Kyoto, Japan's Cultural Queen

Trip Start Mar 20, 2009
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Friday, July 24, 2009

Kyoto, "Capital of the West " with a 1.5M population, has been Japan's imperial capital for more than 1,000 years (794 to 1868). Even as the capital, though, most political decisions were made out of Tokyo during the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate - the military political families who ended up giving back the reins to the emperor.

The city is full of ancient buildings (Nijo Castle, Imperial Palace, etc.) and hosts about 2,000 temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto) and is Japan's cultural capital. A notable area of the city is Higashiyama District, meaning "Eastern Mountain District", this district is located between the Kamo River and the Higashiyama mountain range and hosts traditional 15th century buildings. 

The trick here is to select a few good temples and buildings unless you want to spend months visiting them all. Temples reveal an interesting mix of Confucius and Buddhist heritage mixed with Japan Shinto religion (Shinto = 'Way of the Gods'), a collection of indigenous rituals related to rice production. The Shinto religion consists of thousands of deities including the goddess of the sun to whom the imperial family is said to trace its ancestry.

I saw a few Geishas, women of infinite grace and refinement who entertain (singing, dancing, etc.) gentlemen for amounts of about $3,000. There are about 100 of them in Kyoto. 


I wanted to explore Japanese rice wine which has been produced for many years (origin would date from 713 AD) at temples and shrines and plays an important role in many celebrations (a bit like wine for the Catholics). Sake is made when rice is ground, washed and steamed. Some of the steamed rice is used to make koji, the yeast made from rice. After that the koji and the rice malt are mixed and the fermentation starts. The drink is then filtered and bottled. 
Sake can be classified in 4 different categories. Common with foreigners, Kunshu sake is rich, fruity and is served at 8-15 deg C. Common with locals, Soshu sake is simple, light and fresh and served at 5-10 deg. More traditional, Junshu sake is rich, dense and served either at 16 or 50 deg. More expensive and rare, Jukushu sake has a full body, is very rich with a spicy aroma and served at 20 deg. Popular brands include Hakkaisan, Kubota, Dassai, Dewazakura and Kakunko. Japanese drink sake both at home and when out at restaurants and bars, especially in Japan tiny and casual bars called 'izakaya'.







The lotus flower represents fortune in Buddhism. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives the flower its meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment. All very thoughtful.

Pursuing my journey to the south, it took me only 3 hours to cover the 750km from Kyoto to Fukuoka with the 'Shinkansen Bullet train'!
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