Monday, December 8, 2008

Japan Day 3

The short summary of our only complete day in Kyoto is really quite short: we spent about 7 hours walking from our Ryokan to the Kiyomizu-dera temple (really not very far). But we saw a staggering amount of cool stuff on the way (and the batteries in our camera ran out; most annoying).

I think this was the street we were staying on:

We started out by heading east, past a small-ish shrine:

We were aiming for a rather grander shrine though, the Yasaka shrine:

To give a flavour of the Kyoto experience, this is the view in the opposite direction:

Quite a contrast!

The Yasaka shringe is pretty large, and has something of the feel of a market place about it, with different shrines to different Kami, or spirits -- apparently there are different shrines to go to before exams, driving tests, while pregnant, while trying to get pregnant, ...

On the way out of the temple there was this tree with heaps of little pieces of paper tied to it.

If I remember right, this is part of some good luck ritual: you write a wish on a piece of paper, make an offering and tie the paper to a tree.

Then we walked past a park that was a "Designated Refuge Area", a reminder that Japan is probably even more prone than New Zealand to natural disasters:

After leaving the shrine, we walked through some extremely cute little roads, wending our way uphill gently.

There was a cool figure on one of the doorways:

And a small army of yellow-hatted school-children:

We also spotted our first geishas of the trip:

Then we found some shops which we pottered around for a while, before a nice relaxing green tea ice cream (if you haven't realized, green tea is everywhere in Japan).

Next photogenic stop was the Ryozen Kannon, a war memorial with a quite enormous Bodhisattva sat on it.

I don't remember where the prayer wheels were, I think they were outside the Kannon. I don't remember where this was either:

(but it probably wasn't near a temple). We had a nice bowl of soba for lunch and set off up the "three year slope" (Sannenzaka) and "three year slope" (Ninenzaka), occasionally stopping to look in shops along the way.

The names come from superstitions about suffering bad luck if you slip on the steps -- so we trod carefully!

We were starting to get closer to the goal of our walk, Kiyomizu-dera, and the streets were starting to get pretty seriously busy.

As much as we could decipher some posters, it seemed to be the first day of some Autumn festival, which might have explained the busyness. Or maybe it's always like this.

It was around this point we noticed that our camera was running out of battery, which was a shame as this temple was one of the real highlights of the trip.

The temple complex is on a hill that affords views across the city.

It also includes a large shrine, the Jishu Shrine, which we pottered about for a while (and didn't take any photos of).

The centre piece is the wooden main hall (built without any nails, if I remember right), with a veranda that looks over the gully that contains the waterfall that gives the complex its name ("kiyomizu" meaning "clear water").

This last shot is the classic view of the temple, especially with the autumn colours of the leaves starting to show, and was the last photo the camera took before the battery gave up. I'm glad it lasted for this one :)

After this we walked back down the hill to our Ryokan, in time for the tour of their tea house that they run for tourists a couple of times a week. The tea ceremony has been an unfeasibly big deal in Japan for hundreds and hundreds of years. This was a clearly very touristy version, but was still pretty interesting. The tea house was in the courtyard garden of the Ryokan, which was pretty Japanese in some ways: very green and pretty, but not really very natural in any real sense.

Once in the tea house (which involves going through a very small door that forces all guests to arrive on their knees), the tea master brewed up green tea on a small stove set into the floor and distributed it to the guests (us).

The tea was unusual, made with the powdered leaves so that it was quite thick. I still didn't really like it (it was tea, after all), but managed to drink it without committing any great faux pas.

After this we went back to our room for dinner, which was sukiyaki, which was a hotpot-style dish with beef, various vegetables, about a bottle of soy sauce and a startling amount of sugar all cooked up in front of us. It was so delicious, we quite forgot to take any photos of it.

We were a bit less zombified than the night before, so we headed out to explore the Kyoto nightlife.

We headed to Pontocho, a narrow little street on a sand bar on the river that seems to consist entirely of bars and restaurants.

We ran into some American (I think, can't really remember) tourists who asked us to take their photos, and we got them to return the favour.

We saw a geisha (or at least meiko) presumably heading to some client or other.

(she was much less smiley than the geishas we saw earlier).

We walked up and down the road and summoned up the courage to head into a bar for a cocktail, which was not as scary as we feared it might be, but was a little odd because we were the only people there. We presumed we were too early for the main rush (it was 11pm or so, I think) but didn't have any real idea... anyway, after our one cocktail we walked back to the Ryokan and fell asleep, only slightly perturbed by this sign outside a bar:

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