23rd July 2019: Arashiyama honours its name {Japan, summer 2019}

I started off the day at Yasui-Konpira-gu [安井金比羅宮], a shrine with a huge ema-like “mound” called Kushi-zuka [久志塚] with a hole in the middle. It is thought that if you write your wish on a paper, glue it on the mound and then crawl through the hole and back, your wish comes true. In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t go through.

Then I walked all past Gion again to return to Gion Shirakawa [祇園白川] and Tatsumi Bashi [祇園 巽橋] to see the area by light. I saw Tatsumidaimyojin [辰巳大明神], the Kanikakuni monument, Kanikakuni Ishibumi (Koma-satsu) [かにかくに碑(駒札)], and a very cool heron (or crane?) who totally owned the place.

After this little stroll, it was still early so I headed off to the reconstructed castle Fushimi-Momoyama-jo [伏見桃山城]. It was a very cool castle, but it was not open to the public (this trip was not castle-lucky, now that I think about it).

Underneath the castle, I found the Mausoleum of Emperor Kanmu Kanmu Ten’nō Kashiharanomisasagi [桓武天皇 柏原陵].

And then I walked off to the opposite part of the hill. On my way I found some of the original rocks that had conformed the Ninomaru [二ノ丸跡] of Momoyama-Jo.

I kept ascending until I reached Meiji Ten’nō Fushimi Momoyama no Misasagi [明治天皇 伏見桃山陵], Emperor Meiji’s Tomb at Fushimi Momoyama, which was… somehow very sober and somewhat humble for such an important figure in Japanese history (then again I’ve recently visited the Spanish Royal Family Pantheon so… hm… yeah. Anything is more sober than that.)

After that I was tired and hot, so I needed a break – and the best way to have a break is a train ride. I rode back to Kyoto Station and from there I headed off towards the Arashiyama area. I wandered around the Bamboo Grove Arashiyama Chikurin no Shōkei [嵐山 竹林の小径] for a while. It was packed so I kept diverting towards other areas.

I walked into Rakushisha [落柿舎], a poet’s house, where I got a shuuin.

Then I went up the road to Nison-in [二尊院].

On my way back I stopped to admire the lotus flowers, which were in full bloom.

I considered going into the Museum of Korean arts, but as it was closed, my decision was irrelevant, so I decided to head back towards the Arashiyama Koen Nakanoshima Chiku [嵐山公園 中之島地区], the Nakanoshima area of Arashiyama Park. I saw the Kadono Ooi [葛野大堰], the small damn in the river, and crossed the Togetsu-kyō Bashi [渡月橋] bridge.

There I climbed up to Ichitani-Munakata-Jinja [櫟谷宗像神社].

I decided against climbing to the Monkey Park, and I was halfway back through the bridge, when the skies opened and a huge thunderstorm hit – so indeed, Arashiyama became the mountain of storms! I waited half of it under the canopy of a shop, and after twenty minutes I braved running across the street to the Lawson to get myself a sandwich and ate it as the rain dwindled enough for the streets to be walkable again.

Once that happened, I walked to the station and took a train back to Kyoto and then to Fushimi Inari Taisha [伏見稲荷大社]. I did two sweeps – one with light and once when the sun was setting. Of course I did not climb the whole mountain, I just stayed to see the main buildings and the Senbontorii [千本鳥居] (the loooong torii line) lit.

And finally I headed off back to have some food and rest.

Walked distance: 27897 steps, 19.9 km (so glad I took my cane today!)

22nd July 2019: Tokyo Shinagawa → Higashimaya Kyoto {Japan, summer 2019}

My Shinawaga hotel was very close to Sengakuji [泉岳寺], the temple that honours the forty-seven ronin so I paid them a visit before I moved on.

The reason why I was in Shinagawa was being close to the station as I was heading off to Kyoto. I took a shinkansen around 9 am and was in Kyoto just before 11, maybe. From Kyoto station I walked to Nishi-Hongwan-ji [西本願寺], which was about 10 /15 minutes away. It had been on my list since I went to Higashi-Hongwan-ji last year, but I had to go get some rest afterwards because I had a migraine.

As I was heading back towards the station I came across a building that really grabbed my attention. A little research yielded to finding out that it is a temple: Dendou-In [伝道院], which apparently belongs to Nishi-Hongwan-ji and is a research building. It was designed by a famous architect called Tadata Ito in 1912 in a style called “Evangelical”, and built shortly after. It’s not open to the public though, but it sure as hell is interesting.

After that I took the underground to my hotel. It was raining like crazy when I got there, and to make things more difficult, my bloody credit card decided to stop working. This made me slightly late to my 13:00 appointment at Studio Esperanto Oiran Taiken [studio-esperanto 花魁體驗]. Things were a little different this time. First of all, because I was just in time for appointment, I was directly ushered to the make-up room. Fortunately I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted, so it sort of worked in the end. The make-up artist was nice but she was a bit intimidated, and the photographer was difficult to communicate with, which hampered the experience a little. In the end, however, I got really cool pictures out of the experience, so I am not going to complain.

By the time I got out, there was a deluge outside. I was in the hotel, which was close to the photography studio, for a little, and after checking the maps that they had given me at reception, I realised that I was much closer to the Gion area than I – and Google Maps – had actually thought. There was one big park / shrine complex I could walk. At least part of it is called Maruyama Koen [円山公園] and it has a cool pond. I walked from the north entrance to the western exit, which belongs to Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社], the Yasaka Jinja Minami-romon [八坂神社 南楼門], the Tower Gate. I passed Gyokkō Inari Yashiro [玉光稲荷社] on the way.

I walked off to Gion, [祇園] which was almost empty due to the storm. Whenever I get to Gion in the evening, I always check whether there is a long queue at Gion Corner, which is a theatre that performs “traditional arts”:

  • Tea Ceremony [茶道]
  • Flower Arrangement / Ikebana [華道]
  • Koto [箏]
  • Gagaku [雅楽] Court Music and dance
  • Kyogen Theatre [狂言] (comic play)
  • Kyo-mai [京舞] (maiko dance)
  • Bunraku [文楽] Puppet Theatre (puppet theatre)

I was lucky this time, as the rain had scared most tourists away, so I could come in. It was a fun thing to do once, especially with “foreigner discount” it becoming half-price, but the audience kept talking and moving around the floor to take pictures and videos. Thai and Chinese people are loud (and a few of them rather disrespectful)! But all in all, I’m happy I got it out of my system, particularly the Kyo-mai dance.

After that, as it was not raining any more, I strolled down an almost-empty Gion.

Then I walked off towards an area that I had never been able to find before – Gion Shirakawa [祇園白川] and Tatsumi Bashi [祇園 巽橋]. Fortunately this time I had checked for the Tatsumi Bridge location fist, so it was not even that hard! I just had to know where to look for it! (≧▽≦).

I decided to take the way back through the park, so I could see all of Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社] lit up, which was very pretty.

As the hotel was also next to Heian Jingu [平安神宮], but as it was not lit up, I did not walk in.

Then I bought some conbini food and I went to the hotel to have dinner and a bath – the hotel had a hot spring public bath (and it was empty! Just for me!). I was lucky enough to get one of the traditional rooms, and the sand-puffs-like thingies were super-comfortable… until I had to stand up. It was so comfy I could barely stand up! And then I went off to sleep like at 10pm cause I was beat (∪。∪)。。。zzz.

Walked distance: 18517 steps / 13.2 km

26th August 2018: To the East: Niigata → Aizu-Wakamatsu → Koriyama → Tokyo {Japan, summer 2018}

As there was not much to see in Niigata [新潟], we took a scenic train to the east – Niigata is famous for being ‘countryside’, and growing rice. We saw lots of rice fields.

Our destination was Aizu-Wakamatsu [会津若松], a ‘samurai town’ famous for Tsuruga castle and the story of the Byakkotai [白虎隊], a troop of young soldiers who fought during the Boshin war. Back then the ‘Aizu warrior spirit’ was a very important thing, and 19 youths committed ritual suicide when they thought the castle had fallen. This is called the Tragedy of the Byakkotai.

On the other hand, the town’s mascot is a cartoonish phantom red cow Akabeko [赤べこ]. Because why not?

We headed out to the castle first and foremost. Tsuruga-jo [鶴ヶ城] or Aizu-Wakamatsu-jo [会津若松城]. If you google it, you might think it’s pink. So did we. We were a bit on the amusedly disappointed side (≧∇≦).

But we made-do with some awesome (and ice-cold) Aizu Coke-bottles.

Within the castle grounds we found Tsuruga-jo Inari Jinja [鶴ヶ城稲荷神社].

And Kasama Inari Jinja [笠間稲荷神社].

After the castle it was lunch time so we went to have lunch in the ‘old samurai town’ which to be honest does not feel too old. On the way we stopped by Shinmei Jinja [神明神社], which was rather on the empty side, but still nice.

We ate lunch in a place called Mitsuta-ya [満田屋] to eat miso dengaku [味噌田楽]. We had a course of skewers consisting on two konjac (one with salty and one with sweet miso), fried tofu, mochi (rice cake), sweet potato, shingorou (some kind of rice croquette) and smoked herring. All these were grilled just in front of us, which was on the one hand really cool to see, and on the other, bloody hot because hey, there was a fire burning in front of us. We were told that this was typical samurai food, because it could be prepared and eaten ‘on the go’. Who knows whether it is true, but it was fun and yummy.

Once we had eaten we had to make a run to the station so we could catch the train – as the following one was two hours later – and we made it with three whole minutes to spare despite google maps saying we were too far away. And thus we were off to Koriyama [郡山], which… we had not really heard of before this whole thing? (≧∇≦). There we took the Tourist Office by surprise when we asked what we could see even if it was already ‘late’. Map in hand, we headed off to see Asakakunitsuko Jinja [安積国造神社], which was a little on the creepy side.

Then we saw Nyoho-ji [如宝寺].

And continued to the park Hayama Koen [麓山公園], where we saw the Asaka Canal Hayama Waterfall Asaka Sosui Hayama no Hibaku [安積疏水麓山の飛瀑].

And the so-called Of the 21seikiki nenkouen Hayama no Mori [21世紀記念公園 麓山の杜], the 21st Century Memorial Park Hayama Forest.

Finally we headed back to the station area, where we checked out the Observatory in the Big-i [ビッグアイ] building.

And finally caught a shinkansen back to Tokyo, we had dinner on the go and crashed in bed when we got home.

24th August 2015: Up and down Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto) {Japan, summer 2015}

Still sore and a little sunburnt from the Beast Party, I woke up early-ish on Monday to make use of my JR Pass and head off to Kansai, namely Kyoto [京都]. It was as always both a short and long ride and for the first time I did it with a reserved seat, as I gave myself the exercise of trying to talk to the reservation people. It did not go too well, but I managed my reservation.

Upon arrival in Kyoto I changed my original plans – again – due to – again – rain forecast. So instead of what I had planned, I changed into shorts, put on my cap, and armed with onigiri and coke, I set up to top Inari-san [稲荷山], Mount Inari. You see, I have been to Fushimi Inari Taisha [伏見稲荷大社] before, twice, and both times I had to give up halfway because heat. Both times I tried to stick with healthy stuff – isotonic drinks and so, rest, and do things correctly. This time, I bought water, coke, snacks and onigiri, allowed myself to rest, but not to sit down and finally managed to do the whole thing, snacking on onigiri and crisps as necessary and pushing forward. I am quite surprised my clothing survived, too.

I started down at the big torii and the honden.

This is the pond where I usually kinda collapse XD but this time I made it through.

Kyoto view from Yotsu-tsuji, halfway up.

Itchinomine (First Summit)

Proof, in case you doubted me…

Fox temizuya (purifying fountain):

Down the other side:

By the time I was done, I may have been able to head off to another shrine, as I took less time than I had expected, but I decided that I’d better get some rest and get ready for the next day. After all, this was supposed to be ‘relaxing vacation’.

… Yeah, I don’t believe that either.

11th July 2012: Kyoto in 9.5 hours: Mission Impossible {Japan, summer 2012}

My express visit to Kyoto [京都] on the 11th was fueled by a jump into a rabbit hole – the first time I drank canned coffee. It would not be the last, definitely.

A can of Georgia Café au Lait

I started off with Fushimi Inari Taisha [伏見稲荷大社] and is dedicated to Inari, the God of Rice, whose messengers are considered to be the foxes or kitsune [狐]. It is a temple with a gazillion plus one torii, since in early Japan Inari was seen as the patron of business. Thus each of the torii is donated by a Japanese business. Sorry for the sun reflection, this was the best picture of the main building I could take:

A shrine building, in powerful orange. The sun is shining at the rim of the roof, and there are two sculptures of foxes sitting on the sides.

A line of torii (have I mentioned that I looove torii?) the Senbon Torii [千本鳥居], or line of a thousand torii:

A torii in the foreground. Beyond it, so many others that you cannot tell them apart. All of them are orange, but the outermost ones have been burnt by the sun and are less bright

After Inari, I crossed the whole of Kyoto via bus and train and visited the Kinkaku-ji [金閣寺], the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. While I went to visit it because it was a must-see I found it amazing, and liked it more than I wanted to admit.

A pond with a pine tree at the centre. To the side, a three-story pavillion that looks similar to a pagoda. The first floor is built in wood and plaster, the upper ones have been covered in gold

Bus again, towards the Imperial Palace, Kyōto-gosho [京都御所], of which you see… the outer wall and the cops that guard the door XD

The entrance to the Imperial palace - a gate through the walls. Two police officers in blue are chatting at the fence

And a thirty-minute walk after that, I found myself entering the castle Nijō Jō [二条城]. Can you feel the rush? XD

The main building to the old castle. Is is built in dark wood with gold ornaments and carved details showing animals and plants, painted in bright colours

A view of the moat. The water is green.

Two buses later I was in Chion-in [知恩院] which was being repaired, so you can only see park entrance gate, which technically might belong to a nearby temple. I mean… there are too many temples to keep track of them! (Edit: after a bit of processing, that’s actually the entrance to the Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社] complex.)

A bright orange and white building at the top of some some stone stairs.

And going down those stairs to the left there was… Gion [祇園], the traditional geisha district. Found no geisha though D:

Traditional Japanese houses in dark wood, burnt by the sun. The entrance has a paper lanter and a menu

Finally, after another temple or twenty, or among them, I managed to sneak into Kennin-ji [建仁寺] just before it closed to see the twin dragons:

A ceiling painting of two dragons. The background is dark and the dragons are coloured in light shades, gold, white and red

By then I was so dead that I headed back to the station and was catatonic for the Shinkansen ride to Tokyo. This is not by far all I saw, but I lost track of the names for a bit. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but this is the gist of what I did that day. I would need more time to sort out the pictures, and I am trying to keep you guys generally updated, not write a thesis on ancient Japan XD (ETA 2017: Wow, that frame of mind changed a lot)