By Patricia Lightfoot

Here is the third instalment of a brief tour of Japan presented through the Japanese words I practised each day.
In Kyoto, we stayed in a two-hundred-year-old wooden building that had been operated as an inn by the current owner’s family for over a century. The ground floor is now a whisky bar with Belle Époque–style stained glass. The upper floor has traditional Japanese rooms with rice-paper screens, tatami mats and cushions to sit on, but there is also an Edwardian sitting room with a wooden floor and armchairs. It really was a fascinating place to stay, located in the Shimabara neighbourhood, which had once been an official entertainment district where geishas lived and worked. For that reason, the neighbourhood had been surrounded by walls; one of the remaining gates was close by. We were told that one of the neighbouring buildings was a “geisha house” and apparently two geishas still live there.

Entrance to Shimabara
A gateway into Shimabara

Day 8: Kyoto
Word of the day
Shinkansen, known colloquially in English as the “bullet train,” which we rode from Tokyo to Kyoto. A testimony to the wonders of public transport in Japan, the shinkansen leaves Tokyo for Kyoto and Osaka every 20 minutes during the day. As we waited on the platform, it seemed to appear out of nowhere, shooting into the station, sleek and snakelike in appearance.

shinkansen
Shinkansen

Day 9: Kyoto
Words of the day
“Oh keen ee” or “thank you” in the Kyoto dialect, though we also heard a lot of arigato gozaimasu, which is said repeatedly during all announcements in train stations.
“Food crusade,” which is the bane of every group of travellers, as members of the group become increasingly hungry and agitated, while seeking an ill-defined and elusive perfect place to eat. The son of two of our travelling companions had coined this excellent expression.
We visited the Imamiya Shrine with a guide and were instructed in the proper way to wash our hands and pray. We were charmed by what appeared to be the democratic nature of Shintoism and by the families with young children in kimonos visiting the shrine. We adjourned to a tea shop just outside the shrine that has been serving tea and snacks for close to a millennium under the ownership of the same family.
The Golden Pavilion (see image at top of page) is on every visitor’s itinerary and rightly so, because it is strikingly beautiful with its golden phoenix on the roof, but to my mind the greater beauty lies in the lake and gardens surrounding the temple.
Places visited: Imamiya Shrine, The Golden Pavilion

kitano tenman-gu shrine
Sink for handwashing before praying at Imamiya Shrine

Day 10: Kyoto
Word of the day
Niwa or garden
The Silver Pavilion and the Eikando Zenrin-Ji temple both had beautiful gardens with striking fall colours. The Japanese drive for perfection provided many perfect vistas. Also notable was the street leading up to the Silver Pavilion, where souvenirs and myriad snacks could be purchased, including the “squid on a stick.”
Places visited: The Philosopher’s Walk, The Silver Pavilion, Eikando Zenrin-Ji temple

ginkaku-ji, silver temple
The Silver Pavilion

Day 11: Kyoto
Word of the day
Torii or “gates,” in honour of the hundreds of orange gates leading up the mountain at the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, which is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, who then became the god of money. His emissary is the fox, so there are many statues of foxes, often wearing cloth bibs, in the grounds of the shrine.
Place visited: Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine

fushimi-inari shrine
Torii at the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine

Day 12: Kyoto
Words of the day
Hygge, which was the name of a small restaurant in our neighbourhood. We agreed that the Danish philosophy of hygge, as far as we understood it, could be applied to Japanese life, in the sense of carefully appreciating small pleasures.
Kawa or “river” in honour of the festival near Okochi Sanso Villa, which featured musicians and a fox dancer on boats on the river, plus a play performed by Noh actors watched by a geisha and two geishas-in-training on the shore. It was not clear to us what was going on, but it was all very compelling.
Places visited: Tenryu-ji temple, Okochi Sanso Villa

arashiyama
The festival near Okochi Sanso Villa

Previous stop: Nikko
Next stop: Mount Koya

Photos: Patricia Lightfoot and Phillip Lightfoot