Tonight, however, I though it would be interesting to go to the Gion district, famous for the restaurants with geishas and where westerners aren't welcome. According to what I read, of course there are plenty of places that aren't geisha places and this area has some of Kyoto's best food. Plus, I want to see more kimonos. In fact, there are more than a few women walking around Kyoto in kimonos, and men in monk robes, both wearing the wooden flip flops with socks. But really, who can get enough of that?
When I got off the bus I saw the street I wanted to go down, a narrow back street with the lanterns and clear signs of nightlife. But first I backtracked about half a block to the corner to take this photo of an orange temple.
Just as I took this shot, someone hit me hard in the back with an elbow. I turned around and there was a man with a child's backpack looking a bit mentally retarded, not quite all there. There was nobody else around, and the corner was very wide, clearly not an accident. He said "Bye!" I quickly walked in the opposite direction and saw him continue around the corner. He was headed the same way I wanted to go, to that street with the restaurants. So I waited a few minutes, figuring he would keep going. When I rounded the corner, there were more people (two geishas!) and he was there. He saw me and said "Hello! Bye!" I turned down the narrow street quickly, he didn't follow. I turned again and out in my raincoat and hood so I'd look different, and raised my umbrella. I never saw him again.
Next was to find a place to eat. It was getting late and drizzling. But, true to its reputation almost every place was definitely closed to strangers. If there was a menu, it was in Japanese and had no numbers to indicate price. Some of these places (according to the internet) are extremely pricey and charge cover fees for the geishas. I did to expect to go to a geisha place, but it was hard to tell what was what. And if it did have pictures and/or prices it was really cheap and/or featured pizza.
I finally came across a lively sushi bar, but the only open seat was facing a wall. After waking in circles for half an hour I finally chose a yakitori place. In retrospect, I think this place is pretty famous, I had read about it, where it's a one man show and he gets his chickens from a family farm. There were snapshots of chickens and farms on the walls, and that's all he had, a big piece of chicken or wings either grilled or a la sashimi. There was also a big salad, which I had as well. The other couple that I'm about to tell you about had the raw chicken, which is a really weird concept since we aren't supposed to even touch raw chicken, no less eat it.
Sitting at the bar (the only place to sit) was an American couple, looked like around 30 years old. The woman had a slight Russian accent and her face was disfigured. The man looked Latino and he had patchy red skin. They didn't look like a match and I hesitated to make eye contact because they just looked so weird.
But they did talk to me about the chicken, and we laughed about the raw thing, and so there was no avoiding this bizarre looking pair.
It turned out that they had climbed Mt Fuji a couple days ago and got so badly burned from the reflections from the snow that the man had snow blindness for 24 hours and she had a really bad sunburn on her face. This evening was the first time they were out for an extended period since the disaster. Her lips and nose were swollen and raw red, really ugly, starting to peel. They kept saying "we don't look like this." They both grew up in Brooklyn and now live in Sunnyside. She's a doctor and he's a computer guy. They were planning to get married at a club in Brooklyn and had given the deposit check just before they came to Japan. Just a few days ago the club was in the news because the owner ran off with all the peoples deposits -- it's booked solid for a year. Luckily they had post dated the check and so it wasn't yet cashed. So, they decided to exchange vows on Mt Fuji, only to be blinded and burned just hours later.
They showed me some photos. The doctor was, pre-burn, very very pretty.
They were so nice. Tango enthusiasts, very, very smart and interesting, completely present and engaged with the world, people you would be thrilled to have as friends. I wish them a speedy recovery and hope they can find a way to get married without disaster striking.