Category Archives: Kyoto

The Golds of Kinkakuji, Kyoto

Last year when I went to Kyoto, Kinkakuji was part of my itinerary hoping that the February winter snow will show itself on the golden structure. But because there was no weather forecast about snowing anytime in the northern part of Kyoto when we were there, add to that the unfortunate incident of the Kyoto bus leaving seconds before we reached Takayama station, which was the reason why we can’t make it back to Kyoto earlier, we decided to skip Kinkakuji. So when I was back in Japan, during the late part of November this year, 2015, I decided to come take a look.

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion is actually part of Rokuonji Temple, itself inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Originally a country villa built during the Kamakura period, Kinkakuji overlooks the pond, this time covered with fallen leaves from maple trees that also abound the area. This structure is covered with gold leaf that is truly astounding to see in any season. I went there when some of the autumn leaves were on their peak.

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Entrance to Kinkakuji is at 400 yen and it’s open from 9:00 to 17:00. I used the Kyoto City bus 205 from Kyoto station which stops at Kinkakuji Mae bus stop.

 

Chasing Geishas in Kyoto

While planning our Kyoto itinerary, I made sure that I get to experience Kyoto of old and new. Our first two nights in Japan were spent in Kyoto before heading to Takayama and Shirakawa-go. After these, we went back to Kyoto to explore the city some more and stayed for another two nights. In one of those nights, we decided to eat at a place recommended by the staff at our inn. We borrowed their bikes and off we went to eat a very affordable teshoku meal. I ordered a set of chicken karaage. After dinner, we headed to Gion hoping to see Kyoto’s geisha or geiko as they are known locally.

‘Gei’ means art and ‘sha’ means person. The word ‘geisha’ means, a person learned in the arts, or more accurately, a woman learned in the arts. Seeing a real geisha in Kyoto is very difficult because there are only a few of them. We traveled in February, not really a time for festivals, (Geisha stages dance performances during Gion Festival in summer) so catching them on the streets of Gion in between performances is our best bet.

The Geisha in front of us
The Geisha in front of us

Riding our bikes, armed only with our mobile phones, instant cameras, and an unbelievable resolve to get close to a real geisha, we hoped for the best and we got the best. Our serendipitous encounter with the geisha’s driver feels like we were the best straw in a barn full of hay. When the driver saw us beating the crowds, (I think to him, we looked the most desperate) he told us where the geisha was and which door she’ll use as exit. His limo was parked about a few meters from the restaurants’ back door, in my mind, this was an act of good will on his part even though it may appear like he was squealing his boss’ whereabouts. But I am glad in whatever etiquette he decided to break, because we were able to get close to a real geisha as a result. Ayee hee hee.

The Geisha at the back street
The Geisha her back to us

After tens of blurred shots, I was able to capture this video and get up close.

I console myself that she’s busy and hurriedly wants to get away from us, that’s why she appears not too friendly. But I think this is really asking more from her since we kinda ambushed her. But all in all, this is a great encounter I will always remember when thinking about Kyoto.

A must-see shrine in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha

February 3, 2014. It’s Setsubun Festival when we went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  During this time, most temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara partake in the traditional event of Setsubun (bean-throwing festival) known to drive away demons, which are said to appear when seasons change.  We explored Fushimi Inari early morning before heading to Nara for the Setsubun Mantoro Festival in Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Women in Kimono who partake in Setsubun
Women in Kimono who partake in Setsubun festivities
An old lady praying to the Shrine God Inari
An old lady praying to the Shrine God Inari at the main hall of Fushimi Inari Shrine

In Japan, the best way to differentiate a temple from a shrine is the presence of a huge torii gate at the entrance.  Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto Shrine famous for its thousands of red torii gates lined up in the shrine grounds, forming a trail leading up to the sacred Mt. Inari. Fushimi Inari shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of rice. Foxes or kitsune statues are all over the shrine grounds because they are thought of as messengers of Inari.

One of the many fox statues in Fushimi Inari
A komainu (guardian) at the entrance, one of the many fox statues in Fushimi Inari
Walking Trail under the Red Torii gates
Walking Trail under the Red Torii gates
The Famous Fushimi Inari Torii Gates
The Famous Fushimi Inari Torii Gates

The thousands of torii gates were donated to the shrine by individuals and companies. The names of the donators and the date of  donation are inscribed on the back of each gate. It’s beautiful to see both sides with and without the Kanji characters.

torii up close

Names of Donators and Date of Donation t
Names of Donators and Date of Donation

Fushimi Inari Shrine is the very first Shinto Shrine that I have visited. And in most Shinto Shrines, you’ll find ema (wooden plates where visitors write their wishes) and omikuji (fortune-telling paper slips). The ema in Fushimi Inari Shrine are fox heads and small red torii gates. I did get an omikuji by shaking a wooden container and drawing up a number. I got 12, and received a paper containing my fortune. This piece of paper is then tied to a tree branch so that good fortune can come true and bad fortune can be averted. My Japanese friend told me that my omikuji meant I will have good luck. I couldn’t agree more.

My Omikuji
My Omikuji
This is where you tie your omikuji
Omikuji tied on strings to avert bad fortune
Ema - fox head and torii gate
Ema – fox head and torii gate
Close up of a red torii ema
Close up of a red torii ema

Fushimi Inari Taisha can be reached via JR Inari Station, two stations away from JR Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line.

Romantic Arashiyama (Kyoto, Japan)

No one who visits Kyoto should miss Arashiyama. Located in the western outskirts of Kyoto and a popular destination to locals, Arashiyama is a beautiful place popular for its spring and autumn colors. Although I went here in February towards the end of winter, the place is equally stunning.

Arashiyama
A lamp post fronting Togetsuyo Bridge
Arashiyama mountains with fog
Arashiyama mountains with fog
Togetsuyo Bridge
Togetsuyo Bridge

sign copy

The canal where tourists and establishment are shown
The canal where tourists and establishment are shown
Arashiyama Guards
Arashiyama Guards

Togetsuyo Bridge is the central landmark in Arashiyama. It is also very near Tenryu-ji Temple, The Bamboo Forest, and the Sagano District. In fact, a leisurely walk can take you to Tenryuji Temple, the bamboo groves, culminating in the Randen-Saga station. I recommend riding the old Randen train to tour the Saga district and see the locals way of life.

Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
Arashiyama Bamboo Groves
Path to the bamboo groves
Path to the bamboo groves
Randen Train
Randen Train

A Sense of History at Toie Uzumasa Eigamura 東映太秦映画村 (Toie Kyoto Studio Park)

I love Japanese movies. I have watched a number of jidaigeki (period drama) about samurai specially those set in the late Edo period (Tokugawa Era). Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, my most favorite film of all time, is a jidaigeki set during one of the turbulent years of Japan’s past – the 16th century.  I’m engrossed in reading up on samurai history from the time of Miyamoto Musashi (late 16th Century) to Sakamoto Ryoma (late 19th Century).

So while in Kyoto, it is natural for me to want to see Toie Uzumasa Eigamura (Toie Kyoto Studio Park). Eigamura is a theme park and a film studio modelled after the architecture of the Edo period and is still used today as location for historical dramas. In fact, with good timing, you might just witness the filming of a historical drama.

One of the establishments inside the theme park
One of the establishments inside the theme park
Replica of the old Nihonbashi Bridge
Replica of the old Nihonbashi Bridge
A small establishment inside the theme park
A small establishment
A row of restaurants
A row of restaurants
A house by a small bridge
A house by a small bridge

The entire park depicts entire scenes and architecture of the period. You’ll find park attendants dressed in traditional clothing playing samurai, ninja, geisha, and townspeople walking around the village. They give you an authentic feel of the place. While going through the houses, you’ll get a feeling that you are transported back in time in Japan where feudal lords manage government with samurai vassals who keep peace and order in the community. Unlike any other class, the samurai are loyal to their lords and even blind to their faults. This is one thing that fascinates me about the samurai.

A Samurai posing
A Samurai posing

As a tourist, when you enter the park in costume (for example in a rental kimono) you’ll get 50% discount off the entrance fee. The entrance fee to the park is 2200 yen, and additional fee if you decide to enter the ninja house.

A geisha
A geisha

The park has various shows all throughout the day. We got the chance to see the Ninja Show. It was great and truly enjoyable for adult viewers. For more information on park shows, you can visit the park’s English website here.

Ninja from the Ninja Show
Ninja from the Ninja Show
More actors at the Ninja Show
More actors at the Ninja Show

Also inside the park are the Toie Animation Museum, Enka Museum, and a Toie Museum featuring all films done by Toie. Kurosawa was also associated with Toie as it released some of his well known films like Seven Samurai. Why do I keep mentioning Akira Kurosawa? Well, I am a huge fan and I even visited his grave in Kamakura. Toie Co. Ltd. is popular to Western audiences for its action films like the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.

Me posing in front of The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa Akira)  and Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu) photos
Me posing in front of The Seven Samurai (Kurosawa Akira)  and Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu) photos
With director Akira Kurosawa
With director Akira Kurosawa
A photo featuring the actor, Shimura Takashi
A photo featuring the actor, Shimura Takashi

This is a great theme park specially if you are interested in films. You’ll find yourself with so much more to do and so many corners to explore. And did I already say, too many photo opportunities?

Outside the hall where the performance took place
Outside the hall where the performance took place
Me posing inside an old house
Me posing inside an old house
Samurai X and Y
Samurai X and Y

Toie Eigamura can easily be reached  from Uzumasa Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line in about 5 minutes.