After skiing and Snow Monkeys in Nagano, most of the group got ready to return home while me and Rebecca continued on to Kyoto.
I have to start by saying that had we not stayed in Shuraume Ryokan in
Typical crazy architecture^
Kyoto marries ancient Japan (Shrines, Temples, tea ceremonies, geishas) with modern, Tokyo-like Japan with big buildings of crazy modern archetecture and shopping malls.
When my friends, who had gone to Japan a couple years earlier, told Rebecca and I to stay at Shuraume I was skeptical. The place costs about 4 times what I'd normally pay for a hotel. But they insisted it'd be worth it so we swallowed the cost and committed to the room several months before the trip.
This place is so worth the price.
First, we arrived and it looks like this on the outside:
And I have to say, we were thinking "really? This is what they've been talking about?" And Ryokans are traditional Japanese places to stay, meaning no furniture. You eat, chill, and sleep on mats.
We just paid how much to sleep on the floor?
But then the magic happened. We arrive and are immediately given slippers again. We are given a tour of all the winding hallways and small intimate rooms (the place used to be a geisha tea house so it was designed to give people...ahem...privacy), the bamboo Jacuzzi tub, the library where they serve refreshments each afternoon, our private zen garden.... They even provided sweets and tea upon arrival, delivered in our personal living room.
After that, we went through a series of magical transitions. The table in the living room was empty, we'd blink and it was filled with a fantastic dinner that included Kobe Beef (AKA - the food I'd give my first-born for). We'd blink again and the sliding door would open, revealing the Ryokan's owner, bowing face on the ground in her elaborate robe, about to enter our living room to tell us all about Kyoto in a melodic voice that put us in trances. We'd blink again and dinner was completely cleared.
Ninjas, I tell ya.
Trying to fit in, looking out at our garden ^
Wasting no time pampering myself ^ with the free stuff around our bamboo sink
When we first looked in the bedroom, it was empty. After dinner, we returned (already wearing our own robes and slippers now -- when in Kyoto!) to find our bed mats rolled out perfectly.
Ate more ridiculous fish items ^ (this was on our tea table -- dried sea assortment...included eyes....*gulp*)
We blinked again -- and our sliding door opened again, this time revealing our very own on-call massage therapists ready to give us massages right in our beds at 10:30pm. Blinked again, and the massage ninjas disappeared, leaving us to fall asleep with no angst on price or tipping.
The whole experience ruined us forever.
When we got to our second hotel in Kyoto (because ain't nobody got money for two nights in the magical geisha hotel), it was also a Ryokan with mats on the floor and robes and slippers -- but it was too late for us to be impressed.
"Ugh, we have to roll out our own mats??"
"WHERE'S MY MASSEUSE!?"
Even the cab driver that picked us up ^ from our magical ryokan was swanky
Anyway, we spent our days wandering around both the old Geisha District and the newer part of Kyoto. We saw Geishas rushing off in their intense ensembles to their evening appointments
We saw more temples, learned how to make our own tea
Saw more temple things...^
Saw bamboo forests ^
Walked the beautiful streets of Gion ^
And wandered around the ginormous Kyoto train station ^
We also spent time desperately trying to find our way to places without actually speaking Japanese. The tough part was, all the words started to sound alike. We'd ask a cab driver where something was and the conversation would proceed something like this:
Rebecca: "Takayuma, got it."
Me: "Wait, you changed a syllable"
Rebecca: "Takiyaki, got it."
Rebecca: "Takiyamaha, got it"
Me: "Stop putting syllables together, you are making other words!"
And we'd giggle and run off to the next place.
Then we got to our last adventure: The public bath.
Kyoto topped them all.
First, you are completely naked.
All of my other experiences have included, at the very least, bikini bottoms. No such luck here.
Rebecca and I walk up to a steamy door, slightly fearing what we'd find on the other side. I quickly realized, however, that when everyone's nude, it feels like you are all wearing clothes.
No, I don't know how to explain that, but let's move on.
There were several baths to choose from. We had read about another one that was too far away from our hotel to get to and it had something called an "electric bath" and a "medicine bath." We weren't sure what we'd find in the one near our hotel but we jumped right in and started testing out each pool as we came to them.
And that's when it gets a bit unnerving since there are no signs telling you what each are and we don't speak Japanese.
Eh. Surely this toxic green-colored one is safe - let's go!
We tell ourselves that must be a medicine bath and we proceed to the other choices. Some hot, one that was freezing, one that was outside, a steam room...
And I forgot to mention you have to shower on those bucket things again before getting in, so the entire time we are marching through pools, we are surrounded by elderly Asian women scrubbing each other down on buckets against the wall.
We get to one of the last pools and Rebecca heads towards the side where she immediately yelps and jumps back -
""It's the electric one! It's the electric one!"
Well! Guess we got the full bath house experience after all!
I must say, the electric bath was a new one. Although, given that I had completed a Tough Mudder the previous fall, this was not the first time I'd been electrocuted that year. Shockingly. (couldn't resist)
We ended up having a fantastic time there (even with the elderly naked lady who was doing stretches at the outside pool...) and ended our trip riding in a train back to Nagano to catch our flight. And at one point I casually glanced out the window and found THIS:
Mt. Fuji!!! Magnificent.
And so we finally end the Japan series. I'll leave you with the video Adrian put together of our trip. Sayonara, beautiful country!
(Video above from my pal Adrian, who coordinated the trip)