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

17th August 2018: Gold & Oiran {Japan, summer 2018}

Last year I decided to take a maiko photoshoot and it was fun, so when this year I found something similar, I decided to take the plunge. In this case, it was not a maiko, but an oiran [花魁], high-ranking courtesans with flashier clothes and more expensive kimono and accessories. I timed this to be the day after the Gozan no Okuribi, and my appointment was at 1 pm, although the website advised you to be around half an hour earlier.

I woke up feeling much better than the previous day, and after leaving the hotel the first thing I did was visit Mikane Jinja [御金神社], a small temple that had at some point come under my radar because it has a golden torii. This was, again by luck, very close to my hotel.

Torii gate painted in glittery golden paint

After that I took the underground to go to the Higashiyama / Keage area, where my photo studio was. There are also a few things to see around there, so I got off at Keage Station and the first thing I saw was Nejirimanpo [ねじりまんぽ], a Spiral Brick Tunnel, also called “Twisted tunnel”. I walked across, of course.

Entrance to a tunnel made of bricks. The bricks seem to be built in a spiral, and not straight

Afterwards I found myself at the complex formed by Tosho-gu [東照宮] and Konchi-in [金地院]. Tosho-gu is dedicated to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

A Buddhist temple with lots of bonsai pines in front of it

I continued into the temple complex and saw Nanzen-ji [南禅寺], a grand temple.

The main building of a Buddhist temple with an incese brazier in front of it

And then I stumbled onto Suirokaku [水路閣], which is, of all things, an aqueduct! Furthermore, it is still in use.

Aqueduct made out of brick

My next stop was Saisho-in [最勝院].

A Shinto purifying fountain

Then it was almost time for my appointment, so I headed towards Studio Esperanto Oiran Taiken [studio-esperanto 花魁體驗], which was pretty much amazing.

Studio Esperanto front shop

While considerably more expensive than the maiko photo shoot, but the truth is, it seems less standardised and way more professional in a way, relaxed in the other… maybe it is the fact that you get to choose more is what makes it unique to you – also I am happy to report that I could do it with my contacts in, so that was way more enjoyable. The whole thing was like a dream – it reminded me a little of the experience you get when you go to Swallowtails, a lot of people are trying their best to make you feel welcome. In this case you choose a kimono and two different covers, called uchikake, which are super heavy because they are embroidered with metal thread.

The first thing I did was to take off my clothes and put on a white “underwear” robe. I could choose a lot of things – make up style, colours, wig, nails, hairstyle to a point, eyelashes… it is very participative. After make-up, you choose the kimono and the obi – which is the real thing, a long one that they tie around you. For the photo shoot itself, you feel like a rock star for real. They put the uchikake on you, they help you with the poses, and they take a lot of pictures for you to choose which ones you want printed into a book -For the plan I bought, 25,000 ¥ you get five printed pictures in a book and can buy the rest of them on a CD (which was 10,000 extra, but in my case, way worth it, as I got 50 pictures) – one day I would love to do the VIP experience, that’d be cool, but I guess I’ll just settle for entertaining repeating a similar plan with the blue background.

Collage of a person in oiran outfit. The kimono is decorated with pine needles embroidered in gold, and cranes. The person is wearing wig with long red hair.

While I was waiting for the pictures to be done, I decided to have a walk around the area. I saw the Biwako Sosui Kinenkan [琵琶湖疏水記念館 ], the Lake Biwa Canal Museum, from the outside.

Fountain with a crane inbetween the flow

I thought I might check out the zoo, but the price made me decide against it, and after turning a corner I found myself, surprisingly, at Heian Jingu [平安神宮 ].

Bridge leading up to a huge torii gate painted vermillion

I remembered there was a conbini next to the daitorii, so I went there to have some lunch, and then walked back to the Keage area, to have another look at the temple complex and Jishi-in [慈氏院] (probably. There was some construction going on and this might have been a smaller temple).

A Buddhist temple through the wooden gate

After I had my pictures (and still not quite believing it), I decided to walk down to Gion, as the path would take me down the river.

A shot of the Kyoto canal, with weeping willows hanging over it

I ended up at Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社].

Vermillion gate that marks the entrance to a shrine up a flight of stairs

Then I walked into the actual Gion [祇園] area. It was more than crowded, which killed the exploring drive.

Wooden houses in the sun, the wood is dark

And here is when I totally forgot that I wanted to go see Fushimi Inari Taisha by night and went back to the hotel 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。. I guess I was a bit more tired than I had previously thought, because I did not remember that until I was getting on a train the following there.

23rd July 2017: Kyoto: plans long made and plans unexpectedly changed – Maiko Henshin and Gyosha Meguri {Japan, summer 2017}

It was an early and cloudy Kyoto [京都] morning when I woke up to walk to Heian Jingu [平安神宮], a shrine built in 1895 to celebrate that Kyoto had existed for 1100 years already. It was supposed to be an innocent visit, but then I came across something…

Heian shrine - main building and secondary buildings that stand on the sides, symmetrically to the left and right. The buildings are vermillion and white with a green-grey roof, and the ground leading to them is sand.

When I was snooping around the shrine shop I saw something – a stamp rally, shrine version. You had to go to five shrines in Kyoto and get their stamps in order to complete a tablet with the shrine stamps on the sides and centre of the four sacred beast of the town. It is the Kyoto Gosha Meguri ~Shi shin Sou Ou No Miyako~ [京都五社めぐり~四神四神相応の京~], and it unexpectedly trumped all my Kyoto visiting plans. This is how it looks like after the peregrination was completed:

A cardboard card with the drawings of the four mysticals guardians of Kyoto, the white tiger, the black tortoise, the blue dragon, and the red firebird. They are aligned with their cardinal points, east, north, west, south. Between the animals and in the centre, five stamps in red ink.

Afterwards I walked alongside the Kamo river towards Gion [祇園], stopping to get the second stamp at Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社].

The vermillion entrance to a shinto shrine on top of stone stairs. There are rows of lanterns hanging from the gate.

I was to meet D****e at 10.15 as she was coming from Osaka, where she was for a concert. She wanted to tag along to what I was going to do next, basically to… share the pictures with everyone. I had an appointment at 11am to do something that my sister and brother in law had ‘given’ me for my birthday. It is something I had always wanted to do, but the price had put me off – a maiko transformation photo shoot, in this case I chose a place called Maiko-Henshin Studio Shiki because B**** had recommended it.

This was a 98% great experience. 1% fell because I had a coughing fit (yeah, I’ve been neglecting to tell you about my almost-pneumonia, but remember, we’re only talking about the good things here) and the other 1% due to a communication failure with the studio upon reservation. However, that 2% is negligible and it was all in all amazing. D****e had a blast and decided that she needed to share the pictures with everyone she knew who knew me.

In this kind of experience you have a photo shoot in maiko clothes – maiko being young geisha-in-training. I honestly don’t know what got into me for wanting to do this, but the thought crept upon me until I actually asked for the money for this as a birthday present. The whole experience was booked online, and what you get is make-up (and wig), dress-up and photos, both in digital and printed-out form. The only problem that I found is that the photos are “staged”, in the way that they are the same for everyone, whether it is “your angle” or not. The main problem I found was having to take out glasses / contacts in order to do this, because I felt super-blind, which was a problem going down the stairs and choosing the kimono.

The problem was having to negotiate the extra picture I wanted, because that was not part of the pre-packaged photos, and it was apparently difficult to process that I wanted the samurai sword kind photo with the pretty maiko set-up. After the shooting, you get to go outside and play around with your phone and take selfies and stuff.

Person dressed as a maiko, with a long robe in black with pink cherry flowers

The whole thing took about two hours and afterwards I walked D****e to her station and headed off towards the third shrine of the , which I thought at the time would be the furthest-away shrine, Kamigamo Jinja [上賀茂神社], in the outskirts. There was some kind of art / craft fair there by university students, so it was very lively. Unfortunately too, a lot of it was under renovation.

A vermillion torii gate

After this I headed off back to the hotel to retrieve my luggage and undid my way to the station by subway. I had a while at the station, so I took a few fun pictures.

The stairs and wavy roof of Kyoto station

Finally I jumped on a train to backtrack to Himeji [姫路], which is south of Kyoto. I timed the visit to Maiko Henshin so D****e could come after all. I found my Himeji hotel and then went to walk around the castle. Actually, I should have been having some dinner but apparently I’m castle-distracted. I walked around the park and took a lot of pictures (and damn those fish in the pond are authentic sharks).

A Japanese clastle lit up white at night.

22nd July 2017: Kokura → Okayama – castle day {Japan, summer 2017}

I started the day in Kytakyuushu [北九州], heading out to Kokura-jo [小倉城] again, this time by light.

After the castle I went to Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社], next to the castle.

Then I backtracked to the station to head to Okayama [岡山]. Unfortunately the train I wanted to take was full, so I had to wait for an hour and take a slower train. In hindsight (when everything is clearer) I should have stopped at Fukuyama to see that castle, but I was worried I would not have time to see Okayama castle. On the way I was talking to the nice ojii-san who was going to Nara to pick up the car his wife had bought in yahoo auction.

Upon arrival in Okayama and failure to find appropriate coin lockers I headed out to Okayama-jo [岡山城].

As I was good for time I bought a combined ticket for the castle and Korakuen [岡後楽園] a huge Japanese garden which hosts a couple of small shrines – Jizo-do [地蔵堂] and Jigen-do [慈眼堂].

Afterwards I backtracked towards the train station and took a train towards Kyoto [京都], where I climbed up Kyoto Tower [京都タワー], because I had not been up even if I had been to Kyoto before.

Afterwards, I just wanted to get some sleep, so I went to the hotel, had dinner and collapsed in bed.

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)