It’s the end of day 4 already! This trip is going by so fast…
Last night was our first night without any internet/phone/tv/electronics etc, but it was by choice. We stayed the night at a very (VERY) nice Ryokan in Shuzenji on the Peninsula of Izu. It was a short train trip down from Tokyo; just a little over 2 hours on JR trains, then a bus up into the town and a short hike through a couple very tight little roads to the hotel.
When we got there, there were welcome staff waiting to take our bags and direct us to the “Welcome Tea”, where they sat us down in a viewing room, served us traditional tea with a candy and took our information to check us in.
At this point Lan and I were looking at each other with bug eyes… we were not at all prepared for such a traditional and formal Ryokan. There’s something really intimidating about it at first! When we finished our tea they gave us a tour of the hotel and showed us the entrance to each onsite onsen, then lead us to our room.
Technically we had three rooms. There’s the entrance where you remove your indoor slippers before stepping on the tatami floors, which leads to the small bathroom and both larger rooms. The first room (you can see a bit of it to the left in the photo) is a small changing room with closets for clothing and luggage and the futons during the day. The second largest room is the main area where the table is during the day and the futon are laid out at night. Then there is a small indoor balcony area that looks out over a river below.
After we’d had a little time to settle in, a woman came and introduced herself as Rumi, our room attendant. She was assigned to our room because she was practicing her English (which was very good). When we told her that we knew a little Japanese she began speaking to us in very slow clear Japanese first and then repeated herself in English so that we could practice as well.
At 6:30 dinner was served… and WOW. Rumi came in and set up our table, then served us five courses ranging from sashimi (tuna, alfonsino, and bonito among them) to hotpots; each time giving us about 10-15 minutes in between. It was a 2 hour affair and easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had. After recovering from the meal we explored the hotel a bit. Every hallway had something even more amazing than the last. This photo is of part of the interior of the hotel which the more expensive rooms looked out over.
When we’d explored everything we could, we headed down to the hot spring and soaked for a good hour… or two. When we came back upstairs, Rumi appeared again, this time with an assistant, to clear the table away, set up our futon and had us set a time for her to come back in the morning. Sure enough, first thing in the morning she and the assistant folded up our futon, set the table back out then came back to serve us our breakfast… another hour long affair!
Lan and I were both shocked by the amazing service of this place and nearly talked ourselves into skipping a day in Kyoto for another night at the Ryokan! But no… so we spent the morning exploring the town and the bamboo forest around the hotel before getting back on the bus to the train station.
While waiting for the Shinkansen to arrive we were talking about how sad we were that we hadn’t had time to go to the Mt. Fuji viewing area which was a 40 minute bus ride from our hotel. We were feeling a little like we had failed a part of our trip to have missed seeing such an iconic part of Japan…. when sudden behind us the clouds parted and there it was! Right in front of us and FAR bigger than I had imagined. It’s a really incredible sight. The land around is mostly very flat with small hills and mountains popping up every now and then… and then suddenly, out of no where, is this absolutely massive white capped volcano.
The rest of the journey to Kyoto was about 3 hours by Shinkansen, then a short taxi ride to Khaosan Kyoto Guest House, just a few minute’s walk from Gion! It was starting to get a bit late by the time we arrived, so we dropped our bags and headed out. Gion (and Kyoto in general) is such a bizarre place. It’s a very young/trendy area so the fashion is often outrageous and there are extremely high end retail stores everywhere you look. But then you’ll be walking down the street, blinded by the taxis and strings of lights and Host Club fashions, and suddenly bump into a thousand year old temple tucked away between a phone-charm store and Parisian specialty dessert restaurant.
The best example of this cultural juxtaposition is the main street of Gion, Shijo Avenue. It’s everything I already described; Armani, Prada, Gucci, specialty desert restaurants and stores selling every kind of expensive Kyoto-themed nicknack you could ever want. The whole street is lined with bright lanterns and taxis, limousines and cars speed through the six lanes in between the streets.
Then you get to the end of the street, and it all runs into this…
It’s Yasakajinja, a Shinto shrine with enormous and beautiful grounds that was founded in the year 656. The photo above of Shijo Avenue was taken from the steps of the shrine.
So tomorrow our plan is to explore more of the city outside of the Gion area, but also to visit Yasakajinja again during the day… I can’t wait! but right now it’s time for some much needed sleep I think.