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Updated: Oct 3, 2019

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Gion District Kyoto
Inspiring Japan travel stories

I rolled onto the edge of the bed to reach out my mobile from the floor. I had thirty minutes to catch Shinkansen departed from Tokyo station at 01:33 pm. I rushed, packing all my belongings and dropped the hotel key at the receptionist. Mild cold morning air marked the end of cherry blossom season in Tokyo. The grey cloud hanged over the city. I was walking as fast as I could, squeezing myself on the train, trying to find the right spot for my luggage. Right at the JR office, I was begging the ticketing officer to get me a seat to Kyoto. I thanked him for getting me the ticket for 01:30 pm train. 'You better hurry now. You have 6 minutes!' He reminded me, looking down on his watch. Finding the platform was quite comfortable that station signs are both in English and Japanese. Right in the corner, just around the platform entrance, there was a waiting room with an automatic sliding door and the cornered shop selling drinks, snacks, and eki bento. 'Ah yes, Eki bento! Those fancy Japanese lunch boxes!' I mumbled, reminding me how my classmate from Japanese course raving about those fancy delicacy boxes. I got myself a box with assorted tempuras and a can of Asahi beer. The train arrived on time on the platform--with the precision of Japanese punctuality. I double-checked which train my seat was. It was quite comfortable. Spacious legroom even makes you feel more relaxed along the trip. The train ran quietly through Tokyo's sky-high buildings and dense suburbs of Tokyo. It zipped through the landscape from large populated urban spaces to agricultural lands--it made only a few brief stops before reaching Kyoto station. I arrived in Kyoto at 04:11 pm.

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Gion District Kyoto

I was standing in the middle of the vast station hall, looking up the high ceiling. Between the two main wings of the station, either West or East, Kyoto station is an expanded station integrated with modern shops, dinings, and hotel. It is vast that it is quite daunting to get around the station with multiple floors and mezzanines, and the underpasses. Every inch of spaces is mostly utilised for commercial purposes, so the possibilities of shoppings, dinings, and entertainments are endless. Getting back to the hotel, I was lost many times trying to find which way the East exit was. However, the more I was lost, the more I found a new shop or a ramen shop in the corner. Though Kyoto station neighbouring isn't quite attractive, it is convenient, especially for a first Japan traveller like myself. That was the reason why I chose staying at El Inn Kyoto. The hotel is now called Elcient Kyoto. Breakfast time seems very popular at the station shops. I had to queue to get a seat at Hanshi coffee.

The rain was falling over Gion as the night began to unfold. Lights reflected on wet stoned roads were like Mozaic abstract paintings. There were only a few pedestrians and vehicles passing by. The cold air was bitter. I was standing in the middle of Gion Tatsumi bridge, looking over the calm waterway. Lantern lights reflected on the water swayed with the last falling cherry blossoms. The dark rooftops of Gion were the silent witness of the glorious past. I walked along the high road. Well preserved machiya, traditional Japanese houses, are now trendy restaurants and shops. Some hanamachi, the flower town, in Gion district, is still well maintained. Usually, the house has Ochaya and Okiya (Japanese tea houses). I was on my way to Gion corner to see Kyomai, Kyoto style traditional dance performed by Maiko and Geiko. The dance was born and developed during the Tokugawa period in the 17th century. It depicts the rich Imperial Court tradition.

The rain was bucket-pouring when I arrived at Gion Corner. I joined the long queue for the next show. The show started with Chado, the tea ceremony. The tradition dating back in the 8th century is originated from China. It was brought to Japan by Zen Buddhist priests at the end of the Heian period in the 12th century. From the drink to prevent the drowsiness after long hours of meditation, in the 14th-century, the tea-drinking gained its popularity.

The lonely planet had suggested trying a bar in Gion called Atlantis, and here I was, looking for the bar. The little cute Atlantis Bar is tucked in the alleyway in Nakagyo Ward, Matsumotocho. This Gion neighbourhood looks more attractive at night as trendy restaurants and bars start their business hours. Its open-air deck overlooks Kamo river open on weekend afternoons and nights. During winter and early spring, when rains pour more frequently, I found myself sitting at their bar while enjoying their fancy cocktails. I put my necessary Japanese speaking skills on the line for the first time in Kyoto. Surprisingly the bartender was impressed--or maybe he was just modest and polite. He also gave me some local tips about where to go and our conversations went on from Japan travel to Australia. As the rain eased late at night, I said goodbye to him. He followed me to the front and elegantly bowed wishing me well and have a good night. It was the first time I experienced Japanese hospitality.

It was bitterly cold as I made my way back to Kawaramachi station. Kyoto hasn't lost its charms. Behind glamourous shops and malls, glorious past is tucked in Gion alleyways or on hilltops where shrines and temples dwell. Kyoto is the city where traditions have given their way to the existence of modernism. Modernism itself will have never leave the traditions and culture behind but embracing each element to be a part of its cycle.

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