My wife and I just returned from a wonderful two week trip to Japan and Thailand with another couple who are great friends of ours. We were fortunate enough to spend our second night of the trip in Kyoto as part of our time in Japan and even more fortunate to have booked a walking tour with Chris Rowthorn Kyoto Tours. Our lovely guide for the four hour tour was Koko Ijuin, a native of Kyoto, who was an absolute star in taking us to wonderful corners of the city at our desired pace and with all the information we could have possibly wanted.
We had booked ahead to walk from Nanzen-ji Temple to Yoshida-jinja Shrine, which is one of the four walking tour packages offered by Rowthorn. Koko met us promptly at 2pm at our guest house (Ryokan Sakura), a short walk from the Kyoto central station. We discussed the planned tour with Koko and she was flexible enough to offer us a modified version that started at Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) and then proceeded to Nanzen-ji before veering back into Kyoto city for some evening sites, which we were interesting in seeing. I'll just say right now, that this was a lot to pack into four hours and Koko was exceedingly kind to agree to take us through this circuitous new route.
As we proceeded by bus to Ginkakuji, Koko, a fluent english speaker, was telling us all sorts of interesting facts about Kyoto. Meanwhile, I absent-mindedly let my cell phone slip out of my pocket and into onto my bus seat where it remained after we all got off (more on this later)! And so off we went (less my cell phone), taking in the amazing gardens, temple, and monuments of Ginkakuji, followed by a wonderfully peaceful walk along the "Path of Philosophy" (basically a walking path along a small canal at the edge of the woods). During the walk we saw a couple of more smaller temples with wonderful grounds and hidden treasures, before arriving at Nanzen-ji Temple just before it closed. Nanzen-ji was truly breath-taking, and being there so late in the day, we were treated to an almost empty zen garden inside the temple. Koko had timed it all perfectly.
With our minds now zen, we ventured toward Pontocho, Kyoto's incredible nightlife street (i.e., bars and restaurants). With the evening now upon us, we were able to catch a glimpse of some of Kyoto's geisha's (or geiko's as they're called in Kyoto) in training (known as maikos) along the picturesque pedestrian street, with its narrow corridors and lantern festooned restaurants, as they made their way to work. Amidst all our voyeurism and while guiding us down Pontocho and onwards to the actual geiko district of Gion, Koko was making phone calls to the bus company to find my cell phone (wow!). Having lost my phone in the States in the past, I really had no hope for finding this one -- lost on a public bus in the middle of a city, I mean, c'mon! But, Koko was optimistic.
Our night ended with more geiko and maiko sightings in Gion, with some added secret spots in the historic district which Koko took us to see. We traveled back to central station and bid Koko a fond farewell and big thank you. That wasn't the last we heard from Koko though! She continued to talk to the Kyoto bus company, passed messages to me through the guest house, and then called my friend when we moved on to Tokyo to say that she'd found my phone! Not only that, but she could get it from the bus depot, go to the post office, and express mail it to me in Tokyo before I left for Thailand. Impressive to say the least!! Lo and behold, I had my phone a couple of days later.
All this is to say, our tour arranged through Chris Rowthorn's company was fantastic. Koko was an intimately knowledgable and friendly guide, and went way out of her way to help me in finding my lost cell phone. It was truly a fantastic experience in Kyoto and Koko had a lot to do with it!
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