That morning we got up before the sunrise to catch the golden hour (best time to take pictures are as the sun rises and sets). We walked and photographed between streets till the Kamo River.
It was truly a beautiful morning, I loved seeing how Kyoto is getting up, the shops still closed, people getting to their work slowly. Some people were sweeping their house front.
Near the river, there were young people just finishing the day, some still in their festival dresses.
Someone was sleeping with their luggage as the cushion, demonstrating how Japan is so safe.
After walking hours in the streets, we decided that today is the day we finally gave up walking and rent bicycles for the transport.
Early breakfasts day
Everywhere was closed except konbini stores, so we took small bites from Family Mart and walked more. Then McDonalds was the second place we went around 6 am but we needed a decent (or somewhat decent) coffee so once Starbucks opened around 7 am, we went there to have some coffee and truly wake up.
Before coming I read in many blogs that Kyoto is very safe to bike, it was our agenda already. After breakfast, we rented bicycles from the nearest bike shop until the day we leave for Osaka. We preferred J-CYCLE for the renting, but I believe there are many more options.
Erhan, living many years in the Netherlands was already used to bicycles, but me? I had not cycled for many years, but you know what they say like using a bike, it is true 🙂 I remembered quickly.
As soon as we rented the bicycles, we headed to Kyoto station for lunch. After spending the 2020 in isolation, looking back to photos from 2018 Kyoto it hurts my heart a little bit, seeing such a large crowd all together.
You will absolutely go to Kyoto station once or twice and if you have time to spare, go up and enjoy the unexpected beautiful terrace of the station with beautiful bamboo trees and a sky view.
GION MATSURI CONTINUES… YOIYAMA
It was already the third day of Gion Matsuri. Today we decided to have dinner outside of the festival area, and I already know what to eat and where with the help of my workings before Japan! Gyozadokoro Takatsuji Sukemasa ぎょうざ処 亮昌 高辻本店! Near our home in Kyoto, and without leaving the festival area. These were the best Gyoza I have ever eaten in my life (and also will eat in Japan through the journey). If you ever go there don’t miss it, you’ll regret it.
Erhan’s Note: Eating it came with a manual of how to. There were several spices and sauces to enjoy, first without any spice, then with the spices respectively and also the store made it clear that the gyoza was made all with Japanese ingredients.
After our own gyoza festival, we headed to the festival area one more time, and enjoyed to the last drop.
We saw the floats at night one last time and carved the scenes in our memories with their shiny lights.
We weren’t of course the only ones around the floats, the crowd was again in the streets of Kyoto.
and the famous stalls were still working full capacity, after all people loves these stands.
and of course the officers were again there with their lightsaberish things.
The next day was the main event of the festival, another early start was waiting for us, therefore we decided call the night early on.
After an awful night full of migraines on my part, we decided to take this day a bit slow and enjoy the AC at home.
Woke up and we finally made breakfast at home: toasts with the little magic Japanese toaster (oh I wish we could bring one to our own house) and green tea: a little comfort food:)
Erhan’s Note: One thing about Turkish people is that we “value” our breakfast. Sort of like hobbits. 1’st 2’nd and 3’rd breakfasts or one elongated breakfastaganza is not rare. Japan on the other hand is sober and brief in the league of breakfasts. Having one at home, having access to a kitchen was very important for our morale.
Challenge: Washing machine in Japanese
Since we stayed in hotel until Kyoto, we didn’t wash our clothes until we got ourselves our own machine. But washing at home is that easy??? Big NO! because the machine is entirely in JAPANESE. So we had a riddle in our hands. As a conclusion, we decided it is cold washing only and tried that.
result: it was a success
Until 6 pm, we rested in the house. When we left home in the afternoon, a wave of humidity slapped our faces, but it was nice to be outside anyway.
Gion Matsuri: A Festival to end all Festivals.
An entire book can be written for the Gion Matsuri, but I won’t share too much specifics with you, like when it started etc., instead I’ll share our point of view and experiences during the festival.
Erhan’s Note: I knew nothing about the festivals before deciding to go to Japan. It turns out it is a big thing.
If you wish to experience the whole Matsuri as we did, follow this link SPECIAL GION MATSURI ALBUM: DAY 1- 14 JULY to a premium album with close ups of floats, streets and more street photography and of course videos. It’s only the first day of the Matsuri and more will be uploaded in the future post soon.
Gion Matsuri, Yasaka Shrine’s festival, is the most important festival of Japan. It lasts for the entire month of July but the main events are between 14-17 July, 17 July being the procession of floats day. There is a second procession on 24 July but it has fewer floats, so if you have the chance then catch the 17 July one.
All the matsuris (festivals) are dedicated to shrines, thus to the gods.
The floats are assembled on the different streets of Kyoto and without using any nails, and they are carried on the shoulders of the men on the day of procession.
This was the first day of Gion Matsuri called Yoiyoi Yoiyama. We were staying on a walking distance to the streets where the floats of Gion Matsuri are established and surprise! The floats were already assembled when we stepped outside.
That was pretty exciting to witness. It was getting crowded hour by hour. The majority of the girls and men were wearing their Yukatas (summer Kimono, more casual). Some of the girls were really chic, dressed specially for the Matsuri. Little ones were so cute with their kimono.
Some of the floats can be visited, to our chance it was the first float we encountered. We paid 300 yen ( app.3 dollars) for this.
There was a man singing/acting in front of this float, an ode to the god maybe?
And there are stands under each float selling some things.
Since it’s fairly new to me, I started photographing people wearing their yukatas, all dressed up. One of the men saw me and wanted to take a photo with me. Really nice people.
Everywhere we walked, we saw a new float. Each has different characteristics and each sells different things: some souvenirs, some food etc.* Since it was so hot even in the evening, we bought from one of these stands, a Japanese fan, it cost 800 yen (around 8 Dollars). Still enjoying it from time to time at home in summer.
* Erhan’s Note: If you wanted a “Japanese” experience, this is the overdose version. Stalls, costumes, fans, artwork, FOOD, acting, people, children singing, people getting stamps, lanterns, you name it, the matsuri had it.
As we walked by, we saw so many food stalls and so many different things to try. Are you a fan of hot dogs? Then go try one without the bun, on a skewer! I was skeptical at first, but when I tried I really loved it.
Then came chicken yakitoris! I don’t know how many we ate.*
* Erhan’s Note: it washed down so well with beer in the hot summer evening, we kept walking back to the yakitoris.
We started the day with breakfast at the hotel (it is a little expensive to have it everyday outside since the breakfast at the hotel was included in the price). We had a pretty full schedule in Kyoto ahead of us, so it was wise to take the day off before heading to Kyoto. Having difficulty deciding what to do, we found ourselves in Tully’s again.
Japanese Toilets: Open Sesame!
I know that many people know about the Japanese toilets already but believe me I wasn’t expecting to enter the toilet at Tully’s and see the lid of the toilet open automatically for me 🙂 For a public toilet it’s super useful not to touch the lid, and of course you can arrange the toilet seat temperature, a music accompanying the session, the temperature of the bidet’s water. One could write a whole book about toilets and public restrooms in Japan, but I will leave it at a paragraph or I would never reach the end of this blog.
By the way the most common brand for the toilets is TOTO, which means butt in a cute baby talk way in Turkish, this coincidence made us laugh each time (You see I’m still talking about toilets)
Erhan’s Note: Japan toilets are famous for their adjustable bidets, temperature control, and pleasant bird songs that mask the noises digested matter makes when your body twists and strains itself to do you know what. Being Turkish we welcomed the idea of a bidet, a common part of the toilet experience, which I know is already a shock in itself for some westerners, especially Americans. Automating the whole experience of course adds to hygiene, especially in public areas.
Everyday life in Tokyo
We sat at Tully’s for a couple of hours, relaxed a bit, and enjoyed our time just sitting about 2 hours. If you followed the blog so far, then you know already that I’m amazed seeing daily life in my perspective as a street photographer. While sitting in Tully’s it was again the case, seeing these well dressed up ladies enjoying their cup of café together for example, or seeing the all black dressed cool Japanese guy gave me inspiration.
Two different views
While I’m oriented to shoot people in streets or streets in a larger perspective with people in it, like this one
or this one
Erhan is attracted to some very interesting objects and houses around. For example this little garden with its beautiful trees just between the houses
or this tree growing attached to the houses
or this electrical lamp while some may say it is grotesque while Erhan found it very interesting.
I love the fact that we see the same streets with different perspectives, we complete the world’s puzzle together.
A day off? Not really… then let’s go to Ameyoko
A day off? It’s difficult for us to sit somewhere for more than a couple hours, so we decided to go to Ameyoko (Ameya Yokocho) Market, again around Ueno. It’s mostly formed by fish, fresh fruits, and vegetable sellers. We didn’t buy a fresh thing since we’re staying in a very tiny room without a kitchen and felt overwhelmed after seeing so much stuff together.
Of course there was also Kebap House, I couldn’t think of a market without Kebap House, back in Turkey so it only made sense that in a Metropolitan area such as this, somebody, probably another Turkish person would import the idea of the convenient kebap. We didn’t try it since we’re in Japan and it didn’t make sense to us to eat kebap when there was so much else going around.
Erhan’s note: I would rather try a regular burger franchise in Japan than a kebap place. Who knows what the quality of the food they served there was.
There was also some cheap retails
It was again a very hot day and even the sellers were experiencing it pretty bad.
Erhan’s note: We were hearing the occasional “atsui”, “atsui desu” already 😀
What a towel really is for?
You know what Douglas Adams was right in “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy when saying : “A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”.
Apparently Mr. Adams got the idea for this phrase when he went travelling and found that his beach towel kept disappearing, but I am sure if he had been to Japan he could have gotten this towel idea here as well. A wet towel around your neck keeps you sane, cool and healthy, or a light cloth towel around your head will prevent your sweat from entering your eyes in the hot and humid Japanese summer days. We learned pretty quickly that you shouldn’t NEVER NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT A TOWEL IN JAPAN! Especially in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t practice this in Istanbul.
Photographer vs the shot
There is a trend going these days in twitter, photographer vs. the shot, so I wanted to share in this page from this day such a shot.
A close encounter with the eight legged kind: Takoyaki
After the market, we found a Takoyaki (octopus pancake balls (literally grilled octopus)) place nearby. Osaka style 🙂 Definitely worth the try. By the way, yaki 焼き means grill and we thought that the symbol looks like a man grilling 🙂 We saw some Gyozas on the menu so we had to try it too. Result: Of course we love them. As Turks, we were already fans of “mantı” and all associated cuisine (classic pasta dough rolled out and filled with a mince of either lamb or beef and onions and spices then folded and cooked in water), so basically it’s similar to Gyoza (Japanese dumplings) except the cooking process and the shape.
We saw some shops in the way, and bought outdoor trousers from North Face for the hikings ahead of us.
The next day, our plan was to continue our journey in Kyoto, so we bought our Shinkansen (Bullet train) tickets from the ticket machines (since we didn’t know the procedures we wanted to be pre-prepared ).
First sushi experience and the second dinner
By chance, we saw a sushi place called Magurobito Okachimachi by walking. I was pretty fond of sushi back in Turkey so I was very excited for this experience. We entered but couldn’t find any English menu, therefore we were completely out of our comfort zone, no tourist, full of Japanese people. Normally it is good sign, this means we found a local place but when you don’t understand a thing it’s really difficult to handle. We ordered by showing the sushi. Even though there was a man sitting right next to us and was nice to chat with us a bit in English, we were quite intimated by this experience (I didn’t even took a photo because I was afraid they will tell us not to do. So I decided to took a quick video but Erhan warned me, so it’s shaky and short. ) Thus we decided to stop before we were done.
We were still hungry, what to do?
So we wanted to find a cheap and simple option for our second dinner of the night. We saw a soba noodle place under the overpass of the Okachimachi station and we finalized our night by dessert to the room from Atré in Ueno Station.
We had a better night sleep, this means we’re adjusting to the time, Yay! The next day : Kyoto!
Here you will find an index of the locations where we stayed at least a night. You can click the link in each item in the list to reach to a more detailed index. The boxes will be filled as we create more and more blog posts Enjoy 😀
After all these walks of the day before, we let ourselves sleep that morning and woke up late.
We decided to see our options for breakfast since the breakfast at the hotel wasn’t something to talk about. We went to a nearby cafe at the corner of the street, and took some delicious tuna sandwiches. Cheese sandwiches are not very common in Japan, and they have a bit of extra air of “exoticness”, which is very normal since Japanese culture relied on fish, rice, and vegetables for a long time. (However they have mastered the cheesecake and it is everywhere! Omg Japanese people adore cheesecake, I won’t complain because I do too). We had our cafe at Tully’s (we didn’t know then but quickly discovered that it’s a chain cafe store like Starbucks and they have delicious sandwiches, breakfast choices etc.)
Erhan notes: Perfect for westerners who are looking for a break from the Japanese cuisine which can be a bit overwhelming.
There are all kinds of people around Akihabara: business people, otaku, chic ladies, tiny humans…
Akihabara in the day
A Vampire Hunter D Hunter in AKIHABARA
Akihabara is close to Ueno, therefore it was a good place to spend the day. I knew Akihabara is an otaku (people who consume a lot of anime, manga, and related everything) heaven but I was still taken by surprise by its sheer size. At the beginning of the street the manga and memorabilia shops start and go one after another, but don’t think that these are one-floor-shops, no no, nope, at least 5-6 floors of anime goodies. Everything you can possibly imagine and more. There was so much stuff that we couldn’t decide to buy anything, we thought we would look again later, maybe when we return to Tokyo. Expectedly things weren’t cheap either. I limited my search to only one thing, if I had found it I would buy it immediately: a figure of Vampire Hunter D! Unfortunately we had no such luck and bought nothing.
Erhan notes: This is the first time I ended up convincing Mine to climb just one more floor in an anime toy Store. Which turned out to be 6 floors. Most Japanese weighing less than 90 kilos and having no bags of camera with them (unexpected I know) usually are able to climb but less active ones use the elevators which are often hidden deep somewhere in the labyrinthine layout of the stores. Later on, we learned it is best to locate these elevators and go to the top floor and take the stairs only to descend. The sheer size of the stores’ inventory really took us by surprise and we did not even understand what was the purpose of half of the stuff they were selling.
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While walking we encountered the famous Don Quijote shop (the Akihabara one), we were missing some goodies so we entered the shop: actually it’s not a shop really, it is another universe! Every corner, every floor has another theme… chocolates candies , cosmetics, some adult stuff, baggages, everything you can think of. It’s crazy, you can spend hours there and buy so much stuff you do not need normally.
Erhan’s Note: Which is interesting how Japanese live in this constant pull and give between a yearning of the so called zen simplicity vs allure of the over cluttered public and personal spaces. We’re all human after all.
Again we were pretty exhausted from the sun, so we decided to take it easy and went to the hotel to rest. For lunch, we took some goodies from the Konbini and ate them in the room while cooling 🙂 We spent about 4 hours in the room, recovered from the heat exhaustion so that we can go back to the streets in the night when it’s cooler most importantly less humid.
It was our third day but heat exhaustion had already started to affect us, by then we didn’t know how difficult it would become along the way.
Next post: Our adventure of 11 July continues: Akihabara in the night…