Kyoto: Shrines, geishas (maikos), and karaoke!

On the afternoon of August 27th, all 3 of us (Aparna, Aditi, and I) reached Kyoto in the afternoon and took a cab to our AirBnB in the middle of Gion. If you’ve read or watched ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, you will be familiar with this neighborhood. It is known to be the main “geisha” district of Japan. It’s a lively and bustling neighborhood with lots of shrines, cute, old-fashioned looking streets, stores, and restaurants. I would say Kyoto was my favorite city out of the whole trip purely because of how traditional the whole city and the neighborhood felt. For instance, the inner streets near our AirBnB looked like this.


Our AirBnB (accommodation style #3) itself was adorable.

Cute AirBnB!

I copied the wall stickers and bought them from Amazon for my own room. Compare.


The first night in Kyoto all 3 of us explored the Yasaka Shrine (yes, the one from Memoirs of a Geisha!) and where we discovered yogurthie (more on that here). At some point during our walk, my sandals gave way and I couldn’t walk anymore, so we set out on a quest for shoes and ended up at H&M after passing about 30 different karaoke places on the way. I ended up buying converse to wear for the rest of the trip which sadly did not go as well with all my cute dresses. 😦

Amidst the shopping, we came across an amazing singer who was trying to get to New York. She was singing Nandemonaiya from the movie ‘Kimi no na wa‘ or ‘Your Name‘. I learned about this movie after watching this performance; such an amazing movie! See the videos of her performance at the bottom of this post!

Aditi left later that night on a bus back to Tokyo, from where she took her flight back to India the next morning. That night, Aparna and I bought some umeshu (YUM), chocolate bread, and pocky snacks from our favorite store Lawsons, brought them to our room, wore our happis, and had a Japanese style girls’ night. [In case, I haven’t mentioned it by now, we went to Lawsons about twice a day on average and always bought chocolate bread and/or tamago pan/egg bread. SO AMAZING but so, so, so much bread.]

Over the course of the next few days, Aparna and I visited more shrines and even visited the cities of Kobe and Nara on day trips (read more about the Nara trip here). We also ate dessert/tea at this well-known tea dessert shop called Tsujiri tea house. See below for dessertgasm.


Some pictures from our Kobe day trip.


During our Kyoto stay, we knew we needed to karaoke. This turned out to be a real feat, though not for the lack of places. For some reason, the rules and restrictions of the karaoke places we visited were much more complicated than what we were expecting. I was pulling Japanese out of parts of my brain that I didn’t know existed to be able to converse and understand exactly how much it cost and what was included in the deal. I would definitely call this my hardest Japanese conversational experience of the whole trip. We eventually got into the room which we booked for 3 hours and sang only about half of the Japanese songs we know (we didn’t have enough time! 😦 ). We definitely used up a significant amount of pocket-wifi so Aparna could see the lyrics in English. Again, I am curious how other people karaoke here.

Another awesome phenomenon we saw were maikos, which is apparently the accurate term for geishas in this neighborhood. We saw so many of them walking the streets and I even stopped to ask one of the maiko mothers for directions to an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) in the inner streets of Gion. As for the izakaya, it was closed when we got there and we never got to go to one. 😦 We ended up chilling at a non-Japanese pub and as I was talking to the waitress in Japanese, she said “Nihongo ga umai!”. I awkwardly nodded at her and was confused since I didn’t know what “umai” was. Desperate to know what she said, I turned on the pocket wifi and looked it up and it meant “good”! I felt so bad that I didn’t thank her properly since I was so used to hearing “Nihongo ga jyouzu!”.

On that note, one funny incident occurred at some point during our Kyoto trip. We hailed a cab and I said “Kyoto station” to the driver. The driver’s first response was “Nihongo ga jyouzu desu!”. The only Japanese word in my sentence was “Kyoto”; I didn’t even say “station” in Japanese (that would be “eki”)! Apparently, the standards for good Japanese from foreigners is not very high. 😀

Miscellaneous pictures from the Kyoto trip:


Nandemonaiya performances!




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