Getting lost and discovering Shirakawa-minami Dori

Shirakawa-minami Dori

“I’m going to get lost” I called out to my parents as they walked down the road.

We had spent the afternoon shopping in Kyoto. It was almost 5 in the afternoon. My parents were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel to rest.

When I travel I sometimes like to go off the beaten track. I zig zag through the back streets rather than walking down the main ones. Every now and then you stumble upon something unique and different by accident.

Our hotel was the Kyoto Travellers Inn across from Heian Shrine. You may have seen it in the movie Lost In Translation staring Scarlett Johansson. It’s the scene with the stepping stones in the pond.

Heian Shrine - Lost In Translation

From Gion you can pretty much walk down three roads to get there. It’s a good walk taking you past the shrine Chion In featured in the Last Samurai. After walking it a few times I wanted to see something new.

Getting Side Tracked

My side track took me down to an area of Kyoto with small canals lined with carved stone. Willow and maple trees living in harmony with old Japanese tea houses. The street is called Shirakawa-minami Dori. It’s the kind of place I think people might imagine when they think of Kyoto. The last few remaining petals were falling from the cherry blossom trees. In the light breeze they gathered in pools along the stone paths.

Tea House and Maple Tree

The falling blossoms distracted me as I walked deeper into the street. I shifted my gaze to back in front of me and realised I was standing in front of a maiko. An apprentice geisha. She stood there perfectly poised with a serene calming smile on her face.

“Oh, konichiwa” I said surprised, bowing slightly.

“Konichwa” she replied nodding back.

I just spoke to a geisha, I couldn’t believe my luck. Lost in the moment I realised I’d gotten in the way of other peoples happy snaps. Apologising I moved out of the way and reached for my own camera.

Maiko in KyotoA young women and her friend asked me to take a photo with the young maiko, I obliged. Then they offered to take a photo for me.

“May I have a photo with you?’ I asked in Japanese.

“Of course you may” the maiko replied back softly and slowly, each word thoughtfully measured.

I was beaming from the experience.Myself and Maiko

When I got back to the hotel I told my parents about my side track adventure. I promised to take them there on the way back into town the next day.

Don’t put off until tomorrow…

When we arrived the next day, the blossoms had mostly disappeared. There were no longer crowds of people and not a single maiko or geisha was in sight. I was disappointed for my parents but they still made the most of this less known pocket of Kyoto.

It just goes to show, sometimes it worth getting a little lost every now and then. If you are staying in a particular area for a number of days. Consider walking alternate paths, you never know what you might find.

Visit Shirakawa-minami Dori

If you are interested in visiting Shirakawa-minami Dori. Its only a 250 meter walk from the bridge across the Kamogawa on Shijo-dori. As you cross the bridge on the left side, cross Kawabata Dori to the other side. Then turn left along it. Not too far down the road on your left you will see a small lane lined with trees. Walk down this lane and you will be at Shirakawa-minami Dori.

Have you been to Shirakawa-minami Dori? If so did you meet a geisha or maiko? Tell me about your experience.

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