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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Gion Geisha District

10 Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 3

Paula Gaston

Every once in a while you can see some travel picture blog challenges going around. I have done it twice and showed you some pictures from my trips around the world. It is always fun to see people's travel photos, and it is even more fun to find some from your own albums. So many memories! 

So here it comes! Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 3. The first photos you can find from here:

10 Travel Pictures from My Past
10 Travel Pictures from My Past, Vol 2

 

MY ALL TIME FAVORITE SHOT

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This photo quickly became one of my favorites. My family! And now we also have one more tiny traveller, but when the photo was taken, we were only three people. This picture was taken in Nara, Japan. We visited Todaiji Temple to see the world's biggest Buddha. The temple is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it truly was worth going to. 

A SURPRISING SITUATION

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When we travelled to Japan, I was dreaming about seeing a geisha. Then I found out, that it is actually pretty difficult to find them, and there is only 200 of them left. One night we were strolling around the Gion Geisha District when we heard this jingling noise. Suddenly a geisha walked by us. That night, we ended up seeing several geishas on their way to work. I will never forget it!

A GEM FOUND NEARBY

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On our Christmas trip last year, we stopped in Solvang, here in California. Even though I had been there shortly before, I was surprised how much I liked visiting this Danish style town. We walked around downtown, stopped in little shops and ate some danishes. Perfect! 

WHITE SAND AND TURQUOISE WATER

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In California, when in need of paradise, it's time to head to Hawaii. There you can lay on the sand and snorkel in the turquoise water. I would really love to go snorkeling again. All those colorful fish and corals are so beautiful! This picture is from Big Island.

WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE WORD FREEDOM

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We have driven through Nevada several times, and it looks like this at it's best and worst. The total freedom to do what ever you want and go where ever you want! It is both exciting and a little bit scary to drive through the open desert. On this trip we drove through an Indian reservation, saw some Joshua Trees and wild horses, and got stuck in a snow storm. Anything can happen in Nevada!

IDYLLIC LIFE

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It is pretty cozy to stuff yourself inside the smallest pub in England with a bunch of other people for a pint. And I can tell you, the pub is really tiny! But it was fun to visit there. 

LUXURY IS...

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It is absolutely a luxury to fly in business class sometimes, especially when flying with All Nippon Airlines. The service was spotless, and the food was way better than that served in many restaurants with lots of stars. If I could always fly like this, I wonder if I would always arrive as happy and without jet lag to my destination.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ARHITECTURE 

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The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen. Many pictures from Japan could have also been used here, but I decided to go with this one from Saint Petersburg, Russia. The whole city is full of beautiful buildings on the inside and outside. 

A BITTERSWEET MEMORY

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I am still a little bitter about the way my trip to Israel and Jordan went. I was picked up by the border control at both borders for a special check up. In Jordan, a whole bus load of people had to wait for me to get through border control. In the end, everything went well, and my trip was a success, but I still remember sitting in the back room of customs. Although, now it seems like one big adventure.

IT HAS TAKEN TOO LONG TO GO VISIT THIS PLACE AGAIN

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There are so many pictures that I could have used on this topic. Since we just had a baby six months ago, I haven't been able to visit Finland in a very long time. This is actually the longest, I have ever been without visiting my home country. I chose this picture from the Snow Castle of Kemi, since it has been several years that I have been there. We rarely travel to Finland during the winter, and every year I think how cool it would be to visit the Snow Castle again. Well, maybe next year...

 

In case you are interested in participating in this challenge, you can copy the list of the topics from here. Originally this was started by a Finnish blog Journey diary. If you do write a post about it, I would love to read it. Please link it to my comments, and also link my blog on your post so we can find each other's posts easily.

1. My all time favorite shot
2. A surprising situation
3. A gem found nearby
4. White sand and turqoise water
5. When I think about the word freedom
6. Idyllic life
7. Luxury is... 
8. The most beautiful arhitecture
9. A bittersweet memory
10. It has taken too long to go visit this place again

 

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

Paula Gaston

We were in Japan for the first time last November, and it was one of the best trips we have ever done. Japan is a beautiful country, and it was interesting to see this totally different kind of culture. I noticed a few things during our trip that are good to know if you are planning to travel to Japan, and what I wished I would have known before our trip. Here are some of them:

1. THE JAPANESE LOVE THE SILENCE

As coming from Finland where we also are used to the silence, this is actually not a problem, but I did have to ask my husband to speak quieter a few times during our trip. You especially notice the silence on the trains. People speak very quietly and mute their phones and tablets. There were also signs about this in the hotel rooms and AirBnB rooms.  

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2. REMOVE YOUR SHOES WHEN INSIDE

Japanese people don't wear shoes inside, so it is usually expected that you remove your shoes in hotel rooms and many other places. Also in some restaurants it is polite to remove your shoes. Many places offer some slippers that you can wear and sometimes even keep for yourself. Even the old castles that we visited required people to leave their shoes by the door or carry them in a plastic bag during the tour. 

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3. MANY PEOPLE WEAR FACE MASKS. WHY?

You will see people with paper face masks everywhere but don't worry, it doesn't mean that every one of them is sick. Some people wear masks to protect themselves from germs and some wear them during the allergy season to prevent pollen getting into their nose. The Japanese also think that it is polite to protect other people when you get sick by using a mask.

4. DON'T TAKE PICTURES OF JAPANESE PEOPLE

People in Japan are not happy about tourists photographing them and especially without asking permission first. And it is not very polite anyway. However, in many places, especially at famous sites, it is impossible to take pictures without having some strange people in it. At those places people know there is a chance they will end up in someone's home album, so you don't worry too much about it. 

If you visit Kyoto and it's famous Geisha district in Gion, you should know that photographing geishas with their customers is a big NO NO!

5. THE JAPAN RAIL PASS CAN SAVE YOU A LOT OF MONEY

If you are planning to travel from one city to another, you should consider buying a Japan Rail Pass. Train tickets are not very cheap, and already the price of a couple tickets will make the JR Pass worthwhile. With the pass, you can travel as much as you want, and you can even use JR trains in Tokyo instead of the metro. Just don't forget that you have to purchase the pass before entering the country. You can read more about the JR Pass from here.  

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6. THE GHIBLI MUSEUM IS ALWAYS SOLD OUT

In case you are interested in anime and are dreaming about a visit to the famous Ghibli museum, you should buy the tickets early. They only sell a certain amount of tickets for each day and they have to be purchased beforehand. There are no ticket sales at the museum. The tickets usually sell out months before. We tried to get ours two months ahead and they were already all gone. You can always ask for last minute tickets from the local convenient store Lawson, which seems to have also opened an online sales site since we were there. 

7. THE FAMOUS JAPANESE TOILETS

We had some Japanese toilets at work, and there were all kinds of features in them from integrated bidet to warming seat. One interesting feature was the noise button; either music or water sounds that will make sure other people won't hear you on the toilet. And you don't really need toilet paper for these toilets, since there are many different bidet options on them.

When we travelled to Japan, I was thinking that all the "Japanese toilets" were that sophisticated, but there were also "western toilets" which we are used to in the US. But then there were also the traditional squat toilets known as an "Asian toilet". So when going to the restroom, you might have several choices to choose from. 

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8. WHY JAPANESE WOMEN CARRY A TOWEL WITH THEM

There usually aren't any paper towels in Japanese restrooms. So if you don't want to walk out with wet hands, do what Japanese women do; carry a small towel in your purse. In case you forgot to bring one from home, no need to worry, almost every store sells some. 

9. PEOPLE LOVE KIDS IN JAPAN - ALSO IN RESTAURANTS

We were traveling with our 4 year old daughter and got a lot of extra attention because of her. Compared to local people, she is a blond with sandy blond hair and hazel eyes, which might be why people wanted to talk to her, but also in general everyone seemed to like kids. Our daughter got little gifts and origamis from people on the street, and lots of smiles when we were out.

We wondered how we would cope at the local restaurants since our daughter didn't know how to use chopsticks yet. But no need to worry! In almost every restaurant they brought her a kids plastic plate with spoon and fork.

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10. DON'T EXPECT EVERYONE TO SPEAK ENGLISH

Even though you will find most signs and instructions in English, many people don't speak English or do so with difficulty. It is always a good idea to learn some common phrases in Japanese which will be helpful in restaurants and stores. And it is of course polite to know how to say "hello" and "thank you" in the local language. Language was pretty much the only thing giving us trouble on our trip, and especially buying the train tickets in Japanese. But people there are extremely friendly and helpful, and always ready to guide you. 

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Do you have some good tips for people who travel to Japan for the first time?

 

How I spotted a Geisha in Kyoto

Paula Gaston

When we started to plan our trip to Japan, one thing was very clear to me; I wanted to see a real geisha! But I soon realised that it was easier said than done. I read many articles about geishas and found out that they are almost a disappearing tradition in Japan. This profession doesn't attract young people anymore, and there are only about 200 working geishas in Kyoto. So my chances of seeing one were pretty slim. I felt like my obsession was kind of silly and even a little childish, but we still decided to try. I tried to prepare myself for a disappointment.

A geisha is sort of an Japanese hostess or an entertainer who mostly works at tea houses, but can also be seen at different events. They usually perform dances, play games with guests or serve tea and drinks. Against many believes they are not prostitutes. In the Kyoto area, the geishas are called either geiko or maiko (if it is a young apprentice geisha). Geishas usually have a long training which they start as early as 15 years old. They start as maikos and then graduate to become geikos when they are about 20. You can tell the difference between a maiko and a geiko by the way they dress up, and their decorations and make up. Also many tourists want to try out the geisha costume during their visit to Japan, so if you run into a geisha in a touristy spot in the middle of the day, then you have most likely just seen a tourist. 

I chose our travel dates to Kyoto on purpose for the weekend because I knew that the geishas would be most likely working at least on Saturday nights. We planned to walk around and maybe even have dinner in the famous Gion Geisha District. I read so many articles about where I could spot a geisha, and based on those, geisha hunting was pretty popular among the tourists. Some of the pictures of people chasing them on the streets looked quite horrible honestly, and I didn't want to harass them. Many of the articles mentioned that geishas are usually busy getting to their work, so they wont stop for photos or to chat with tourists. I read somewhere that you could stand and wait by a known geisha school on a street called Hanamikoji Dori, and they would most likely appear at some point. This seemed a little much to me, so as a back up plan I thought that we could see a show with geishas at the Gion Corner Yasaka Hall  cultural center. In this show the geishas perform some dances and a tea ceremony. A few times a year there are also some public events in which geishas participate and you can join in.

On Saturday night, we arrived at the Gion District which was already occupied by the tourists. The tea houses had opened their doors and the atmosphere there was somehow special. We walked around admiring the paper lanterns when suddenly we heard a jingling sound. And just like that, a real geisha walked by us! She disappeared as fast as she had appeared and we didn't have time to do anything. I had seen my first geisha! In the next two hours we saw almost ten maikos on their way to the tea houses, and they all seemed to appear from no where and disappear in a heart beat. It was magical! But unfortunately, we also saw some tourists who were running after them or standing in their way while taking pictures. We mostly stood behind others, but at least my husband was able to get a couple nice videos of them.  

When we left Gion District we were standing at a traffic light with a maiko. She seemed to like our little daughter who was so fascinated by the geishas. They smiled at each other and waved. This maiko was maybe on her way to work or was waiting for a ride. At first I didn't notice a man standing next to her who might of been a client of hers. I have heard that you should not take pictures of geishas with their clients, so I blurred his face. Although I have no idea if this was the case or if they were standing there together. 

Even my husband was intrigued by the atmosphere at the Gion District that he suggested we should go back the next day. We walked around looking for a dinner spot, and then stopped in some of the souvenir shops and at Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. I already wrote something about it earlier. This time we were not lucky to see geishas, but we did enjoy our evening stroll. We also visited Pontocho District one night, which is another geisha district in Kyoto. No geishas there either! But Pontocho was lovely with it's narrow little alleys and tea houses. Overall we felt very lucky that we happened to see so many geishas on that one night. We were definitely in the right spot at the right time!

If you happen to see a geisha, don't forget that they are in a hurry to get to work. They must be tired of big tourist groups chasing them around and getting in their personal space. Our special vacation time in Japan is their everyday life. Even the sign in the Gion Geisha District tells us that some people must have forgotten that. 

MY TIPS FOR KYOTO IF YOU WANT TO SPOT A GEISHA

  • The easiest way is to purchase a ticket to a cultural show in Yasaka Hall Gion Corner. They cost about $30 for adults, and they have discounts for kids and students. So not too expensive!

  • There are companies who sell a dinner package where you can meet a geisha and take pictures with her. Prices might be a little high but hey, it's a once in a life time experience!

  • The best places to spot a geisha otherwise are the Gion Geisha District (especially the main street; Hanamikoji Dori) or Pontoncho.

  • Geishas arrive at the tea houses after sunset. We saw geishas right before 6 pm and then more of them right before 7 pm.

  • The best days are most likely on the weekends, especially Saturday evening when many gatherings and parties are arranged.

5 Best Memories from Kyoto, Japan

Paula Gaston

On our fourth travel day to Japan we headed from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train. From all the places we saw on our trip, I think that Kyoto really stayed in our hearts. It was different than what we had imagined, but I really understand now why everyone told us to visit there. We were there in November, so we saw some amazing fall colours at the same time that we saw beautiful buildings and views.

There are about 1.5 million people living in Kyoto, and they have 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites there. So there is so much to do and see in this city. Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868, and they are now trying to protect all those historical neighbourhoods. Our best memories from Kyoto are:

GION GEISHA DISTRICT

One of the coolest things we did in Japan was a visit to the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto. Even though there are so many tourists in these small alleys, you can still sense the history there. We were not sure if we would be able to see geishas, since I had read that you are extremely lucky if you see one on your trip. But we happened to be in the right place at the right time, and in a short while we saw almost ten geishas on their way to work. I was so thrilled! Definitely one of my bucket list items. I will tell you more about geishas in a later post in the future. 

There are several good restaurants and tea houses in the Gion Geisha District. But it seemed to us that they were always full; the same with the little stores close by. But this area has a lot of souvenir shops and sweets shops if that is what you are looking for. We also saw many kimono rental shops where you can rent a kimono for a day. 

We also visited another geisha district called Pontocho. We did not see any geishas there but it was a lovely place for the evening stroll. The little alleys were full of restaurants and tea houses. 

FUSHIMI-INARI-TAISHA
 

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is not part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, but in my opinion, is one of the best sights in Kyoto if not the best. It is a big shrine located at Inari mountain and you can hike up by following a "torii" alley. Torii is a Japanese gate used usually at shinto shrines. The hike up will take about two or three hours, but you can always turn back after an hour and the road will lead you back to the shrine. During your hike you will see many smaller shrines which are guarded by foxes. The foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

Also the buildings at the shrine on the bottom of the trail are beautiful. Fushimi-Inari is a very popular site and there is always a lot of tourists there. If possible, you should plan your visit on a weekday and go as early as you can. The higher you hike, the less people you will see. Visiting Fushimi-Inari is free of charge.  

KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE AKA THE GOLDEN PAVILION
 

On our next day in Kyoto, we purchased tickets to the K´Loop bus. It drives around Kyoto and stops at UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a few other places too. We soon discovered that it was not the best choice for us, since the bus did not drive back to our hotel in the afternoon. We still used the bus to go to Kinkaku-Ji aka the Golden Pavilion, and on from there.

The Golden Pavilion is one of the best sights in Kyoto. Do not leave without seeing it! Already at the gate we noticed how many tourists were there, and to see the Kinkaku-Ji, you have to stand by a little pond with all the other people. It got very crowded and there were security officers to guide people to the right places. It kind of broke the atmosphere of this beautiful place. But the view was worth it and the rest of the park didn't seem so crowded. I would recommend visiting here early in the morning and during the week.

The Golden Pavilion was built in 1397 but the original building was destroyed by a fire. The building today has three storeys and it was built in 1955. Two upper floors are covered with pure gold leaf. The building is used to restore the remains of a Buddha. 

NIJO-JO CASTLE

Nijo Castle was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site we saw in Kyoto. That is because our hotel, Guest House Rinn Nijo Castle was located right next to it. The castle was built in 1626, and it has suffered under several fires and typhoons. It has been open to the public since 1939.

After you purchase a ticket you will be able to visit the castle and its gardens. When going inside the palace, you will have to remove your shoes, so don´t forget to bring socks! There is no furniture inside the palaces, and photography is not allowed, but it is still an interesting tour. In Ninomaru Palace you will notice something special; the wooden floors make a sound almost like birds chirping when you walk on it. It is said that the purpose of this sound was to warn the residents of intruders and assassins. There is a big beautiful garden in Nijo Castle and you will be able to feed carp that live in the garden pond.

A little video of Nijo Castle. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

YASAKA-JINJA

This shrine is easy to visit at the same time you visit the Gion Geisha District since it is very close by. There are hundreds of lanterns that are lit in the evenings, so I would recommend visiting after sunset. You can also access Maruyama Park from here which is a popular site for cherry blossoms in the spring time. There are many souvenir and street food sellers in these little alleys. 

We could have stayed in Kyoto for longer. We felt like we missed many interesting places since we wanted to move on to our next destination. We would have at least visited the Silver Pavillion, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Sake District. I had imagined that Kyoto was a smaller and more compact city where the sites are pretty close to each other, but it took a lot of time to move around in the city. We also ended up walking a lot, so every once in a while we needed a little bit of rest. 

Kyoto really is an amazing city!