Posts Tagged With: kyoto

Kyoto & Osaka Adventures – Matt’s Trip To Japan

Just wait until I tell you about my weekend! It was positively, absolutely incredible!

My brother Matt and his friend Tim came to Japan for a holiday. I couldn’t unfortunately take a lot of time off from work as it’s a really busy season for Japanese schools, but I was able to pop down to Osaka and Kyoto this weekend to play local tour guide. I was so excited to see my little brother I could hardly sleep the days leading up to our adventure!

Saturday we toured around Kyoto and I brought the boys to some of my favourite places and temples. I knew it would be my last trip to Kyoto, so it was really nice to see my favourite temples one last time and share them with my brother.

First stop was Kinkakuji Temple. The boys were delighted to get to ring the enormous bell inside the temple grounds.
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Then we meandered over, through the throngs of school kiddies out on their annual school trip, to the actual pavilion. I had never seen Kinkakuji look so beautiful! The temple was magnificent to behold with a robins egg blue sky in the background and the brilliant sunshine making it really sparkle. Also, the iris flowers around the temple pond were in full bloom much to my delight! (For more info in Kinkakuji click here)

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We arrived in downtown Kyoto, it was a scorcher of a hot day so we grabbed some matcha ice cream and took a shameless selfie. IMG_4472Our tongues turned thoroughly green and our stomachs happy, we skipped down the street to relax and putter around my favourite zen temple Kennin-ji. Matt and Tim both said that it was their favourite temple in Japan so far. Or perhaps I was simply so enthusiastic about being there, and singing it’s numerous praises, they dared not break my bubble of happiness…

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My favourite part of that whole day was walking around Kennin-ji and finally sitting down for a ‘quiet’ moment to contemplate the beautiful rock garden! Matt and Tim made friends with some of the cute girls wearing kimono and these photos were the highlight of their day.IMG_4631 IMG_4698

Truly tuckered out I retreated to my favourite cafe Malebranche in Kyoto Station to relax a little while the boys went shopping for Japanese goodies.  This was a  bittersweet and nostalgic moment, Malebranche’s cafe is one of my favourite cafes in the world and it would be my last time ever sitting there in it’s tranquility and comfort.IMG_4500

It’s a good thing I rested up because that night we went out on the town! Osaka’s big city lights lured the boys out of the hostel for a few beers and good times. I had to call it quits at 2 am little party pooper that I am eventhough the boys were ready to stay out till the sun came up; what can I say, these old bones of mine just couldn’t keep up! IMG_4503

 

We woke up tired but excited Sunday morning. Today was the day we were off to see some owls! A new and big trend in Japan is Owl Cafes which is basically a place where you go to hang out with live owls! Matt and I are die-hard Harry Potter fans, so this interaction with live owls was a dream come true.

Osaka today, Hogwarts tomorrow! Oh how I wish! Owl Cafe Osaka IMG_4753 IMG_4746We had a hoot at the Owl Cafe in Osaka (*wink wink*) and we all agreed it was a really memorable experience.

It’s pretty hard to beat that experience but I was determined to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine with the boys. They were so templed-out by this point (a common affliction in Kyoto) that I had to promise them this was the grand finale and insist that they couldn’t leave Japan without seeing this magical place.

IMG_4809 IMG_4834 IMG_4843I normally hate to say, “I told you so!” but this was one of those times I couldn’t resist. The boys even admitted afterwards that they definitely would have regretted not going! I’m a pretty good tour guide, if I do say so myself. (For more info on the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto click here)

All too soon we had to say our goodbyes. I to go back to work in Fukui, and the boys to go on to have more crazy Japan adventures. Luckily it wouldn’t be long until we saw each other again. On Friday they will be coming to Fukui and I can’t wait to show them around my stomping grounds!

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Kenninji Temple, Kyoto

Kenninji Temple is one of my personal favourite temples in Kyoto, surprisingly though, it’s not a temple that many foreigners know of.  This Zen Buddhist temple was founded in 1202 CE and is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto! It is nestled in the heart of the Gion district, at the end of Hanami Lane, and is an oasis of calm, home to several beautiful gardens and full of stunning works of art. It is considered to be one of the “five most important Zen temples of Kyoto”.  Every screen door is painted with beautiful art so it’s lovely to wander around.

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This temple’s founder, Yousai, is reknown for introducing the Zen sect and the tradition of drinking green tea into Japan. It was because of my passion for studying green tea that I first discovered this temple.  My tea studies teacher taught me that he is recognized as the founder of tea ceremony in Japan because of his efforts to encourage the cultivation and consumption of tea, so I was curious to see the temple he founded when I traveled to Kyoto.

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There are 2 features that Kenniji is most famous for:

  • #1 – The painted screen made by the famous artist Tawaraya Sotatsu depicting the images of the wind and thunder gods

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  • #2 – The dragon-painted ceiling which was installed to commemorate the temple’s 800th anniversary.

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While at this temple I also recommend sitting a moment in silence and contemplating the beautiful symbolism of the “Circle-Square-Triangle” Garden. It’s a square-shaped garden and its design is based on a famous  work of calligraphy. The idea behind it is that all things in the universe are represented by these three forms.

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Tips For Visitors:

  • Tuck a pair of socks into your bag to keep your feet from freezing (if you’re wearing sandals) as you’ll have to take your shoes off to enter this temple.
  • Visit this temple towards the end of the day, just before it closes, and then stay in the area to explore the Gion District as the sun begins to set.

General Information:

  • Names: Kenninji, Kennin Temple, 建仁寺
  • Entrance fee: 500 yen
  • Opening Hours: (March-October: 10am-5pm, last entry 4:30pm) (November-February: 10am-4:30pm, last entry 4pm) *Closed Dec 28-31*

How To Get To Kenninji:

  • Note: not all tourists maps will list Kenninji. If you look for Gion District as a landmark to get to you’ll be ok, as Kenniji is in this area
  • By Bus: From Kyoto Station take either bus #100 or #206 to the Gion stop
  • By train: Take the Keihan line to Gion Shijo Station + 10 min walk

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Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. This Buddhist temple was founded on the site of the Otawa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and the name ‘kiyomizu’ is in reference to the pure, clean waters of this waterfall.  The most striking characteristic of this temple is the main hall which has an exceptionally large veranda, supported by tall pillars. Interesting to note, is that in the past this 13 meter tall veranda was constructed without the use of a single nail! From this veranda visitors can see an impressive view of the city, and the surrounding forests.

In my opinion the best time to visit Kiyomizudera Temple is during the spring when there is an abundance of cherry blossoms, or during fall when the leaves of the valley below the veranda erupt into fiery hues of red, orange and gold.

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An interesting fact is that there was once upon a time, during the Edo period, a tradition where people would jump from the 13 meter tall veranda to the ground. It was said that if one were to survive such a plunge, one’s wish would be granted. Of the 234 recorded jumps in history, approximately 85% surived the fall. The practice is now prohibited, with good reason!

Be sure to have you cameras ready because this temple is also a great place to spot Japanese women wearing traditional kimonos in Kyoto. My mom and dad loved seeing the young girls all dolled up in their kimonos and with their hair styled, and my dad was not shy at all about asking them if he could take their picture. He simply gestured to them smiling a big friendly smile and said “Beautiful!” and they simply beemed at him very pleased at the compliment.

*A word of warning and heads up to other guys reading this blog though, the funny thing was the girls were genuinely pleased when my dad complimented them and were happy to let my dad and I take their picture, but I saw the exact same group of friendly girls afterwards completely recoil when a young man tried the same thing a minute later. I think they are nervous of perverts.*

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One you’re finished exploring the balcony area, follow the path out from the balcony and you’ll see a flight of stairs that will lead you up to the Jishu Shrine. This small but cute shrine is dedicated to the deity Okuninushi, the god of love and matchmaking.

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There are lots of images of rabbits around because rabbits are the messenger spirits of the god of love. If you’re willing to make a small fool of yourself, which I of course totally was, you can try your skill at finding the love stone.  At first I was delighted to have spotted the stone, thinking that’s all there was too it. Trust me it’s not hard to spot, there’s a huge sign…Kiyomizudera11 Kiyomizudera13

If only it were that easy. You see the fun lies in that there are two stones which are 6 meters apart. What will bring you luck in love is finding your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed! It’s said that if you can do this without help you’ll find true love in your life without needing anyone else’s help, but if anyone has to help guide you from one stone to the other than an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well to meet ‘the one’. Being me, I just had to give it a shot.

It’s much harder than you think so do it in good spirits, you will probably make a huge fool of yourself like I did. In the end I did somehow manage to miraculously find the stone, but not before bumping into a couple other highly amused tourists, a shrine booth or two, listening to everyone laugh at me getting completely turned around (for the record I’m terrible with directions) and within a minute I had many people shouting ‘ganbatte‘ which is similar to ‘Good luck!’ in English.  I definitely recommend doing this, it was a great experience!

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If you’re interested in purchasing a cute souvenir this shrine does a booming business selling love charms.Kiyomizudera15

If you back down the stairs from the Jishu Shrine, head along a small path on your left for one of the best photo opportunities of Kiyomizudera with its balcony pillars visible (like the first photo in this blog post). Once you have that shot, turn and head back the way you came once again to the area right below the Jishu Shrine. You’ll see another set of stairs leading down. Follow these down and you’ll arrive at the Otawa Waterfall area, where you’ll see 3 fountains of water falling into a pond, and most likely a very long line up.

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It’s said that each streams water has a different benefit: health, success at school or good luck in love. However, only choose to drink from one or you’ll be seen as very greedy!

First step, wait in lin. When it’s your turn, choose a cup-on-a-long-stick-thingy from within the glowing decontamination cave behind.

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Choose one of the three fountain streams and reach out the cup. Fill it with water and bring it back towards you.

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Pour the water from your cup into your left hand and drink from that. Tada, hopefully I’ll be really healthy in my life!Kiyomizudera18

After you’ve done this, feel free to wander around the temple grounds a bit more exploring the other scenic areas. After you’re finished head back down towards the bustling lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama District. I think visiting this area is a huge part of the fun visiting Kiyomizudera Temple. The steep streets are full of great souvenir shops, green tea ice cream places, and restaurants. higashiyama street 2 higashiyama street

Be sure to try the yatsuhashi! Yatsuhashi is one of the most famous sweets produced in Kyoto. The outside of the sweet is made out of chewy mochi, sugar and cinnamon which encases a small bit of anko (red bean paste). There are a variety of flavours such as the classic cinnamon, matcha, strawberry, chestnut, pumpkin, yuzu and even a special chocolate mochi with chocolate on the inside! The stores will be happily handing out samples the entire way down.

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I also recommend popping into the Higashiyama District’s Malebranche Store so you can try one of their famous langue de chat. Often a sales lady is standing at the front of the store entrance handing out samples of this store’s most famous sweet.

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This ity-bitty-little cookie will change your world. I had never had one before visiting the Malebranche Store, neither had my mother, we both took one nibble and simulataneously our eyebrows shot up! It was fabulous and oh-so-good! My mom walked away with 2 boxes they were that good!

What you ask is this langue de chat? It is 2 melt in your mouth merengue-like matcha cookies with a piece of white chocolate lovingly sandwiched in the middle. Don’t miss your chance to try one while in Kyoto, because they can only be bought in this city and nowhere else in Japan, even though Malebranche is a national chain here in Japan.

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Tips For Visitors:

  • *Get here as early as possible* as it is one of the absolute busiest temples in Kyoto (check out the picture below). The temple is open from 6am but you should be fine if you arrive before 8:30am.
  • Make a beeline for Kiyomizudera and bypass the Higashiyama Shopping District on the way to the temple.  Save shopping in the stores until after you’ve experience the temple.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as the streets leading up to Kiyomizudera are some of the steepest walking tourists have to do in Kyoto.
  • Also, during the spring and fall seasons an illumination event is held from 6:30pm-9:30pm for a fee of 400yen

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General Information:

  • Names: Kiyomizudera, Kiyomizu Temple, 清水寺
  • Open: 6am-6pm every day
  • Entrance Fee: 300yen

How To Get To Kiyomizudera:

  • By bus: From Kyoto Station take either #100 or #206 to Kiyomizu-michi bus stop (Price: 220 yen) (Check out the bus route map here) Walk 10 minutes up the hill to the temple.
  • By Train: take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. Walk 20 minutes to arrive at the temple.
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Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

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Kinkakuji is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and indeed all of Japan. It is the singular most beautiful building I believe in the entire city and therefore my #2 recommendation for places to visit when in Kyoto.

It’s name Kinkakuji means “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” and it is appropriately named because the top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf.

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About Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺):

Kinkakuji is an impressive Zen Buddhist temple built overlooking a large pond named Kyōko-chi, or in English “The Mirror Pond”.  This pavilion was built at the end of the 14th century and was originally intended as a villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the shogun at the time. After his death, it later became a temple.

Although the original building has burned down numerous times – once due to the Onin Civil War, and a second time in 1950 because it was set on fire by a fanatic monk –  is still breathtaking to behold.

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage, Kinkaku-ji is one of the historical buildings most representative of Japan.kinkakuji2Tips For Visitors:

  • The very best spot for pictures with the temple in the background is as soon as you enter into the garden.
  • At this prime photo location there will be hoards of tourists. It is always busy from open to close, it’s inevitable. Prepare yourself mentally to hold your ground, wait patiently and seize the moment when you get a chance to have that fence area all to yourself.
  • I can’t even begin to describe how crazy and pushy people can be here, the camera-trigger-happy visitors will make you want to flee as quickly as possible but try not to let them ruin your special moment viewing it. Laugh. Breathe. Smile!
  • After you finish taking photos, take a step back and savor the view. (For additional entertainment, watch the crazy camera wielding people!) Then when you’re ready, continue along the path into the gardens walking slowly.  kinkakuji3

Entrance Fee: 400yen

How to get to Kinkakuji Temple:*Note that getting to kinkakuji temple will take a while as it’s located far from the city center and other tourist locations. By bus is the easiest route, although it will take some time.

  • By Bus: From Kyoto station take bus #101, #205 until the stop “Kinkakuji-michi” (220yen) (time: 40-minutes or more if heavy traffic) (Check out the bus map here)
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What To Do In Kyoto

If there is one city in Japan I wish I could spend more time exploring it’s Kyoto. Being an avid lover of traditional culture, Kyoto is the epitome of everything I love about Japan.

I think Japan is a very unique country for many reasons. One of the biggest being that Japan is fortunate to have not only a very strong traditional culture that is still alive today, but also a second evolving modern culture. If you’re looking to explore Japan’s modern culture I recommend Tokyo with its big city lights…. but if like me you’re looking to immerse yourself in the more subtle traditional culture, than Kyoto is where you’ll find what you seek.

Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 religious sites such as temples and shrines, and there are hundreds of beautiful gardens in addition to that! You could spend a month here and still have things to see! All in all, it can be quite daunting for a traveller to decide which places to visit, especially with only limited time to explore.

I have traveled to Kyoto six times now since I arrived in Japan two and a half years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. It would have saved me a lot of stress when planning to visit this maze of temples with family and friends. This is why I’ve complied a list of the best things for Kyoto visitors to experience.  I wanted to share my recommendations so that you too can see the best Kyoto has to offer.

Top 10 Places To Visit in Kyoto

#1) Fushimi Inari Shrine  (伏見稲荷大社) – Choosing my #1 recommendation for Kyoto was tough. This one was the winner because it’s not just a beautiful place to see, it’s also an experience like no other in Kyoto. Nothing can compare with the magical atmosphere felt walking up the mountain passing under the orange torii gates for what feels like a small eternity. (More info here)

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#2) Kinkakuji Temple  (金閣寺) – The Golden Pavilion is hands down the most beautiful structure in all of Kyoto and absolutely can not be missed if visiting. (More info here)

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#3) Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺) – One of the most popular temples to visit in the heart of Kyoto. The streets and shops leading up to it are very quaint.  Also, the trees surrounding the temple are breathtaking in spring during cherry blossom season & in autumn with the fall colors. (More info here)

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#4) Explore the Arashiyama area – There is SO much to do here, it’s the perfect day trip to escape the chaos of Kyoto. Be sure not to miss the bamboo grove! Check out the monkey mountain and some of the beautiful gardens if you have a whole day to spare.arashiyama bamboo forest

#5) Kenninji Temple (建仁寺) – Located in the heart of the Gion district, Kenninji has the most breathtakingly beautiful dragon ceiling and its calm, relaxing atmosphere makes it one of my favourite temples to wander around. (More info here)kenninji2

#6) Gion Street At Night Gion is the oldest district of Kyoto, the area you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of an elusive ‘maiko’.  At dusk (just after the sun’s gone down and the lights come on) is the best time to take in this area’s splendor. kyoto_gion_at_night_0701

#7) Sanjusangendo Hall (三十三間堂)A stunning hall filled with 30,000 golden deity statues is sure to wow any visitor to Kyoto. I love this temple because it’s very different from all the other temples and there’s nothing else like it in Kyoto, perfect for anyone who’s feeling a little “templed-out” or “over-shrined” sanjusangendo hall

#8) Nishiki Market  (錦市場) – This is a large covered market area with lots of local goods and foods (tempura chocolate anyone?). Grabbing lunch here one day is sure to be an adventure, and an excellent place to do a little shopping.

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9) Shopping in Kyoto Station + Malebranche CafeAs powdered green tea is one of Kyoto’s specialties, visitors often want to try matcha and matcha sweets. My favourite hideout is the Malebranche Cafe which is located on the bottom floor of Kyoto Station. These desserts are seriously Kyoto’s best kept secret.  It’s the perfect place to recharge after a little shopping in one of Kyoto’s coolest shopping centers, all of which is underground and therefore perfect if the weather’s not the nicest!dessert1

10) Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺) – This temple, whose name poetically translates as “The Temple of the Dragon at Peace”, is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful rock gardens. It’s one of Kyoto’s quieter and less busy temples, so feelings of zen and great tranquility can be felt here as you sit gazing out at the garden. Kyoto-Ryoan-Ji

If you have any other recommendations, or special little gems in Kyoto you’ve stumbled upon, I’d love to here them! I’ll be going to Kyoto for one last visit in May and I’m already excited!

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Memoirs of a Maiko

I have amazing friends, something I’m incredibly grateful for. Three of my good friends from Canada recently came to visit me for 14 days and travel around Japan with me as their tour guide. There are days where I wake up and wonder if it was all just a dream, because it was that amazing; it seems too good to be true. Sadly however, all dreams must come to an end and my friends returned home and I returned to my busy job. The fun we had still brings a smile to my face even as I sit grading the neglected mountain of essays that awaited my return. Visions of cat cafes, shopping in Harajuku, karaoke marathons and Suntory whiskey dance in my head. It was assuredly one of the highlights of my 3 years in Japan.603096_10100780364585121_1181759933_n-1

Reflecting now on our time together, one afternoon in particular was my favourite; the afternoon we underwent the transformation from cute caterpillars to breathtaking butterflies. One of the things I really wanted to experience with my friends was dressing up like a maiko (or as most people in the West would say, geisha). Maiko, meaning “children of the arts” as they prefer to be called, and are the traditional Japanese traditioanl art entertainers in Kyoto.

One of my friends in Fukui had done this when her sister visited and I enviously poured over her photos. I wanted to do it too, very badly! I was far to shy to ever do this alone however, I absolutely needed backup. Cue best friends planning their visit to Japan. I waited with the patience of a cat ready to pounce, and casually suggested the experience and waited with baited breath. After all we are all 25-year old mature adults; long gone are the days we dressed up in our mothers clothes and inexpertly smeared makeup over our faces convinced we were little fashion masters. I was really nervous they wouldn’t want to dress up as maiko with me. Luckily they all agreed! Best decision of the trip!

At first I was a little shy to post these photos, but my friends kept begging to see all the photos so here they are, so enjoy everyone!

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The photos with the umbrella were my absolute favourite. The man taking the photos was so professional and had the process down to an art, and even though we spoke different languages somehow everything turned out breathtakingly. I wasn’t allowed to see any photos during the shoot and so when I received a series of pictures at the end of the session I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it was actually me in the photos. I looked so…beautiful (sorry for the vanity everyone)!

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Here is a full shot of the kimono I wore that day and holding the traditional package-style purse of maiko in Kyoto. Walking in those shoes was bloody HARD for the record. The photographer and I had quite a few laughs as I attempted to move my body for the poses he directed, nearly dying numerous times in the process. I was the most beautiful “bambi” you can imagine. Eventually I found my balance, mastered the knack of moving in a kimono and got the hang of teetering around in these babies. Tada!

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After the shoes came challenge number 2: sitting Japanese style and arranging my body in the traditional Japanese room. I thanked heaven for 2 years of studying tea ceremony because sitting seiza (Japanese style with both legs tucked neatly underneath your body) wasn’t too difficult.  The photographer actually mini-applauded me for grace with which I was able to sit down whilst wearing the bulky kimono, what with all of it’s layers and tight obi ensuring I could not lean forward the teensiest iota. For most foreigners this is incredibly difficult, the only way to master this is practice, even Japanese women struggle.

DSC_0002 DSC_0003 DSC_0004I absolutely loved the particular red kimono that I chose for the day.  The company owns about 60 kimonos in various styles, lengths and colours. I wanted to stand out so I chose a very traditional bold red colour. Wasn’t it simply marvellous!? I was really nervous because I’m very tall for Japan (175cm, 5feet 9inches), but they had many kimonos for my height! So if you’re tall like me don’t worry you’ll have a nice selection I promise.

DSC_0007Well there you have it folks! My maiko photos to view at your leisure. My favourite thing was that, at no extra fee, the company also took 2 group photos for us. It strictly speaking wasn’t part of the deal, so I was very grateful they did so. We were also allowed to take as many photos on our own cameras throughout the whole process (including the getting ready makeup part) which was really cool. I’ll be sure to post some of those soon once my friends upload them! DSC_0001 DSC_0002

For anyone else hoping to do the same I really recommend Yumekoubou-Maiko Makeover Studio. We went to the one at the base of the Kiyomizudera Temple and had a great experience there.

You can find out more information or to make a online reservation please visit their website here: http://www.yumekoubou.info/english/

Plan: We opted for the Maiko Makeover + Walking Plan, which took about 3 hours, and cost 13,125yen. This plan includes a CD with all of your professionally shot photos.  We chose the short walking course which was only about 15 minutes outside total (you walk to a small temple, take some photos and go back) because of the difficulty walking in the geta shoes.  Also, the lady staff member with us recommend the short (versus long) walking course because the tourists tend to mob you the second you leave the studio, she was right everywhere we walked people wanted photos.

Other points: The company was very English friendly, not perfect, but easy to understand for people who can’t speak Japanese.  The ladies dressing us and doing our makeup were very friendly. The company had a lovely array of kimonos to choose from. Bring a camera of your own as it’s perfectly ok to take your own photos throughout the entire process!

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If you’re in Kyoto and looking for an unforgetable experience I hope you can enjoy doing this too! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!

Categories: Life in Japan | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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