Monday, September 12, 2011

[KYOTO] Geisha Hunting at Gion

It would have been nice had there been an actual Geisha apparition. Actually, there was one when I rounded a corner but it was more like a middle-aged woman in a kimono. Not one Geisha in full regalia in sight! Are they on day off? Are they fictional? Non-existent? Invisible? It’s funny because there was this Korean couple walking along with me who flagged down a taxi just to ask the driver where they could see a Geisha. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand their conversation. All I could fathom was the sign language where the woman was saying “Geisha! Geisha!” while doing walking gestures with her pointer and index finger. Funny. The taxi driver did not run us over but was explaining something in rapid Nihongo.

Gion looks all modern now but there are some areas, mostly stretches of a particular road, that have been preserved to look like living remnants of the past. The first one I saw was complete with the short bridges by the stream with old style houses lining it. Most of them have been converted to restaurants and the place is not that well-lit in the evening for me to take a decent photo with my flash-less camera. Damn you, Samsung. A phone camera without a flash. Seriously? Or is this a clever ploy to have me upgrade my Galaxy S to a Galaxy S II? Video grabbing proved to be more pointless because all I could capture was darkness with a few specks of light a la UFO sighting.

Still no Geisha in sight. It was getting a bit disappointing but there's just something different with the ambiance of the place. Even through the darkness you can feel the difference, the eccentricity, as if you’ve been suddenly transported to some place that existed centuries before. I suddenly remembered Memoirs of a Geisha. In fact, it was Golden’s novel that influenced my decision to go to Gion. I wanted to see the place myself. Geisha or no Geisha, the trip was worth it.

When you walk down the next alley the area will be flooded with brightness because you will now be in a modern section of Gion, which is what most places in there look like nowadays. It’s easy to know if you are in a preserved area because of lack of lighting, the different atmosphere, and tourists. Being in the preserved areas is like taking part in a public secret, like, we all know  this place exists but let’s agree that it doesn’t. The second preserved area I found myself in is the one that contains the Kaburenjo Theater. Most of the old houses are now restaurants. Instead of Geisha you'll see chefs in uniform when you take a peek in one of the windows. The area also has a taxi infestation problem which makes it hard to take a leisurely stroll and admire the scenery without worrying that you’ll get hit by one of them.

The last part of my late night Gion tour was the Miyagawa-Cho area which is the only name of a place that I remembered from the novel. I really have to reread that! The street is shorter and the houses do look old but the place somehow lacks the character that the previous preserved road with the taxi infestation problem had. I just walked fast and caught a bus going to Kyoto station so I could get back to Osaka.

The Kyoto Station is not just a train stop. Make exploring it a part of your itinerary. Aside from the many malls in the area, the station also has Sky Garden, a very high place (Sky Garden, duh) that can be reached via an endless chain of escalators and steps. Picture taking would have been awesome in the morning but you already know the story why that is impossible for me. The garden itself is boring but the view from its corners is cool enough for you to forget your acrophobia for a while. At that point the top portion of the Kyoto Tower nearby will be almost at eye level. That’s how high you’ve climbed!

The next day was reserved for Nara but I just decided to run around Denden and Nippombashi to find my mother’s Hello Kitty component which I have concluded to be non-existent. Later in the day HSBC (Fvck you, HSBC, really) would give me a severe headache and I would have been left by my plane had it not been for a kind police officer who helped me get to Kansai International. Details later, but again, Fvck you, HSBC, to infinity.

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