I’ll admit it, I tend to over-plan or stuff a ton of things in our itinerary when we travel, because there is so much I want to see! Especially in a city like Kyoto, when we are only there for a few days, I want to make the most of it. Well, I reined myself in and tried to only plan 2-3 sites per day for our trip to Kyoto. I rejected anything that required too much transit time. That is how we found ourselves in eastern Kyoto, with nothing left on the itinerary at 1:30 pm (we left for Fushimi-Inari by 7:30 am because our kids were trying to destroy our Airbnb)! The narrow lanes surrounding Kiyomizu were worth a stroll. There were shops selling all sorts of souvenirs. We picked up some Japanese-style chopsticks and a really pretty fan. These streets also had shops selling Buddhist paraphernalia and pottery- items that have been sold here to pilgrims going to the temple for centuries! There were tons of people clopping around in rented kimonos and wooden sandals. I did not know that dressing up was such a common thing, but it seemed to be a very popular activity for tourists. A word of advice for anyone wanting to partake in this activity- if you want to rent a kimono and then take pictures at a historic site, wear your normal shoes. There is most likely hiking/ walking up steep hills involved, and it seemed like those wearing the wooden sandals were having a hard time getting around and had sore feet.
Gion, a geisha district and one of the most famous in Japan, was on the list of places to visit if we had time, so we meandered our way over to this area of the city from Kiyomizu temple, via Maruyama park and Chion temple. Gion is the main entertainment district in Kyoto. Geishas have been entertaining guests in tea houses, where they sing, dance and lead games, all in towering heels and full white make-up, for centuries. Although the number of geishas has declined, we still hoped to see a geisha making her way to or from an appointment. On our way there, we passed many things that would have been very notable had we not been in Kyoto. There was this huge multi-storied pagoda. I have no idea what it was built for, but it was very tall and beautiful!
We thought it was kind of funny that Japan had these liquor vending machines. So anyone who can operate a vending machine can have all the beer they want!
We reached Maruyama park, which is directly east of Gion and the Yasaka Shinto shrine. I had read that there was a playground at this park. We walked around the park, but did not find the playground. Landon had a great time pretending to fish in this pond, though. He certainly has learned on our travels that he does not need playground equipment to have fun! Austin ran into some Italians, so he had a fun conversation with them. We noticed there were a ton of Spanish tourists in Kyoto. The park had beautiful ponds, trees, and walking paths. It was set in the foothills, so the paths had a gentle uphill slope.
In our quest to find the playground in Maruyama park, we stumbled upon this giant Buddhist temple gate. This was the biggest gate I have ever seen in my life. There were also lots of stairs to reach the gate, and then even more to the temple complex. Austin did not want to do all the stairs with the stroller, and I agreed. Before we could corral Landon, he took off up the stairs. Not just the stairs to the gate- by the time I caught him, he was up the very steep stairs from the gate to the temple! Since I hiked up there, I checked it out a little, and Landon made friends with some Korean guys who stopped to dig in the dirt with him. When they stopped, I already could tell they were Korean because they stopped what they were doing to play with Landon. Koreans are just really nice, and love kids!
Chion temple was also undergoing renovations, so there were only a few buildings that I could see that were open and not under construction. Landon had parked himself in the dirt near the wash basin, so I did not venture further into the temple complex, but what I saw was very beautiful. To extricate Landon from his dirt piles, we played Superwings, which is a Korean cartoon that Landon loves. We both had to fly down the stairs with our wings out, though, as demonstrated by Landon above. Meanwhile, down a zillion stairs at the gate entrance, Austin let Owen out of the stroller to stretch his legs. He had previously soaked his shorts with his water cup, so he was our pants-less wonder for the afternoon!
Now, my readers, you have a special treat. Landon is the guest photographer for Gion! Really what happened is that he was having a hard time coping with our extremely long day and wanted to sit in the stroller, but would only sit in the stroller if we gave hm the camera to document Gion. So, here’s Gion through the eyes of a four-year-old!
I’m not sure what I was expecting Gion to look like, but I think the side streets of Gion, with the traditional housing and limited vehicle traffic, were more what I thought of when I imagined Gion. The main road through Gion was very busy and not very picturesque. As we walked down this main drag, we saw a side street and decided to cross the street and explore. As we were walking up to the cross walk, I spotted a girl in really high platform sandals and full white makeup. Her outfit was really elaborate, and for a moment, I thought she was just another tourist dressed in a kimono. Then I realized, it was a geisha! Landon had the camera, and as she crossed the street with us (booking it in those platform sandals!) I was just saying over and over, “Landon, please give me the camera, Landon PLEASE give me the camera!” Landon was not having any of it. I told him to take a picture of her and this is what he captured. I’m actually super happy with it- it’s not blurry and it captures the whole feel of the side streets of Gion. I wanted to see a geisha, but with two little guys I was not about to wander all over Gion and wait to find a geisha, so I’m happy she basically came to us!
From my research, booking a geisha for a traditional tea ceremony and entertainment is cost-prohibitive for most travelers. Some tours come with this experience, but regardless, hiring a geisha is expensive. There was another option called Gion Corner, where for around 30 bucks, you can see a variety of traditional Japanese performing arts, from a tea ceremony to geisha dances to musical performances. This place gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, and it was not worth the ticket price to try to drag our young children to a show when they should be getting ready for bed, but it’s a sure-fire way to see a geisha in Gion! Shows run daily at 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm. I will say that if our kids were a little older, or we were traveling without kids, we would have definitely gone to a show!
Shout out to Austin! During our Japan trip, Owen took virtually all of his naps on Austin’s back in our carrier- up to three short naps a day. Something about Austin’s walk put Owen right to sleep every time! Owen is over 22 lbs, so Austin got a good work out in, and volunteered to push the stroller as well. What a guy! Traveling with a baby that can’t quite walk yet, but loves to crawl around can be extremely difficult to manage. We brought the stroller and baby carrier and alternated where we put him based on his mood. We also made sure to get him out as often as our explorations allowed to stand and cruise along steps, benches or tables.
Maruyama park is a great place to take a break from sightseeing and enjoy some natural scenery. Chion temple is one of many Buddhist temples in Kyoto, but boasts the largest gate, and plenty of stairs and rocks and dirt to play with for the kiddos. Gion was slightly disappointing in its commercialism along the main drag, but wandering around the side lanes and seeing the geisha were both very memorable experiences for me. Gion has to be on any itinerary to Kyoto, although depending on how much you want to see a geisha, you need only spend a few minutes up to hours there!