We have been in Kyoto for well over twenty four hours, but we've been so busy I have not had time to blog until now! We left Hiroshima first thing, but the train to Kyoto is relatively fast, so we were at our hostel by 11.30 in the morning! Checkout was not until 4pm, so we left our luggage and headed to Nijo Castle, famous for (among other things) the nightingale floor of Ninomaru Palace, which chirps and sings as you walk over it. A very old-school alarm system. Nijo Castle was beautiful, and its within walking distance of our hostel by MY GOODNESS was it hot, and we found ourselves taking long extended breaks to sit in the shade and drink huge amounts of water and have yummy snacks, such as a massive bowl of shaved ice drenched in mango juice (see below). Bliss.
Kyoto buses however, are fantastic, so after we finished at Nijo, we bussed back to our hostel to check in properly. Our hostel is an old Japanese house, over eighty years old and made of wood. The staircase is the steepest staircase I have ever encountered bar none - it's more like a ladder. Our room is really spacious, with tatami and futon to sleep on. The bathroom, kitchen, and 'lounge' are really just like a very crowded guesthouse - there is stuff EVERYWHERE, but in a cute and endearing way, rather than a scary hoarder way. We basically collapsed beneath the air conditioning and lay there, too tired to even blog. After a couple of hours, we got up and set out in search of food. Both our host at the hostel, as well as a truly lovely little old man at the Kyoto Station information booth, had given us some really useful maps of Kyoto. In 2013, I went to eat at a really yummy place at a strip of eateries called the 'Pontocho'. I don't know the name of the particular shop - it is written in a Japanese alphabet - but I took a photo of the front of it, and we used that last night to find the place once more. Success! We had this gorgeous lemon-y citron broth in a hot pot (apparently the broth is made from a fruit called a yuzu?), with pork, chicken and vegetables, and a dish of the best pork dumplings I have ever tasted in my life, EVER. And then to top it off, we met some brilliant Americans who are teaching in Yokohama. Theo and Jamie showed us where to go for nomihodai, which is where you pay a flat fee for a certain amount of time, and in that time you can order as many drinks as you want. We paid for 90 minutes, and tried lots of different Japanese alcohol. All-you-can-drink sounds like it might end disastrously, but in fact, it's a great way to try all these different things on a budget, practice your Japanese (though Jamie was fluent and did all the work!), and get to know people better through great conversation. After a spectacular evening, we caught the last bus back to our hostel and went straight to bed!
This morning I DID NOT want to get up when we had to...but I'm glad we did. We had read about a walking tour of Kyoto with an 86 year old guide named Samurai Joe, and were interested, understandably. We bussed to Kyoto City Hall and found ourselves to be the only Australians on the tour (no mean feat, as I'm sure some of you will realise). Samurai Joe has lived in Kyoto his whole life, and has been running this tour for three years. It's awesome. For 4000yen, he takes you on a five hour tour, through back streets and into little shops and museums, showering you with interesting history, culture, and FOOD from his beloved hometown. (Seriously, over the duration of the tour we were given green tea, Japanese sweets, baked goods, beer and soft drink, roasted pork, fried chicken, inari, tofu, bean cake, and sushi). He shows you traditionally crafted pewter and lacquerware goods, some beautiful artworks, explains the difference between types of green tea, takes you on a walk through Kyoto Gyoen, including through a beautiful old teahouse, teaches you how to write your name in Japanese calligraphy, feeds koi and tortoises, and shows you several temples INCLUDING an absolutely brilliant samurai sword display. The dude is a real life fruit ninja, throwing apples into the air and slicing them, carving through thick bamboo with one swing, and splitting an apple on top of someone's stomach without hurting them. It's freaky and wonderful. Also, we got to eat the apples, sliced by the samurai sword, and washed in temple water from a cool, underground spring and they were DELICIOUS. I would 4000% recommend this tour to anyone visiting Kyoto. Samurai Joe has a fabulous sense of humour and a deep pride in his city, as well as his tours.