Kyoto and Nagoya


We knew Kyoto would be amazing because of its rich history: it was Japan’s capital from 794 until 1868 and is currently considered the cultural capital. Now it’s the home of the last remaining geisha (and maiko) and an amazing array of temples, shrines and old homes.

We planned our trip to Kyoto around Gion Matsuri, the Gion Festival, which is the largest festival in Kyoto. The Wikipedia article does a good job explaining it. It’s mostly about these 10 ton floats called Yamaboko and in one particular neighborhood, the Byōbu Matsuri, or Folding Screen Festival where people open their homes to the public to show off their heirloom screens, fans, and kimono.

At night for 3 nights, the main streets of Gion close to traffic and people walk around in their yukata (casual wear kimono), eat festival food, and look at the yamaboko.

Here’s a yamaboko where there are musicians playing bells on it:

We spent 6 days in Kyoto and saw 2 geisha and 2 maiko. Unfortunately, they’re fast, so the only photo I got was 2 blurry geisha speeding off in a taxi.


On the way from Kyoto to Tokyo is Nagoya, a place we would have skipped had it not been for a really awesome woman we met in Seoul. Kazumi was staying at the same guesthouse in Seoul and invited us to visit her in Nagoya. We had a bit of an adventure getting there: I realized once we were in Nagoya that I left my phone in Kyoto, so we took the shinkansen back to Kyoto and then back to Nagoya all in a couple hours. Thank goodness for the Japan Rail Pass!

Anyway, we stayed with Kazumi in her “room”, which is the Japanese equivalent of a tiny efficiency apartment. The first night we had a girlie night where Kazumi painted my nails using her airbrush machine. Here is the result:

The next day she asked if we’d like to visit the shop where she works as a photographer. There is a custom of the “20th Anniversary”, which is like a national celebration of a girl’s 20th birthday. Everyone celebrates their 20th on the same day in January and the celebration includes dressing in kimono and walking around to show it off. She and the “kimono expert” dressed me in a formal kimono and Jacob took photos of me. Here’s the finished product – Kazumi is the one in the jaunty hat:

That evening was what we were really excited for: SUMO! We really wanted to see a sumo tournament while we were in Japan and the timing worked out so that the only one during our stay would be in Nagoya. Jacob got to the ticket counter at 6 in the morning to wait for general admission.

Sumo was really amazing – there is so much formality before each fight and between each type of fight. Here are the famous fighters doing a thing in their formal attire before they start their fights:

Then on to the fights!

There’s some thing we just don’t understand having to do with staring each other down before the fight. Apparently someone “wins” because when they separate, the crowd goes wild over one guy. I think it’s too subtle for us to really see though. In this photo, one guy has won the staring fight and has now flung his salt into the ring very pridefully (he didn’t win the real fight, see what excessive pride gets you? 🙂 ).

Then they face off for the last time and fight. The fights are really short, some as short as seconds, most within about 30 seconds. I was surprised to see so many with ankle, knee, and elbow braces from past injuries, but what my camera caught explained it all:


Next up: back to Tokyo!

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