My next stop brings me to an even more escalated point, private lunch at an ochaya located in Gion where I would be entertained by geikos (In Kyoto district, geishas are knowns as geikos and maikos. The latter is an apprentice and that usually means working without a salary or very basic salary. However, most of the daily necessities are provided by the company that manages the geiko and maiko; such as their kimonos and make-up. It is a dying trade and some sources say that there are fewer than 200 geikos in Kyoto now. Even traditional hairstylists for maikos are left with only a handful (a geiko is allowed to wear a wig whereas a maiko’s hair is styled using her own).
Literally translated, ochaya means tea house but it is different from my experience at the tea room where I learned the art of tea ceremony. The Gion district is most famous for its traditional Japanese houses; many of which are ochaya, a must visit for any visitor to Kyoto.
My last stop in Kyoto brought me to the Entoku-in Temple where the head priest Mr. Tensho Goto is the ambassador for Visit Japan. It was not hard to see why as despite the fact that he hardly speaks a word of English; you can feel his sincerity and passion towards every tourist that visits the temple. I was ushered to the Chashitsu, a free standing structure that usually refers to a small and simple wooden building. Guests have to enter the Chashitsu by lowering their head and crouch; this signifies that all are equal regardless of status or social position.
The interior of the room is kept very simple, without any furniture except with a scroll and simple floral arrangement (usually containing one or two stalks of flowers to inform guests of the current season by just looking at the type of flower being displayed). Even though there is a small window, it is not meant to be opened as it would distract the participant’s concentration. Its purpose is just to let light filter in through the shoji, which is a translucent paper framed with wood.
Before departing for Kansai International Airport, I made my way to the famous Nishiki Market made up of more than one hundred shops and restaurants formed by five blocks of long shopping streets.
This market specialises in fresh and dried seafood, knives and crockery, pickles and Japanese sweets. Some shops willingly give out samples to curious tourists who come from all over the world. The fresh strawberries looked too good to resist and I decided to buy two packets to eat on my flight home.
The market closes around 6pm daily but some restaurants there might be sold out earlier. After finishing my Japanese dessert of anmitsu (made of jelly cubes, azuki bean paste and ice-cream) of which I was the last customer, I slowly made my way back to the hotel, ready for check out. With that, my brief but memorable 3-day trip to Kyoto ends. But I will definitely be back; Kyoto has not seen the last of me.