The day began with my alarm waking going off at 05:30; the only consolation being that I woke up half of the neighbourhood with me. After meeting Tom and Martin at Shibuya we took the Yamanote line to Shinagawa, and then boarded the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The Shinkansen ride was easy, punctual, and more comfortable than being on a plane. Although in fairness I am bias, as for me having acid poured over my bare skin is preferable to being in one of those damn flying contraptions. We met my friend Akira in Kyoto station at just gone 09:30, and set about the itinerary that he had so thoughtfully drawn up for us. First up was a visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the head shrine of the Shinto god of rice and business, Inari. This shrine was geographically enormous, it took up an entire mountainside, and over an hour of constant walking to circumnavigate. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent looking at a vast selection of incredible shrines, temples, and pagodas, all of which brought to mind the Japan that I had imagined this country to be like. Kyoto seems so different from Tokyo, it has far less of a cosmopolitan feel to it, and appears to embody a large amount of traditional Japanese culture and values. What was almost certainly not Japanese culture was the way in which we gorged ourselves on the free samples of mochi (Japanese sweets) near one of the temples; we truly were like kids in a sweet shop, only far more cost-effective.
In the evening we headed to the Gion region of Kyoto and had a feast of Kansai (the district in which Kyoto, along with Okinawa and Kobe, is located) style food at a local restaurant. By the time we finished the meal the local buses had stopped, and so we had to take a taxi to the accommodation that Akira had booked for us. This turned out to be the highlight of the trip so far, as we were to be staying in the guesthouse of an Obaasan (Japanese grandmother), sleeping in a traditional Japanese room, and all for the bargain price of ¥2100 (about £16)! Once our host had provided us with some ocha (Japnese green tea) and mochi we all headed off to the local Onsen for a late night soak. This Onsen was the same price as my local Sento (¥450), but much more impressive; boasting as it did a selection of indoor and outdoor pools, and sauna. What was not impressive was the sight of three naked Gaijin bathing themselves in the freezing cold water from free small taps whilst standing in the narrow entrance corridor, unaware that the seated bathing area, complete with hot water and buckets, was just around the corner. Another city and I still couldn’t help but make a fool of myself in s bathhouse! After masking our shame with an incredibly relaxing soak we headed back to the guest house, made up our futons and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.