Friday 6 September 2013

The old capital - Kyoto (part 1)

I took my first holidays since I started work in Japan.  I took a week off work as my younger sister, SJ, had decided to dome and visit for a week.  I had been planning for a while where we were going to visit and quite a few places were places that have been covered in previous posts (Odaiba, Asakusa, Shimokitazawa, Ameyoko, Harajuku, and Togoshi Ginza).  She also said that she wanted to visit Kyoto which I readily agreed to as I had never visited the city.

Kyoto is quite a popular tourist destination and it retains a lot of the traditional Japan feel.  It was never bombed during the war (although it was initially on the list of possible targets for the atomic bomb, wiser heads prevailed and it was replaced with Nagasaki....) so some of the streets are still lined completely with building constructed of wood, some of which are over 100 years old!  It is a city with almost 18,000 temples and shrines spread across it of different sizes and designs.

Kyoto (which means "Capital City" was the capital city of Japan (and where the emperor resided) from 794 to 1868 before Tokyo (which means "East Capital") was made the capital.  For a short period of time in 1868, the city was called Saikyo ("Western Capital") before assuming it's traditional name.

It is a little more than 2 hour bullet train ride from Kyoto so on Sunday SJ and I got onto the shinkansen and mad our way through the Japanese countryside heading toward Kyoto.  Now, Kyoto is surrounded by mountains and, as a result, is much hotter than other places in Japan, as the mountains trap the heat in the area, and very little wind comes in to blow the hot air away.  We, however, were a little lucky, as the night before we went there, a typhoon passed nearby and sucked a lot of the heat away and we were left with a couple of days in Kyoto where the temperature stayed under 30 degrees Celsius (although still very humid!)  Our hotel 

was in the historical district of Gion, where a lot of Geisha walk the streets going to and from work.  We also had a Starbucks that SJ and I relaxed at waiting for our rooms to be ready, so we grabbed a coffee and watched Kyoto walk by.

After checking in to the hotel, we headed off to find the bus stop that would take us to our destination for the day, Arashiyama.  As we were walking along, we passed a little temple off the side of the road.  I stopped to read about it, and it turned out to be quite an old and historic temple.

A little further on we came across a Kabuki theatre (traditional Japanese theatre),

and then the river that the temple description was talking about.

After a couple of failed attempts, we finally found our bus and set off on the 25 minute bus ride to Arashiyama.

Arashiyama is a popular tourist spot famous for it's natural beauty and has been for over one thousand years.  It's most iconic landmark is the Togetsukyo Bridge which was built around a thousand years ago as well.

It has a beautiful little shopping streets with all kinds of restaurants and souvenir shops lining either side.

I know what you are thinking, "Wow, he only took one photo of this shopping street!"  I know, I kind of surprised myself with my restraint too!

We continued walking up the street and soon came to a temple on the left side of the road.  Although today was not really a designated temple or shrine day (that was for tomorrow), we went in and had a look because of the World Heritage listing.

It was quite a nice temple set on an large piece of land.  SJ and I didn't go into the garden, but had a wander around the grounds of the temple.  It is not unusual to find a shrine on a temple's grounds or a temple on a shrine's grounds.  Throughout history, the are links between the two religions and they have co-existed in harmony much the way things should be today....

We were actually able to walk around some of the inner buildings and garden areas which was great!

We were only halfway to our main destination for the day so we pushed on.  This little side street signaled that we had arrived.

The Arashiyama bamboo forest walkway is about 500m long as is quite simply one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen.  Let me start with the best photo I was able to take.

I was so lucky to get this shot with no-one else in sight.  Simply stunning.

Even when there were other people in sight, it still wasn't very busy at all.

The bamboo here is actually farmed and has been for centuries.  The farmed bamboo is used for manufacturing various products such as baskets, cups and mats etc.

At the other end of the walkway is a beautiful lake that had some kind of temple on the other side.  I could hear a gong being sounded somewhere in the distance.  We stayed at the lake for a good 5 minutes taking in the scenery and listening to the haunting sound of the gong being struck at perfect intervals.

Not satisfied with having walked along the walkway once, we headed back along it to enjoy it once more!

We made our way back to the train station and found a lot of posts around the station decorated with kimono patterns.

Walking along the path created by these posts, we arrived at what was described as "Dragon Pond".

As it was quite a humid day (although not hot which was something I was concerned about in the lead up to the trip) we decided to stop at the station beer garden for some refreshments.  A frozen beer for me and a pineapple beer for SJ.

Dusk was approaching and we headed across the bridge for a different view of the mountains and the river.

While sitting here, we noticed a sight that warmed our hearts, and showed that true love never dies.

It was getting almost too dark for photos to turn out ok, but got one last shot standing on another, smaller bridge in the village looking along the river.

Absolutely serene!

It was time to head back to Kyoto though, and we stopped at Kyoto train station and tracked down "Ramen Street" in a department store connected to the station to have dinner.  There are about 7 different ramen shops that showcase different ramen varieties from across the country.  We chose a tonkotsu (pork soup) variety and settled down for dinner.

After dinner we found a little sake bar for a night cap.

We made our way back to the hotel after a full day, and in anticipation of another full day tomorrow settled in to bed.

 Well, that's it for this episode.  I will get to work on part 2 soon.  Thanks for reading and see you soon.


  1. Hello Jason,these pictures of Kyoto certainly brought back a touch of nostalgia and many fond memories of my stay there in 2003 and 2007.One of my favourites was photo 28.It's beautiful temples and shrines and the Arishiyama area,where I spent a day and so many other places,makes Kyoto a wonderful city to visit.No doubt you would have felt the calmness here,compared to the frenetic atmosphere of the mega city Tokyo.It is interesting that the name "kyoto' has been turned around syllable wise to form 'tokyo'I wonder if there is a connection here?I now look forward to episode 2.Whilst I was strolling around Kyoto at sakura time I bumped into a guy from Adelaide that I knew...he said he and his wife go there springtime every they both like the city so much, compared to other cities they have been to around the world.How fortunate we all are,that no bombing took place.I believe someone in the US Airforce was responsible for saving Kyoto.Cheers for now,Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      I thought you would enjoy this one. Kyoto was simply an amazingly beautiful and peaceful city. I did feel a sense of calmness in Kyoto. There were a lot of incredible places that I did not get to visit!
      You are right about the the bombing. Kyoto was originally on the list of potential targets. Someone in the US (airforce or government) did convince the powers that be to leave it, and Kyoto was replaced on the list by Nagasaki......
      I am working on part 2 now, and hope to have it up in a couple of days.
      Take care,

  2. Hi Jason!
    You went to nice places!!
    And your sister looks very happy:)

    DId you noticed?
    The signboard of starbucks,McDonald's or Bank in Kyoto, are quiet color.
    Because Kyoto city restrains a blot on the landscape.
    It might be Japanese soul.

    I'm lokking forward to see episode 2!


    1. Hi Mariko.
      My sister loved Japan and she is already planning her next visit!
      I did notice the signs were not bright colours. I think that is a good thing. Is Nara like that too?
      I will hopefully have episode 2 finished in a couple of days.
      Take care,

  3. Hi Jason,
    Have been reading your blog but life has been pretty hectic and haven't had time to write anything much. Hope all is well with you.
    Take care :-)

    1. Hey Nat,

      no worries. I hope everything is well. Everything is good here!

      Take care.