Hey!! I couldn’t access WordPress out in China – now in Hong Kong and goodness I’m glad to have Google, Facebook and WordPress back!
Now, I am going to start doing catch-up posts. This first one will cover Kyoto: Part 1, as never got round to putting that up before leaving Japan. It’s day-by-day again as finding this convenient for my ramblings and breaks them up nicely 🙂
We travelled to Kyoto via the bullet train, which was rather fun. It had swivelling seats so we could turn one set of two around to face another; I’ve not seen anything like this before. As for the legendary speed of the bullet train – I’m not sure I could discern a huge difference by gazing out of the window, but it was certainly a much smoother and quieter ride than other trains.
In Kyoto, we had rented a Japanese-style house for the four of us to stay in. This involved little furniture and sleeping on mattresses on the Tatami-mat covered floor. I didn’t really talk about the apartment rental in Tokyo, because it was a pretty standard apartment, bit cramped, and did the job. This house was very spacious in comparison. It came with electric plug in heaters in all the rooms and a portable WiFi device (as the Tokyo apartment had).
In the evening after arriving, we attempted to hunt down a local restaurant that was well reviewed on Tripadvisor, but were unable to find it. In the end, we realised the Tripadvisor map of the place did not match the Google map of the place and we’d been following the former. Tired and hungry we then just ducked into the nearest restaurant we could find. I can’t remember the name, but I do remember that we left thinking the food was a bit overpriced…I had what I can only describe as a grilled ham and cheese melt encased in something that wasn’t quite bread, and Dave sampled some sashimi, which is essentially raw fish, for which I don’t have the stomach, but he insists wasn’t bad.
We were up quite early on this day, in order to travel (via train) to Osaka and get in line for some ‘general admission’ tickets for watching Sumo wrestling during a national tournament! We are actually quite lucky that we were in Japan when one of six major tournaments that run each year was actually on.
We had read that once general admission tickets had been obtained, you were free to grab some seats and then return to the tournament later in the day. The individual matches last only a few minutes, and the first matches of the day were between lower division wrestlers, meaning that the stadium was fairly empty save for a few tourists and what seemed to be relatives in the morning. It was set to get much busier in the late afternoon, when the higher ranked wrestlers arrived. We hung around, wanting to catch one match before we left for lunch and to see a few sights in Osaka in order to return later, but having queued since 8am and seen nothing happen by 10am, we marked our seats with cardigans and fleeces (common practice) and left.
We meant to go and see the Shitennoji temple first, which has a pagoda you can climb. We did eventually reach this and climb said Pagoda, which was quite fun but you really do have to watch your head, and I’m unsure anyone of a slightly…larger…girth would be able to climb it! Also, incidentally, outside this temple Dave and I sampled some excellent street Okenomonyaki at only 200 yen per dish, which was AMAZING value.
On the walk to the above temple, we inadvertently stumbled across another temple, Isshinji, initially thinking it was the above temple. Isshinji was full of people, not many of whom seemed to be tourists (unlike other temples and shrines we’ve visited). Most seemed to be there to pay their respects to loved ones’ memorials and to pray. Isshinji is famous for its ash Buddhas, which were made using the ashes of the deceased. It was a good little detour.
After this, we had just enough time to wander the grounds of Osaka castle, although we didn’t pay admission to actually go in. It’s a really very impressive place, and Dave, who loves castles agrees with this.
We then returned to the Sumo wrestling. By now late afternoon was approaching, and the previously quite empty stadium was packed. In fact, crowds were literally lining the streets approaching the stadium, clearly waiting to catch a glimpse of favourite sumo wrestlers, who obviously enjoy a celebrity status in Japan.
The actual matches were fascinating to watch, and the Japanese, who I’ve come to think of as a quiet, polite, reserved people, were in their absolute element. Nobody was being quiet or demure (though everyone was still polite – no rowdiness at all), but cheering on favourites, and groaning when they were defeated.
We were given a programme for the day, and were able to work out who was who in the matches and which wrestlers had won how many matches so far. During the final match, the as yet undefeated champion was defeated, and the stadium erupted – and people started throwing cushions! Clearly this is something you’re supposed to do, if you’ve got a cushion (we weren’t on the cushioned floor seats, but on chairs), and was awesome to watch.
Oh, as an aside – when paying for our tickets at the counter, the lady behind the counter accidentally gave us back far too much change. We were debating in our seats whether or not she had actually done that or if we had simply not counted properly and whether or not we should return to the counter, when a staff member came and confirmed there had been an error and we still owed some money. So we gladly gave it over, apologising a bit. We felt we were in the wrong for not returning to the counter earlier, so imagine our surprise when the same staff member came over, apologising for the inconvenience caused, and gave us some free pencils and A4 sized documents wallets with big photographs of sumo wrestlers on the front!! I still cannot get over how lovely the people of this country are 🙂
In the evening, we went to the Lonely Planet recommended Tori Kizoku for dinner, which essentially does a wide variety of barbecued meats on sticks…apparently this is a form of Japenese cuisine, Yakitori, and I can proudly say I found it delicious yaaaay!
We visited the Kyomizu-dera temple complex, walking distance from the house, in the morning. The complex is on a gently sloped hill and surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains. It is free to walk around for the most part, but there are nominal fees for certain bits of it.
We paid for two specific bits. One was a walk to the main hall and then along a long walkway offering lovely views of the complex and surrounding vista, affording lots of photography opportunities – although it was quite crowded, so waiting for a people-free shot might take time!
The second was a bizarre experience that I’m really glad I did. Lonely Planet didn’t go into much detail for fear of ‘ruining the surprise’ so I feel obliged to say SPOILER ALERT SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW OF THE BIZARRE THING. Right now that’s done – basically, you walk down some steps into utter, pitch blackness. This is supposed to represent entering a womb, or something. Then you walk for a while, clinging to a rope, and soon, a ‘wishing stone’ comes into view, which you touch to make your wish. Then you’re plunged into complete darkness again, until slowly you start climbing some steps back into the light. Now, everyone is in single file and there’s a rope the whole way, so it is very safe, and really interesting to do, but maybe claustrophobic people should avoid it!
Also at the temple complex, there is an area that appears to be devoted to love and romance and such things. Here Dave and I decided to pick up a souvenir, a charm for a ‘happy marriage’ (we’re engaged and getting hitched next year) – neither of us is superstitious, but it’ll make a good ornament thing for our first house. There’s also an outdoor bit here where there are two stones on the ground, several feet apart. If you can walk with your eyes closed from one stone to the other without hitting anything or falling, apparently you’ll be lucky in love. If you can’t, you won’t be, and if you need help, then you’ll need help in love. Er, considering how insanely busy the place was, I’d say most will need help or will be unlucky…
The afternoon saw us visit the Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine famed for its numerous orange pillar gates leading all the way up a big hill. Okay so the sign said mountain but I’m sorry, at 233m, I can’t bring myself to classify it as such, even though I was absolutely exhausted when we reached the top – to be honest, I think this says more about my abysmal fitness levels than the difficulty of the climb! The climb is free as are the stunning views, and as it was a lovely clear warm day, we caught the sun setting over Tokyo on the way down. Wandering the shrine complex at twilight was a wonderful experience, almost magical (hey, I’ve got a big imagination).
If you ever find yourself in Kyoto for just a few hours and want one thing to do and up for a bit of a climb (note – the climb to the view point isn’t that bad – and still worth it – compared with to the peak of the shrine), put Fushimi-Inari Taisha at the top of your list.
This day totally chilled us – well, me at least – out. It was again a gorgeous day and for the first time, I wore shorts!!
The day started with a visit to Arashiyama, where we followed a scenic walk from the Tenryuji temple (a Zen temple) gardens to a large bamboo grove. The former you pay a small fee for, the latter is free. The garden was very picturesque, with ponds and a wide variety of trees and flowers, and will be even more so when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom. It was also very relaxing to walk around. It was the first traditional ‘Japanese garden’ that we had seen.
The bamboo grove was equally awesome. I genuinely did not appreciate the height of the bamboo from pictures, and as you looked up and saw the sunlight filtering through the green, it honestly felt like you were in some sort of fairyland.
Thereafter, we paid to visit the Okochi Sanso garden, where green tea and cakes were included as part of the ticket. I am not a big fan of green tea anyway, but this brew was especially strong, and very thick. I’m sure green tea lovers will like it!
The garden itself was again gorgeous. It was much more sprawling and covered more ground than the temple garden, with lots of hidden little things to discover just off the marked trail, mostly little rooms and statues and suchlike. We came across a deeply peaceful room at one point, where all sounds seemed hushed and the air felt serenely still. There was only one other person than us there. I think it was meant for reflection and meditating and I could have spent a good few hours there alone!
After a picnic by the Hozu-gawa river, we returned to Gion in Kyoto in order to attend a Japanese cultural performance at Gion Corner, for which tickets can be bought on the day. By this time the temperature had dropped and it was cloudy and raining, but Gion was still pretty. On our walk through it, we actually spotted a Geisha hurrying down the street, umbrella up to protect her perfectly made up hair and face.
We saw many different aspects of Japanese performance arts during the fifty minute show, including a short comic play, a tea ceremony, and a puppet show. The highlight was a dance by a Maiko (trainee Geisha), which was very interesting. It was slow, every movement clearly held some meaning, and despite not understanding the meanings or the music, I felt quite moved – the Maiko seemed overwhelmed with sadness, despite never changing her expression. I don’t know if that was the point of the dance or whether she was actually sad, though.
For our evening meal we sampled Udon curry, which was pretty good. Better than ramen, worse than Katsu curry, Okenomonyaki and, as I like to call it, meat-on-sticks. Actually by that reckoning, I quite like a lot of types of Japanese food! It’s just ramen and seafood I don’t, but as Dave has just pointed out to me, these make up quite a lot of the fare.
Expect Kyoto: Part 2 tomorrow, and then will commence the China posts – there are quite a few!
As ever, please let me know if I have got anything wrong – it is inadvertent if so and will correct 🙂
So glad to be back, thanks for reading,