The golden pavilion at Rokuon-ji

Travel Update: Kyoto, Part 3

On our third and last time in Kyoto, Amelia and Kat were possessed of a single purpose: wearing fancy kimonos. We also planned on seeing the sights and introducing Shawn to our favourite parts of the city, but all of this was secondary to our central kimono-related goal.

Fair warning: This post consists primarily of photographs of Amelia in a fancy kimono. Occasionally there will be photographs of Kat in fancy kimonos (including an especially fancy mid-day costume change!), but for the most part this post is an extended exercise of my spousal prerogative.

Our first destination was, of course, a kimono rental shop. It was a pretty fancy place, which we took as a good sign.

Kimono fabrics
We had many fancy options to choose from.

Amelia and Kat selected their fabrics and assistants began to construct their dresses. Shawn and I were ejected from the room; although Amelia and Kat were each wrapped in several layers of clothing (far more than they were wearing when they had entered!), the assistants were adamant that they were in their “underwear”. Men (and cameras) were not allowed in the dressing room until the kimono was fully assembled.

Amelia in kimono
The result was very nice — fancy, even!

There is more to wearing a kimono than merely being dressed in a kimono, however. The ladies also signed up for hairdos to match their newly fancy attire!

They had to wait a few minutes before the hairdresser would be ready, so Amelia and Kat took the opportunity to pay.

Amelia paying for Kimono
Tourist-oriented businesses are some of the few in Japan that take Western credit cards.

Amelia and Kat proceded to get their hair done. Amelia raves about this hairdo to this day. Unlike her wedding hairdo, which took two hours and more than a hundred bobby pins, the wizards in the kimono studio’s hair salon put her hair up in fifteen minutes and inserted a mere four pins.

Amelia getting her hair done
The secret: hairspray.

The results were even fancier than we’d expected.

Amelia in kimono and hairdo
A fancy lady in a fancy dress.

(As Amelia-focused as I am, I would include a similar photo of Kat here if I had one — she was very selective in the photos that she shared with me! Don’t worry, though, Kat fans; there’s plenty of photos with her later on.)

The ladies got to wear their kimonos all day — the drop-off time was the next morning.  So, naturally, we set out in the direction of an ancient and beautiful temple, as is our wont.

We were headed towards Rokuon-ji (meaning “Deer Garden Temple”), but it is better known as Kinkaku-ji: “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”.

It may not surprise you to discover that the temple boasts an impressive golden pavilion.

Golden pavilion at Rokuon-ji
Kinkaku, the eponymous golden pavilion.

This is one of the more popular tourist spots in Japan. Photos of tourists standing along the side of the pond abound. Heck, one of the partners at my law firm hangs a photograph of the golden pavilion in his office that’s almost identical to the one featured at the top of the page.

Not being the type of break with tradition, we also got some snaps in with the flashy edifice.

Having seen what we had come to the temple to see, Amelia and Kat spent some time goofing around on the grounds. In a dignified way, of course.

We soon left the main grounds of the temple and began to pass through the shops outside. Kat found that she was very popular with the local ladies — including some who were similarly clad!

We headed back towards downtown Kyoto, in the direction of Kiyomizu-Dera (the “water temple” that we’d visited previously). We had plans to revisit the temple with Shawn, but there were two intervening events.

The first was this adorable pig:

A pet pig in Kyoto
The pig and its owner were just hanging out on the street, as if we weren’t going to stop to coo at it.

The second was Kat’s plan to go to a professional photography studio for formal portraits. The studio that she had in mind was just down the hill from Kiyomizu-Dera, so I kept her company at the studio while Amelia and Shawn took a tour of the temple.

Amelia and Shawn at Kiyomizu-Dera
They had a fun time.

Kat and I didn’t have a terribly fun time at the studio. Kat had an appointment, but ended up waiting well over an hour before being seen. This wouldn’t have been so bad (since, after all, sometimes schedules fall through), but every time we asked how much longer things would take we were promised that it would be only five more minutes. These were solemn, swearing-up-and-down oaths of a five-minute timeline.

When we did eventually make it in, the session itself was also quite lengthy, since it involved installing Kat into another kimono, applying traditional makeup, and actually taking some photographs. The whole affair took almost three hours, meaning that we lost a fair amount of the afternoon and missed out on Shawn and Amelia’s adventures. Kat found that irritating enough, but was truly incensed at the notion that her chain was being yanked by an attendant with an honesty deficit.

Fortunately, the photos themselves were gorgeous. It’s hard to stay mad when the results are this good. Not impossible (I am still complaining three years later, after all), but definitely hard.

Amelia and Shawn returned just in time for the photos to get wrapped up. We took a group shot, I snapped a few photos of Amelia with some of the props (spousal prerogative, remember), and Kat got changed back into her rental kimono.

Group shot with Kat in red kimono
It really is quite a nice kimono; unfortunately, this one didn’t leave the studio.

The first place we’d seen Japanese ladies in kimono was at Kiyomizu-Dera. We were eager to make up for lost time, but we could not move on without making good on our oath to return to the water temple kimono-clad. We ran up the hill to Kiyomizu-Dera for a quick photoshoot.

We made our way down to the lower portion of the temple as the sun began to fall towards the horizon. Kat snuck a few photos in near the lantern halls.

We intended to return to Issen-Yoshoku for dinner. You recall Issen-Yoshoku: it’s the restaurant in the Gion district with the anatomically-correct statue of a boy being attacked by a dog. (That sentence works a lot better if you imagine it being read by a character in a Wes Anderson film.)

Anyways, to get there we took a route through the nearby park — the very same park where we’d previously met up with Brendan, Shaggy, and Su. Along the way we ran across something very important:

A duck.

After our impromptu photo session in the park with our feathered friend, we tromped back to the rental studio to drop off Kat’s kimono, as she was eager to return to her regular clothes. Amelia was still keen on her kimono, so she kept it on and planned to return it the following morning. We then set off in the direction of Issen-Yoshoku.

It was actually quite a pleasant walk, which is remarkable considering that Amelia spent the whole day walking around Kyoto in formal sandals (which have an unfamiliar forward-sloped platform shape).

Amelia’s kimono’s footwear
I wonder what the Japanese word for “thong sandal” is.

The walk to the restaurant was uneventful, although Amelia did find a someone wearing a kimono with the same pattern as her. Ordinarily this would be cause for some embarrassment (or, at least, that’s what Sweet Valley High has taught me), but in this case Amelia didn’t seem too concerned about the competition.

Amelia with matching mannequin
Who wore it better?

Before long we arrived at Issen-Yoshoku. The restaurant has a quirky sense of humour. For instance, a sign outside advertises “five smiling girls in kimono inside who are famous in Kyoto for their beauty.” The joke is that, like Amelia’s kimono companion, the “smiling girls” are mannequins. They’re seated around the store, surrounded by brightly coloured signs, lanterns, busts, statues, and so on. The atmosphere is riotous.

Normally I’d include a photo of the interior of Issen-Yoshoku here, but it, uh… might not be entirely appropriate for a family-friendly website such as this one. Some of the decorations were more ribald that is typical for my blog. Or perhaps I was so fixated on Amelia that I neglected to take any other photos worth sharing; it does seem like other visitors have taken perfectly appropriate photos of the restaurant’s interior.

The other notable quirk to this restaurant is that Issen-Yoshoku’s comically large menu contains only one dish — a specific variety of okonomiyaki. The menu uses its leftover space to list the various ingredients in the dish, describe the distinctive “savoury pancake” to unfamiliar guests, and reassure wary foreigners that okonomiyaki is quite popular with “people from overseas”.

Okonomiyaki at Issen-Yoshoku
They know what they’re doing — it was delicious!

The prices were more than fair; we were expecting inflated sums for spendy tourists, but each order of okonomiyaki was only about $6. There really isn’t a downside — I strongly recommend that you visit Issen-Yoshoku if you happen to find yourself in Kyoto.

Now, before we proceed, I need to share an important series of photographs with you. Over the course of the day, Amelia had been eating food (as is traditional for human persons both in and out of kimono). Now, I am not sure that any photograph can fully convey the joy of witnessing a ravenous (but diminutive) Amelia devouring oversized foods in a fancy kimono. But I would be shirking my duty to you, the reader, if I did not try. So: behold!

Ok, we can resume our story. We had a lovely time at Issen-Yoshoku, and vowed to say nice things about it on the Internet.

The group at Issen-Yoshoku
Three years later, our blood pact is fulfilled.

As you may recall, Issen-Yoshoku is located in the historic Gion district, where traditional Japanese architecture, art, and fashion are on prominent display. This seemed like a good time to revisit Gion, partially so that Shawn could see it for the first time and partially to take advantage of Amelia’s traditional garb.

Amelia walking in Gion
Her smile says “~kawaii~”, but her eyes say “I own this town”

Our first stop in Gion was a traditional vendor of fine Japanese beverages. By which I am obviously referring to Starbucks, home of the green tea latte (which I understand to have introduced green tea to Japan). Issen-Yoshoku had fantastic okonomiyaki, but was a little short on lattes. Plus, we’d been travelling for a while now and were eager for a taste of home.

It was then, when we were ensconced in familiarity and our guards were momentarily down, that disaster struck. One of Kat’s lenses took a tumble and split its glass, rendering it totally useless. This was distressing, and threatened to put a damper on the evening.

We decided that the photography portion of our evening was over. We headed back to our hostel, where Amelia changed back into her civvies and bundled up her kimono fabrics.

Amelia’s kimono fabrics
A kimono has a lot of layers.

We didn’t want to end the day on a sour note, though. Not just for Kat’s sake, but also for Shawn’s — this was his last night in Japan! We knew that we needed to find something fun to do, and as luck would have it we knew just the place.

It took less than a minute to walk down the alley to the ¥300 standing bar that had welcomed us previously. We were glad that we did.

We were out very, very late and had a very, very good time. With the evening effectively salvaged, we found our way back to our hostel (remember: only a few feet away) and turned in for the night.

We needed our rest; the next two days would be our last in Japan, and there was so much still to do.