Kyoto – Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha

Gallery

I’m combining day four and five, covering the Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Taisha.  This wasn’t my plan, but day four’s schedule had a hiccup.  Day four was going to be Katsura Imperial Villa and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.  Owing to my fantastic planning, I assumed Katsura Imperial Villa could be visited as easily as Kyoto Imperial Palace.  Not so!  Another reason for combining these days is because I’ve missed all the other bits and pieces for each day in the previous post.  So, following this post I’m going to do one on the food, people, theatre, Gion and Geishas.

Returning to the subject of my hiccup on day four, it was my fault.  Taking a small detour to see Katsura Imperial Villa as my first stop of the day.  Going against my better judgement, I did find it peculiar when leaving Katsura station there were no signs to the Imperial Villa.  As a result of the lack of signage (and me not looking at my Google Maps properly 😊), I took a detour finally getting to the entrance.  When I finally got there, a very polite lady told me I needed to book a ticket in advance…with a minimum 3 week waiting list!  There was a small possibility that if I came back the next day, I may have been able to get a ticket if someone cancelled.  That would mean me getting there at 10:00 and waiting till 14:00.  Hmmm, that wasn’t going to happen.  So, I dragged myself back to the train station and headed to stop number two, which became stop number one.

Arashiyama / Storm Mountain

One and a half hours of the day wasted made me mildly disappointed whilst heading to Arashiyama. I was going to Arashiyama to see the Bamboo Forest.  You only need to Google the bamboo forest and you will see why I wanted to go.  That, and many Japanese movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have scenes in bamboo forests had me sold.  There is a lot more to see in Arashiyama which I didn’t because I didn’t know about, much like Uji.  Well, that’s not totally true.  My Kyoto map covered the city and surrounding towns sites extensively.  Like I’ve said before, it’s just not possible to see everything so you just have to prioritise.  Sometimes I’ve been luck, other not, but overall, I’d say I’ve been very lucky throughout my travels.  Considering how long I spent there I’m still surprise (only a little) by how little I saw – I’ll explain shortly.

Popular or famous picturesque sites are often very different in reality!  Of course, you can wake up before the birds start singing to be first in line just so you can get that perfect photo.  That’s just not me, nor do I travel and take photos just to get “that” shot.  If I was a professional photographer sure I’d only want the perfect photo, but I’m not.  I want experiences and my photos are for my memories.  Yes, I have woken up before the crack of dawn, but never with the sole purpose of an obligatory picture.  I want the experience of the moment to be the dominant factor not the social media reaction.

Arashiyama

Taken from the Togetsukyō Bridge; Mt. Arashi on the left with Ōi River – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama

Traditional flat-bottom boat on the Ōi River, Mount Arashi behind – Arashiyama Kyoto

Arashiyama

Mount Arashi on the left, with a little house/temple/shrine hidden in the forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Needless to say, the zen like pictures of the bamboo forest on Google/Instagram etc. are not what you see in reality…like so many other places.  Walking five to six abreast most of the time in a looooong queue!  It goes without saying, the bamboo forest is beautiful, interesting and different.  Would I have gone if I knew it would be that busy?  Honestly, likely not.  You couldn’t even hear the wind rustling through the treetops with so many people.  Such a place (in my opinion) should be quiet and serene, where you feel more in touch with nature.  Not where you wish you brought your headphones.  You may have already guessed, I was disappointed with the visit 😊!

For that reason, I didn’t spend much time at the bamboo forest nor Arashiyama.  Just to clarify, I didn’t storm in and out leaving in a huff.  After walking through the bamboo forest, I wondered about the area following the troves of people.  Following people as if on a conveyor belt passing lots of places that would have tickled my fancy.  Here I’d be interested along with thousands of others (a sure way to wane my interest and curiosity).  Queuing up wasn’t high on my list, so I headed back to the train station.  I really don’t want to deter anyone from visiting the bamboo forest.  My suggestion would be to go early or very late.  Either way I cannot promise solitude.

All in all, I spent a few hours in Arashiyama, hence my surprise about how little I saw, or paid attention to.  Therefore, I ask you to please excuse the lack of “WOW” photos!  As I alluded to, I have none of the clichéd pictures you see online.  That really was most of my day, which drove my decision to include the next days’ stops into this post.  On the agenda would be two locations on opposite sides of Kyoto, well worth it!

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest – Arashiyama, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Famous for its torii paths entwined up Mt Inari, Fushimi Inari Taisha is located in South East Kyoto.  It took me less than 30 minutes to get there from my hotel (short walk and train).  Nezu Shrine in Tokyo was my introduction to torii paths, but Fushimi Inari Taisha is on an industrial scale by comparison.   With my usual lack of foresight, I decided to go without much research about the place…the pictures on the net look cool, so that was thorough enough research for me. The visited ended up being excellent, despite my first impressions being reminiscent of the bamboo forest.  My litmus test, would I go again, definitely!

Arriving at Fushimi Inari Taisha, I was taken aback; to say the place was busy is a serious understatement – far busier than the bamboo forest!  Yes, I was disappointed.  Oh well I was here, so why not fall in with the crowd, spend a little time there then head off… oh ye of little faith!  The entrance was packed, that’s no lie nor exaggeration!  Like zombies scuffling aimlessly to an unknown destination, you have a choice or two paths to take at the bottom of the hill – both full of people.  Either way they are the same path, the one is the beginning of the other’s end.  The paths twist through, around and up the Mt Inari like a vermilion serpent.  About half way up the two paths join, from there on wards the crowds dissipate more and more the further up the hill you go.  That is why I say the visit started off disappointingly but ended very well.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

One of the temples at the base of Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

At the base of Fushimi Inari Taisha starting the ascent of Mt Inari. Loads of people! – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

History and background

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine to the god Inari
  • Inari is the god of rice, and the benefactor of business. I guess rice was the main industry hundreds of years ago, so seems a natural evolution.
  • The shrine dates to the Heian Period, the earliest structures dating to 711
  • “Ina” is the Japanese word of “rice”
  • All 10 000+ torii were donated by businesses – this practise started in 1603
  • Mt Inari reaches 233m above sea level
  • There are around 30 000 Inari shrines throughout Japan
  • During the 3 day celebrations of the Japanese New Year the shrine gets over 2 million visitors
Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

torii

Senborn torii, one of the many torii tunnels – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Foxes and Fushimi Inari Taisha

Throughout the entire complex you cannot escape the image of the Fox.  Foxes are a common attribute of Inari shrines, often with a key in their mouth, representing the key to the rice granary.  It’s not only keys they grasp in the mouths, sometimes is a jewel, a sheaf of rice or even a cub fox.  I’m guessing they all symbolise the same thing, though I don’t know if this definite. The foxes are messengers and represent a kindred spirit of Inari Okami. There are foxes that roam Mt Inari, but they have nothing to do with the metaphorical invisible foxes.  They call these revered kindreds “byakkosan” (white foxes).  The fox can also symbolise both benevolence and malevolence.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

One of the many shrines up Mt. Inari with byakkosan” (white foxes) holding jewels in their mouths – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

A byakkosan (white foxes) drinking fountain at one of the shrines on Mt Inari – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Torii

If it’s torii you like, then Fushimi Inari Taisha would be your heaven.  Rows of torii are known as Senborn torii, and Mt Inari is the personification of this.  Something I hadn’t known until writing about this is the significance of vermilion red.  I’d seen the colour used throughout my time in Japan, from palaces, temples and shrines but it hadn’t crossed my mind to ask why.  Vermilion red has mythical powers and used as protection against evil forces.  At Fushimi Inari Taisha it also represents a bountiful harvest.

Getting back to my visit, the first half was frustrating and a little irritating.  It’s like trying to enjoy the Mona Lisa with a 7 foot tall person standing in front of you.  The loop around Mt Inari is about 5km and can take anything between 2-3 hours to complete, including stopping for pictures.  It’s an easy walk/hike, but there are lots of stairs and I saw many people huffing and puffing, most only go halfway…their loss.  Actually, I take that back, most of the paths are flat and paved, even when going uphill.  Nevertheless there are a reasonable amount of stairs (nothing like Petra, Portugal etc.), so not everyone’s cup of tea.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Going up Mt Inari at Fushimi Inari Taisha, much quieter the further up you go – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Senborn torii – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha’s torii path (the second half 😊) curves and winds gently up and around the mountain.  Walking through the tunnels of torii is almost hypnotic, the continuous repetitive red vermilion occasionally broken by a concrete torii.  Leaving the crowds below I finally found the solitude I was craving.  Nothing but the sound of nature around me, walking through these tunnels of red like Alice down the rabbit hole.  The higher I went the more content I became, forgetting to take photos, forgetting the hustle and bustle at the base of the mountain.  These torii, standing individually become one with each other, all standing firm with a sense of permanence and purpose.

I’m not going to pretend I had some spiritual experience, not at all. However, it was the soothing experience I had been missing over the past few days.  From a morning that started out with low expectations, it turned out to exceed my expectations.  My 5km (maybe a little less) loop, up and around Mt Inari was done.  Although the crowds were still at the bottom when I got there, this time round it didn’t bother at all.  Next stop would take me to the North West of Kyoto, about an hours’ journey to Kinkaku-Ji also known as the Golden Pavilion.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Patience paid off, it got quieter and quieter as I ascended up – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Yes, more Senborn torii, couldn’t help myself taking so many pictures – Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji / Temple of the Golden Pavilion / Rokuon-ji

It wasn’t that easy getting to Kinkaku-ji from Fushimi Inari Taisha; a walk, train, bus and short walk again.  Only reason for this was because of my starting point and making sure I got on the correct bus…on the right side of the road.  Something I didn’t do when I left Kinkaku-ji heading back to my hotel.  Enough about that.   Officially known as Rokuon-ji, Kinkaku-ji means Temple of the Golden Pavilion and it is as picturesque as you could possibly want.  Even with the sky clouding over in dark grey and the imminence of rain, nothing couldn’t tarnish such a vivid temple.

Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji with some of the representative islands – Kyoto

History and background

Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist Temple, but started out as a villa called Kitayama-dai owned by Saionji Kintsune, a statesman.  The Temple of the Golden Pavilion dates from 1397 when the villa was bought by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who turned it into the Kinkaku-ji complex.  Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was the grandfather of Ashikaga Yoshinari (Ginkaku-ji Temple / Temple of the Silver Pavilion).

As expected in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji has not escaped untouched by fire in its history.  During the Ōnin war everything in the complex except the pavilion was burnt down.  You would think that was the Golden Pavilion’s lucky break, not so.  It eventually succumbed to fire when a junior monk burnt it down in 1950, after which he tried to commit suicide.  He was sent to jail, due to mental health illnesses he was release not long afterwards.  In 1955 Kinkaku-ji was rebuilt.

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji on the edge of the Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond) – Rokuon-ji, Kyoto

Golden Pavilion

Some interesting facts about Kinkaku-ji:

  1. It is 12.5 meters high
  2. The 1955 reconstruction has a lot more gold leaf than the original
  3. The word “Kinkaku” is derived from the gold leaf used to cover the pavilion
  4. Gold has a symbolic meaning of purifying any negative thoughts and feelings towards death
  5. Ground floor is called The Chamber of Dharma Waters, designed in the shinden (Shinden-zukuri) style
  6. First floor is called The Tower of Sound Waves, designed samurai (buke-zukuri) style
  7. Second floor is called Cupola of the Ultimate, designed in the zen (zenshū-butsuden-zukuri) style
  8. Kyōko-chi (Mirror Pond) is the name of the large main pond
  9. The islands on the pond represent famous Chinese and Japanese places, the largest represents the islands of Japan
  10. Kinkaku-ji is used to house relics of the Buddha (no one was allowed inside when I visited)
  11. Rokuon-ji Temple’s name comes from Rokuon-in-den; the name given to Ashikaga Yoshimitsu for the next world after his death
Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji with the Daimon-ji hill behind – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

Back to my visit

Lets just say my calm demeanour from Fushimi Inari Taisha carried through to the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.  Yes, it was bloody busy!  The photos may not show how busy it was, but I’ll take that as a sign of my improved photography skills 😊.  But seriously, the place was busier than Fushimi Inari Taisha; not as a total number of people, obviously the area is much smaller but certainly less personal space.  Even so, I would go back many times over.

If someone told you about a gold leafed temple you might think kitsch, ostentatious or pretentious, at least that’s what I would think.  This, however, is a Japanese Zen Temple.  Shimmering gold on the edge of a pond, surrounded by gardens, still, not a hint of extravagance nor pomp.  Kinkaku-ji is a beautiful building, with gardens that compliment and accentuate the temple and vice versa.  In my opinion the setting of Kinkaku-ji is perfect, with all that perfection reflecting off the mirror pond. Manicured gardens of what I’ve come to call giant bonsai, look picture perfect down to every leaf.

Kinkaku-ji

Just one of the many beautifully manicured trees at Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji – Kyoto

An additional separate pond sits behind and above Kinkaku-ji, with a White Snake Pagoda perched in the middle of a solitary island.  I’ve included the link to the story of the Legend of the White Snake (White Snake Pagoda) – a Chinese mythological story dating back hundreds of years.  Another thing I spotted along the main path, is a tree called Rikushu-no-matsu.  It’s not just any tree, it’s a 600 year old pine tree which has been shaped since planted whilst Ashikaga Yoshimitsu lived at Kinkaku-ji.  Manipulated into what they call a dwarf tree, it has been fashioned into the shape of a boat.  Such patience, care and skill let alone the continuity of these traits for 600 years!  Traditions like these and the commitment to Zen are exemplified in this unique living sculpture.

Kinkaku-ji

The White Snake Pagoda – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Rikushu-no-matsu, the 600 year old dwarf pine tree in the shape of a boat – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji

Rikushu-no-matsu, dwarf pine tree sculpted and cared for over 600 years – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

As a final point, I hope you like the photos and I hope they do it justice.  Next post will be a mix of the little things I didn’t include in the previous posts about Kyoto, including Gion and Geishas.  That will be followed by my last two post on Japan, Himeji Castle and Hiroshima, then on to Sydney etc. etc.  If you are reading this, and like reading my blog you can sign up to email alerts on my home page.   Thank for reading.

Kyoto – Byodo-in, Uji, Kiyomizu-dera

Gallery

Kyoto day 3, Byodo-in, Uji and Kiyomizu-dera were my main sites for the day.  Not that much for a full day, but most of the morning was taken up by changing accommodation.  I checked out of my hotel and into my new one in the centre of Gion, as early as possible.  My first hotel was fully booked so extending was not an option, forcing the decision.  If possible, I prefer not to move within the same location/city.  Just as in Tokyo and others (Aswan) when I have, it has been for the better – Gion is an excellent location in Kyoto.

Kyoto Inn Gion is less than 100m from Maruyama Park, my room came with all that I had become accustomed to from a Japanese hotel room and my biggest room yet (not big for European standards).  It reminded me of a little boutique hotel, which made me feel at home compared to my previous larger establishment.  As always, the staff were super friendly and courteous – my booking was for 3 night.  Enough about the hotel for now, I’ll refer back to them every now and ten over the coming days.

Uji

Getting to Uji and Byodo-in Temple from Kyoto (from my hotel), took about 45 minutes in total.  Using my JR Pass, I took the Keihan Main Line (Red) from Gion-Shijo Station, changing at Tofukuji Station onto the Nara Line (brown) getting off at Uji.  Again, even with the language barrier working out the metro was easy.  When I wasn’t sure, it was easy finding someone working at the station who could help in English.  As I’ve already mentioned many times, the staff at the hotels where always more than willing to help.

Even with my time constraints for the day, I could have planned a little better giving me more time in Uji.  There is a lot more to Uji than the Uji River (also called Yodo River and Seta River) and Byodo-in Temple.  Had I planned better (wasted less time swapping hotels), I could easily have spent the whole day there.  That may have come with an opportunity cost, in retrospect I don’t mind having missed some of Uji’s other sites.  More reasons to go back to Japan! 😊

Uji

Jusanju sekito stone pagoda on Tachibanajima Island on the Uji River. This 13 tiered pagoda at 15m high, is apparently the highest stone pagoda in Japan (don’t know if that’s true).

Now, the station is only a few hundred metres from the river.  My hasty planning the night before meant I missed a raft of monuments on the bank of the river, including on Tachibanajima Island.  My assumption was that everyone was only there to visit Byodo-in Temple, and taking in the site of the river.  Nope, I was wrong.  Not to get into all that I missed, however next time I’d like to see Hashi-dera Hojo-in Temple, Kosho-ji Temple and Eshin-in Temple.  With Mimurotoji Temple Garden on the top of that list.  Known for its gardens with flowers all year round.

Byodo-in Temple

Stemming from the Heian Period, it serves as both a temple of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land – Nishi Hongan-ji) and Tendai-shū sects of Buddahism.  To understand Byodo-in Temple’s significance to the Japanese you need look no further than some of its money.  The temple is imprinted on the ¥10 cent coin, and a phoenix on the ¥10 000 note.  I’ll explain about the association with the phoenix shortly.  Not to mention, Byodo-in Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and that it’s been on postage stamps many times too.

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Background

Byodo-in started off as a rural villa for the high-ranking politician Minamoto no Shigenobu.  Fujiwara no Michinaga, another high-ranking politician and powerful member of the Fujiwara clan, bought the villa after Minamoto no Shigenobu’s death.  Fujiwara no Michinaga’s son, Fujiwara no Yorimichi, converted the villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052.  The complex used to consist of other buildings, which burnt down in 1336, the only original building is Phoenix Hall.

Officially named Amida Hall (Amida-dō) after the celestial Buddha Amida (Amitābha/Amitāyus), around the 17th Century it became more commonly known as Phoenix Hall (Hōō-dō).  This change of name was organic not deliberate.  A combination of the ceiling phoenix painting in the main hall, and the metaphorical shape of the temple resembling a bird/phoenix.  Ps. “hōō” is the Chinese phoenix.

Byodo-in

Jodo-in Temple (approx. 17th century), part of Byodo-in Temple complex – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Picture taken from the back of Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Back to my visit

It’s one of the smaller temple complexes I’ve been to, and in perfect condition owing to restoration work in 2014.  Simply put, Byodo-in Temple is a beautifully executed architectural metaphor.  Two symmetric corridors span out on either side from the body of the central hall.  Like a phoenix stretching out its wings to the fullest.  Behind the body its tail fans out long and low.  Three colours dominate the temple, a mixture of terracotta-vermilion for fire, white and grey for the plumage.  The terracotta-vermilion conjuring up flames surrounding the phoenix against its sparse white feathers.  The flames from the underbelly topped by grey tiles with gold crests.

Byodo-in Temple represents the antithesis of harmony through symmetry. Such a contrast, a fiery bird perched on an island in the middle of a pond.  A slight breeze glancing off the water breaking the temple’s reflection into a mirage.  With the gardens surrounding the temple, Byodo-in represents the four elements through architecture – earth, wind, water and fire.

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Wisteria blooms hanging like grapes, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Hanging wisteria looks almost like upside-down lavender, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Owing to my self-imposed schedule for the day I didn’t venture into Phoenix Hall.  They only allow about 30 people every hour and I had just missed my chance.  I thought about waiting (plus paying the additional ¥300), but its just not possible to do and see everything.  In retrospect, I wish I had waited another hour.  For the rest of my visit I wondered around the gardens.  Flourishing greens of all shades and shapes accessorised with scattered reds, dashes of white and canopies of amethyst flowers.

I tried different photo styles with little success.  With my limited photography skills it does help when the subject/s are so perfect.  If I had to visit again (and I wouldn’t hesitate) I’d prefer going either ever very early or late.  The phoenix taking flight into the sky with fiery showers of red and orange melting into the rising or setting sun.  As with so many of these temples, visiting when there is nobody around must be a moving experience.

Byodo-in

Not sure which building this is, beautiful garden though, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Yes, more wisteria : ) Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Back to Kyoto

Next, I had to go back to Kyoto to get to Kiyomizu-dera.  I could have caught a bus from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-dera or nearby, instead deciding to walk.  Glad I did.  Taking the route less travelled is my moto (most times).   When possible I try take routes used by locals, or even detours to see where people live.  Any opportunity I get to get away from “touristy” norns I try to take.  It normally gives me the chance to see normal living of local residences.  Most tourist sites throughout the world are to some extent tainted.  The lesser visited/seen areas are more authentic…unfortunately these seem to be becoming fewer and fewer.

Otani Hombyo Tomb and Otani Cemetery

Accidentally I took a detour heading to Kiyomizu-dera.  I thought I must have taken a wrong turn because I found myself heading up a long stairwell through a large cemetery.  Much later to find out it was Otani Cemetery.  Going arse about face, I walked through the cemetery before arriving at Otani Hombyo Tomb.  In fact, the only reason I found the entrance of the tomb, was because I was trying to get out of the cemetery!  Ending up at the entrance by chance!

Anway, Otani Hombyo (also known as Nishi Otanji) is the tomb of Shinran Shonin, ultimately the founder of Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu).  I had no idea what I had stumbled upon because I was a tad lost!  Had I known I would have spent more time there instead of just pocking my head in to nose about.  Adjacent to Otani Cemetery is the biggest in Kyoto.  Surrounded by the forest on Mt Otowa, with thousands of mini obelisks following the lay of the land like undulating waves of granite.

Otani Cemetery

Only a very small part of Otani Cemetery, which has about 15 000 burials – Kyoto

Otani Hombyo

Entrance to Otani Hombyo Tomb – Kyoto

Otani Hombyo

Otani Hombyo Tomb Shrine – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is perched on the side of Mt Otowa, and renowned for many reasons.  One being its spectacular views!  Its famous massive veranda offering panoramic views over lush forest and the city beyond.  Not during my visit though!  What a pity, I arrived towards the back-end of the afternoon, hoping to see the sun set.  Unfortunately, this was not possible…I say that very selfishly!  Kiyomizu-dera was under restoration when I visited.  The entire building, from top to bottom was cocooned in scaffolding and protective plastic, only the tiniest sliver of veranda was open.

Kiyomizu-dera

Niimon (main gate), its current incarnation dating to 1632, but originally built in 847 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Triple Tower in its bright vermilion – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Background and Interesting Facts:

  • Kiyomizu means “clear or pure water”, in reference to the waterfall and stream that runs behind and under the temple
  • It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Not a single nail was used in its construction
  • The original temple dates back to 778, with the current temple dating to 1633 at the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu (same person who finished Edo Castle
  • It used to be associated to the Hossō Buddhism sect, but severed its affiliation in 1965 to now be part of the Kitahossō sect.
  • If you jumped off its veranda (13m high) and survived, your wish would come true. 234 recorded people had jumped during the Edo period, around 35 died!  Now it is forbidden to jump off…health and safety gone mad! 😊
  • Jumping off the veranda coined the phrase “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu”, similar to the English expression “to take the plunge”

Neon bright vermilion structures bring the mountain to light since Kiyomizu-dera is under a blanked of grey.  Unlike most other temples I’d seen, here the terrain of Mt Otowa scatters the structures on different levels.  Each one on a pedestal terrace cut into the mountain, as if on display in a gallery.  The stark contrast of vermilion against a backdrop of green forest accentuates the colours like a flower in the desert.  Somehow the concrete steps feel at home as they blend into the stone retainer walls and foundations.

Kiyomizu-dera

Ximen Gate with the spire of the Triple Tower behind – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Inside the Kiyomizu-dera with its massive pillars – Kyoto

I have two disappointments about my visit to Kiyomizu-dera, the first I have already mentioned.  The second, I must have messed around with my camera settings by accident, because many of my photo’s came out terribly.  There were so many pictures that were out of focus, how I just don’t know!  Weeks later I went through them, I was so disappointed.  Oh well, photos aren’t the be all an end all.  My travelling is about learning and experiencing, though having nice pics as memories is also a nice thing to have ☹.

Compared to other temples and shrines, Kiyomizu-dera has by far the most colour, hmmm, maybe with the exception of Heian Shrine.  I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record, but the surroundings make the difference.  Getting to Kiyomizu-dera, you are surrounded by forest, houses, even if you take my route via Otani Cemetery, the scenery monotone most of the time.  Then, before you know it, you look up, your eyes are dazed with garish colour!  I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kan’an Tower built around 1500 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Ximen and Triple Tower – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Because of the restoration work being conducted some of the temple complex was closed, not just the main building.  Even so, there was enough there to keep me interested and perplexed.  Writing about all these Buddhist Shrines and temples has been a bit of a challenge.  Firstly, I know very little to nothing about Buddhism.  Secondly, I have almost no tangible knowledge of Japanese history prior to the 19th century.  This lack of knowledge both culturally and religiously has meant I’ve had to do so much research to for me just to understand the basics.  So, if anything is incorrect please let me, and if what I write seems to be all over the place please forgive me!

Kiyomizu-dera was my last visit of the day, so I’ll leave things there and include most of the photos afterwards.  One of the most challenging things I find it to whittle down my photos.  From the onset I’ve never wanted batnomad to be a picture gallery, but sometimes I find it very difficult not to include lots of photos.  It’s so easy to take 40+ pictures per site, then trying to limit it to 20-30 pictures per post if bloody difficult!  Considering I can go to multiple places on one day that could be 100+ pictures to choose from.  Of course, many pictures are not worth using, there are also many pictures I don’t include which only have meaning or relevance to me.

Anyway, I hope you liked the read, or at least the pictures 😊

Pps. On my way back to my hotel for dinner (I’ll write separately about some of the food etc.), I passed the Yasaka Pagoda and Shrine.  An imposing elaborate pagoda nuzzled between the houses in a maze of narrow streets.  Officially called Hokan-ji Temple, but locally called Yasaka-no-to/Yasaka Pagoda.  Dating from 592, as with so many buildings in Kyoto it has been destroyed by fire many times – the current building dates to 1440.

Kyoto

Hokan-ji Temple, locally called Yasaka-no-to/Yasaka Pagoda (46m high) – Kyoto

 

Phoenix Hall

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Byodo-in

Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in Temple – Uji, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

The Ximen gate in front with the Triple Tower peaking out behind, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Kan’an Tower like a beacon in a sea of green (one of my badly focused pictures GRRRR) – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kyoto

A small window through the garden looking out onto Kyoto – Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera

The Triple Tower in the background, it was coincidental catching two Japanese tourists in traditional dress 🙂 – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

At the main entrance landing, with the Ximen on the right and the Triple Tower behind – Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

A lovely stone pagoda hidden in the garden, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Beautiful copper dragon drinking fountain. Also for washing your hands before entering the temple, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

I couldn’t find out the relevance of this dragon statue, still think it’s cool, Kiyomizu-dera – Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Temples, Geisha – Day2

Gallery

On the agenda for the day was Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, Nishi Hongwanji, Higashi Honganji and some of Gion to try spot a Geisha or two.  I had planned to see Sento palace and Omiya palace, but was unable to, I’ll explain why later.  Yesterday had been my first full day of exploring in Kyoto (Day 1), it did not disappoint.  Day two would be spent within the centre of Kyoto.

I’ve tried wracking my brains about what I did the night before, including dinner, but I have no recollection what so ever.  The only thing I do remember, was that I didn’t venture far from the hotel and had yet to fully explore the local cuisine.  My agenda for the second day came about the previous evening, that I do know.  With so much to see within central Kyoto, you really don’t need to venture far.  In addition, I would have to be checking out of my hotel UNIZO Inn Kyoto Kawaramachi Shijo the following morning.  Staying close to base would make things easier to get back and find alternative accommodation (&/or speak to my hotel to extend my stay).  Yes, I have already decided to extend my time in Kyoto…that was the easiest decision ever made.

First things, where to find a good cup of coffee to kickstart the day.  Less than 50m from the hotel (as you exit the hotel turning right) I found the coffee shop recommended by the hotel.  If they hadn’t told me about it, I doubt I would have gone in.  I’ve tried finding the place’s name on Google, even running through Streetview with no luck.  Nothing wrong with the place, it just looked more like a small bar/restaurant.  Their coffee, great taste and bloody strong, just how I like it.  With the contraption they make it with, it looks more like a science experiment than coffee maker!

Kyoto

My morning coffee – Interesting contraption – Kyoto

Kyoto Imperial Palace

The palace is in a park about 1km North of the main shopping district in central Kyoto.  This park used to be part of the palace grounds measuring 1.3km long and 800m wide.  By far the largest park within central Kyoto, and within it there are two separate enclosures.  Firstly, is the enclosure of Sento and Omiya Palace (I’ll explain more later).  Secondly, is that of Kyoto Imperial Palace, which was my first stop for the day.

As expected, the park is well maintained, but what struct me was how wide the internal walkways are.  Some are at least 10 cars wide if not more, made of coarse gravel that kicks up into your shoes when you walk.  I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what to expect from an old Japanese Palace.  Having been to many European palaces, I guess I was expecting something similar, with a Japanese flavour of course.  Elegant, yes, but so far from the ostentatious of European counterparts that it may be from a different planet.  It is ornate, but like so many things in Japan it has an understated presence too

Imperial Palace

Kenreimon – one of the main entrances to Kyoto Imperial Palace

Background

Wood and fire have never been friends, which is aptly demonstrated throughout Kyoto’s historical monuments.  Many monuments, Shrines and temples have been burnt down and rebuilt, some many times over.  Kyoto Imperial Palace is a perfect example, having been rebuilt eight times, six of which was during the Edo period – during a time of peace.  This is one of the reasons that its current location isn’t the original which was South West for where it stands today.  It has been in its current location since the 12th century, having been in its original location since 794.

Kyoto Imperial Palace officially superseded Heian Palace (Heian Shrine) as the official residence of the Emperor after it burnt down in 1177 (may have been 1227).  For over 1000 years Kyoto Imperial Palace remained the primary home for the Emperor, only to be moved to Tokyo Imperial Palace during the Meiji Restoration in 1869.  Saying that, Kyoto Imperial Palace as it stands today is a reincarnation built in 1855 (with a few additions afterwards).  This rebuild included changes to included more architectural resemblance to the Heian Palace.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Palanquin porch (carriage porch). Used exclusively by envoys of the Shogun and high ranking courtiers when visiting the palace – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Known in Japan as Kyoto Gosho, Kyoto Imperial Palace is like visiting Buckingham Palace but with more access, but not everywhere (no photos inside either).  Other than being an Emperor/King/Queen’s residence that’s about the only similarity to Westerns Palaces.  Of course, this would have been the epitome of elegance, money whilst adhering to traditions and decorum, but not ostentatious.  I can’t go through every little detail of every room, so I’ll try mix it up with highlights, thoughts and pictures…in the hope of doing it justice.

Whilst Europe was at the beginning off its Gothic and Renaissance era, Japanese architecture seems to be on the opposite site of the scale.  Naturally each Japanese era had its own style, but there seems a distinct similarity.  More like a gradual change with only a few tweaks here and there.  To me their inspiration and motivate in their buildings is near the opposite of European buildings.  Whereas Europe seemed to be driven by being more grandiose, here being part of nature and the earth is the inspiration.  I’m struggling to find the words, without diminishing the artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship these building exude.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Smaller jomeimon (inner gate) leading to the inner courtyard which leads to the Hall for State Ceremonies/Shishin-den – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Main jomeimon (inner gate) leading to the inner courtyard which leads to the Hall for State Ceremonies/Shishin-den – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Hall for State Ceremonies/Shishin-den, with massive Zen gravel garden – Kyoto Imperial Palace

From a distant, many of the buildings look alike, quite long, as they get longer the squatter in appearance.  The devil is in the detail, which can only be fully appreciated and admired when you get close-up.  With the most complicated rafter system I have ever see, allowing the building to move, making them earthquake resistant.  Their roof tops either thatched or tiled, both fraying out like wide hips to the gutters.  I’ve tried to describe historical Japanese style and architecture, but I’m yet to find the words that match my thoughts.

The pitched roofs seem disproportionately high in relation to the living/worshipping spaces below.  From the front and back, the roof splays out elegantly like a starched apron curling up ever so slightly at the tips.  The sides of the roof almost always vertical and exposed, but understated ornately decorated.  These decorations in muted colours of different woods, copper, bronze and gold.  Granted gold isn’t a muted colour, yet somehow it is used with the right proportions.  A contrast against the dark wood, reflecting the sunlight so that these rooftops can be seen dotted throughout Kyoto.

Imperial Palace

Ingenious network of roof timbers – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Seiryoden (Hall for Rites and Rituals). Prior to 1590 it used to be the Emperors living quarters. The Emperor sites between the two lions – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Shishinden (Hall of State Ceremonies) from the side – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Having waffled on I haven’t said much about the palace.  I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, taking my time strolling the corridors, courtyards and of course the gardens – they are beautiful as I had become expectantly accustomed to.  Much of inside the palace is/was closed to the public, but that didn’t dilute the experience at all.  From the waiting chambers painted in accordance with ranking in society:

  1. Room of the Cherry Trees – everyday visitors
  2. Room of the Cranes – for intermediate visitors of good social standing
  3. Room of the Tigers – for the most senior in society, royalty, envoys, ambassadors
Kyoto Imperial Palace

Room of the Cherry Trees – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Room of the Cranes – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Room of the Tigers – Kyoto Imperial Palace

NB. An interesting fact I learnt. If you look are early Japanese depictions of tigers, they seem embellished and anatomically incorrect. This oddity seems to contradict the precision of Japanese art, calligraphy and everything else they did.  The reason for this inaccurate portrayal is simple.  Tigers are not indigenous to Japan, the first time they saw them was from tiger hides/skin brought to Japan for Asian.  It is from these skins that they tried to piece these creates together in their paintings/drawings – like a reverse taxidermist.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Oikeniwa garden with Keyakibashi bridge – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Gonaitei Garden – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Gonaitei Garden – Kyoto Imperial Palace

I hope the pictures and the descriptions do the Kyoto Imperial Palace justice.  If I had to opportunity to visit Kyoto again, obviously I would like to see the hundreds of other things I missed first-time around.  Though, if I got the opportunity to visit the palace again, I wouldn’t hesitate in doing so. Concluding, I’ll stop blabbering on without saying much.  The weather had started to turn with a murky grey sky.  It wasn’t the coldest of days, though not shorts and t-shirt as the day before.  From palace to castle, my next stop of the day was Nijo Castle.

Imperial Palace

Gonaitei Garden – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Gonaitei Garden – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace

Beautifully decorated balustrade ends – Kyoto Imperial Palace

Ah yes, I almost forgot!  Next on my list was to be Omiya and Sento Imperial Palace, within the same park grounds as Kyoto Imperial Palace.  I tried to entre, however you need to book in advance and they only take a few visitors per day.  Plus, it is only open (with a booking) during specific times of the year.  Like I said, it was open though fully booked.  Although nothing except foundations remains of Sento Palace (finally burnt down in 1854), Omiya Palace was rebuilt in 1867.   Omiya Imperial Palace is the official residence for the current prince and princess when they visit Kyoto.

Nijo Castle

I’ve said so before, but I like castles, and Nijo Castle even looks interesting from the outside.   Of the many castles I’ve visited (primarily in Europe), I categories them into two criteria. Firstly, those situated on a vantage point, using the lay of the land as a natural defence.  Secondly, building fortifications as protection – normally on flat land.  Nijo Castle falls into the second category (in my thinking of categorisation 😊).

Located between Kyoto Imperial Palace and downtown Kyoto (where the shopping area and Nikishi Market it), except it’s a few blocks West.  The lay of the land surrounding the castle is as flat as a pancake.   The first thing that struck me was the light grey stone walls of the inner circumference of the moat.  The long walls built at a gentle inward slope of smooth large stones that seems to grow out of the water.

These long spans of walls broken by three gated entrances on the North (Great North Gate – Kita-Ote-mon), East (Great Eastern Gate – Higashi-Ote-mon) and West (West Gate – Nishi-mon); the latter what looks like a disused small drawbridge or service entrance.  The only other break in these sleek moat walls is a tower on the South-eastern corner called a yagura – one of the more regular photos taken of Nijo Castle.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle, exterior moat with fortification (South East corner) – Kyoto

Layout of Nijo Castle

In order to make things a little easier to understand (for me that is), I’ll explain the general layout of Nijo Castle.  In fact, there isn’t a “castle building”, instead it houses two palaces.  Crossing the first outer moat gives you access to Ninomaru Palace.  Once inside the complex you cross an inner moat to access Honmaru Palace.  This second moat too is surrounded by high fortification walls.  Both moats have square corners adding to its austere uniformity, almost like concentric squares.

Honmaru Palace

Inner moat with fortification walls of Honmaru Palace – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Background

Nijo Castle was the brainchild of Tokugawa Ieyasa (January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616), with construction completed in 1603.  Tokugawa was a unifier of Japan, after a prolonged period of civil wars.  This unification brought about peace and prosperity for nearly 260 years.  Starting with bringing together all the feudal lords and building Nijo Castle.  The Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan until 1867 when the Meiji Restoration brought back Imperial Rule.

1601 – Tokugawa instructs in feudal lords (diamyo) of Western Japan to build Nijo Caste

1603 – Completion of the castle

1614 – Tokugawa conquers the Toyotomi family (the previous rulers of Japan) during the Siege of Osaka.

1624 – large scale renovations done to the castle as preparation for an Imperial Visit by Emperor Go-Mizunoo

1750 – Lightning strikes the keep tower and it burns down

1867 – In October, Tokugawa Yoshinobu calls a meeting with all the heads of the clans at the Great Hall (Ohiroma) of Ninomaru Palace.  Yoshinobu announces at the meeting that he will be restoring Imperial Rule to Japan

1884 – Nijo Castle becomes Nijo Rikyu (Nijo Imperial Villa

1915 – Nijo Castle is used for the coronation of Emperor Taishō.  In a purpose build banquet hall, now the location of the Seiryu-un Garden – on the North side between the two moats.

1939 – Imperial Household Ministry gives Nijo Castle to the City of Kyoto

1994 – Nijo Castle becomes listed on UNESCO World Heritage

2011 – Full restoration of Nijo Castle

Ninomaru Palace / Ninomaru-Goten Palace

Access to Nimomaru and Honmaru Palace was mostly restricted to walking around its exterior, where you could go inside no photography was allowed ☹.  I’m not going to pretend I remember the details of the inside, it was understatedly impressive, a composed ambience.  Suffice to say I enjoyed my time there, spending a few hours – I hope that says enough.

Both a highlight and frustrating moment was walking through the “nightingale corridor”.  As you walk on the wooden floor the creaking creates the distinct sound of singing nightingales.  These floorboards were intentionally made to creak, and calculatedly the creaks made to sound like nightingales.  How on earth this was deliberately achieved I have no idea, remarkable and ingenious craftsmanship.  This sound was created as a security feature; in order to hear anyone walking in the corridor; so that no one could sneak up on anyone in the rooms.

 

At first, it’s as if there must be an aviary filled with nightingales behind one of the walls.  Singing nightingales fills the corridor as more people walk through.  My frustration came with people talking loudly as they walked through.  Instead of enjoying and just listening to this unique experience, some people just don’t think or consider other people – well that’s my theory.  I’ve attached a recording, unfortunately it is dominated by people speaking, but if you listen carefully you can hear the creak of nightingales (near the beginning and the end).

Nijo Castle

The karamon (main gate) to Ninomaru Palace – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Ninomaru Palace

Entrance to Ninomaru Palace – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Ninomaru Palace

Ninomaru Palace – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Kyoto

The intricate and detailed roof tiles – Ninomaru Palace, Nijo Castle – Kyoto

Ninomaru Garden

It was altered as part of the 1626 Imperial Visit.  Of course, it’s in immaculate condition, that goes without saying.  A pond with three islands linked by low stone bridges is the focal point.  The beams of each bridge a singular piece of stone stretching from one side to the next, no handrails.  They look like monoliths, cast into place by nature, lying there for thousands of years.

Nothing in these gardens are down without purpose.  The largest island is a Horai-jima Island which represents “paradise”, then there is a crane island and turtle island, both metaphors for longevity. All the trees look like they’ve been pruned like large bonsai’s, accentuating their colours and forms.

Nijo Castle

Ninomaru Garden – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Ninomaru

Ninomaru Garden – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Ninomaru

Ninomaru Garden – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Honmaru Palace / Honmaru-Goten Palace

Crossing over the moat on the Honmaru East Bridge you entre through the Honmaru Yagura-mon Gate.  The fortification walls ever so slightly smaller that the exterior walls, making you feel like you’ve walked into a safe inside a safe.  None of Honmaru Palace was open to the public, with the best views from the elevated base of the burnt down keep tower (1750).

This vantage point gives a great lay of the surrounding land with Honmaru Palace and Honmaru Gardens below.  Now that I had become a Japanese garden snob, I didn’t spend much time Honmaru Gardens.  Had it been anywhere else in the world, I would have likely admired it deservingly, but from what I had already seen in Kyoto this garden was below par.  Added to my low grading of the garden (I’m just being facetious), Honmaru Palace was closed, so I exited on Honmaru West Gate crossing the moat.

Nijo Castle

Honmaru Bridge and Honmaru Yagura-mon Gate. Crossing the second moat to Honmaru Palace – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Honmaru Palace

Taken from the base of the keep (South West corner) with Honmaru Palace and Honmaru Garden ahead and below – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Almost the entire Western half of the whole complex is made up of various gardens – between the inner moat and the outer exterior fortifications.  From cherry trees in their last bloom, small grassland meadows with wild flowers, to manicured shrubs with rich red and pink flowers.  These gardens are distinctly more natural to the others, like walking through fields or parks.  From meadows to the Seiryu-en Garden (moving clockwise around the garden), a more traditional garden with the symbolic islanded (I hope that’s a word) ponds.

Honmaru Palace

Honmaru Palace carriage porch – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Honmaru

Taken from the base of the keep, the moat surrounding Honmaru Castle and gardens beyond – Nijo Castle, Kyoto

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle Gardens – Kyoto

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle Gardens – Kyoto

Nijo Castle Gardens

Nijo Castle Gardens – Kyoto

A small pottery exhibition and a separate one on kimonos was taking place.  The palace grounds are big, I found both exhibitions quite by chance whilst on my way to the exit.  Small exhibitions, then again big isn’t always better.  I’m always on the lookout for pottery as you may have gathered by now, because my mother is a potter.  As for the kimonos it reminded me the Yohji Yamamoto exhibition I saw at the V&A Museum in London in 2011.  Styles, shapes and colours so different to what I’ve grown up with.  Not much else to say about either topic, it was just cherry on top of a lovely visit to Nijo Castle.

Kyoto

Kimono exhibition at Nijo Castle – Kyoto

Kyoto

Kimono exhibition at Nijo Castle – Kyoto

Kyoto

Pottery exhibition at Nijo Castle – Kyoto

Kyoto

Pottery exhibition at Nijo Castle – Kyoto

Nishi Hongan-ji

I may have already mentioned but the weather wasn’t great.  As the day passed the already grey clouds where thickening and turning deep grey.  Not that it deterred me, I lived in London for 20yrs.  It was late in the day, but to early to call it quits.  Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji were only a short distance away.

Nishi Hongan-ji

The Goeido (Founder’s Hall) at Nishi Hongan-ji – Kyoto

 Both Nishi Hongan-ji and Hongan-ji are Jōdo Shinshū temples, a school of Pure Land Buddhism, with Nishi Hongan-ji the “head office” temple for Jodo Shinshu.  Making the complex a combination of temple and much newer administrative buildings.  The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to 1321, but only at its current location since 1591.  When I got there, as with so many other places, I had no idea of its significance.  With time against me before they closed for the day, I only skirted about the complex without giving it much attention.   Most of my time and attention was given to the 400yr+ old gingko tree outside the Goeido (Founders Hall).

Nishi Hongan-ji

400yr+ old gingko tree at Nishi Hongan-ji

Nishi Hongan-ji

The Goeido (Founder’s Hall) at Nishi Hongan-ji – Kyoto

Going inside the Goeido lost its relevance without understanding the significance nor context of the temple.  Like seeing the Giza pyramids without knowing they are circa. 4500 years old.  Even so, I enjoyed taking a look around, but at the back of my mind I knew I had to leave to get to Higashi Hongan-ji before it closed too.

PS. I only got to see at most 30% of the complex, realistically missing the best bits…to my regret

Nishi Hongan-ji

Inside the Goeido (Founder’s Hall) at Nishi Hongan-ji – Kyoto

Nishi Hongan-ji

The pitched rooves are always interestingly decorated. The Goeido (Founder’s Hall) at Nishi Hongan-ji – Kyoto

Higashi Hongan-ji

Just like Nishi Hongan-ji my stop over at Higashi Hongan-ji was fleeting, even more so.  Higashi Hongan-ji dates to 1602, like so many other buildings in Kyoto it burnt down only to be rebuilt in 1895.  Here I was rushing around aimlessly because of closing time.  In all honesty the visit was a waste of time because I gained nothing other than ticking it off my list – not the way I like to do things at all.

Higashi Hongan-ji

The Founder’s Hall Gate at Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji

The Founder’s Hall of Higashi Hongan-ji – Kyoto

Gion

My day had been great, I really enjoyed everything I had done and seen.  Still feeling I could squeeze more into the day I thought I’d walk to Gion to try spot a Geisha.  Now before I get into this, I’m going to leave Gion and Geishas to a later blog post.  My next hotel was in Gion, and I explored the area and tried to catch a glimpse of Geishas many times.

Whilst heading to Gion, the heavens opened, and I was caught for the first time without my raincoat in my day pack.  Why exactly I had taken my raincoat out of my back I don’t know, its never happened since!  Anyway, I got to Gion soak to the bone.  The sun was almost set, and the street lights cast a hazy glow shimmering against the wet surface of the road.

Yes, I got to see a Geisha, more to do with luck than anything else.  I’ll leave things here, so much more to say about Gion and Geisha spotting and this post is already much longer than I had wanted.  Picking up from what I have just said, I would move hotels the next morning.  This ended up being a great decision, moving into the heart of Gion.

Kyoto

My first excursion of many into Gion – Kyoto

Kyoto

Typical side street in Gion (lots more about Gion to come) – Kyoto

Kyoto

Little side street in Gion – Kyoto

Kyoto

Traditional entrance to an old residence in Gion – Kyoto

Kyoto – Temples, Beautiful Gardens, Zen

I had a busy first full day in Kyoto (my second day in the city), visiting the Heian Shrine, Konkaikōmyōji (also known as Kurodani Temple), Ginkaku-ji, Philosophers Walk and Hōnen-in Continue Reading →

Tokyo – my last day in a great city – Part3

Gallery

Last day in Tokyo, a busy one!

My last day’s itinerary for Tokyo would be Senso-ji Temple, Denboin Gardens, Nezu Shrine, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya and Shibuya crossing.  Yes, yesterday’s hiccup with the overcharge took up most of the day.  Even so, it didn’t deter my enjoyment of my short saunter in Tokyo (Tokyo Part 2).  PS. After more emails, there was still no resolution grrrrr!

After a quick breakfast, I needed a caffeine boost to help kickstart the day.  The day before I had found a great coffee shop around the corner from the hotel.  I realised the following day it’s actually a hostel…a hostel which happens to have a great coffee shop.  Cool place, with an industrial décor, and military precision-made coffee.  What really impressed me was their meticulous approach to making the coffee; they weigh the ground coffee to ensure the precise amount is used to achieve consistency for every cup.  One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.  If you ever happen to be in the area its worth visiting Berth Coffee, I’d even make a short detour.

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame, the last two are part of the Asahi Breweries headquarters – Tokyo

 

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

My day commenced fuelled by rocket strength caffeine, I was moving with gusto and purpose!  First, the Buddhist temple Senso-ji, the oldest in Tokyo.  To me, temples/shrines conjure up thoughts of zen like places.  A place of meditation, reflection or simply a place for peace and quiet to escape the world.  Not so here…I’ve been to music festivals with less people!

Senso-ji is at the end of a circa. 100m walkway, shouldered with shops on either side.  These shops aren’t a recent construction for tourists, they were specifically constructed as shops early in the 18th century.  Selling arts, crafts and temple related goodies along with sunglasses and tacky stuff…anything really.  If you like trinkets this place is your jackpot, but you need to wade through a sea of people.  It may be better if you visit very early or late, that would be my recommendation.  Consequently, even the most stunning of places can lose their sheen when packed full of people.  It’s the same throughout the world, pity.

Sensō-ji

The long corridor with shops as you enter the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

Sensoji Temple

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji / Sensoji Temple

Senso-ji became an independent temple not long after World War II, prior to this its association was with Tendai of Buddhism.  In fact, temple Sensoji Kannon main temple (Bodhisattva of compassion), is said to be the most visited spiritual site in the world – 30 million people per year!  Hmmmmm…explains why it was so busy, wish I knew that before visiting.

Sensoji Temple

Beautifully painted ceiling of the Sensoji Temple – Tokyo

Tokyo

5 Story pagoda in the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Tokyo

With the first temple constructed in 645 AD, it followed a prior shrine dedicated to Kannon dating back to 628.  Included in the grounds is Sensoji Kannon, a five-story pagoda, Shinto shrine and the Asakusa Shrine – that’s not all it has, with 10 temple/shrines in total.  Can’t say much else about the main area, I got to frustrated navigating through the people….so I didn’t.   Moving on, I can’t say the visit to Senso-ji Temple was enjoyable, the noise and congestion irritated me.  As a result I found myself taking photos for the sake of doing so – I hate that.

Sensoji Temple

Bronze Hokyoin-to cast in 1761 – much bigger than it looks at 8m high.  Within the grounds of the Sensoji Temple Complex

 

Denboin Garden

I lost my ticket to Denboin Garden sometime during my travels, it wasn’t expensive that’s all I do remember. Funny, even though it’s not a temple the environment is akin to one.  Denboin Garden is adjacent to the Senso-Ji complex, an inconspicuous entrance hidden away.  Looking for relief from the crowds I found it by mistake (glad I did).  My timing was perfect (lucky), because it’s only open to the public between mid-March till early-May 😊.

Tokyo

Denboin Garden with the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Keeping on the topic but going off on a tangent.  Without a doubt Japanese gardens are the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Tokyo gardens and parks are stunning, but pale in comparison to what I would see in Kyoto.  Gardens are manicured down to the blades of grass (that’s no metaphor, I saw this in Kyoto).  Still, with such pride and skill put into these pristine gardens they somehow manage to feel natural.  For this reason, some gardeners are revered in the same light as artists, Denboin Garden is a great example of this.

Denboin Garden is attributed to Kobori Enshu (1579 – 1647); an artist, celebrated garden designer and master of the tea ceremony.  A large pond filled with koi is the focal point of the garden, with a walk path around it.  Like taking a walk around a lake set in a little forest.  Within the grounds is one of the original lodgings where the monks working at the Senso-ji temple used to lived – you can see it but no entry.  It was great to get away from the hordes of people, but my time was limited, I had to a schedule to keep.  Nezu Shrine would be my next stop of the day.

Denboin Garden

Denboin Garden with the koi filled pond and the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Tokyo

Old meets new, they do have a similarity. 5 story pagoda at Sensoji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree

 

Nezu Shrine

Visiting Nezu Shrine is secondary if you go in early April to early May, why, because the Azalea Festival is on.  WOW!  My brief time in Tokyo was a Yin Yang metaphor. Not knowing the Azalea Festival was on, because I didn’t know it existed.  Completely distracted by the vivid lush display of the garden, paying little to no attention to the Nezu Shrine.

Before I get into the Nezu Shrine (and garden!), I regret not taking more pictures on the walk from the station.  Particularly when walking passed traditional Japanese restaurants well-known for Fugu; Japanese word for the dish prepared with puffer fish.  Many chefs and staff in traditional dress standing outside, all stern looking.  My guess was it must have been their breaktime.  Sadly, I did not see this sort of thing again, hence my regret not taking photos.  For this reason, don’t be shy to take pictures if something catches your eye!  Another lesson I learnt the hard way.

Nezu Shrine

The Honden, the main shrine at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

 Background information; building the Nezu Shrine began in the beginning of the 18th century in Ishi-no-ma-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.  Considered of great cultural importance, it is old, famous along with being one of the oldest places of worship in Tokyo.  It is most well-known for its gardens…I’ll get to that very shortly.  At first it was located further North, “that” shrine was founded in the 1st century.  It was moved in 1705 to the current location by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), by the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty.

Nezu Shrine

The Romon at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

The temple complex consists of three main areas:

  • Honden – the main temple building
  • Romon – An elaborately decorative archway, a standalone structure. In this instance it acts like a gateway to the Honden
  • Torii – Look like elegant doorframes placed in many multiples to create a passageway. Mostly in red or deep bright orange

Yes, these are vague and basic descriptions – I’ll add more details about these are I post about my time in Japan – no, I won’t forget.

Torii at Nezu Shrine

My first bit of detail is about the torri.  I guess most people have seen these tunnel-like structures when looking at pictures of Japan, I certainly had.  Here would be my first opportunity to see them up close.  Their visual impact intrigues and lures you further down the rabbit hole as you walk through/under them; following the lay of the land, like a snake laterally undulating its way through the garden.

Torri

Torii tunnel at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Torii come in various sizes, some are huge!  Not all are red/orange (vermillion to be precise) either.  Maybe it’s just my experience, or bad memory, but I cannot recall any small/short torii that weren’t vermillion.  At the entrance of some shrines/temples torii can me stories high, then usually make of massive timber &/or concrete.  The larger are normally singular structures, the shorter/smaller, as is the case at the Nezu Shrine are in multiples.  During my time is Kyoto I would see torii of a different kind, laid out in their thousands!

Azalea Festival

I’m not going to make stuff up about the Azalea Festival.  Like I said, I didn’t know anything about it!  That aside, you don’t need to be a horticulturalist to appreciate the beauty and colour on display.   Comparative to puffy clouds of green, red, pink, orange, purple and a sparing dash of white.  This river of colour, running through undulating gently rapids, large trees on its banks casting scattered shadows.

Nezu Shrine

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine with the tunnel of torii – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Bright vermilion torri dulled by the florescent colours emanating from millions of flowers.  From a distance the colour a solid blanket, like one massive flower ball – up close, thousands of dainty petals packed tightly together.  If your parachute didn’t open this is where you would wish to land, on a mattress made of flowers.  Just looking at it made me want to “bush-dive” onto them, it looked so soft and inviting…obviously I didn’t, nor am I advocating doing so 😊!

Nezu Shrine

Nezu Shrine garden during the azalea festival, the repetitive torii below – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Balls of azalea flowers like puffy clouds – Azalea Festival at Nezu Shrine in Tokyo

Azalea Festival

The few dashes of white against the green, pinks and reds at the Azalea Festival, the gardens of the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Considering Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities, though not equally polluted nor dirty.  Nezu Shrine with its garden, is without doubt a sanctuary – a sanctuary of colour, flowers, nature and bliss, even when filled with people.  Coupled with me being mildly preoccupied about the hotel overcharge (it hadn’t been resolved), I left Nezu Shrine on cloud nine.  Walking back to the metro with effervescent floral bouquets still fresh in my nostrils and vivid in my mind.

….I hope my pictures do it justice!

Yoyogi Park

Moving on, I made my way to Shibuya to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, arriving earlier than planned.  I could have gone straight there then head back to the hotel.  Instead, taking a look on Google Maps, Yoyogi Park was less than 100m away.  Why the hell not kill time and go check it out.  Yoyogi Park combined with the grounds of Meiji Shrine may as well be the same thing.  Though large parts are, some of Meiji Shrine has separate paid entrances and fenced off.

Entering Yoyogi Park from Harajuku station is the largest wooden torri I’d seen (possibly the largest wooden one I’d see throughout my whole time in Japan).  Expecting small park paths after the torri, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I use the word “path” loosely, I’ve seen narrower motorways!  A gravel path/road, 6 cars wide easily, leading to the Meiji Shrine.

Yoyogi Park

The huge torii at the entrance of Yoyogi Park heading to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Yoyogi Park

The pedestrian “pathway” in Yoyogi Park / Meiji Shrine grounds heading to the shrine – Tokyo

Stereotypical to Japanese custom, the walk along the road was quiet despite the train of people in both directions.  A gentle crunching sound filled the air with a subtle hum coming from the grinding of gravel under foot.  Additionally, one thing stood out to me as I walked, the Japanese people don’t like to make eye contact at all.  They don’t just dim their eyes downwards, no, they dip their whole head.  In Japan this is a sign of politeness, in many other cultures it would perceived as negative.  During my short visit I found Japanese people to be very reserved and respectful, this can be misconstrued as being aloof.  However, when you do get to speak to anyone (hotel, train station, shop etc.) they are exceptionally friendly and willing to help – even if you ask a stranger on the street.

Sake

Almost forgot to tell you about the sake barrels!  These barrels add a colourful display and uniformity against the backdrop of the evergreen forest.  It goes without saying, the sake barrels are not solely there to attract tourists, Japanese don’t do things that way.  Uniquely sake and Shinto shrines have had an intrinsic relationship for hundreds of years.  Called (the sake barrels) kazaridaru when displayed near a Shinto shrine they are decorative barrels, and empty…imagine if they weren’t! 😊).  Considering the ancient Japanese word for “sake” is “miki”, which in turn is a combination of the word’s “god” and “wine”.  It explains why sake is seen and used as a conduit between the gods and people.

kazaridaru

Sake barrels (kazaridaru) in Yoyogi Park heading to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

 

Meiji Shrine

A forest surrounds Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, the latter grounds alone are 70 hectares. In fact, the park is the most visited park in Tokyo. I’ll explain shortly, why the Meiji Shrine has great significance to the Japanese.  For Edokko (meaning “people of Edo”, the term commonly used for people from Tokyo), it is the most visited shrine for hatsumōde; meaning the first Shinto shrine visited for the Japanese New Year.

torii

Another huge torii not far from the entrance to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine is in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, both are deified.  However, it is not their burial site, that is just South of Kyoto. Emperor Meiji played a large role in the Meiji Restoration (Part 1) this is in large part the reason for his veneration.  After the Emperor’s death in 1912 construction started, taking 6 years to completed (1915-1921).  It’s gardens however took an additional 5 years, finishing in 1926.  During WWII Tokyo was heavily bombed destroying much of the city and the shrine.  The shrines’ rebuild was finance through public funding and concluded in October 1958.

Meiji Shrine

The Romon to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine

Part of the wedding procession, the bride and groom in the background – Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Unsurprisingly, the shrine was busy when I got there.  Owing to a traditional wedding taking place, access to most of the shrine was closed to the public.  The bride and groom must either be wealthy or have high social status, that is my guess.  Personally, I think your average Joe could arrange nor afford a wedding at such a venerated shrine, maybe I’m wrong.  My rationale for this, not everyone can get married at St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey etc.  I’ve been to many weddings, this is by far the most sombre and austere.  Whoever they are I wish them longevity and happiness.

Shibuya

Back to my day, people seemed to be enjoying the weather and parks, the whole area a hive of activity.  Everything from ball games, picnics to musicians busking on the pavements, everywhere had a jovial atmosphere.  During my walk I came across a unique street performance of Japanese rockabillies between Harajuka Station to Shibuya station.  Rockabillies clad in denim, hair gelled back with high quiffs and wearing cowboy boots they danced to classic Rock ‘n Roll.  Notably their boots a testament to how much dancing they do; soles worn through, held together by layers of duct tape.  These rockabillies seemed so out of place in Tokyo, yet somehow fitting.

Central Shibuya mixes Akihabara and your bog standard shopping district, with distinctive Japanese flavour.  Including a few anime and manga places, but Shibuya isn’t known for that.  Strolling around is interesting, even with may Western brands dotted about its unmistakably Japanese.  I like Japanese signage, though I can’t explain exactly why.  It’s bright, bold with lots of colours and there is so much of it.  Creating a shockwave of light with no uniformity in size and positioned perpendicular to the buildings.  Looking down the roads it’s a kaleidoscope of colour and light, adding to the vivacious energy of Shibuya’s bustling streets.

Shibuya

Shibuya, Tokyo

 

Shibuya Crossing

It’s not often you can say going to a traffic intersection is your list of things to see, or a tourist hotspot!  Shibuya Crossing is just that, a large intersection next to Shibuya train station and it’s a tourist hotspot!  Added to the fact it’s not the biggest intersection I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot. Shibuya Crossing is somewhat a metaphor for Tokyo and the Japanese; discipline on a mass scale.  The place was packed when I got there.  Some videos themselves joining the crowds whilst crossing the road, others climbing up lampposts to get a better vantage point.  Starbucks offers one of the best views…with a long queue “buying coffee” to get a window seat to watch and watch people crossing the street – in an orderly and Japanese way.

I had no such luck in the Starbucks, nor was I willing to wait in the queue.  Instead, I found an OK spot inside Shibuya station.  Not the best of views, but away from the rugby scrum down below.  Whatever your fancy, this is an oddity of a tourist spot.  Only spending about 25 minutes at Shibuya Crossing, most of it taking up looking for an elevated position.  I was expecting more, actually, I don’t know what I was expecting…it is after all a traffic intersection.  In all fairness I wasn’t there during peak time, you wouldn’t think so judging by the amount of people.  Still, it was nice walking around Shibuya, with Shibuya Crossing simply part of the fabric of the area.

Well, that was it for Tokyo.  I was really beginning to enjoy Japan now, still no resolution on my hotels.com overcharge.  Kyoto would be my next stop.   Obviously, I’ll get into more details of why I chose Kyoto and how I got there etc.  Now, writing this post in New Zealand while visiting my brother and sister-in-law again…that’s a whole new story in itself.  Over the past month I’ve been out of kilter with my routine, totally off track with my writing too.  That in turn has demotivated me a little, but now I’m beginning to feel near normal again.

Putting some perspective on what’s yet to come; I haven’t even started on writing about my time in Sydney, New Zealand South island, Peru (some awesome archaeological sites), Bolivia (some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery), Bogota, New York, Switzerland, Munich, Italy and Greece…..LOADS more to come.  I hope you enjoyed this final snippet of Tokyo and enjoy what’s yet to come.

PS. I’ve tried a different approach/technique with my writing, you may or many not notice.  I’d be grateful for any feedback.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

Tokyo, Akihabara – Travelling throws up challenges – Part2

Gallery

Tokyo and the most expensive night I’ve ever paid at a hotel

As I alluded to in Part 1 about my time in Tokyo, it got of to a slow start.  Next morning started off with a bang!!!  Just to recap, I booked for one night at APA Hotel Kodemmacho Ekimae, a much better location than the first.  After my first proper day in Tokyo I had decided to extend my stay for another day, I let the hotel know when I got back from Edo Castle.

Next morning, in my daze turning my phone alarm off I noticed Monzo had sent me a message.  I didn’t think much of it at first; they send me a message any time I spend or deposit money, getting a message from them wasn’t unusual.  Through my blurry eyes I saw it was a charge, hmmm no surprise, it was likely for the hotel through hotels.com.  I turned back to snuggle under the covers.  Uhhh, the amount didn’t seem familiar, or was it my brain and eyes still in dream land?  I turned to check my phone, no, it can’t be!  I had just been charged £7 378.46!!!  In an instant I was as awake as if I had drunk a litre of espresso!  What the hell!?!?!?

Throwing on my clothes whilst checking my Monzo app, I saw it was for the hotel.  Adding insult to injury, Monzo had frozen my card too.  Monzo is a cash card, I only keep a few hundred pounds at most in it at most, topping up when needed – it is the day to day card I use; if it gets stolen at least not much will be taken.  Now, I was over £7000 overdrawn!  Just, to clarify, the hotel cost was ¥10 999.00 (which is around £73.00).  Bolting downstairs to Reception, eyes like saucers but looking dishevelled.  Having already tried calling Monzo, because of the office hours (Japan being 8 hours ahead) I got no answer – I left a message through the app.  The hotel staff were very helpful and efficient, I also thought is must be the hotel’s fault too!

Within an hour they had confirmation, and proof, from their accounts department that they had charged me the correct amount.  ARGH!  Who the hell’s fault was is, it could only be Monzo or Hotels.com.  During the hour of waiting for the Hotel to get back to me, I had left more messages, voicemails and emails for the bank and Hotels.com – the time difference was frustrating me – I had a problem yet had to wait patiently for that part of the world to wake up.

Time was ticking by aimlessly, it was near lunchtime.  Monzo was the first to get back to me.  After a few calls and many messages (calling from UK mobile/cell phone from Tokyo to the UK, costs were adding up!), they agreed to credit my account for the full amount; with the caveat that when Hotels.com corrected their error they would then deduct the money again.  Obviously, I had to prove to Monzo the actual cost of the hotel before they offered the credit.  Nonetheless, Monzo were brilliant from start to finish!  Hotels.com on the other hand were not!

What actually happened

The hotel reception at one stage even let me call Hotels.com from their phone, free of charge, they (the Hotel staff) gave Hotels.com their accounts department details too.  I had already spent over 2 hours on the phone to Hotels.com, it was like talking to a brick wall!  To give the short version:

  • The room cost ¥10 990.00
  • They charged me ¥1 099 000.00. Doesn’t take a genius to see the error!
  • Monzo had sent me all the details of the transaction, including reference numbers and all the banking jargon with what happened when and who did what – this I forwarded to Hotels.com

I had spent over two hours on the phone to Hotels.com alone and sent many emails.  They just used the old empathy card without resolving anything or taking ownership.  I was a little concerned about the whole saga, but mostly frustrated and angry – Hotels.com’s lack of responsibility was the most irritating.  I was reluctant to move on to my next destination in Japan without resolving this so agreed with the hotel to say an additional night.  This is when keeping an additional bank card for emergencies is worth a million dollars!  Thought it best to not use my Monzo card, at least until all this was resolved.  It felt like I was farting in the wind with Hotels.com, the day was wasting away, bugger this I’d go out and try to enjoy what was left of the day!

Things I started to notice about Tokyo and Japan

My plans for the day were out the window, today I’d go freelancing – head to town and cruise about with no plan at all…not much time left of the day too.  I had to get out the hotel, my frustration levels were peaking, almost lost my tempter with Hotels.com a few times.  I had my phone with me (I had already incurred a lot of cost so a little more at this stage wouldn’t matter) so throughout the day I made a few calls and sent more emails, to Hotels.com!  Starting off near Tokyo Station, head towards Ginza then Nihonbashi

Tokyo

I like this photo, near Ginza, Tokyo

Most of the roads were closed to traffic in Ginza, the shopping centre of Tokyo, making it enjoyable and easy to get around.  I’ve mentioned it before, the roads in Tokyo are the cleanest I’ve ever seen.  Considering it’s one of the biggest and most populated in the world, the place is spotless!  Wandering about, I noticed how calm the people seemed to be.  Groups of people were talking to each other, however quietly, not whispering just very in obtrusively.  Almost no one makes eye contact either; again, not in a dismissive or unfriendly manner, no, more a reserved and respectful demeanour.

Tokyo

Clean streets of Tokyo (near Tokyo Station)

Ginza

Closed off streets in Ginza, Tokyo

Nobody smokes in the open, roads or pavements; there are designated smoking areas – normally slightly out of sight and away from the crowds…even these areas are clean.  In almost all parts of the world shopping areas are diluted from the country’s identity.  Here it is similar, with the signage very different, the people are dressed modern with an unmistakable Japanese twist and identity.  I like it. I can’t really elaborate much of the day, it was short, my mind preoccupied too.  Another thing that stood out to me was the number of very high-end shops I saw.  In a small area 5 Tiffany’s & Co stores, three Prada stores with many other examples – just odd I thought.

Tokyo

Ginza, Tokyo – Nice building

I came across an outdoor restaurant, come courtyard, come outdoor tea/coffee area I have no clue what it is normally used for.  A band of sort was playing, very oddly dress for the music they were performing, more so for the majority of the audience who were listening/watching.  Adding to the unusual ensemble was them singing 80’s pop (Jackson 5), in English.

I carried on wandering around into Nihonbashi.  An area that used to be the main fish market for Tokyo for over three centuries.  Now, only a small monument next to the Nihonbashi river a reminder of the importance of the area and its historical importance.  I couldn’t help noticing just how obedient people are to road/traffic laws, especially when crossing the road.  Even if there were no cars, not even visible in the distance, if the pedestrian crossing was red, nobody crosses.  I’d notice many nuances throughout my time in Japan, I’ll come to them in a latter blog.

Tokyo

Nihonbashi river, used to be one of the busiest river networks in Tokyo for 3 centuries – Tokyo

Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi bridge with motorway above. Stylish lamppost flanked by two Kirin at the base – Tokyo

Nihonbashi

Monumnet to the Nihonbashi Riverside Fish Market. The market was relocated in 1923 after the Great Kanto Earthquake – Tokyo

Tokyo

one of the narrowest buildings I’ve even seen, just as you cross the Nihonbashi bridge – Tokyo

Akihabara

The day was uneventful from a sightseeing perspective.  I was already back at the hotel, knowing that I had a LOT to see and do the next day.  My head still a little preoccupied with the unresolved circa. £7300!  I could stay at the hotel and get more frustrated, with no positive impact or change in circumstances, or do something to distract my thoughts – after many calls and emails throughout the day there was nothing else I could do, I was now waiting for Hotels.com to get back to me.  Akihabara is around 1.5km away from the hotel, why not go, so I did.

The name Akihabara originates from the word Akiba, a deity who controlled fire.  Whose shrine was in the area, however destroyed ironically (or not) by fire in 1869.  Akihabara, colloquially is known as Akihabara Electric Town.  When you get there, especially in the evenings, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why it is referred to as Electric Town!

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

With neon lighting up advertising boards covering nearly every inch of every building, this part of Tokyo hardly needs street lights!  Aligned to the “difference” of the people of Tokyo/Japan, Akihabara, is a combination of adult and childlike Las Vegas….centred around otaku.  Otaku for short, is an obsession predominantly with anime and manga – it does include video games, computers etc too.  Japanese’ used to use the word otaku as a negative reference, these days not so much so.  With the word spreading internationally, it is now used as a descriptive of a fan (more fanatic) of anime and manga.  Though the word is less derogatory now, in Japan is it still used as a reference to “nerd/geek” and a person so indulged in the anime & manga world that they have lost sight or reality.

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

Walking around Akihabara, I was only there for about 30 minutes, the area really is “different”.  Japanese cartoons are a world apart from Disney, ranging from kawaii (I’l explain shortly) to 21st samurai esc.  Akihabara is what some would describe as a town of arcades.  Anime & manga are big business in Japan, with avid cult followers of these characters and genres.  The area is also known for its maid cafés. Kawaii is a reference to cute/lovable, a culture in Japan of “cuteness” with a touch of vulnerable, childlike and shy.

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

Girls, dressed to look younger than they are (like young school girls), fronting these cafés handing out pamphlets and enticing people inside…mostly men, older men.  I didn’t go into any of them.  I was going to take a photo of some of the maid girls, but couldn’t; it just felt wrong, sleezy.  I appreciate cultures are different, but this didn’t sit well with me.  I’ve read that the government is cracking down on these maid cafes, god, I’m glad.  I cannot see how this couldn’t result in sexual exploitation.  What makes these cafes so odd (cringeworthy), is that is seems so at odds with how the Japanese people present themselves; reserved, law-abiding and have a very strong ethic of honour.

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

I’m not saying the whole of Akihabara is filled with maid cafes, there are a few, they area a small part of Akihabara.  If you like anime, manga, arcades etc. this is the area to be.  I liked it just because it is so different.  Akihabara isn’t just an adult playground (taking away some of the questionable cafes and animations), though heavily weighed to attract men.  There is something for all ages and sexes to enjoy, if not only just to go see the Electric Town that is Akihabara.

Akihabara

Akihabara at night – Tokyo

Wow, having read this and my pervious post of Tokyo it seems so negative, when in fact it really wasn’t.  Like I said, my time in Japan got better each day, I can confidently say it was one of my most enjoyable countries to visit….sounds contradictory when reading my post 😊.  The next day, I like to think of as my first real and full day of Tokyo.   The more you travel the more likely “things” will happen, somethings good, sometimes bad….the good far out weigh the bad.