Archive for the ‘kyoto’ Tag

Kyoto Gion: Feed the tourists what they want to see



tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and music

tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and music

Random Observation/Comment #75: Most tourists are not frugal.  They make excuses for spending money like, “It’s okay, I’m on vacation.”  Tourist attraction companies know this all too well.  They set their prices so it’s low enough that someone wouldn’t think that it’s too ridiculously expensive, but high enough for the tourist to shake their head in shame feeling like they’ve somehow been shafted for the price.  I must admit that it’s a great business and it will always profit.


Traveling from Ojika to Kyoto was a 10 hour struggle.  The transfers and schedule timing made my head spin.  Luckily for us, these travel arrangements were all under the capable (soft, silky-smooth, and disease-free) hands of Yuka.  I commend her for a job well done (as opposed to medium-rare).  She was our map, compass, and commentary throughout the entire trip, and I am very grateful for her assistance.

We arrived at Kyoto late in the afternoon – finally, a place I recognize and can actually talk about.  I was itching to start conversations earlier in the trip about Japanese history or my old experiences there, but everywhere I went was completely new to me.  Every moment seared its first impression in my mind and left me extremely happy to be alive and on my own – all the more happy to take more pictures and share the stories with my friends and family (and, evidently, the entire Internet).

Gion – I really wanted to see geisha in the old style streets walking politely with their layers of makeup and cute little wooden slippers.  I was almost tempted to hire one so I could take pictures with them and have them pour tea and dance for me or something.   Luckily, we saw a few in the streets holding the arms of businessmen who had somehow heard my thoughts and taken my ideas.  It probably took them twice as long to get to where they wanted to go because people would keep on stopping and talking to them about the geisha.  I guess this is why a 12x zoom comes in handy from an SLR.  That’s straight creepster status – great job taking those crystal clear pictures like a stalker or a private detective spying on unfaithful husbands.  By the way, these girls walk very briskly with their platform wooden clogging shoes.  The kimono restricts a lot of their thigh angle movement so they need to shuffle like Marvin the Martian from Bugs Bunny ages ago (Gosh, I miss RoadRunner and that crazy Coyote – Saturday morning memories).

Everyone from the tour except Yuka attended an hour performance focused on old Japanese traditions and culture.  I hadn’t seen so many gai-jin in one place for a long time.  Everyone had a camera and they all looked so weird (what’s wrong with their eyes?).  I had been around so many Japanese people, that I felt awkward fully understanding what they said and seeing them do all the obnoxious things with the camera that I do subconsciously.  To me, the start of the performance was observing the audience.  They looked so pasty.

The performance was split into five sections.  The first one was a traditional tea ceremony where an old lady makes really concentrated green tea the old fashion way.  It would have been funny to see her take out a supermarket tea-bag and add hot water very gracefully (ooo, ahh… *snaps pictures).  Instead, she carefully followed all the steps like a skilled barista, as the girls on stage played gorgeous music with their fingertips.  The music also accompanied a flower arranging ceremony, as well (they weren’t that good – I would have made a masterpiece with those two flowers).  Other performances included a comedy spoken in a deep old-Japanese style voice about servants drinking all of their master’s sake while tied up.  Another was a 3-ft puppet controlled by three guys.  It sung and danced to an opera about a prince looking for love, or something like that.

It didn’t really matter what they did in this performance.  To me, the very fact that they get all these tour buses paying $30 per person for an hour show means that they’re just showing the people what they want to see.  It was quite good, but I think that crowd would have been impressed with anything.  Dress up like a samurai and stomp around in circles – great.  I think I had unnecessarily high expectations.  Maybe I was expecting some fireworks or a resurrected dragon.

After the show, we had dinner at a conveyor belt sushi place.  As you can see from the picture below, I left with my hand on my stomach and a smile on my face – completely satisfied with a lovely night.  26 plates was a record for me.  I miss that sushi (especially at $1.25 per plate for all plates).


~See Lemons Injected with Japanese Culture


so good.

so good.

Kyoto again: Kiyomizu Temple is a must-see

Kiyomizudera is beautiful

Kiyomizudera is beautiful

Random Observation/Comment #34: Pachinko and slot places are freakin’ loud. I think the objective of the gambling machine is to deafen the user and then mesmerize them with random videogame screenshots as they feed in more cash.

People are way too enthusiastic and awake at 7AM on a Saturday morning. All the old people have already started their routine walks, and all the tour guides have pushed it upon the tourists to get the most out of their vacation by checking off their temple sight-seeing locations. Only the businessmen in suits and college students looked a little dreary at their long day ahead. And where did I fit in? I was hung-over from the night before, stumbling with 3 hours of sleep, and led by my delusional view of the world. I shuffled with the morning crowd as a zombie – I guess I wasn’t that different.

As I mentioned before, Kyoto is filled with culture. There are dozens of temples and shrines sprinkled throughout the culture areas, but I consider only a handful of major attractions. I think you can experience most of this in 5 days. Each day would be filled with miles upon miles of pebbled paths and streets filled with small houses, but you would absorb as much culture as you can endure. I suggest taking breaks to some city areas instead of trying to spend 5 consecutive days experiencing this beast. There’s too much walking and all the white folks would probably get burnt after the first day out in the sun. Now I see why there are so many umbrellas even though there’s not a cloud in the sky.

This walk was centered on Kiyomizudera, which was highly suggested by every person I asked about Kyoto sightseeing for the past three months. The hype was built up, and for some reason I expected a bit of disappointment compared to my imagination. From the postcard pictures and website images, I built the image of a glowing dragon made of leaves, encircling an enormous temple on the overhang of a cliff. Its scales would be fluttering in the cool breeze and shimmering with the reflections of fiery desire for attention. This may sound difficult to compare, or even top, without the changing leave colors from the autumn foliage, but trust me when I say that the view was spectacular.

I didn’t imagine the layers of detail with every type of tree surrounding the temple. The design of the two temples facing each other (and the rest of the country side) was so well anticipated for the view of peace, beauty, and a hint of insignificance. I stood there motionless, staring across to see Kyoto tower in the distance. My arm rested on the ledge with my head pouched across my palm, but my soul was gliding across the tree tops and seeing this view from all angles. The temple was CAD-ed into my brain and I marveled at this creation that would act as my memory and inspiration for years to come. Please judge it for yourself.

I walked from Kawaramachi station to reach Kiyomizudera, but visited many different temples and shrines before reaching this treasure. Although Kiyomizudera cannot be topped in beauty in my eyes, I would not have wanted to go there without seeing the other temples. I felt that this portion of Kyoto was geared towards the much larger temples with cemeteries and active prayers. To me, it seemed more of a place of grief than wishful prayers. The fewer number of shrines and monotonous deep-toned hymns of the temple monks induced different emotions. It sounded like respect and dedication. The graves stretched across the mountainside like rice fields. I refrained from taking too many pictures, but left with a bit of happiness for being alive, healthy, and in good company.

I got extremely lost walking towards Kiyomizudera because I thought it was going to be less crowded (at least I wasn’t the only one lost). The key is to follow the crowd of touristy looking people with maps and khaki shorts – I laugh. You’ll see a lot of tourist shops with cheap merchandise perfect for gifts to your friends, family, and loved ones back home. The soy donuts and ice cream are recommended. Hint: Dip the donut into the ice cream for a delicious blend. It reminds me of my mom’s famous French fries and ice cream concoction.

The best part about Kyoto is the random men and women dressed in traditional kimono outfits. They walk side-by-side with a beautiful umbrella held by the woman. I have no idea why they dress up, but it gives a much desired texture to my pictures.

The Kiyomizudera entrance fee is 300 yen, but I think people would pay much more for the pictures and gorgeous view. There’s a small area of charm shops and little shrines on the left after walking past the first temple. This is a great place to buy those lucky charms because they’ve been the cheapest I’ve seen out of all the temples I’ve visited in Kyoto and Nara. Some of them are only 300 yen, and they are very pretty. Here, you’ll also find a few interesting rituals, like the Love stone (walking from one stone to another to find love), and also the patting of the bronze buddah for your wishes to be answered.

Continue walking towards the main attraction and be sure to take the beautiful picture with the pagoda in the distance and the fountain below. Circle around and stand at the temple across from you to take the famous picture embodied in most postcards. I stood there for a good 10 minutes just soaking like a sponge (I was also drenched in my clothes, so maybe that’s why I felt like a damp towel). Some people walk down the stairs, but I continued the scenic view towards the distant pagoda. There are a few great shots across this path with the full view of all the temples and pagodas.

The fountain at the bottom level is supposed to be some sort of holy water. You wait in line and grab one of those metal ladles bombarded by UV light cleansing. Proceed to fill the cup with water and drink. I did it because everyone else was, but it didn’t taste too holy. Maybe it tasted extra holy, but it didn’t really quench my thirst or give me any type of enlightenment. It was an experience, none-the-less, and I’m glad I performed another interesting ritual.

Explore some side streets and take a look at a few other shrines. It took me approximately 5 hours to walk the little section, but I stopped often and walked at a turtle’s pace (the whole while complaining to myself under my breath). There is much more to see of Kyoto near Kingakuji, but I think it will have to wait for my tour. I left the beautiful city, but continued my next journey at 5PM. It’s a tale of excitement and intensity that deserves its own separate journal entry.

~See Lemons Immersed in Culture

Kyoto: I am a man of perfect simplicity

Heian Jingu picture with no one on the field

Random Observation/Comment #28: Refrain from falling asleep on the train and missing your stop. Good thing it wasn’t close to midnight or else I’d have the third capsule hotel experience earlier than expected.

Minoh is beautiful, but it does not mix culture with nature as Kyoto has accomplished so elegantly. As with all of my weekends, I let the morning decide which path to take: Should I do Nara or Kyoto? I took into account all of the variables that planned my weekend, like an overnight stay, the weather for walking, time efficiency, and (of course) the shoes I was wearing. Once again, let’s try to stuff as much sight-seeing into my trip as possible while taking every emotion felt during these moments back within my memory (card). My plans always start out vague, and then it somehow works out when I follow the people with expensive looking cameras. It has worked very well so far – these tourists have led me to some of the most beautiful secret landscapes. The scenery was not camera shy, and I was not reluctant to take every perspective that screamed creativity. Taking 450 pictures in 5 hours is a very productive day. The only reason I didn’t stay overnight was because I had run low on memory and battery.

The Kyoto map and Guide obtained from the train station is sufficient for wandering. Always keep in mind that one block on the map has the equivalent distance of 2 or 3 avenues in the city (I learned this the hard way). Luckily, every other block there was something unique to see. If it wasn’t another shrine or temple, there were zoos, parks, and riverbeds to follow. If you don’t mind walking, I suggest you follow the path that I walked.

Saturday is a work day, so I woke up early (7:15AM) to morning human traffic congestion. A Hankyu line ticket from Umeda to Kawaramachi is only 280 yen, so I would suggest this route over the JR line. Take the express train on Track 1 and you can just fall asleep on that slightly thinner looking LIRR train. When you get to Kawaramachi station, ask for a map and then go out exit 9. Make a left and head towards the Kawaramachi-dori main road intersection. If you take a look at the back of the sight-seeing map, you can see where to take the bus to your desired temple location. I chose bus 17 to Ginkakuji at stop 8 of the Shijo Kawaramchi bus area. The ride is 220 yen and takes about 15 minutes.

Since it was my first time anywhere in Kyoto, I looked around the bus for couples (old and young) with umbrellas to pick out the fellow sight-see (-ers?) –ing people. I thought that old people would take the shortest path because they have replacement hips or bad knees, but instead, these senior citizens were really power-walking their way around. It was the romantic younger couples that walked slowly and decided to abandon the long paths by mid-day. Without someone holding my hand or making casual conversation, I decided to follow the old people.

The first temple was Ginkakuji which is just a straight line walk following the river and then further passed the tourist shops. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but the beauty of the well groomed sand and bamboo paths made me glad I wasn’t frugal. The main temple was under renovation, but the short path up the mountain side still has a breath-taking view. Be sure to take notice of how all the different shades of green create this glowing aura around every object. It’s as if every green piece of artwork contrasts and at the same time compliments all of the other pieces.

Next, I headed back towards the fork in the road and walked South down the Path of Philosophy. It’s quite the long walk and there are many side paths to other shrines and temples (Honen-in Temple, Anrakuji Temple, Reikanji Temple, etc), but I would suggest skipping some of these because they tend to repeat. I only made the left up the intersecting paths if it looked like the temple was not a far walk away from the entrance. I suggest taking some chances and go exploring around this area.

Once you reach the end of the Philosopher’s path, make a right and then a left at the main road. Down this path are a few more shrines and temples, but I highly suggest Nanzen-ji and Suirokaku. These temples are gi-normous, but I was lucky enough to get some pictures without a hoard of people standing in the way. If you’re wearing the right footwear, try walking East in one of the beaten paths to The Burial Site of Niijima Jo. I didn’t reach there after 20 minutes of walking so I turned around (to save my Diesel shoes from any more pain).

By this time, I had already walked from 10AM to 3PM, and I was ready to head back to Osaka. My pace had slowed and I think I had about one more temple left in me. Walking West towards Kawaramachi station seemed like a good idea, so I kept this route while passing by the Kyoto Zoo and following the river area. Walking about 15 minutes lead me to this giant red shrine symbol that was built across a 4 lane street with each support about the size of a kiosk. You can’t miss it (if you do, you’re not observant enough – I would fear for your life while crossing streets). If you follow the road with this large red symbol, you’ll reach Heian-Jingu. This shrine was my favorite purely because of its large open space and simplicity. The gray sea of small pebbles looked like perfect concrete. This is the second place I threw in money to make a wish.

I was unfamiliar with the custom until I had seen a few people perform it. The shrines have these open wooden boxes that looks like a barbeque with its little grill stripes. First you throw in 100 yen into this box, and then you ring the large rope that has a bell attached to it (or it’s a mallet that you swing to hit a bell structure) three times. After you’ve made the offering and called upon the spirits, you clap your hands twice. With your palms together and fingertips to your forehead, make your wish. If you still need more luck, you can buy these slips of paper with incantations or poems or whatever written on them, and you tie them onto the wishing trees. These are just more random superstitions for luck on exams or good health for close friends and family. It’s nice making wishes for someone besides yourself.

Another confusing tradition at these shrines is the hand and face washing at the pools of water. You’re supposed to use these long wooden ladles and wash your left and right hands (similar to the routine right before meals – except you are able to speak before eating bread). Some people go as far as drinking this water, but to me it’s even pushing it for washing hands. It looks like a cesspool of germs and mosquito larvae, even if it is very cold water and looks so pure and clear, and tastes delicious after a long day of walking (what? I was tempted and thristy).

I spent the last two hours walking around unfamiliar streets towards the Kamogawa River and then taking off my shoes and wading in the water. There were families catching some fish and tadpoles, and they all gave me a funny look when I walked in with my backpack and terribly placed tan lines. The sun’s rays were very intense, but there was a nice breeze so my body was confused – no complaints. I was warned that August will be the worst for heat, and Kyoto is most beautiful in autumn when the foliage matches the roofs of the temples.

There are a lot of gardens throughout the walk that required 300 or 400 yen to enter. I only paid for one of these, and it was actually well worth the peace and quiet (since everyone in Japan is also cheap). If you want to take the frugal path, there are plenty of free and beautiful places to see.

I only walked a very small portion of Kyoto and I was already dead tired. It would take weeks to see all of the shrines, but I feel like this would get repetitive. I’ve asked around, and it has been suggested to go to the major temples: Ginkakuji, Kiyoizudera, and Kinkakuji. These are all in separate sides of the city so you can build your travel days around these temples. Good luck and happy travels =).

~See Lemons Shrining/Templing it up