15 May 2014

The Kyoto Protocol

No, this post isn't about climate change (I get enough of that in my day job). The real Kyoto protocol is simple: always carry an umbrella. It rains a lot here, especially at this time of year, and today the heavens opened for the first time of my trip.

After a quick run along the river this morning, I strolled north to the set of bridges where the Kamo River forks, so that I could watch the Aoi Matsuri procession. 15 May is the hollyhock festival — one of Kyoto's biggest festivals, dating back to the sixth century — and the crowds were already assembling when I arrived. The procession is 1 km long and includes 511 people, 36 horses and several oxen-drawn carriages. It was quite the spectacle and I had a pretty good view, although it was harder to take decent photos. It was a fun experience, and further evidence of Japan's umbrella obsession.

Afterwards, I walked over to Nijō-jō, a 17th century castle in central Kyoto. On the way, though, I caught sight of a V60 dripper through a cafe window and promptly dived in to Kawa Coffee — Kawa Coffee and Leather Maintenance, to be precise. The pourover was very good and served, as ever, in a beautiful cup. It's located on Marutamachi-dōri on the south side of the Imperial Palace. I was also distracted by the sight of a peanut doughnut at a little doughnut shop called Nicotto & Mam, a few blocks further south and several blocks west. Oh yes, and then there was Sentido, a cafe near Marutamachi station that was on my caffeine to-do list. Their espresso was great and they also sells beans and coffee kit. I met some friendly Vancouvrites with whom I exchanged some Japan and Kyoto tips.

By the time I got to Nijō-jō, it was raining properly, which meant I particularly enjoyed the walk through the inside of Ninomaru Palace, even though the info provided in English was very limited. It was all very beautiful, though (no photography was allowed). The walk through the gardens was less fun than if the weather had been nicer but I stoically proceeded.

In the afternoon, I had been planning to go to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, a few miles west of the city centre, but the rain showed no sign of letting up, so I shopped instead, mainly around Shijō-dōri, which has a number of department stores and other chains. I had a quick look in a couple, but was more interested in some of the smaller shops. Morita Washi on Higashinotōin-dōri (two blocks south of Shijō-dōri and one block east of Karasuma-dōri) is a lovely shop that sells gorgeous handmade paper and paper products. It's a great place for gifts like notebooks and photo albums. Another great find was Bonti, further east down Shijō-dōri, near Ponto-chō. They sell gifts aimed at tourists, such as tins of Japanese sweets, purses, crockery and stationery, but in a chintz-filled city, everything here is very stylish.

Finally, I strolled back to my hotel via Ponto-chō, a narrow, pedestrianised lane filled with restaurants. It's quite touristy but also pretty at night with the red lanterns glowing. As so many people in Kyoto rent geisha costumes, it can be hard to spot the real ones, but I think I saw one today. At least, no one was following her taking endless photos so I assume she wasn't a tourist!

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