Thursday, 12 November 2009


Last week, I got paid so I decided to take a trip to Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years so it's the place to go if you want to be overwhelmed by shrines, temples and traditional culture. I had to go on my own as my ALT co-workers have either been here in Japan for a long time already and have seen Kyoto or, plan to stay in Japan for a long time so don't feel the urgency that I do to squeeze as much travel in as possible. I was a little nervous about going alone. In short, I can't read maps. To me, reading a map is as difficult as learning Japanese. I got mildly good at map reading when I temped in London ie. I reached the point where I only had to ask for clarification of directions once at the tube station, rather than return about three times to ask the station men to set me on my way again. Fortunately, Kyoto is one of the most tourist friendly cities I have ever been to and I didn't get lost once, I was proud of myself!

Here is a visual tour of the route I did by bus, train and on foot last weekend:

I caught a 5am bus from Takamatsu and arrived in Kyoto at 9am. My first stop was Fushimiinari Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Japan. I think it appears in a film...nice bit of information for you there! Fushimiinari is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. There were so many torii gates, they looked beautiful and it was so peaceful to walk through them at such an early time in the morning.

My beautiful new coat which will see me through the Japanese winter :-) It was a good weekend to visit; the sun was shining for the whole weekend but the air felt nice and crisp.

I like the photograph above; very Japanese eh?

the fox messengers...I think these looked nicer than the mean looking stone fox statues dotted about.

On the way back from Fushimiinari, I met this lady at the train station. Hanako told me that she is a singer and gave me four tickets to see her show in December; happy Christmas family! Back at JR Kyoto station, she made me pose for several pictures with her much to the amusement of the ticket inspectors...I like that she was wearing red lippy (I don't really see Japanese ladies wear a lot of makeup).

Next step was Kiyomizudera temple (the temple of pure water) It's in the hills of eastern Kyoto and is supposed to be one of the best places in Japan to view the turning of the leaves.

Just behind Kiyomizudera's main hall is a place where you can drink some spring water which is said to have special powers. If you drink the water on the right hand side, it is said to bring beauty, the water in the center is said to bring wisdom and drinking the water on the left hand side brings good health. I drank the water for wisdom. Look at the girl on the right hand side (our left), she is eager to become beautiful!

Next I went to Gion which is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. I went in the early evening so it wasn't very exciting. I was a little disappointed actually, probably due to my naive expectations of geisha running (yes, they have to be running. Everyone runs in Japan) around everywhere but there were none to be found. I decided to return after dark and in the meantime found lots of zakka shops (see last entry) full of winding staircases and shop assistants with asymmetric fringes and peg leg trousers to keep me amused for a while. When I headed back to Gion, I saw a geisha leading a salary man back to her teahouse! I spent too long rummaging in my bag to find my camera so no picture I'm afraid....

In the evening, I found the most beautiful vegetarian cafe (the first I have found here) and I had the best meal I've had since coming to Japan.I had vegetable gyoza and a mushroom ramen - lovely. My favourite part was the dessert; a Japanese herb style muffin with plump black bleans, mugwort dough, organic soy bean paste and mochie. Mmmm, t'was delicious.

The staff in the cafe were so lovely too and gave me cake for the journey home. I had to wait for a bus for ages and watched a group of about fifty university students play the biggest game of paper, rock, scissors I have ever seen. * Rock, paper, scissors is called 'janken' here. All my students play it in my lessons to decide who will speak first. I now have to leave aside some time in my lesson plans for 'janken time' since it is a reoccuring part of the lesson...they are lightening fast at it!*

Before tumbling into bed, I went to the twelfth floor of Kyoto train station to see the city lights by night. On the way up, I passed this beautiful Christmas tree. There were lots of couples sitting on the steps around it, they looked happy. I got a bit teary. I miss being around people I love so much. Mum, Dad, Oliver, I can't wait for you to be here with me this Christmas time. <3

The next day, I hung out with a lovely Dutch girl called Lucienne who I met in the hostel I stayed at. We went to a food market called Nishiki in the morning. Ahh, I can't wait to take Mum, Dad and Oliver here. Some of the things were truly works of art. I couldn't capture how colourful it was - I am such a poor photographer, forgive me.

Look, biscuits with flowers on them!

A snappy little machine that made pancakes :-)

Here is Kinkakuji; the Golden Temple. At the moment,I am reading a book by a Japanese author called Yukio Mishima about Kinkakuji so I was excited to see it. It fulfilled all expectations - it was really beautiful.

Lucienne and I...I think I look a bit creepy...

Lucienne and I parted company after Kinkakuji as she was catching the Shinkansen to Osaka. I really like chance meetings. It is unlikely that I will see Lucienne again but it was the most lovely thing to spend time with a complete stranger who turned out to be such great company :-) I only had a couple of hours to spare after Lucienne left so I went to visit Ginkakuji (the Silver Temple) but it was being renovated so it wasn't that great - I'll go back at Christmas time.

I forgot to book a bus ticket home so had to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) instead. If you ever get the chance to take the Shinkansen to or from Kyoto, you should listen to the album The Lemon of Pink by The Books. It was the most perfect thing to listen to on the journey home. I really enjoyed Kyoto, despite being alone. It is such a beautiful city with so much to see that I didn't get lonely (apart from when I saw the Christmas tree!).

This weekend, I am going to Osaka with Ed and his friend Sean. Osaka stands in stark contrast to the beauty and traditionalism of Kyoto. It is Japan's party city and Osakans are supposed to be very earthy and laid back kind of people. Being very commerce minded, legend has it that rather than Konnichiwa, Osakans greet eachother with the phrase 'Mookarimakka?'; are you making money? I am excited to see Osaka :-)


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