Sunday, 19 February 2012

Japan! Take Two: Kyoto - Trains and bamboo groves

On our third day in Kyoto we got a bit tired of the heat of the city so we decided to head out to Arashiyama, a small town just outside of Kyoto. To get there we caught a train from the impressive central Kyoto train station. It was a lot more peaceful and relaxed out in Arashiyama than in the manic central Kyoto sights. After strolling through the main tower areas we headed out to one of the most famous sights in Arashiyama, the bamboo grove at Tenryu-ji temple. The temple was really nice, beautiful gardens and ponds. The bamboo groves themselves were a little disappointing as they didn't quite live up to the lonely planet hype. the grove was very pleasant but it wasn't as big as we expected and it also had a track running through it with cars driving through! In the temple grounds itself we saw some lovely dragonflies and a water snake slithering through a stream.

The impressive main hall of Kyoto central train station showing the overhead walk way in the center of the picture at the top. 

Definitely a bit more peaceful and relaxed out here!

The train bridge from Kyoto crossing the river with mountains in the background.

Tenryu-ji temple.

Koi carp in the ponds at the temple.

Water snake! No idea what kind of snake it is but it was the first snake that Sophie had ever seen so she was happy.

Giant dragonfly!

Overview of the temple grounds

Covered walkway.

Temple grounds

Scary lion head!

The track running through the bamboo grove.

Some of that bamboo was massive!

From Arashiyama we headed back into Kyoto because we had planned to check out Hikone castle, but when the train going in that direction turned up it was absolutely rammed full. So we had a change of plan and headed back up to Arashiyama to take a scenic train up a valley near Arashiyama. We had a bit of a wait for the next train so we strolled around the Arashiyama area and soaked our feet in a hot spring bath at train station. Unfortunately that train was also pretty crowded, but at least we got some good views on the return part of the journey.

One of the trains running between Kyoto and Arashiyama that we traveled back and forth on a few times.

Hot baths in the station, right on the platform!

Coming out from the station hot spring bath

Little shops in Arashiyama.

An old steam engine at Arashiyama station

The train we traveled on for our scenic railway trip.

The train was a little over crowded!

We still managed to get some nice photos from the train.

We had an option to return to Kyoto on this boat but decided not to bother as it was quite expensive.

Ripe rice in the fields.

After our scenic railway trip we headed back into Kyoto train station where we checked out the terrifying overhead moving walkway that went right across the length of the station fifteen stories above the platform! The fear of the walkway got our appetite going so we had a dinner of takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings) in a restaurant at the train station.

In the evening we took our last walk through the the pleasure districts taking in the sights of the back alleys and riverside around Gion. We saw some kind of street performance involving guys wearing nappies shouting at each other- students I think! We also caught another glimpse of a geisha and managed to get a few photos this time.

Genuine Geisha!

A couple relaxing by the river in their kimonos.

A truly bizarre street performance.

A cheery chap advertising Sake, with a rather strange looking mouth!

The alleys were winding, narrow and full of lanterns and hidden little tea shops.

On our last day before leaving we had enough time in the morning to check out the Fushimi-Inari shrine. This shrine was founded in the 6th century to worship Inari, the spirit of rice and sake. Agriculture became less important as Japan industrialised and Inari was re-purposed as a deity of profit and industry and it became traditional for business to donate red torii gates to ensure prosperity. There are now many hundreds of gates lining the four kilometers of paths around the Fushimi-Inari shrine so crowded together they almost form a solid tunnel. We really enjoyed the Fushimi-Inari shrine especially the wildlife and relaxing atmosphere, we saw turtles swimming in the river, cats sleeping among the shrines and carp in the lakes.

The area in front of the Inari temple was being dug up when we arrived so it was a little difficult to find our way through.

The hand washing station just outside the temple.

Fox statues called Kitsue are closely associated with Inari and are usually shown with a key in their mouth, this key is the key to the rice granary. 

A cool looking colorful lizard!

Torii gates galore! 

The gates form an almost solid tunnel.

Me struggling up the hill in the heat with my sweat towel round my neck.

Sleepy cat on to of a load of miniature torii.

Kitsune statue

Stone torii

A mini shrine within the temple.

After spending the morning strolling around the temple we hopped back on the train for one stop up to Kyoto central station. Our last stop in Kyoto was Higashi Honganji temple, a large Buddhist temple just north of the station. The temple is huge, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. One of the more unusual things to see at thing temple was a large coil of rope used in the contruction of the temple. This rope was made from human hair donated by worshipers dedicated to building a new temple.

These pigeons obviously didn't read the sign.

The previously mentioned hair rope, pretty gross really!

The entrance gate to Higashi Honganji temple.

One of the temple buildings.

The moat surrounding the temple.

After our tour of 
Higashi Honganji temple we headed back to the station and got on the Shinkansen back to the bright lights of Tokyo. We spent our last evening in Japan eating yakitori skewers and drinking Sapporo beers at an izakaya near our hostel then flew back to Korea the next day drawing to a close our second Japanese adventure.


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