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 (consist of thousands of gods and spirits) which is historically linked to the imperial family.

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


I further explored Japanese rice wine which has been produced for many years (origin would date from 713AD) at temples and shrines and plays an important role in many celebrations - a bit like wine for the catholic. Sake is made of fermented rice, koji (often translated as rice malt or yeast made from rice) and water. 

Here is an explanation from Kaoru Izuha, famous Tokyo's sake sommelier (excerpts from an interview): 'Explained simply, sake is made when rice is ground, washed and steamed. Then some of the steamed rice will be used to make koji, the yeast derived from rice. After that the koji and the remaining steamed rice and water are mixed and then allowed to ferment. More rice, koji and water is added to the mixture thereafter, at which point the drink is filtered and bottled. 

Sake can be categorized in four different groups and each group has its own best temperature.  Kunshu sake is rich, with a fruity aroma and flavour and is often popular with foreign visitors. It is typically served at between 8 and 15 degrees Celsius. Soshu sake is simple, light and fresh; it’s the most common type of sake in Japan and is served at 5-10 degrees. Junshu sake is a traditional type of sake that’s rich and dense; it’s served at 15-18 degrees or 40-55 degrees. Jukushu sake is the most expensive type and is served infrequently; it’s full-bodied and very rich with a spicy aroma, and is served at 15-25 degrees. Popular brands Hakkaisan, Kubota, Dassai, Dewazakura and Kakunko. 

Japanese people drink sake both at home and when out at restaurants and bars. Sake is particularly associated with a casual style of bar 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 separating Kyoto to Fukuoka thanks to the Shinkansen Bullet train!
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