Kyoto was a lot of fun. I was lucky to be able to visit Noriko, a friend of my friend Andrea, who lives in Shiga prefecture, just outside of Kyoto. I stayed with Noriko in her home with her elderly mother for two nights. The first day we went to Hikone castle, one of four castles designated as national treasures.
We had a lovely Japanese tea with sweets after lunch, and then a delicious dinner – followed by… Japanese karaoke! I had wanted to try it out since it's so popular in Japan, but I didn't expect it to be so much fun. I started warbling and kept on going, eighties classic after classic for hours in a room with Noriko, Chiruzu and Yugi, who obliged with some Japanese beach boy songs in between. And who were kind enough to put up with my off-key vocals. A new passion was unleashed – I want to sing!
I toured around Kyoto with Chiruzu and Noriko on the next two days – I saw the Golden Pavilion, which I was even more impressed by when I found out the gold shimmer was not from paint, but real gold leaf. Hence the name. Other highlights were the Fushimi Inari Shrine with 1000 orange toris all the way up the mountain.
Kyoto at nighttime was even more beautiful and more magical than the daytime. I visited Niko castle, illuminated with bamboo and paper lanterns lining the walkways and spotlights highlighting the cherry and plum orchard.
I also visited Gion, the old part of Tokyo where Maiko-san, apprentice Geishas, scurry about in the streets, dressed in traditional kimonos, with elaborate hairstyles and white painted faces and necks, learning the centuries-old craft of the Geisha. They were a contrast to the women I saw in kimonos in the streets of Kyoto – I didn’t want to believe it when Chiruzu assured me they were Japanese tourists dressing up. I learned this is a thing to do in Kyoto, with its history as the cultural centre and former capital of Japan, the city offers discounts on attractions to people wearing traditional clothes.