Thursday, 1 December 2011

Japan Take Two: Kyoto, stepping into history.

So we stepped off the bullet train and into history as we arrived at the ancient capital of Japan and probably it's most beautiful city, Kyoto. Our train journey there wasn't quite as exciting and picturesque as we'd hoped and we didn't manage to catch any glimpses of Mt Fuji out of the window. We puzzled our way through the Kyoto bus system and eventually managed to make our way up to our hostel, which was much bigger and more modern than our Tokyo digs. After eating a quick dinner we decided to take a short walk around Gion, the old pleasure district close to where we were staying. It was really beautiful, lots of narrow little alleys and tea houses all lit with beautiful paper and silk lanterns.

Paper lanterns

There's no escaping from Korean food, even in other countries! The exciting thing about this is it's a sign in something other than English that we could read- it says Chingu: friend

Narrow alleys filled with bikes and lanterns

We didn't get chance to do too much exploring of Gion that evening, we'd had a long day and it was getting late so after a brief explore we decided to call it a day and go to bed.

The next day we slept a bit later than we'd planned and got out of the hostel just in time to miss a bus, so we decided to walk down to Southern Higashiyama. That was a BIG mistake! It was already getting very hot, and it was further that I thought to walk, so we were tired hot and sweaty by the time we arrived over an hour later, and even worse it was midday and even hotter by then! But along the way we had seen a real live geisha hurrying out of the sun under her ornate parasol. We also stumbled across a small temple which was holding a special event of remembrance for the dead that day. It would normally have been a fairly unremarkable temple but because of the special event it was really interesting. There were lots of people there including a friendly woman who explained to us what was going on and offered us cool drinks which we gratefully accepted! The woman explained to us that she was here to remember her father and showed us some paintings which are not normally on display but only brought out once a year. The paintings on display were some rather gruesome depictions of Buddhist hell (warning this pictures are not for the easily disturbed!).


Not sure what's going on here but it doesn't look like much fun!

Weird wooden neck locks

Got your nose! Ouch!

People desperate for a drink but unable to drink because the water is on fire!

Weighing the soul or something?

This scene showed in graphic detail the stages of decomposition of a human body.

Not looking very healthy, but not too bad.

Eww, looking seriously moldy now.

Some mice, or beetles? getting in on the act

Animals joining the feast

Almost all gone now

And finally reduced to a pile of scattered bones, the fate that awaits us all one day.

And here you can see an overview of the whole scene.

People praying at the temple.

It was so hot when we finally arrived at the higashiyama temple walk that we very nearly gave up after the first temple. It was a steep climb up to the temple and there was almost no shade, we were struggling just to walk! But somehow there were Japanese guys pulling pedicabs up this hill without too much trouble. By the time we we in sight of the first temple we were about ready to give up and go home. But luckily we spotted a little cafe selling ice cream, so escaped the oppressive heat and sat in there for 20 minutes or so while we recovered.
Making it look easy!

Some Japanese ladies showing the correct way to deal with the heat.

The first temple we visited was Kiyomizu-dera first built in 798 but rebuilt in 1633, it is associated with the hosso school of Buddhism. One of the most interesting things at the first temple was a secret surprise in the pitch dark basement underneath the temple, the experience is supposed to simulate entering the womb. It was refreshingly cool in the basement/womb although quite a disconcerting change from the bright sunlight outside. The rest of the temple was very picturesque. and had lots of wooden balconies overlooking a valley and waterfall. The waterfall at the temple is supposed to have health giving properties and there were cups on long stick provided so that you could sip the health giving waters. One of the most popular parts of the temple are the pair of rocks at the temple shrine. Apparently if you are able to walk between these two rocks with your eyes closed you will be lucky in love. The rocks are about 18 meters apart and me and Sophie both failed horribly at walking between then, not sure what that says about our future! We then drank water from a waterfall which is supposed to have special health giving properties.

Steps up the the entrance of  Kiyomizu-dera.

The main precinct of  Kiyomizu-dera.

More of the temple precinct

Prayer bells of some kind I guess.

a pagoda within the temple

One of Sophie's minions- she was claiming to have control of the cicadas that occupied the trees around the temple. One did fly from the tree we were standing near and tried to land on a nearby woman scaring the life out of her, so she may have had a point.

One of the two love rocks that we so spectacularly failed to walk between!

We just used one of the communal ladles, I suppose they more likely to give you a disease than cure anything but hey, we were on a budget!

The communal ladles.

Some other tourists collecting their healing water.

Looking down on the healing water spring.

Another unusual attraction in the temple was a place where you could write your troubles on rice paper and then dissolve them away

Even after the paper had dissolved the outlines of the ink remained, I guess it's not that easy to get rid of all your troubles!

Little boards with prayers on

.Just below the kiyomizu-dera temple there are loads of cafes and souvenir shops where we picked up some fans, and some little towels that you can use to mop the sweat from your brow. Better equipped to deal with the heat we took a walk through some or the streets and alleys in the Higashiyama area. These streets are filled with pretty houses, tea shops and souvenir stalls and are really nice to stroll though but most of the shops were very expensive so we resisted buying anything.

Much needed fans!

Someone with more suitable attire than ours.

Pretty little street.

Sophie with a giant Totorro!

Not a real geisha but a tourist dressed up, much easier to photograph than the real thing!

We then walked through Maruyama-koen park and visited Yasaka-jinja shrine. We decided to skip the last part of the walk as we were getting hungry and were quite close to our hostel. We ate dinner at a little izakaya (Japanese pub) nearby the hostel, the food was nothing special but they played the entire Beatles first album which made Sophie happy.

Yasaka-jinja shrine


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