen on the pond.  Hence, the Ryoanji was generally known as Oshidoridera, the temple of the mandarin ducks (pretty imaginative if you ask me).

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Buddha sits peacefully at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the Kuri, the main building of the temple.

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The Steps

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Inside the main building is The Rock Garden.  It is simple and quite remarkable, measuring only twenty five metres from east to west and ten metres from south to north.  The rectangular Zen garden is completely different from the gorgeous gardens of court nobles constructed in the Middle Ages.  No trees are to be seen; only 15 rocks and white gravel.  The walls are made of clay boiled in oil.  As time went by, the peculiar design was made of itself by the oil that seeped out.  This internationally famous rock garden was said to be created at the end of the Muromachi Period (around 1500) by a highly respected Zen monk, Tokuho Zenketsu.

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Apparently, the garden has been designed so that you can never see all 15 rocks from any one spot because to see them all would mean you had achieved perfection and a big Buddhist teaching is that nobody is perfect and we should all strive to work harder to better ourselves.  I counted 14…. apparently it helps to see more of the rocks if you are taller.  Hideck said the garden was designed with short Japanese people in mind.

This is a small replica of the rock garden with braille signs so that the sight impaired can also enjoy the garden.

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There are all sorts of “Zen” bits and pieces around the temple…. this bamboo water spout for one.  The water drips into  a bowl that is shaped like a Chinese coin.  It has Chinese characters one each side of the square that basically spell out (in the most confusing way possibly) “Money can’t buy you happiness”

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I tell you what wasn’t Zen-like was these red buckets.

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Something else not so Zen – these people frantically working in this office.

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As always, shoes off when you go into a temple.  I didn’t see any others that I liked on the way out, so I just put my own back on.

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From this temple, we hit the local train station which was quite a pretty walk….

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… past some interesting parking set ups.

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And when we got on the train – it was all decorated with cherry blossoms – heaven knows what happens here during the other 50 weeks of the year!

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They even painted the train especially for this cherry blossom season.

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This area, which is full of tourists had quite a few of these rickshaw ‘runners’.  When I took this photo I thought the panda was just a stuffed toy, but on closer inspection – I think that could be a person in a panda suit!!!

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More pretty flowers….

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Then a stop for lunch.  How lovely does this lunch look?

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Apparently all the bowls have been chosen to compliment the colour of the food.

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Next stop – the Bamboo Forrest!

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Kyoto is mainly quite flat, so there are lots of bikes around and they weave through the people quite fast.  Someone else who was whizzing through the people today was this speed demon.  No beeping, no ‘excuse me’ and no slowing down – just ploughing though!

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There is a shrine with the Bamboo Forrest where people, mainly young ladies, come to ask the spirits for a good partner, to be married soon, etc…..  They write their wishes on these wooden plaques and then hang them here.  The plaques are eventually burned and the wishes are meant to rise up with the ashes to the spirits so their wishes can be heard and hopefully granted.

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Then they pay some money (a donation) and line up here to make their wish and ring the bell to make sure somebody up there is listening.

No, I didn’t get on the end of this line.  I line up for no man!

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You know how earlier I was telling you that I couldn’t find a picture of a couple who dressed alike?  Well, here is a couple!  Not the ones in the kimono – the two on the left – matching jackets, jeans and shoes!

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The Bamboo Garden was absolutely beautiful.  Really calming and quiet.  The height of the trees blocks out the noise from the outside world (except for the occasional train as the tracks are right there!)

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Quite a magical and serene place.  Imagine it with no people…..

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We hiked up the hill a bit to this look out which was just glorious.

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Look at the colours!  I can only imagine what it would look like in Autumn!

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The scenery is almost as pretty as Me Jenny!

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This poor man was trying to sit and paint.  The poor girl was behind him trying to take a picture I assume of what he was painting.  At one point she got so close that her camera was almost sitting on top of his head.  Then she slipped a bit and all I could imagine was him and his easel going flying.

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Next on our tour of shrines was the Tenrū Temple.  The temple itself was pretty standard, but the garden here was beautiful.  Here are some of the flowers….. you’re welcome.

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The Bridal Wreath!

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Little snippets of pink everywhere.

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How’s this rabbit-eared, two-budded number?

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I wasn’t the only one here fascinated with getting up close and personal with the flora.

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And these little blossoms…. bless

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This temple also has a pond – with water so clear.

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The pond is full of massive carp.

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And….. this is what it would look like in Autumn!

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And that is it for the temples!  We made it!

This is one of my favourite photos of the day.

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People jostling and pushing and manoeuvring to get a good spot – me included!

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So we hightailed it out of the temple and down one of the busiest streets ever (no photos because I couldn’t raise my arms from by my sides) and then emerged on this bridge.

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This is what everyone was coming to look at.  The river has been dammed and so the people take advantage of the flat, calm water to paddle in boats.

The couple you can see who are perilously close to going over the edge there tried in vain to paddle their way out for a good 20 minutes, and then as we crossed back over the bridge, we saw the brown boat with the outboard motor towing them away from the edge.

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There was also this chap giving a bit of entertainment.  I don’t think he was busking as such, but practising the skill of twirling this star shaped material.  He was really very good.

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On the way back to the train station Hideck walked us through the Kimono Forrest.

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Hundreds of poles all lined with kimono fabric

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they light up at night and look amazing – such a great idea!

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Then it was back to the train station and here’s what we passed in the back streets….

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Pretty bikes everywhere

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And two more people dressed the same!  I told you they were out there – exact same shoes and everything!

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All in all we walked 11.6kms today.

Not a bad effort.

Now we’re exhausted and all shrined out

(possibly the title of a Weird Al Yankovic version of Alison Moyet’s “All Cried Out”?

Geisha Girl

After yesterday’s atrocious breakfast fiasco which was so terrible I couldn’t even write about it, we decided to skip it this morning and grab something at the train station.  This cafe served a choice of 2 western style brekkies both as terrible as each other, but not quite as terrible as yesterday (I’ll have you know, there was no Japanese options either – just two set dishes – eggs, scrambled or fried; 3 inch thick toast; brown bacon and today they added some sort of salsa and when I say scrambled egg – I mean a teaspoon’s worth.

Anyway – the good thing about this cafe is the ‘smoking room’.  They have a closed off room for the smokers – a great idea.  The better idea would be to ban it altogether, but I’ll go with this if they’re not going to go with that!

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So this was our last train ride on this Japanese journey and Jenny finally accepted the window seat.  She’s always been an aisle girl, you see, but for the 15 minutes we were on the train from Osaka to Kyoto – she threw caution to the wind.

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This is Kyoto’s version of road work barriers.

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We arrived fairly early, so couldn’t check in to the hotel.  We dumped our bags and went a walkin’.

This is a good idea for map readers, isn’t it?

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We’ve been quite surprised by the French influence in the building in Japan.  I mean, they building here can’t be all that new, and yet Japan was a closed country for so long, and yet here it is – French inspired.

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This was just a cool little interior furniture shop we came across.  Kyoto is definitely the more cosmopolitan of the big smokes in Japan.

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We spotted this alleyway with some flags out the front, so we knew it was an eatery of sorts – the big menu out the front also helped us to come to that conclusion.

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So down the end of the alley – and more flags – good sign.

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Then inside, we were seated and given this bowl of sesame seeds in a sort of mortar bowl with a wooden pestle and told to “smash in circles”

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So we did as we were told….

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We kept our eye on everyone else to see what the hell they were doing.

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Then we were to add our choice of sauce… this was delicious!

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lunch, which was katsu pork, as always, came with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables and cabbage – we were stuffed.

Then it was time to walk it off.  We were headed in the direction of a big park with many shrines for a date with a Meikosan (an apprentice Geikosan / Geisha) for a tea ceremony, but that wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we thought we would take in some sakura whilst we waited.

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The river was a hub of activity – we’re not sure if they were protesting, or artists or just having Hanami?

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Again, we took the back streets when we could – you always see the best things in the back streets!

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There is a little stream/creek/waterway that runs through a section of Kyoto which is only ankle deep and these kiddies were playing in there quite happily trying to catch – something?

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Check out this laid back motor bike!!!

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Sakura – they were close…

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And there was plenty of tourist buses and taxis so we couldn’t be too far away.

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We reached the park and started our trek up the hill….

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There were shrines-a-plenty….. but no sakura.

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At most of the shrines there are these water coolers.  Here’s what you do…. you scoop up some water in the big spoon and pour it into your hand, then you drink the water our of your hand, then swill it around and spit out into the trough around the edge.

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Opps, there’s a tiny cherry blossom.

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And another little baby one there…..

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And…. petty of young gals dressed up in kimono.  Most of the people dressed up, according to our Meiko host today, are not Japanese, and certainly not Meikosan (apprentice) or Geikosan (fully trained – like after 5 years of training)

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There was even an Aussie girl there posing for some pics.  She had people from all over want to take a picture with her and talking to her in Japanese.  She looked over at us sitting on the step and said laughing, “I’m clearly not Japanese!”

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So there was the odd blossom, and there were still people hanging on so they could have their Hanami in the park.

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These ladies will no doubt be looking through the hundreds of photos they’ve just taken of each other.  This seems to be the modern reason to dress up in kimono and hit the parks – to pose and take photos of each other – with absolutely no self consciousness – at all!

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We were about an hour out from our appointment with our Meiko and tea ceremony, so we started heading towards where we thought it was going to be.  We had some VERY vague directions written in Japanese which I translated with the help of Google Translate – I’m not sure the peeps there at Google have a full handle on this yet.

Anyway….. we didn’t know where the hell we were going.  We stopped a taxi driver and asked him to read the directions hoping that they were really very clear and something just got lost in translation.  He sent us straight ahead and then crossroads, two, go (pointing, gesturing left).  We gave him a big arigato and thought – thank goodness for him because that’s nowhere near where we thought it was……. and we walk and walk and walk – still confused (although I’m not sure how we could be after those directions)

I stopped and asked a chef who was outside his restaurant pinning up today’s menu.  He enlisted the help of another lady from the restaurant and a lady who was passing by.  They all had a good look at the original directions and then looked at the map I was using – and laughed.  The lady went inside and got a massive map – all in Japanese.  The passer by had to go, but luckily another chef came outside to see what everyone was doing and he put his two yen in as well.

They finally worked it out and then started to give us directions – back the way we had come and very close to where we thought it was….. but not exactly.  We thanked them all profusely and went back on our way saying to each other “we’re going to have to ask someone else when we get closer”

We’d walked about 100 metres and the chef trotted up behind us…. “I’ll show you”, he said.

He tried to chat to us in Japanese and I tried to use my many apps to respond, but we all just shrugged our shoulders in the end and he strode forward and lead the way.

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4-5 blocks of winding streets he lead us.  We got to the 5th block and I started to wonder if this was going to be some sort of scam, but then I thought, how fortuitous that we just happened past his restaurant whilst he was putting out his menu, and I should happen to ask directions to a place that I thought was in this direction in the first place for him to now think – this could be a good opportunity for me to rob some people!  It made no sense.

Then – he suddenly stopped and as we watched 5 English people go inside, he said “This is it”.  I could have kissed him.  There was absolutely no way – even if we had the proper address and a GPS location tracker that we would have found this place on our own!

We tried to bundle in with the English peeps, but the efficacious lady said “Yes?”

I answered, “Konichiwa, we have an appointment at 3.30.” in the hope that she might say ‘of course come in and wait in our very comfortable seating area because it looks like you’ve been walking for hours’.  But as it was only 2.15, instead she said, “Well, please come back at 3.30.” and flung the curtain across the doorway.

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I took a photo of the doorway not only for the blog, but just in case we couldn’t find it again!

It was right around the corner from a function centre where Jakuya and Junko were getting married – I was snapping landmarks all over the place.

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So we went back to the park to wait it out and do a bit of people watching.

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I wonder how the chap who always seems to be at the end of our driveway fiddling with the NBN wires (more often than not, cutting or knocking a wire out of the socket leaving us with no internet or phone and having to go through the rigmarole of calling faults) would go with this lot?

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3.30 on the dot and she let us in.  This is something that Jenny had wanted to do since the idea of coming to Japan was thought of.  We were lead upstairs by the lady from the front door (not a Meiko or a Geiko, but the owner of the establishment)

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We sat on these lovely little floral chairs.

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Whilst Timi – a Maikosan – apprentice Geiko (Geiko is what they all Geisha in Kyoto) prepared our matcha tea.

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Then the tea was cleared away and she performed a dance.  This was a little bit awkward as it was just us and her – but you had to remember that she had been training for 5 years to do exactly this.

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She didn’t look like she enjoyed the experience at all, but I think the emotionless face is part of the training.

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You can become a Meikosan at the ago of 15 and you train for 5 years.  After that you can decide if you want to become a Geikosan and then you go through stages – each lasting 5 years to work your way up the ranks.  A Meikosan, being an apprentice has more rules and is more strict.  They have to use their own hair for the styles – they have it done once a week at a salon and then sleep on a wooden neck block with a small pillow so their hair doesn’t flatten.  Once they are a Geikosan, they have a wig made.  There is a kimono and hairstyle for each month of the year and they must follow the styles.  They also go to private classes for two hours a day and watch other Meilkosan’s private lessons to learn from them as well.  They can only wear lipstick on their bottom lip whilst being an apprentice, and must not engage with boyfriends – and when they get married, they must retire.  They learn about 20 different dances and learn how to entertain guests by pouring them drinks (sake & tea) and having conversations.  They don’t learn about the wide world, but they do learn about current events so they can be part of the conversation.

Timi’s dance was lovely and very graceful, but as she about to graduate,  I hate to think that was all she had learned in 5 years.

She spoke a little bit of English, but even when the host asked her a question or acted as a translator, Timi was very timid and softly spoken.  I searched her eyes to see if she was silently screaming out for help in some way, but she showed me no sign of being held captive, so we took our photos and we went on our way.

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The make up on the back of the next is designed to elongate the next making her look more feminine.

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So we sat around somewhat awkwardly asking questions to our host whilst Timi sat staring blankly in front of her, then we brought it all to a close with a “well, that was great….” and started grabbing our things.

They came outside with us and encouraged us to have photos with Timi outside in her wooden shoes, to complete the look.  These photos will never see the light of day as they were terrible – our lovely host was not the best photographer and then as we walked up to the main street, they stood there outside the door waving, just like the staff at the hotel in Kawaguchiko.  We checked a couple of times over our shoulder and they were still there waving…… until we turned the corner.

What an intriguing experience but now I’m more confused than ever why you would become a Meikosan/Geikosan?  it’s not for the money, because they don’t earn a wage – they are just given a weekly allowance.  Also, Timi and our host went to Perth earlier in the year for a Japanese festival – it was 40 degrees while they were there and the fully trained Geilkosans went to the beach, but because Timi couldn’t get her hair wet, or wear bathers or go out into the sun, she had to sit in her full kimono (at least i was the  summer cotton one!) because when they have their hair done like that, they must wear the full kimono – even for relaxing.

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A strange life choice – but I guess it’s a choice.