Alongside people bowing, mist rolling off cedar-covered mountains and Tokyo neon lights, crazy efficient public transport is one of those cliched images of Japan that is utterly true to life. Riding the shinkansen, or bullet-train, was one of the things on my long Japan bucket list, until we caught one to Kyoto.
Dad was a little bit excited.
We lined up at our designated spots for the correct coach, and the doors opened for maybe a minute or two, before we were off again. The train was so smooth we didn't even realise how fast we were going, until we reached Osaka in 10 minutes (it takes an hour on a normal train).
Fujiyama gleamed in the winter sun.
By the time we got to our hotel and headed out towards Gion, Kyoto's most famous geisha district, dusk was falling.
We wandered down old postcard-perfect backstreets that didn't have chance to see in October.
Our destination was Gion Corner, a centre where you can see traditional Japanese arts, like gagaku, or ancient court music. The masked figure performed a kind of slow, ritualised dance of deep steps and turns alongside the music.
Next were demonstrations of kado (flower arranging), koto (Japanese harp) and chado (tea ceremony).
But the main event had to be the geisha. As I may have mentioned, I was for some time a bit obsessed with the book and the film 'Memoirs of a Geisha', so I was kind of excited. In Kyoto, young geisha aged 15 to 20 are called maiko. Like the geisha we saw, their dress and appearance is extremely elaborate, and they're basically like living works of art. They live in an okiya (traditional geisha house), and study traditional arts. Past this age, they are called geiko, and can live on her own. They wear simple wigs and kimono, and entertain clients with their skills.
We saw the maiko perform two dances. They were extremely graceful and serious, with a quiet and alluring dignity. The dances were slow and subtle, with a flick of the wrist or the lift of an eyebrow speaking volumes. There are probably less than a 1000 geisha in the whole of Japan now, and it felt very special to see them in real life.
We also saw a performance of kyoguen, a form handed down from the 15th century and characterised by its comedy and realism.
Gion at night in the rain is pretty magical.
The next day was bright, clear and freezing as we made our way to Higashiyama. Across from our hotel off Karasuma-dori was this sun-filled shrine preparing for the new year.
I don't think I'll ever stop calling these domestic rasta Buddhas in my head.
First photo bomb of the day.
The gardens of this temple, Kodaiji, were among my favourites of the trip, with the tea houses designed by the famous tea master Sen-No-Rikyu.
Dustings of snow everywhere!
"Strike a pose"
"Ok. I'll do a 'kicking k'."
This huge Buddha was a kind of war memorial.
Oh hey lil buddy.
Shrines to the Japanese Zodiac.
Photo bomb number 2.
We weren't sure if these ladies were real geisha or not... There are a lot of studios that can dress you in the garb and makeup for the day, but these ladies looked pretty authentic... thoughts?
The streets were bustling with tourists and New Year worshippers.
We let ourselves be carried along in the crowds towards Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most famous temples in Kyoto.
From the huge verandah there's a stunning view of the city.
After the slowest pizzas ever to be cooked (there's not much emphasis on serving a table's food at the same time in Japan), we spent the rest of the still, bitterly cold afternoon at Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavilion. The shogun's ambition to have the building live up to its name was never realised however, and we saw it covered only in shade and snow.
The raked white sand garden represents a mountain and a lake.
It was a very peaceful end to our day in Higashiyama - we finished it trying to watch Lost in Translation and falling asleep far before our bed time. Rock and roll.