Kyoto, Japan, Day 18th/19th January 2023

Spurred on my our desire to see our Japanese 'granddaughter' Emma and our good friends Eri and Kaz, who had been our next door neighbours for over five years and after a couple of dull travel years during the pandemic, we decided to be brave and head to Kyoto.

Travelling in winter had the bonus of offering cheaper flights and we hoped, the chance to see what Kyoto offered in smaller crowds. As it happened, we were right on that one, as Chinese tourists were not yet permitted after the recent Covid outbreak there.

Paperwork to enter Japan in the post-Covid lockdown era was not inconsiderable but, confident we had all the necessary forms completed and some submitted online, we headed to the airport sporting fetching face masks. We didn't want to risk picking anything up on the journey to spoil our visit. Face masks were still required in all public locations in Japan, whether inside or out.

First view of Japan

Japan is a long, long way from the UK and after around fifteen hours entertained by Air France, we spilled out into Osaka Airport, fuzzy headed and jet-lagged. Suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar environment, half brain-dead, we were baffled by the string of elderly Japanese helpers, guiding us through the airport, insistently waving blue papers. It turned out not to be an ancient welcome ceremony, rather a form that had suddenly been added to entry requirements. With some guidance we completed it and moved on to the row of younger Japanese working on laptops who needed to verify our Covid vaccination certification. We were then finally free to find our way to the Haruka Express, or 'Hello Kitty' train, which would take us onward to Kyoto.

Accustomed to British trains, the first thing we noticed was how clean and quiet everything was both in the station and aboard the train. Talking on mobile phones, even talking at all was discouraged as being thought inconsiderate to other passengers.

By the end of the hour-long journey our Japanese sim card was finally operational despite our dulled minds.

All aboard the 'Hello Kitty' train

At the impressive station in Kyoto we dragged our luggage through the crowds, we managed to locate the taxi rank and thrust the directions from our Airbnb host into the driver's hand, then stepped into a spotless cab, complete with pristine white, lacy antimacassars.

Despite a degree of amazement as we were whisked past ancient temples and bustling streets, we were relieved and delighted to reach our temporary home after the long journey.

Our Airbnb was a traditional Japanese home which had been the home of our host's family during her childhood.

The entry hall, where shoes were removed and replaced with the slippers provided, led via a wooden panelled divider into a lounge, completely devoid of furniture, with only tatami matting on the floor. Bamboo panels led to the dining room.

Aid for the taxi driver.

I had checked it contained a Western style dining table and chairs prior to booking, as our western bodies are not accustomed to sitting on the floor for long periods. Another wooden screen separated the day-time quarters from bedroom, again complete with gorgeous tatami mats and under floor heating. Beyond the bedroom lay a small courtyard garden.

A small kitchen and bathroom to the sides of the rooms gave us everything we needed for our two-week stay.

The Japanese are famous for their fancy toilets and ours was no different giving Christine the shock of a cold water fountain when she pressed what she believed from the sign to be the flush!

Local Fly-fishing shop.

We offloaded our luggage and stepped out to get our bearings and seek out some essential food supplies.

What should we found alongside the beautiful temple right across the road? A fly-fishing shop - I kid you not! Phil naturally had to go in and confuse the owner.

Just a couple of streets away, on our route to the supermarket, we came across the famous Mibu-dera temple, one of Kyoto's oldest, once home to the shogunate's special police force. Its impressive stupa enshrined one thousand stone Buddhas.

The supermarket was a challenge despite several months of Japanese study. The language consists of three different alphabets, four if you include Romanji or Western letters. To successfully read anything, such as food labelling, you needed to be master of all three. Thank goodness for Google Translate's photo option!

The artistic displays of fresh food made it feel more like a visit to a gallery of food art than a shopping trip and made dinner selection such a pleasure we rarely ate out.

We took our selection home and then had an early, chilly night to recover from our trip. It was not until the next morning that our addled brains recovered sufficiently to work out the the air-conditioning units installed in the house actually doubled as heating units too!

1000 stone Buddhas at Mibu-Dera

Phil thaws out with Japanese porridge.

We didn't want to overdo things on our first full day in Kyoto, as we learned our bearings and how to use the city's public transport. We headed along nearby "Shijo-dori" or 7th street, to the main shopping area.

Our main objective was to visit the Nishiki covered market. Once again, we discovered it is frowned upon to speak at more than a whisper on buses, so as not to annoy fellow passengers. Queuing was orderly and the bus service very efficient, with an app in English telling you which bus to take to get from your location to your chosen destination and giving directions to the nearest bus stop.

Nishiki Covered Market

Our favourite stall for a quick prawn skewer snack.

Cool doggy shopping!

Department Store Basement.

Every market stall was a work of art in its own right and the selection of food both colourful and amazing. Alongside the original market ran covered arcades filled with shops selling other items allowing shopping in any weather.

Covered walkways ran along the main street as well, allowing all shopping to be done under cover.

After grabbing a quick lunch at a café in the market, we visited several department stores. These are famous for their food basements providing beautiful bento or lunch boxes.

We certainly wouldn't starve during our holiday!

By the time we walked back to our home after hours of window shopping we were ready to drop onto our under-floor heated tatami matting!

View from the bridge over the Kamo River.

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