Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kyoto Snapshots

In keeping with the idea of a tease of the trip, I've just thrown together a couple of the photos from Kyoto as well.... it was a quick 2.5 days (arriving at lunchtime on the 12th, and leaving mid morning on the 15th). Still, it was good to take some time out of Tokyo (even though we most probably didn't really need to). Still, it gave me my first shinkansen experience... and I got to see Kyoto in cherry blossom mode which I most probably wouldn't have done otherwise.

One of the characteristic places of Kyoto is Kiyomizu Dera, perched overlooking Kyoto. The blooms were not quite at the peak (we thought we were too late, but a taxi driver told us 2 days later that we were too early... not sure what the reality was).
Kiyomizu Dera (12th April)

The main cherry blossom viewing, or hanami spot is perhaps Maruyama Kouen near Yasaka Jinja (next to Gion). The atmosphere whilst not as brilliant for sakura as Ueno was definitely what I was expecting from hanami. Lots of people eating and drinking, the worries of the Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima disasters a long way away...
One of many outdoor eating areas for hanami in Maruyama Kouen (12th April)

One of the treats that we hadn't expected was the gardens of Heian Jingu, Shin'en, which we had missed last time around. The blooms were fewer, and the light starting to fail by the time we had arrived, but it was still a wonderful way to end the first half day in Kyoto.
Shin'en, Gardens in Heian Jingu (12th April)

 The second day started a little late (and slightly foot-sore)... we took the bus (a mistake) to Daitoku-ji in the north of the city... and had a look at some beautiful gardens. Daitoku-ji is also well known for it's links to the tea-ceremony, and the fabled (and ill-fated) tea master, Sen no Rikyū. The temple has quite a few rooms that were built by him specifically, some of which had quite an eerie feel to them, including this rather unique dark tea-room.

There are also a good collection of gardens in the Daitoku-ji that are well worth visiting (my favourite was Koto-in) - though I have to say that the most famous, Daisen-in was also perhaps the most disappointing.
Koto-in garden in Daitoku-ji (13th April)

We then walked through the northern foothills to get down to Hirano Jinja, via Kitano Tenmangu, one of the older shrines in the area which is well known for both it's flea market (25th of each month) and the mass tea ceremony hosted by geisha on the same day in February. Today was just an ordinary day - filled with school kids paying their respects at the shrine which is also associated with scholarly success.
Kitano Tenman-gu (13th April)

Hirano Jinja was a definite surprise highlight of our trip... beautiful sakura and a really nice vibe. Also had a great lunch sitting under the cherry blossoms. It's one of the original shrines from the commencement of the city of Kyoto, and is famous for it's cherry blossom festival.
Hirano Jinja (13th April)
We then caught the Randen Railway (a great little secret we found) to Arashiyama in the northeast of Kyoto. The afternoon light in mid April is quite soft, and yet the evening wasn't too cold. This is a great date spot in Kyoto.... and the couples were out in force.
Arashiyama (13th April)
And Arashiyama is also famous for it's bamboo forests which are quite magical as the sun sets.
Arashiyama (13th April)
The only disappointment was that we elected to have dinner at Arashiyama (which basically becomes a ghost town in the evening... very strange given that it's peak tourist season, and Arashiyama is one of the focal points for cherry blossoms. I'm not sure if this is specific to this year, but it was quite stark and felt about as silent as the bamboo forests in the hills).
The main focus for the evening was the illumination of the sakura in Nijo-jo... a beautiful location in Kyoto during the day, and also beautiful at night. I'll show more in the proper posts.

Sakura Illumination in Nijo-jo (13th April)
The next day (even more tired and footsore) we took a late train out to Uji, which strangely enough had been the original reason for coming back to Kyoto... we had planned a driving tour around Nagoya - Ise Peninsula and finishing up at Shiga/Hikone... and I had suggested visiting Uji on our trip as we'd missed it last time around. T-chan then asked - why not spend our mini-break in Kyoto, and it just clicked from there. We both really wanted to go for the driving holiday around Ise, but in the end, perhaps we were going to try to drive too much. Instead, we punished our feet in and around Kyoto.

Byodo-in is one of the main attractions of Uji, and one of the focal points of bloody civil wars (or disturbances) between Genji and Heike clans that culminated the golden era of Japan known as the Heian period (794 - 1185 AD approx). The Pheonix Hall is orginal from 1054 AD, and as demonstrated by my beautiful assistant, also represented on each and every 10 yen coin (and 10,000 yen note).
Byoudo-in at Uji... as seen on the 10 yen coin (14th April)

 Uji is also a very nice place for sakura along the river bed.... and surprisingly few people... once more a sign of reduced tourism due to the fear of radiation from Fukushima Dai-ichi power station?

Uji River (14th April)

Crossing the river, you come across Ujigami-Jinja... apparently the oldest extant Shinto Shrine in Japan, though originally built in 1060AD to provide is quite a nice spot to sit down for a few moments... and reflect on history of Kyoto, and how many centuries the city and the culture has existed through many calamities (both natural and man-made). This temple was built to protect Byodo-in - though itself is a fairly simple and understated shrine.
Ujigami-Jinja (14th April)
We then caught a train/taxi to Daigo-ji which sits on the south eastern edge of Kyoto. The sakura had definitely passed their peak here, and yet it was a great opportunity to enjoy the fallen petals... like snow on the ground. The rest of the grounds were still quite beautiful, and there were still cherry blossoms to be found.
The ended the night in Gion, almost completely deserted now... it was a very different experience to last time we were here. Yet it was a nice place to see without the tourists...oh... I forgot. We were tourists!
Gion (14th April)

Wereturned to Tokyo - nervous about the time we had left ourselves to get to Haneda Airport (given the delays that had happened on our way to Kyoto. However, in the end there were no dramas and we arrived in Sapporo on time - but much, much colder. We had left Kansai at 23 degrees, and tomorrow, we'd be lucky to scrape over 10 degrees.

It's funny sometimes however, you take a photo and only afterwards realise you found something interesting... On our flight from Tokyo to Sapporo I snapped something that sort of captures my feelings for Japan. I know that times are tough now, but things will get better... and I do love visiting Japan. Now as much as ever.
Departing Tokyo...A Slightly Funky Heart (15th April)

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