Today we're going to visit Kyoto, the former capital of Japan.
Known as the city of a thousand
shrines, Kyoto was spared Allied bombing during the war. But before we get to any shrines, we pass
through the city centre, where the Kyoto Tower is shaped like a Japanese candle.
Here I've depicted it reflected in the central train station:
The Tenryuji temple, established in 1339 (though the buildings only date from
after the eighth and last of the times it burned down in 1864), is an important
Zen Buddhism site and is situated in beautiful grounds in
The Sōgenchi garden (also in the temple grounds), retains the same form it had
when designed in the fourteenth century:
This was one of the rare places where we could photograph a temple interior:
Traditional Japanese architecture would frequently include decoration on the beam ends, frequently
showing the emblem of the lord sponsoring the construction, for example (not here) a chrysanthemum for the
imperial family (whence the name of the Chrysanthemum Throne):
The temple bell was struck by a log attached to a pulley:
And now for a complete change of context, we crossed the river and climbed up a hillside, from which
we get a nice view out over Kyoto, which lies in a valley between mountains west and east...
where we got to see a host of wild monkeys:
There's apparently a scenic railway that goes up the valley from Arashiyama, but we didn't have
time for it, so we spent our last hour there making our way up the valley via a slower means of
Our other tourism in Kyoto was done in guided tours. There was the geisha bus:
...and the ninja bus:
Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion) dates from the fourteenth
century (except that it actually dates from 1955, after a novice monk burned
the original down. I just learned about this from Wikipedia; I don't think the
guide mentioned it). Appropriately enough, there is a statue of a phoenix on
the roof. The building is covered in gold leaf.
This (as usual, click through for high-resolution version) is the carriage
porch of Nijō castle, the emperor's residence for five hundred years until the
imperial court upped and moved to Tokyo in 1869:
The main castle building has "nightingale" floorboards that chirp like birds
when you walk upon them, to prevent intruders from gaining access undetected
(though this may not have been the original intention). When I first read
about this, I thought they would just be squeaky floorboards, but it turns out
these have a sound distinctly their own, produced by the movement of nails,
rather than just the floorboards themselves.
We now visit another shrine (but don't ask me where!), with peaceful gardens:
Personalised prayers can be found in many shrines, as here, tied to bushes:
...or displayed on racks:
This was one of several weddings we saw taking place in various shrines, with the bride and groom
wearing traditional costume:
One of the must-do things in Japan is to stay in a ryokan
(inn), for the traditional
Japanese experience (although in our case it turned out we had got a lot of that experience already from
our hotel in Atami). Here we see our room, with tatami mats on the floor, a low table and legless chairs:
A maid in traditional costume (including the traditional white socks with the big toe separated
from the others, so they can be worn with thonged sandals) came in and served us a multi-course
dinner with immaculately prepared food:
Not only did you have to take your shoes off when you came in and were provided
(is there a proper English word for these?), but they also provided
for use just in the bathroom:
We were also provided with yukatas
for wearing in the ryokan grounds,
including its small but (naturally) perfectly formed garden:
The ryokan provided booklets explaining its practices for
non-Japanese guests, including how to tie the obi,
the yukata's belt.
After we had eaten, our waitress not only cleared the table, but cleared it
completely away and made up bedding in traditional Japanese style, on the
We also got to try out the traditional Japanese public bath in a wooden tub.
A block away from the ryokan was Shimbashi Street, with traditional
architecture, where during the evening you can see geishas flitting from house
to house... or at least that must be the case on weekday nights. On the
Saturday night we were there, it was almost completely dead. But we did get to
see fireflies above the stream through the area, which went a long way to make
up for that lack for me at least.
Japan blog posts
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