Golden week is the name given to a period of public holidays in Japan that fall in May, which if they fall correctly can give the average worker 8 days off work in a row without touching annual leave entitlements. In a country that has limited standard leave entitlements in comparison to Europe, an average person might get two weeks, these are considered precious.
It doesn’t quite fall like that this year, but it still means that for a lot of the days this week it is a public holiday and therefore much much busier than normal. We immediately notice this when we get off the bus stop to walk round another of the picturesque areas of old Kyoto.
The pedestrianised streets of the Higashyaima district are crammed with native tourists and our planned walking route seems to go in the opposite direction of the masses and we struggle our way through like salmon going up stream.
As is now the norm, we have more temples and shinto gates that you can shake an incense stick at, but they are beautiful and we head to one called Kiyomizu-dera that is built on a huge veranda over hanging a precipice that looks amazing. There are lots of ‘things’ that people are queuing up for, queueing to ring bells, queueing to light sticks, queuing to stand and pray in front of Buddha statues etc., but we just walk round and observe.
Something that is particularly lovely about the busyness is that we get to see lots of people dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. We are not sure if it is always like this, or if it is just during Golden Week, but seeing so many women looking amazing in colourful robes adds to the whole feel of the area (the men accompanying tend to look slightly less keen and more like they have stepped out in the dressing gowns).
Whilst the traditional clothes are impressive, our next stop is the Gion area of Kyoto. An area that people go to get a glimpse of individuals that make the standard Kimono look like the equivalent of jeans and a T-Shirt……Geishas.
Made “Hollywood famous” by the 1997 film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, they are a rare and often misunderstood group. They are not ladies of the night, but merely entertainers. Being one is not easy, and getting to spend time with one is something that takes years and makes becoming a Mason seem like getting a Clubcard.
Whilst we stroll the streets we get to see a number of tourist Geishas, that is people that have paid to spend 3 hours getting made up before walking round . You cannot be certain when you have seen a genuine one, we think we might have seen a couple because they didn’t seem obsessed with taking “selfies” every 2 minutes on their iPhones!
They look remarkable. Sharing the same colourful Kimono attire we have seen plenty of places, but with the addition of ridiculous shoes, amazingly complex hair and then there is the make up. These girls use more makeup than a Geordie on a Saturday night and could make a Lancastrian look like they have a mahogany tan. White as a sheet with contrasting eyes and lips, they are mesmerising to look at and give you a real sense of being in Japan.