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Spring-time in Kyoto 京都に春を楽しみ

May 4, 2010

Kyoto is definitely one of my favourite places in Kansai and I try to visit a couple of times when I return to Japan.  On different days and with different friends I visited Gion and Higashiyama as well as Arashiyama; some of my favourite areas in the old capitol.


You have two train options for going into Kyoto from Osaka: Japan Rail (JR) or Hankyu.  Most tourists take the JR line because it’s a bit quicker and JR Kyoto station is also well situated for bus service.  Personally, I prefer the Hankyu line.  Sure, it takes a bit longer but I think the route is more scenic and the trains are from an older age so in my mind, are a lot nicer to travel in.  We got off at Karasuma station and headed north because I wanted to visit Rokkaku-do.  Some bits of trivia about this temple: it’s where the art of traditional flower arrangement (ikebana) was begun, it’s the geographical centre of Kyoto, dating from the 8th century it’s one of the oldest temples in Kyoto and  it’s unique in that the shape of the temple is hexagonal, which is where its name comes from (rokkaku means hexagon).


As with my time in Kamigori, cherry blossom mania was in full swing, particularly evident when we were in the area of Higashiyama.   Yasaka shrine in to Maruyama park was packed with people.  This was a weekday.  Don’t people work in Kyoto?  For a while, we joined the people who were out taking innumerable photos in front of the main cherry trees in the park or sitting underneath enjoying the sun until we once again ventured on.   Our original goal was to go in and see the cherry blossoms of Kiyomizu-dera but we never actually made it inside.  We took a look at the bus loads of Chinese, Korean and Western tourists shoe-horning their way in and decided that, no, we really didn’t need to.  After all, it’s not like we hadn’t both been there in the past.  We actually had a much more enjoyable time sitting outside at a coffee shop along Sannen-zaka watching all the people go by.  Personally, I was enjoying watching all the pretty girls walk by dressed in kimono.  It’s nice to see that the kimono is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity.   Not only is it an absolutely gorgeous garment but it’s so intrinsically tied to Japanese culture that it would be a shame for it to be abandoned as daily wear.


Directly translated, Arashiyama mean “stormy mountain”.  This might explain the cold, windy, overcast weather we encountered.  Basically the exact opposite of what my other friend and I encountered in Higashiyama just a few days earlier.  That didn’t stop us from having a great day.  In fact, shortly after we arrived in Arashiyama we got a great surprise for lunch; one of the ryokans (traditional Japanese inn) along the river had had a large group cancel and was offering a kaiseki lunch for about 1/3 off the regular price.  The food was already there and they didn’t want it to go to waste.   Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal where each dish is a work of art.  It’s also generally quite expensive so we decided to jump at the opportunity to have it without paying an arm and a leg.  Just a leg.  And yes, it was worth the price.


There’s a concept in Japanese gardens of ‘borrowed landscape’ and it is very much in evidence in the main garden of Tenryu-ji.  The mountains surrounding the temple provide a stunning addition to the already impressive landscape of the garden itself.  Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO site so it’s well worth a visit, just be sure you leave through the back and take a wander through the bamboo forest.  It’s very relaxing to wander through during the day and listen to the soft creaking and clacking of the bamboo in the wind but imagine what it would be like wandering through in the dark.  That’s the stuff of kaidan (ghost stories).


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