Enchanted Time

by afatpurplefig


I needed a morning, so, after taking Mary to Fushimi-Inari for her Airbnb sketching experience, I negotiated 3 extra hours at Book & Bed, and settled in there, with a mystery pastry, an in-house coffee with whitener, and some peace and quiet. Did I say how much I liked Book and Bed? Everyone leaves in the morning, leaving you with the whole place to yourself.

When Mary was done, we put our luggage in storage, and went to have lunch and do some shopping. In the food department, we lucked upon this is little place, that literally sells ONE DISH (be still my beating heart), and has the added bonus of mannequins at many of the tables, which are no doubt great company for lone diners. I can see I shall have to fight back the urge to eat here every single day, given we don’t even have to point here. Mary and I enjoyed trying to identify every ingredient from the list.

I have packed very poorly for this trip. In my enthusiasm to adhere to the lessons of last year (keep the weight down, be able to carry your luggage easily up subway stairs, don’t take anything you don’t wear regularly at home), I ended up with little more than jeans and a couple of too-big jumpers…and some odd socks, in a land that removes their shoes every five minutes.

Which is how we found ourselves in a department store, where I discovered that you also need to remove your shoes to enter changing rooms, that I am a Japanese size 5L, and that I have no hope when it comes to socks.

The views of Gion we saw on our travels were glorious, as were the visitors dressed in kimonos, which can be hired on every corner. You can hear the slapping of their geta on the footpaths as they walk.

It’s damn near impossible to find addresses in Kyoto, so Mary and I have been following markers on Google Maps, which leads to a bit of ‘Let’s walk a bit in that direction. Nope. Back that way.’ We were standing on the street, looking pretty shabby, dragging our poorly packed cases (not a lot of room in Book and Bed), when a Japanese gentleman came out and whisked us into here, Ryokan Motonago, our new oasis of calm.


We hadn’t been in our room for long, before our demure (yet quietly formidable) chambermaid came in to make up our beds, with the gentleman from the front desk as her assistant. He proceeded to put the first mat down with the pattern in the wrong direction, and it made me smile when I saw the small flash of frustration on her face, as she deftly flipped it to where it should have been. This is someone who knows exactly what she is doing.

The final event for our day was another that had been planned for a very, very long time. ‘Enchanted Time With Maiko’ is a traditional Kyoto dinner in the company of a maiko, or apprentice geisha, who dances, plays traditional games and chats to the guests, with the assistance of an interpreter.

Our meal began soon after we arrived.

But that’s all I have of the meal, because soon after these courses, our maiko arrived and, from then on, I only had eyes for her.

This is Konomara.


Konomara was likely the most graceful person I have ever met. Every rearranging of her kimono, every covering of her mouth as she smiled, every kneel down to the floor demonstrated a level of poise that I hadn’t seen before. She was extraordinary.

We learned that she was 17, and had decided to become a maiko because she loved traditional Japanese dance, that her hair is done weekly (because there aren’t sufficient technicians to do it more often), that she sleeps with her head on a wooden block to preserve said hair, and that her house has 7 maiko and 8 geisha.

She danced a traditional dance for us:

Then came to chat at our table.

What really struck me was that I was travelling with my 18-year-old daughter, and this young woman had instead chosen to dedicate her life to being trained in the Japanese arts. I asked if she saw her family (once a year), and said they must be so proud (they found it difficult to accept her decision at first, but they have come around), and Mary asked if she missed anything from her old life (her friends). Then we listened as she answered questions at the tables around the room, ever graceful, and ever generous.


Later, we played a traditional a drinking game, which was a bit like a standing ‘rock, paper, scissors’. A person stands on either side of the screen and a song is sung, after which they must assume the stance of either a samurai, a tiger, or an old woman, with the samurai defeating the tiger, who defeats the old woman, who defeats the samurai (because she is his mother).

Konomara really enjoyed this game. She laughed so much, her hand was rarely away from her mouth when she wasn’t singing.

Mary and Konomara’s game was particularly special.

After all was said and done, we headed back to Motonago to find fresh tea waiting for us on the table.

Enchanted time indeed.