Meeting with Y, M's Japanese conversation buddy from London now back in Japan, and his girlfriend, S. Wonderful to be with some native speakers, took the pressure off M (whose Japanese actually, has been brilliant, far better than I realised he would be). They take us to a great restaurant in Nara, set menu, multiple tiny bowls of food, rice and nori, miso soup, fig and celery pickle, shrimp and broccoli croquette, potato in peanut sauce, tofu with tomato and burdock, a tiny square of matcha jelly pudding to finish. An evening with them, a traditional style Japanese pub, izakaya, beer and small plates of food, strips of squid tempura, skewers of breadcrumbed pumpkin, quail's eggs, prawn, mochi with dipping sauce, avocado and tomato salad, edamame beans. Talking and laughing, about life in Japan, life in the UK, cultural differences.
Our last day in Kyoto, many more temples, beautiful gardens, with Y and S who were hardcore sightseers, whisking us from one place to another, very welcome company, explaining things, pointing out things we might have missed. Stepping stones across a lily-pad filled pond, as seen in Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson's character skipping across. A street market, baby octopus on sticks, stuffed with a quail's eggs, made for a wacky photo, hundreds of types of pickle, fresh fish, rice crackers, everything.
In the darkened streets of Gion on our last Kyoto night, light drizzle, catching a glimpse of a real life maiko as she hurried past us, painted white face, red lips, elaborate hairdo, beautiful kimono. So magical, so unexpected, there for an instant then gone, lost amongst the night and the rain and the hanging lanterns.