One of the highlights of our time in Kyoto for me was the evening we spent visiting with a local family. We met this family through a website called Nagomi Visit which is used for travellers to connect with and dine in the home of a Japanese family. This particular family picked us up from the subway station, took us to a hike in a bamboo forest and cooked us a Japanese meal. We were invited into their home and had time to get to know them.
Our host, her husband and their son live in a beautiful community in the suburbs of Kyoto. It was amazing to drive into a modern neighbourhood with it’s many shrines interspersed between some of the homes. There was an amazing veggie garden across the street from their house with a woman tending to the crops.
Their house was very new and not unlike a house you would find in North America with a few little differences. They had a Japanese room, with a tatami mat floor and small shrine built into a wall dedicated to their loved ones that have passed away. This room had square panel sliding doors leading into an outdoor Japanese garden. I was told that this was a multipurpose room, it is used once a year for the family dedication to their ancestors, they set up a shrine to honour the moon during their moon viewing week and when guests stay over they use it as a spare bedroom.
And of course, my favourite feature in their home was their Japanese toilet, with buttons to wash your bottom and heat the seat and flush. The buttons were all in Japanese so I actually had to ask my host how to flush the toilet after spending quite a bit of time in the bathroom trying to figure it out.
Our new friends were wonderful. Our host invited her friend with her daughter, as well as her brother and nephew to join us. The kids played really well together and somehow made a nice connection even though they didn’t speak the same language. At the end of the evening, they brought out hand held fire works for the kids to play with. It was a special ending to a special evening.
The next day, our host joined us for our Geisha experience, just to offer support and spend more time with us. It came in handy as she ended up being a bit of a translator for us during our Geisha experience.
Jaida, Brigitte and I got to be dressed as Geisha and Maica (a Geisha in training) for a few hours in Kyoto. This was one experience in Japan that I was really looking forward to and it did not go quite the way I had thought it would.
There are many companies that rent kimono in Kyoto, but we went to a place called kyotomaica.com, a place that also does the makeup and wig and wooden flip flops. This experience was kind of expensive and felt a little like a money grab. There were rules about when and where we could take photos, with extra charges for more options.
I was feeling great, in my kimono and painted white face until I looked in the mirror. I couldn’t believe how much that face paint accentuated my 42 year old wrinkles which have never bothered me before. And even worse was how my teeth looked so yellow next to the stark white face. I later noticed that several of the other women getting dressed up that day did not do the white face paint (and all of the real Geishas we saw on the streets in Kyoto also did not have their face painted). Now I understand why and would recommend that to anyone else going for this experience (although Jaida looked great).
There are more than a thousand temples in Kyoto. We kept the temple viewing to a minimum as the kids were not that interested and the big temples had so many tourists. I regret that we didn’t actually learn about the temples we were admiring but I do like the photos we took.
Imperial Palace in Kyoto
We spent a morning at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. It was a long walk to get there and around, but the Japanese gardens within the palace walls made the trip well worth it. There is a small self guided tour you can take through the abandoned palace grounds that gives a brief overview of the buildings and structures we were allowed to walk around. This went at a pretty good pace and was just short enough to keep the kids interest somewhat. But while inside the palace grounds, there were barriers and roped off areas that the kids wanted to climb into or run around.
On our way out of the palace, we told Blake he could run around to burn off some energy. He immediately asked if he could jump over the little moat that followed the wall around the entire palace. It seems harmless so we said yes. As soon as he jumped across the tiny bit of water, the alarms went off around the palace. We looked up and saw that they have cameras and sensors and alarms on all corners of the palace walls. We didn’t get arrested that day but we will think twice about letting him run free!
I had heard about cat cafes and owl cafes in Japan, so when Jaida saw the sign as we were walking down the street I had to find out what it was all about. This particular cat cafe was up 4 flights of stairs in a tiny apartment. We had to individually enter one room, close the door behind us and then open the next door to get into the cat cafe. Once we were all in, the woman who owned the cats told us the rules. We had to use the hand sanitizer, and we could pet any of the cats except for the 2 brown ones – they were just rescued from the streets and are not trustworthy yet. I didn’t need to be told twice, I am a bit scared of cats in the first place. Before I knew it, there were 4 cats on my lap and nudging against me. I was offered a coffee or tea but I asked for just plain water. Within minutes, one of the cats was nibbling at my backpack and another was slurping up my cup of water while a third one sat purring on my lap. I am not such a cat person, but I did enjoy the love they were sharing, it made the cat smell for 30 minutes worth it.