Thursday, August 21, 2014

Konnichiwa, Japan! Smitten with Kyoto


Kyoto is a city that does not want to be rushed.  Do that and you will entirely miss what she is all about. Kyoto – Japan’s cultural heart – is a lady that moves at her own pace. She is graceful and steady, perhaps the effect of being the imperial capital from 794 to 1868. When you have been the seat of power for that long, you know how it is to be in control, to be composed, and more importantly, how and when to wield your authority. 

Traveling from Osaka onboard the Shinkansen, my first sight of Kyoto is the station.  From the platform, it looked like a massive gray wall dotted with silver boxes which seemed both impressive and intimidating. Pass through and it does nothing but incite awe. Kyoto station – served by the Japan Railways, Kintetsu Railways, and the Karasuma Subway line - is a fifteen-storey steel and glass tribute to the transportation age.  Its futuristic design – drawn by Japanese Architect Hara Hiroshi – is best appreciated at the concourse. The exposed steel beam roof serves as the modern day church fresco – one you have to gaze up at to see the magic.



There were several empty seats on the Shinkansen ride from Osaka to Kyoto. 
Japanese school girls patiently waiting for their train at Kyoto Station. 
At Kyoto Station's concourse, people of all ages moving toward every direction.   
There aren't much people along the crossing in front of Kyoto Station in a Sunday morning. 

The steps climbing to the observation deck doubled as seats for the audience. 
This girl is one half of the concert's pair of hosts. 
Kyoto Station's steel beam roof serves as an impressive backdrop for the concert. 
School children show off not just their musical talents but also their 
dancing skills in a free concert at Kyoto Station. 

The Tokyo Tower sits right across the Kyoto Station.

I’ve decided to foot it to the hostel – K’s House, which was about seven blocks from the station. And while the walk wasn’t exactly short or easy as a matcha kitkat break, it afforded me to have a good look around.  


Kyoto sits on a basin and laid out as a grid. Like its sister city Paris, Kyoto is largely populated by mid-rise buildings with a distinct tower jutting out of the skyline. Furthermore, her architecture is largely defined by royal residences and places of worship.


On the way to Gion, I passed by this charming canal. 

The Metro and the ever-dependable buses make it easy to go from one spot to another. But for a more leisurely way to see this lovely city, there is the bicycle. Hop on a bike and pedal your way around town. Don’t worry, as some Kyotoites also prefer this mode of transportation, motorists and pedestrians know what to do when cyclists are around.


Here's a bike left on the bridge over the Kamo River.
The entire time I was in Kyoto, I would pass by this bike on my way to supper.

 

The sign for the Koban or policestation is old school! 



Along the West Bank of the Kamo River in downtown Kyoto are the more expensive restaurants.
These outdoor dining areas on stilts are called Yuka and offer a great view of the river.
 This al fresco dining experience is very popular during summertime. 
A group of women in Kimonos takes in the Kamo riverside view. 

Some young Kyotoites spend some time UNDER the bridge. 
Pontocho Alley, a narrow street of restaurants right next to the Kamo River, is a must-go area for dinner.  
I can't read the name of the restaurant but clearly, these two can. 
Since I   all by my lonesome self, I decided to eat the counter and
Here's my first dinner in Kyoto: a cube of stewed pork, dumplings, and two bowls of rice.
When I stepped out of the restaurant, I practically bumped into this geisha.
But she was so quick on her feet that I only to to take photo of her back.
I rented a bike from my hostel and pedaled my way around the city.


A group of young people, dressed in traditional Japanese clothes, walked down to the banks
to snap a couple of photos. 


If you have only a few days to spare, here are some of the sights I recommend for you to see.  


1. HIGASHAYAMA DISTRICT


Higashayama is the #1 tourist destination in all of Kyoto for good reason. It is one of best-preserved districts of old Kyoto and features traditional neighborhoods, gardens, temples, and shrines. Live out your dream of walking the streets of old Kyoto, gaze at wooden houses, and explore street side shops. They even removed telephone poles and repaved the streets to keep up with the traditional air.



HOW TO GET THERE:

From Kyoto Station, you can take buses 18, 100, 206, and 207.




2. KINAKAKU-JI (The Golden Pavilion)


One of the country’s best-known sights, the Golden Pavilion was built in 1397 to be Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu’s retirement villa. Later on, it was converted to a temple by his son. But unfortunately, a young monk – who was quite obsessed with it – lit it on fire in 1950. The current one is actually a recreation but that doesn’t keep the students, tourists, and just about everybody from dropping by to take in all of its splendor.



HOW TO GET THERE:

From Kyoto Station, take Bus 205 and get off the Kinakaku-ji stop.
From Keihan Sanjo, take bus 59.


ENTRANCE FEE:
Adult (includes High School Students): 400 Yen
Children (includes Elementary and Junior High students): 300 Yen



The present Golden Pavilion is actually a reconstruction.
The original one was burned down by young monk in 1950.
School boys take notes about the Golden Pavilion.
Each group is accompanied by a guide. 




There's also a tea house. 


3. GION


If you fancy some geisha spotting, Gion is the place to be. The entertainment and geisha district of Kyoto, it proudly features 17th century restaurants and tea houses where the skills of these ladies are shown off in the best possible way. Be there in the late afternoon until early evening and you might get lucky to see Geishas or Maikos (apprentice geishas) on their way to that night’s appointment. The first geisha I ever saw was around 5:30 pm and inside a cab. (Though be sure not to confuse them with local tourists dressed in Kimonos.)



HOW TO GET THERE:

Take the Keihan line and get off Gion Shijo Station.



Local tourists pose for my camera. 
Some women in Kyoto still wear the kimono everyday 
This lady ushers in customers into the restaurant. 
Shinbashi Dori is lined with traditional restaurants and tea houses.


Chauffeur taking the photo of local tourists along Shinbashi-dori street. 


Shinbasi is actually made up of two short streets.
This is the one along the Shirakawa Canal and is glorious during the Cherry Blossom season.


On the way to Gion, I got lucky and caught this plush exec train of the Kyoto Metro.
4. PATH OF BAMBOO, ARASHIYAMA


Pinterest abound with images of this bamboo grove because it does not just look surreal. Walking through this bamboo path feels like strolling in a cinematic dream of old Japan. Tall Bamboo trees abound and pretty Japanese women clad in kimonos step into the picture. 


* It’s quite a walk from the train station but it’s worth the trek.


HOW TO GET THERE:

Take the JR San-in line from Kyoto Station of Nijo Station and get off at Saga Arashiyama Station. ( Take the local train!)

ENTRANCE FEE: Free


On the way to the Path of Bamboo, I passed by these Compact Japanese houses. 


This sign directs people to the right path.  
Umbrellas depicted like Japanese girls are sold near the Bamboo forest. 
Wedding photo session amongst the bamboos. 
Chanced upon these newlyweds at the Bamboo Forests. 
Kimono-clad girls taking a stroll along the Path of Bamboo.
These Bamboos look like they're right out from an episode of Rurouni Kenshin. 



5. FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA SHRINE


In the 8th century, one family – the Hata Family – dedicated this shrine to the gods of rice and sake. It’s a 4 km hike to the top with over 5,000 vibrant Torii gates marking the path. Set aside an entire morning if you plan to explore the entire shrine at leisurely pace and be sure to follow the map. I took the supposedly the less beaten track and ended up in a village.



HOW TO GET THERE:

From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line to JR Inari Station.


ENTRANCE FEE:Free



One needs to wash their hands and mouth before entering the shrine.
School girls smile for my camera. 

The gates make you feel small and at the same time, cocooned. 
On the way down, you'll see all these writings on the gates. 
Some maintenance work in progress. 
Take note of the mosquito coil as an essential for the job. 



I took a wrong turn and ended up in a village. 



Even brooms in Kyoto look like they were from the old days.

But if you have extra time, do visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) and Kyoto Imperial Palace Park.




KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE  (KYOTO GOSHO) AND KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE PARK
The palace is actually a reconstruction as the original one was built in 794 was destroyed in a fire. But people can take a peek inside the royal palace. Drop by the office of the Imperial Household Agency and fill out an application form and show your passport. Permission to tour the palace is usually granted the same day. (Best to arrive there 30 mins before the scheduled tour, if you want to join the guided tour.) 


The imperial household agency is also where you make advance reservations to see the Sento Gosho, Katsura Rikyu, and Shugaku in Rikyu. 






The Imperial Palace is bordered by these  neutral walls.  
Paths within the palace complex are paved with gravel. 
The Imperial Palace grounds boasts of a park.

And if you cross the street, you might want to take a glimpse of what is university life like in Kyoto. 


I mistakenly entered the compound of this university and boy, was i surprised! All I could think of was.... did I suddenly been transported out of Asia? 




I know I am in Japan... or am I still?  Brick buildings abound in this campus. 

Students just plop down on the grass. 

A Church! In a university in Tokyo! 


Kyoto is the old Japan of my dreams  -  shinto shrines, bamboo paths, and geishas. And I would've loved to spend more time in her arms but alas, I must head to Tokyo. But actually, I did spend a couple hours more when I stopped by Kyoto on way from Tokyo to Kansai Airport. 
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