Back in the city
So you are planning a trip to Japan and you are
going with someone who
has never been before. Are you going to skip Kyoto? Not a
chance. I've been to Kyoto on two other trips before
this - on my first trip to Japan (day 1
and day 2
) and I went
again on my second trip (temples
) where we
had a number of Japan newbies. This trip we tried to hit the high
points for Helen (hasn't been before) as well as make it interesting
for Mark and I who have been before.
Flickr has changed the travel planning
sometimes for the better. The guide books are constrained by the
number of pages they print. They have to recommend destinations
based on the competing attractions, difficult getting there and perhaps
fashion. Flickr doesn't have a page limit so a search of top
ranked photos of Kyoto will turn up what is most photogenic, not what
is easy to get to or deemed a "must see". Of course you can't use
that advice alone because some places have only one shot and have no
depth, while other attractions may be only attractive on a few critical
days. That said, Fushimi-Inari (which is written up the guide
books, but not highlighted) scores well on Flickr and definitely didn't
When I looked at photos of this location, I noticed that the crowds
definitely diminish the visual appeal. Therefore, we made this
first stop of the day, and an early arrival at that (sorry
Mark!). We were rewarded for our efforts - being winter, mid week
and before 9am, we basically had the place to ourselves.
You can get so caught up the "Torii Tunnel" that you forget this
actually a working shrine where real families go to meet there
needs. Unlike most temples, here the practice is to purchase a
small Torii and write your name on the right side, the date on the left
and leave it at a shrine.
In my mind, Fushimi-Inari is one of the top destinations in Kyoto and
knowing what I know now, I might have gone to it sooner.
Mark had been to Kiyomizu-dera before and
it from personal experience. The view of the Pagoda above fall
colours with a sunset or moon behind it is an iconic image of
Kyoto. Given those two recommendations, how could we not go?
The walk up from the closest train station is a bit long. At
least half of the walk is up tourist dominated streets thick with shops
beckoning you in. When you get to the top of the street you find a
set of stairs and find yourself in the quiet of the temple. This
is one of the top destinations so even on a
morning in winter, expect lots of company. The temple is laid
back (not a lot of rules) and you can dwell to take photos.
My favorite part of this temple is the Jishu-jinja shrine - a shrine
for luck in love and relationships. There are two stones set in
ground and your job is to walk from one stone to the other with your
eyes closed. I'm not really sure what it tells you - success at
the traverse is a good sign, but if you had to have a friend help you
walk the distance, perhaps it's not so good? Not surprisingly, it
was almost all women doing the inter-rock walk.
We headed back to Ryokan to have lunch (we found a curry shop), and
then get ourselves ready for the afternoon.
Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion)
If there was a list of iconic sights in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji is probably
number one. This place can handle amazing crowds, mostly because
you can see what you came for in 5 minutes. The walk through the
gardens behind the temple are nice, but this really is a one trick
destination. That said, you really can't say you've been to Kyoto
if you haven't seen Kinkaku-ji.
Ryoan-ji was a disappointment. I've been
before and I've
found it a sombre place for reflection and consideration. In the
fall or spring, there is foliage in display behind the garden.
This trip, the temple was under construction. The viewing
you normally sit on was under repair and new elevated floor was erected
above existing floor. This new floor extended much further
forward which changed the perspective. The garden enclosing wall
wrapped in scaffolding and the stone surround was emptied. Add
construction noise and this is hardly the experience I remember.
I was quite surprised they were still charging full price for
admission, but they had no shortage of guests.
This being the destination of day we took our time walking around the
Being winter, the maples and cherry trees are
the evergreens still provide volume to the canopy. The moss looks
tired and the pond was much lower than it would be after a moist
spring. Just as I was running out of ideas, I saw a small plum
blossom bush coming to flower. Thank you gardener!
A Day Not Looking at Temples
There was a running argument going on in the
latter half of the trip -
are you a tourist or a traveler? Helen and Mark quickly proved
themselves to be travelers (really, there was no question), but I was
squarely a tourist. One of the strikes against me was my interest
in tourist destinations - basically any place with an admission
fee. Helen and Mark figured they would show me how "travelers" do
Step number one - spend some time
live in a small apartment and since I frequent tourist destinations, I
often see the junky end of the tourist junk scale. Shopping
allows you to get deeper into the culture - see what is popular, and
perhaps pick up something useful that you can't get at home, but will
remind you of your trip. For instance, Helen and Mark found
an incense shop that they both purchased burners and incense
from. I took pictures of smoke. (It's worth pointing out -
don't take pictures in shops. Almost no shop appreciates
Step number two - eat well. In the town you live in, you
probably have a list of favorite places to go, and you know places that
aren't worth visiting. It's the same in any city. The best
places you need to research, but the reward can be fantastic.
Helen found a tempura place in Gion that has the worlds best tempura,
hands down, stop trying. It was so good I would have been happy
never eating tempura again after that meal. Small place you
would walk by except for the lineup, but it's worth the effort and
there isn't an admission charge. Funny enough, we caught the
Japanese couple seated next to us taking pictures of their food too.
This wasn't really my plan when I looked into
Kyoto, it just sort of
happened. Memoirs of a Geisha rocketed the Geisha into the
limelight in the early nineties and I suspect it has even influenced
Kyoto. Unlike other trips, we found "dress up as a Geisha" as a
tourist activity, and found fake Geisha walking about. How can
you tell? When I saw Maiko perforce at the theatre in Gion, I was
struck by how elegantly they moved. That was confirmed years
later when a Maiko visited a ryokan I was staying at. The women
you see dressed up during the day are still adjusting to their
Kyoto is a favorite town of mine - I really would consider living here
if it made any sense. Our two days in Kyoto went by way to
fast, but we had commitments to be in Mt.
so we got a move on.
Tags: Japan(24), torii(8), lantern(7), costume(3), restaurant(2), pagoda(2)
People: Helen(2), John(1), Mark(1)
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > A Fourth Trip to Japan > Kyoto
From: John Harvey Photo > A Fourth Trip to Japan > Kyoto
I'm really amazed by your travel blog!!!
I'm just starting to take photos using my new DSLR camera and your pics are truly inspiring!
Saturday, April 11th, 2009 at 09:21:51
Wow... a definite 'traveller' rather than 'tourist' I was about to leave Kansai without seeing Kyoto. But after seeing your pics I'm going to cough up for the train and submit to the Sunday crowds. The tunnel shots are divine. Best blog I've seen this week! Cheers
Saturday, September 5th, 2009 at 18:19:18
i really like you're photography and i like the make up of a geisha. good job
Friday, January 21st, 2011 at 10:00:29
Last Modified Monday, September 7th, 2009 at 22:40:45 Edit
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