[The Shikoku Pilgrimage – Break] Day 9: Higashiyama Hanatouro

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I took my time waking up, as I had been up late last night finding a place to stay on the mainland. I woke up on my own around 8am or so, and again, took my time getting ready and packing.

After checking out, I returned to Tokushima Station and bought a highway bus ticket to Kyoto. I had about an hour until the bus arrived, so I went to a nearby cafe to eat breakfast and have a hot drink, as it was a pretty cold morning. When the bus arrived, I boarded and watched the scenery go by. A part of me was looking forward to going back to Kyoto, but the other part of me knew that I would miss Shikoku. Apparently, there is a term for the feeling of being drawn back to Shikoku, and I understood that feeling perfectly. There is something about that island that makes you feel comfortable and welcome.

But, I had to face it: there really was not much to do for a tourist in Tokushima. Kyoto was not too far away and it was within my comfort zone, as well, since I had been there twice already. I wouldn’t be tempted to sightsee too much since I had seen the major sights already. I could just chill there and rest to allow my knee to heal.

I got to Kyoto Station in the early afternoon. It was insanely crowded and cold. I forgot how densely packed Japanese cities are after being in Shikoku for the last week. The bus terminal was packed with people, so I decided to walk to the hostel I had reserved a bed at for the next few days. It was about 2.5km away, according to Google Maps, which was nothing compared to the distances I had covered in the previous day’s.

The walk was pretty uneventful. It was still too early to check in to the hostel, but I did drop off my backpack and staff there. I had about 2 hours to kill, but luckily, my hostel was close to the Teramachi shopping arcade and Nishiki Market. I wandered around some shops and stopped for lunch, as well. With another half hour to kill, I Googled a map of the area. I noticed that I wasn’t too far from Gion, including Ikuokaya, a kanzashi (hair ornament) maker who famously makes kanzashi for maiko and geiko. Ikuokaya turned out to be a small, nondescript shop, so it took quite a while to find it. Sure enough, the kanzashi were stunning. I had to hold back from buying anything because I was trying to keep weight out of my backpack rather than putting more stuff in it. As well, any delicate kanzashi would likely be crushed inside my backpack over the next several weeks.

I headed back to the hostel after and officially checked in. The staff there were marvelling at my walking staff and hat, and I explained where I had come from. I went up to my dorm room and set up my bed, then took some time to rest and recharge my phone.

According to the front desk, the Higashiyama Hanatouro was still going, which surprised me. Around 5:30, I picked myself back up and headed out to the east end of the city to see the Festival of Lights. I headed immediately for Yasaka Shrine because I knew that two maiko would be dancing on the stage there.

I did get a bit lost, though, and by the time I got to the shrine, there was already a small crowd watching some traditional musicians performing. When they finished, some of the people in the crowd left, I guess unaware of the performance to come. However, it did allow me to get a little closer to the stage.

To my happy surprise, I found out that it was Kamishichiken’s turn to perform tonight. For those not in the know, Kamishichiken is my favourite geisha district. The two maiko were Umechie and Naokinu, and the musician was Ichisumi. I was pretty damn excited and loved the dance.

Afterwards, I bought some oden and mochi from some of the vendors on Yasaka Shrine’s grounds. Then, I moved on and headed further south towards Kiyomizudera. Many paths and streets are lit by lanterns during Hanatouro and some temples and shrines are open late. It was really quite beautiful. I made the hike up the hill to Kiyomizudera. I remember last year, I found the uphill walk being rather strenuous, but I guess all the hiking in Shikoku has made me stronger despite my bad knee. I hopped up the hill with ease.

Kiyomizudera had their temple all opened up with many religious items on display. I paid an extra 100 yen to go down into a dark hall where there is a sacred stone. Supposedly, you can make a wish on the stone and when you leave the darkened hall, you will be purified. I don’t know, I feel like I paid to walk blindly through a dark hall.

I spent a bit more time taking pictures from the viewpoint at the temple’s balcony. The counter selling charms was still open and they had one for “healthy legs”. I thought the coincidence was too great, so I bought one.

The walk down the hill was predictably more difficult, so halfway down, I hopped into a taxi and had it bring me close to the hostel. And that concluded my day!

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