First steps through the old capital

Another warm, sunny morning and another early start as we set off on the long journey from Tokai to Kyoto. We first took a limited express train to Tokyo and from there we rode the Shinkansen, or "bullet train" which races across Japan at around 130 mph. Not only is it fast, but the Shinkansen has generous leg room, reclining chairs, snacks, coffee, and is air conditioned, which made our 3-hour trip really quite pleasant. Nonetheless, we were glad to arrive and find that once again we had been lucky with our choice of hostel. After a quick lunch of yakisoba (fried chicken and vegetable noodles) in the hostel bar, we ventured out into the heat of the late afternoon to explore our new surroundings.
We followed a route from the guidebook which lead us past many of the key temples and shrines just east of the river. We passed streets and streets of little shops selling local crafts, pottery, jewellery and clothing, along with all the accessories associated with traditional Japanese dress: fans, geta (sandals) kimono, yukata (a more casual kimono, often worn by men) and the most beautiful decorative hair pieces. There are a number of shops in Kyoto where you can hire a kimono and have your hair and even make up done for you to wear all day. Although we decided against trying it ourselves, it was fun to see so many people wearing the bright colours of the traditional costume and hear the clacking sound the wooden shoes make on the street. Since visiting Kyoto, I have been lucky enough to try wearing the kimono to a summer festival due to the kindness of a Japanese friend of Logan's, but that will have to wait for another post.
Our path took us up to a shrine on a small hill overlooking Kyoto, which provided fantastic views of the city just before sun set. The shrine itself was notable for its bright orange colour, which is in contrast to the plain wood or dark red paint of most others. The orange really was very striking, almost cartoonish in its brightness, and the other coloured details on the shrine and pagoda were equally brilliant. We took plenty of photos, along with rather a lot of other tourists (the summer holiday season has now started in Japan), and then headed back down through the pretty streets and past another huge shrine which was sadly closed. We resolved to see it another day and then made our way back to the hostel.
Dinner that night stands out as the first time we all ate okinomiyake together. Okinomiyake translates as "whatever you like", and is basically a thick omelette or perhaps an overloaded pancake which is brought to you mostly unprepared for you to cook at your own table. It comprises a flour-based batter and cabbage, along with whatever ingredients you order. I chose pork and leek, and it was absolutely delicious. It is eaten with a variety of sauces which are roughly equivalent to BBQ sauce and are very tasty. We all finished up that meal feeling very satisfied.


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