Every Saturday in Kyoto there is a tour by Samurai Joe, an 84 year old legend who has been a tour guide for over 50 years. I joined up with two American families and Yilde from Germany to see the neighbourhood from his point of view (OK, fine. To see him destroy things with a samurai sword.)
We wound slowly up towards the palace, stopping at several traditional shops along the way. This was a shop entirely devoted to the wooden sandals known as geta. (They aren’t all crazy stilt shoes like these ones)
At the sweet shop, we were told that if we needed the toilet, it was worth going here. Three very curious girls then made their way to the back of the shop and opened a door to be greeted by a light coming on and a toilet automatically opening to meet us. After initially falling about laughing we all decided we needed to video it, but sadly it only works once and then you have to wait a while for it to reset itself, so instead I have a video of a seemingly ordinary toilet and a wise old samurai saying ‘patience… is needed’. Which might be just as good.
I do not like sake. But hey, at least I know this now.
Joe tried to teach us some kanji (Japanese characters – pinched from the Chinese), including his real name, which is tragically not Joe, and my name, because I’m special. The rest of the group had to sound their names out of the equivalent characters, but I get my very own kanji because hana is a Japanese word. Actually I found out later that hana had three meanings and three different ways of writing it. It either means flower (I like that, very sweet), or brilliant/dazzling/showy (yep, that’s good too), or nose (hmmm. OK then)
Swapping hair style tips with the youngest member of the group
Cherry blossoms outside the palace. People don’t seem to go quite as crazy for blossom in Kyoto as they do in Tokyo, but there were still some hefty crowds queuing up for photos.
There are (among the thousands) a series of temples across the city dedicated to the seven deities of good luck, and if you visit all of them your prayers should be answered. It’s now traditional to collect a stamp at each temple, and we met a couple there who were collecting stamps on clothing. After asking them to model for us, Joe explained that these were going to be their burial robes! Hopefully having them covered in stamps means they won’t have to use them for a while yet.
The main event! He may look old and frail, but Joe’s seriously still got the moves! After delicately slicing a rack of chopsticks, one at a time (the only thing he did any where near slow enough for me to get a photo), he then had us throw apples in the air for him to slice, fruit ninja style, before finishing up rather terrifyingly by violently slashing a gourd in half ON SOMEONE’S STOMACH! Yeah, I wasn’t quite brave enough to be the volunteer for that one.
After that spectacular highlight we were escorted thorough the food market being given tasty samples at his favourite ships. I would say i enjoyed all of them, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) my chopstick skills weren’t quite able to cope with the tofu and jellyfish and that ended up in a splattered puddle on the floor. I’m not surprised Joe has been leading popular tour for 50 years, as far as I’m concerned all tours should end with free food and sword tricks. Go sign up as soon as you get to Kyoto.
That was nearly it for Kyoto before I headed for the overnight bus to Tokyo the next day. I had planned to visit the famous fushimi-inari shrine with the rows of torii gates on my last day, but it poured with rain again so I stuck to museums and shopping. My mum will be pleased to know that there are lots and lots of kimono photos for her.
Everyone else can have this photo of pandas and bunnies made out of silk cocoons.
In my last few hours before the night bus I decided to seek out one of the public baths for a soak among the old wrinkled boobs of Tokyo. Nudity is not only encouraged in the baths, it’s mandatory – you have to shower before you get in and since you can’t wash your bikini/underwear thoroughly under the shower, well, you have to leave it behind. After my initial doubts, especially about being there alone among all the Japanese students and mums and grandmas charting to each other, it’s really not that weird. Probably too relaxing to be awkward, although I did overcook myself so much that I almost fell over when I got out. I’m not sure, would that be more or less embarrassing with no clothes on?