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A Postcard from Kyoto, Japan

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The Yasaka Shrine, overlooking Kyoto at sunset

Greetings from Kyoto! This is my second trip to Japan, but it is my first time outside of Tokyo and I am excited.

Kyoto, like Tokyo, is charming as you would expect, and a lot more intimate, with many more older buildings and a lot less buzz, but in a lovely way. The streets are gentle and calm and filled with the smells of great food.

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Gion, Kyoto, which you might recognise from Memoirs of a Geisha

I have been here for just 24 hours, and have already fallen head over heels for yatsuhashi, a floppy little triangular sweet that is a folded blanket of glutinous rice flour dumpling, filled with the likes of cinnamon or black sesame. I bought some to bring home, however, I doubt they will make it out of Kyoto. I tried it at Nishio, who have been making them for 324 years, so should know what they are doing.

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A wedding photograph I happened upon in Gion

Then the noodles. Lunch had to be noodle based and I opted for some terrific soba at Misoka-an Kawamichi-ya. I had cold soba with tempura. Simple but it hit every spot available. Perfect noodles, rich dipping sauce and light tempura with wasabi and fried shredded leek. My guide had a really intriguing dish that I must try: cold soba with grated raw yam, a raw quails egg and a very tiny bit of seaweed that seemed to be in oil.

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Shoes off for soba

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Soba with yam and raw quails egg

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All mixed up

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Tempura soba

No trip of mine would be complete without a thorough explore of the local food market and food shops so I made sure that I hit the Nishiki Market, a long sprawling market full of wonderful barrels of sharp pickles, all sorts of fish – dried, fresh, sashimi and pickled, a dreamy knife shop. There was also Daimaru department store food court which was terrific. A highlight was the obligation chocolates which I will tell you all about tomorrow.

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Nishiki Market

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Chopstick shop at Nishiki Market

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Amazing knife shop in Nishiki Market – Artisugu, who started making knives in 1560

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Candied sweet potatoes at Daimaru department store food court

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Tofu doughnuts at Nishiki Market

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Pickling fish at Nishiki Market

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Dried persimmons at Nishiki Market

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Octopus with quails eggs in the head at Nishiki Market

Kyoto has five geisha (or geiko as they are referred to locally) districts. The largest, Gion Kobu has 90 geiko, 30 maikos (trainee geiko) and 64 tea houses. A 90 year old geiko is rumoured to still be working there. It is impossible to access a tea house without a recommendation or invitation, but it is lovely to wander the old streets there with its plentiful restaurants and beautiful old buildings. A keen eye will spot a geiko boarding house and tea house, and luckily I was with one. I even spotted a maiko. Although, I was so engrossed with a green tea sweet shop at the time, I only managed to get a photo of her as she walked away.

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Maiko, just outside Gion, on a day off

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Two girls chatting outside a sweet shop in Gion. The board above their heads lists all activities for geiko and maiko training that week by individual.

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Curious cats

There are 1600 buddhist temples & 400 shinto shrines in Kyoto, not including the tiny ones on the streets. I visited a few. Some gorgeous, proud and bright, others more subtle and tucked among shops. The Yasaka shrine is bright and vast and very beautiful. With one of its pagodas dedicated to easy childbirth and a shrine dedicated to finding a great love match, it is a quirky place. It also seems appropriate given that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. When I got to the love match bit, it was closed, which tells you all you need to know about my love life!

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Forget your troubles – bad fortunes tied and abandoned for the deities to deal with at Yasaka Shrine

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Part of Yasaka Shrine

I had a wonderful guide, Meg, who brought me around today. She is freelance and can tailor a trip to your most random of requirements as she did mine. I found her through the Japan National Tourism Organization (who are so very helpful – be sure to contact them if you do visit), you can also email Meg to arrange.

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Angry cats – I want one for my doorway to scare away junk mailers