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Kyoto
September 27th, 2009 by Kate
Kyoto shrine

Kyoto shrine

I know from the guide books that Kyoto is supposed to be our very favorite place in Japan.  Of course that means we were bound to be disappointed.  That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy Kyoto – but it didn’t really meet our expectations.  Yes, it IS filled to the brim with Japanese history – tons of fabulous shrines, buildings of architectural and historical importance, and we even saw an illusive geisha in an alley in the Gion district… but it was a massively huge city with way more big buildings, malls, and concrete parking garages than old Japanese charm. 

 Our favorite part of Kyoto was our couchsurfing host Shoji and his wife and three daughters.  Shoji has an unusual couchsurfing set-up… rather than hosting surfers at the home he lives in, he has made a “CS house” from another property he owns.  The night we arrived (fresh off the train from Hiroshima) there were 8 other couchsurfers crashing at the CS house!  There was Roxane from Belgium (hey Roxane), Ben from France, two Emma & Ingrid from Spain, Diego from Columbia via Australia, Grace and Laura from Canada, and Linda from Denmark!  They were all SO nice, each had very different life and travel stories, and it was like living in a fraternity house for a week!  We had our own little room to escape to – but we spent most of our evenings trading travel stories and mochi balls (aka little disgusting mushy balls of ick) with our new friends. 

The Couchsurfing Crew at Shoji's Barbque

The Couchsurfing Crew at Shoji's Barbque

 On the second night of our time at Shoji’s CS House – he and his family hosted a huge party at his regular house for all the surfers and his friends.  Shoji and I had been corresponding via the couchsurfing website for months, and we had decided it would be really fun for our girls to get together and meet.  Shoji took it to the next level (we came to find out that is the kind of guy he is – takes everything to the next level) and invited all of his kid’s friends and their parents over too.  It was hard to count all the running, squealing girl heads, but I think it is safe to estimate that there were 15-20 girls ages seven to seventeen there, plus their parents, their dogs, and all 12 of us couchsurfers – it was a BASH!  We brought the beer, and Shoji and his friends made tons, and I mean TONS of food.  It was seriously like a good ole fashion American bar-b-que but the English was sketchy and there were many many foods that were pretty darn foreign looking (but most really tasty – still don’t like fish paste though).  Tess and Phoebe had a blast, have lots of new Japanese friends, and we have great family memories that will last forever.

Tessa and friends in Kyoto

Tessa and friends in Kyoto

A universal truth... all 9-year old girls, not matter where in the world they are from, LOVE puppies!

A universal truth... all 9-year old girls, not matter where in the world they are from, LOVE puppies!

The rest of Kyoto in a nutshell… an entire day at the “21st day” flea market on the grounds of a shrine shopping for used kimonos, exploring the back alleys of the historic Gion district looking for Geisha (saw one!), shrines shrines and more shrines (we especially like the ones that are lit up at night with lanterns), Dance Dance Revolution in downtown arcades with middle-aged Kyoto men, attack monkeys at the Monkey park, the cherry tree-lined Philosopher’s Walk, pretty Buddhist gardens and the coolest train station in all of Japan.

 Okay – so it wasn’t the Kyoto of my imagination… but is was still pretty darn cool (and as Tess reminds me – better than school!).

Lanterns lighting the way to a Shinto Shrine in Gion

Lanterns lighting the way to a Shinto Shrine in Gion


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