Since it just happened (2-11-15), I’ll expand a little more on my trip to Gion.
In talking about places we could go, Katharina mentioned that there is an underground market called Nishiki that was supposed to be really interesting. We decided to go there, despite the fact that we didn’t have a very reliable map… We just figured we’d wing it, or one of the three of us would as someone for directions once we got to Gion. So, we wandered around. And wandered some more. We found some cool temples that we explored a bit, before asking a security guard for directions. We set out in the general direction, but by the time we were back on the main road and had bought matcha (green tea) flavored drinks, we’d forgotten… Soooo we wandered, and wandered some more. Eventually we found our way to a 7-Eleven and asked one of the cashiers for directions. She didn’t know, so she asked her fellow cashier who suddenly became very interested in something behind the desk… She kept looking at something and grabbing tape when Katharina said, “Oh my gosh she’s making us a map….” And low and behold! After about 5 to 10 minutes of taping and writing and stuff, the second cashier comes over and starts typing something on her phone. When she turned it around we found out she had typed something in Japanese into Google Translate, and the English said, “Sorry for rough map” or something. She was kind of laughing at herself, bowing, and apologizing in Japanese. Katharina and I were speechless; all we could say was “Daijoubu!” It’s ok! She had drawn us a map on the back of three receipts taped together! The main streets were labeled in English, as well as where we were and the path to get to the market! After she showed it to us she explained very quickly how to get there in Japanese, and once she was sure we knew where to go, she bowed a whole lot more and apologized for her map, while he insisted it was fine and left, clutching the receipts. With her help, it took us maybe five minutes to get there! I kept the map, even though I don’t think I’ll need it anymore haha.
The underground market is absolutely massive! Only one part of it is called Nishiki, and that’s where a lot of the food is. It was also much smaller than the other parts, with about six feet of walking room between either side versus maybe fifteen or twenty elsewhere. This, coupled with the fact that it was a national holiday, meant it was absolutely packed. It wasn’t too bad as long as people kept moving, but as soon as one person stopped to look at something in the front of a store, everyone else had to kind of shove their way past. It made looking at things difficult, even though there were so many strange things; things like whole fish I’d never seen before, giant clams, small fish that were still alive and swimming around in styrofoam containers, huge lobsters, grilled squid on sticks, blue pickled vegetables (BLUE. Not purple, not light blue, I’m talking a solid dark blue. I’ve never seen a food that blue before, besides blueberries), and cooked octopuses on sticks with quail eggs in the heads (no, we didn’t try it… we chickened out)! There was also lots of already cooked food, candy shops (selling candy that looked like what the soot spirits eat in Spirited Away), matcha ice cream, souvenir shops, and one shop selling all kinds of chopsticks — everything from 100¥ pairs, to some you could get your name engraved on, to small ones for children, to chopstick
rests shaped like shrimp tempura, to pairs that cost upwards of 5000¥! We spent a lot of time there just looking around (I thought about buying a pair to replace my 100¥ chopsticks, but I couldn’t think of a good enough reason haha). I wasn’t able to take many pictures of the market; one reason was because I still had my matcha drink. Even though Japan is very clean, they are not big on public trash cans which meant my friends and I had to walk around for a good hour at least with empty cups before we found one. Another reason is because it feels kind of awkward to take pictures of a food stand with the owner standing right there staring at you…. I’ll try to get more next time I go; I may have to be a little sneakier haha.
Something that really jumped out at us after walking around the whole market for around three or four hours was how even in this crowded, noisy, area you could turn a corner and there would be a full shrine right across from you, complete with coin box, bell, cleansing station, charms for sale, and fortunes to buy! We stopped at everyone we saw; at one, we bought fortunes from a machine! You put your coins in, select which… type? of fortune you want (all the options were in Japanese except for one, so we chose the English fortune), then a mechanical monster or something turns to this box, reaches his head in, grabs a fortune, and deposits it into a hole where you can take it out and read it. My fortune had normal luck, so I tied it on one of the fences along with other people’s fortunes. On the flip side, the fact that there were those wooden things with the faces missing so people could take pictures with it in front of two of those shrines also jumped out at us. We hadn’t seen that before, and it was a little bit strange. All of this in the middle of a market!