Obon is the most important holiday in Japan; it is the week when all the dead are remembered and mourned. This means that it is also the busiest holiday week of the year, thus the most expensive, and finding accommodation is most difficult (forget cheap accommodation).
Within this context we made our way from Shizuoka to Osaka, a city not as nice as Kyoto but with much cheaper accommodation and only a ten minute train ride away from it.
We headed straight to the area where the cheaper hotels are, but were surprised to find out that except for the 2 or 3 that were already full, the rest would not accept foreigners or in some cases women! We were disturbed by this, and after checking out ten places or more we decided to leave the city and sleep in Kyoto.
However we decided to head out only after having visited the main temple of the city: Shitennoji. And what a great idea this turned out to be because we would be there on the only day of the year when the temple is lit with thousands of candles to celebrate Obon.
Late that night we made it to Kyoto, only to have the usual problem of finding a place to sleep. Luckily a friendly Japanese girl helped us out, and with the support of a friend of hers she had called with her cell phone they were able to locate a hotel that was not full- at 60€ per night, not your typical backpackers budget. The next morning we were surprised to learn that because of the one hour late check out we had requested the hotel wanted to charge us an extra 15€. We were obviously not willing to pay and 30 minutes later the police was there. They were kind but not very helpful because they spoke no English, as well as unsure about what to do. Eventually the hotel gave up and let us go, probably because I told them I had called the US embassy because I was not sure about what was going to happen. Truth is I had, just in case, and at any rate the issue got settled. The cops rode their bikes away (yup, you read that correctly) and we made our way to the guesthouse we had made a reservation the night before.
What a dump. Never in my life had I paid that amount of money or even close to stay in such a filthy place, and I hope I never do again. We had made an online reservation for 2 nights at Uno Guest House, the only one we had found we space for two, and at almost 40€ we would sleep on the floor (on a futon, Japanese style) in a rotten and dirty place. Oh, and don’t get me wrong: I’ve slept in places like that or worse before, but at 1 or 2$ per night, not 55!
Anyhow, sleeping issues aside, Kyoto is a fantastic city. Full of trees and with many quiet backstreets where traditional Japanese houses provide shelter to young and old, it is a great scenario where spending an afternoon strolling around and getting lost just seems like the right thing to do (you may want to take take online Japanese classes so that conversing with locals is easier). You will also find lovely gardens and the royal palace which we would not be able to visit because guided tours are mandatory and they were fully booked for the two days we would be there.
This would not be too bad though because right after being denied entry we would discover a one-of-a-kind cafe. See the insert to read about this little gem- and if you ever go to Kyoto don’t forget where you first heard of it!
Kyoto is a great city, one that, as Liza put it, I can easily imagine myself living in. Time was however ticking away, as was the duration of our rail pass, which meant that we would dedicate the next day to Hiroshima, a city famous in the world for what it probably would not want to be.
Have you visited Japan? Were you here during Obon? What surprised you most, and what memories do you still hang on to? Share them with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you liked it!