Photo of the week
Sign up for Wayfarer Photo News
After sleeping 3 hours, I made my way from Fussa to Tokyo Station and my Shinkansen trip to Kyoto for two days. I had to get myself settled in the proper class, my JR railpass only allowed me to sit in the regular seats but could have been upgraded to the fancier green car with a surcharge. I was struck with how quiet and smooth the Shinkansen trains are. It was a very pleasant journey with reclining seats that provided adequate leg room even for tall people like me, which was a good surprise considering I have to duck to get through most train doors in Japan.
After a bento box breakfast I fell asleep only waking up 30 minutes before arriving in Kyoto, making the journey very quick. The first thing I did was to try to find my Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) to set my stuff down and figure out what to do with my two days. I was immediately struck by the difference between Kyoto (the old capitol of Japan) and Tokyo (the current capitol). Kyoto is based on a grid system of streets for the most part, with streets all having names. Unfortunately most of the smaller streets had names only in Japanese which made it difficult to find my way without a proper map. With a bit of luck in the form of an English speaking cyclist I managed to find the Ryokan. The people there were super friendly and gave me recommendations for sights not to miss which aligned quite well with what I wanted to see. Even more importantly they gave me a good map and a cold beverage to help with the higher humidity of Kyoto.
Having been refreshed I headed off to Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō), which was built in 1603 as the residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1626 his grandson, Iemitsu, completed several additional buildings including a five story keep. In 1867 the Tokugawa Shogunate fell, and led to Nijo Castle being transformed into a public building with visitors being allowed to visit. In 1994 it became a UNESCO world heritage site and now allows visitors to wander through its multiple buildings. One of the more interesting is the Ninomaru Palace which has the nightingale floors said to sound like the sound of a nightingale singing. The purpose of the squeaky floor was to warn the Shogun and his guards of any approaching people, and made it very difficult if not impossible to sneak into the inner areas of the Ninomaru Palace. At 500 yen Nijo Castle was a great place to visit, and I spent several hours wandering through the complex including the lovely gardens where I saw a heron hunting.
I had a lovely lunch of sashimi, at a small restaurant where I not only got to see the chef prepare my fish, but I also saw the entire kitchen staff having lunch. It was a very intimate setting, with lovely food. After lunch I walked to the Imperial Palace which is mostly closed to visitors who are only allowed to walk around the outside and through some of the gardens. The exception to this rule are two tours conducted in English at 10:00 and 14:00 by the Imperial Household Agency Office. This tours allows people to see some of the internal areas of the palace, but unfortunately I missed out as I did not book in advance.
The great thing about Kyoto is that there are lots of shrines and temples spread throughout the city. On the way back to my ryokan I stopped in at a small shrine which was frequented by locals. The shrine had a chinowa, a large ring of straw set up to offer a spiritual cleansing through the ceremony called chinowa kuguri. More information regarding this ritual and some of it’s history can be found at this blog: http://blog.alientimes.org/ Of course at the time I had no idea behind the significance or history of the ritual, but it did catch my attention. It was one of those happy coincidences that I happened to be in Kyoto at the end of June when this ritual is performed.
After a short break at the ryokan I headed to the Nishiki markets before they closed. The markets branch off from the two covered shopping streets of Teramachi Shopping Arcade. The Nishiki Markets primarily focus on selling spices, pickled vegetables and other foods.
After doing a bit of shopping I walked to Pontocho, which is one of Kyoto’s traditional nightlife streets. Pontocho is a very narrow pedestrian lane that has traditional houses, restaurants and shops lining both sides and extending into even narrower little alleys. Pontocho is a great place to undertake night photography with shops which have a myriad of lanterns lining the narrow lane, and lots of people strolling up and down the lane. Most people were looking at the various menus which are generally bilingual and include pictures.
I had a lovely meal of Shabu-shabu and Kushiyaki (skewered dish) sea food at one of the restaurants. The Shabu-shabu was very interesting because the broth was a milk based broth with faint seasonings in which the beef is cooked, then the cooked meat is dipped in a light ponzu (light soy and citrus) sauce. My friend Eric warned me that the dishes in Kyoto tend to have very light flavours, which this dish certainly had, but it did not detract from the dish at all.
After such a full day I went back to my ryokan for a traditional Japanese public bath. It was very relaxing to lounge in a big hot bath of sorts. Again my height was a bit of a nuisance as I found the bath to only come up to my navel. It was a very nice way to end such a fun day and rest up for the following day of temple visits.