Culture rich Kyoto

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
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Trip End Mar 16, 2009


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Where I stayed

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Monday, May 5, 2008

IMH: Kyoto is well known as centre for traditional Japanese culture and boasts 17 Unesco World Heritage sites and more than 1600 Buddhist temples. Even though it is classified as a city it was far less intimidating that Tokyo or some of the other cities we have visited and had a refreshing lack of high-rise buildings. Kyoto is centred along two small rivers that converge close to the city centre and many of the streets are lined with what you would imagine typical Japan to look like - perfectly manicured gardens and small neat homes with white screen doors and wooden panels. For this reason we had chosen to spend a full 4 days in the city, but soon wished we had more time to spend here and in the surrounding areas.
 
Our first stop of course was a visit to some of the world famous temples along Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane). Kiyomizu-dera, in our opinion the most spectacular (and unfortunately most crowded) temple was first built in 798 and had to be reconstructed many times since due to warfare and fires. I don't think I have been in many buildings, except maybe the pyramids, which were build that long ago. The main hall is a veranda supported by hundreds of pillars. It is truly spectacular and has also been denoted as a world heritage site.
 
Teapot lane is lined with shops selling Kyoto handicrafts, local snacks (of which our favourite is the custard filled bun) and souvenirs. We were also lucky to see some Geisha strolling along these streets of Gion.
 
The following day we revisited the highlights we only glanced at the previous day in the hope that it would be less crowded. We were lucky and Ryan got some great photo opportunities despite the rain. The afternoon we explored the never-ending Torii tunnels at Fushimi-Inari, a short train ride outside of Kyoto city centre.
 
Sushi was our standard meal for diner in Kyoto. We enjoyed the most delicious and fresh sushi and sashimi in with a bottle of wine from the supermarket downstairs from our hotel. A wonderful, affordable and satisfying meal.
 
We dedicated a splendid sunshine day to Nara, Japan's first real capital with eight recognised world heritage sites, which is second only to Kyoto as repository of Japan's cultural legacy. Nara is a 45minute train ride from Kyoto. One of my highlights of Japan with Kofuku-Ji with two pagodas of 3 and 5 stories high respectively and the Nara Park with wonderful local food and live Deer (at first I thought they were statues or fake until one sneezed) who enjoy the attention and Deer Biscuits fed to them by tourists - they are so tame that you can touch them and their horns which is a very funny experience. The highlight of Nara is Todai-Ji, a temple with an enormous bronze Buddha and wonderfully restored wooden carvings of Nio guardians at the entrance. We visited many more shrines and temples on a walking tour and would love to re-visit this spectacular town.
 
Another day was dedicated to Arishiyama, 30 minute train ride from Kyoto City centre, where there were very few people and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of walking through the suburbs and appreciating the locals homes and their splendidly gardens, before going through the Bamboo Groove (also the Bamboo forest where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed) and another brilliant temple noted as a World Heritage Site mainly due to the beautiful garden and pond surrounding the temple.
 
I have to make a note here on how the Japanese enjoyed Ryan - the elders were more discreet, but the younger children often pointed and stared at him in awe. They clearly loved his length and his shaven head, which is foreign in Japan, and he often joked with them which they enjoyed. He truly stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
 
We met a lovely Japanese girl on our Ha Long boat trip in Hanoi, Vietnam named Hatsumi. She felt her English was not good enough to communicate, but we loved chatting with her and in fact her English was very good, especially with some practise. As she and her boyfriend both live in Kyoto we met them for dinner and were treated to a introduction to Japanese cuisine. We were introduced to Kyoto and Osaka made Sake, which we were both reluctant to try, but it was absolutely delicious. The food included local roasted beans, the most delicious grilled salmon we've ever had, amongst other amazing dishes. Thanks you so much guys for a wonderful evening and we look forward to returning the favour when you're in South Africa!
 
On the last day we explored the Nishiki Market with weird and wonderful foods that go into Kyoto cuisine. The afternoon Ryan chose to visit the Manga museum, which was unfortunately closed for the afternoon. Manga (comics in our understanding) is an amazing culture in Japan where comics or stories are written for children, teenagers, adults and we were shocked to see that some of the Manga sold at train stations are porn Manga, but according to statistics does not form the majority of Manga produced and sold (phew!).
 
I in turn attended a Geisha Dance performance. Geisha is known as woman of exquisite grace and refinement behind closed doors of the excusive teahouses and restaurants that dot the backstreets of Kyoto. Knowledgeable sources estimate that there are perhaps 80 'maiko' (trainee Geisha) and just 100 Geisha in Kyoto. Even though the singing and communication was in Japanese, the costumes, acting and dancing was amazing and after reading the single reference I could recall on Geisha, Memoirs of a Geisha did serve well.
 
In summary - one and all of you will love the ambiance and visual pleasure that is Kyoto! 
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