Monday, November 5, 2012

Japan times - part 9: Kyoto travels

Earlier this year I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the ninth of several posts of foodbooze and sights in Japan.

Kyoto Station, Kyoto, Japan
The former imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is a day trip's travel away from Osaka by train. It is renowned for its reverent temples and shrines, and is completely another side of Japan compared to bustling Tokyo.

Kyoto Tower, opposite the station
I had an expectation that I'd be transported back centuries on arrival to Kyoto, although the station and facing Kyoto Tower turned out to be pretty modern.

A city teeming with international and Japanese tourists, the station has information centres catering to temple seekers and an all-day hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Even then, the temples and sites are much more spaced out in distance that I thought. Best to eat first.

Ten-don - tempura chicken rice bowl with pickles and small udon noodles
We'd gotten a late start and it was already well into lunch time when we got into the heart of Kyoto. Near the first temple we were to visit, there were a couple of touristy shops and basically only one eatery.

Lucky for us they had gorgeously light tempura and delicious udon noodles on the menu. My ten-don rice bowl topped with battered chicken breast pieces was satisfyingly filling if not a bit heavy ahead of a day of sightseeing.

Udon with vegetable tempura
I quite like how in some noodle venues in Japan, diners can choose their preferred servings sizes of a dish - all for the same price. It prevents unnecessary wastage; accounts for the perhaps differing male and female eating capacities; and is just really thoughtful.

The udon soup ordered above was a medium serving from memory with some fabulously light, unoily tempura battered vegetables and prawn.

Kinkakuji - Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto
I'm pretty sure I learnt about the Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion during my high school Japanese years but nothing really prepares one for the beauty of a gold-gilt Zen Buddhist temple on the edge of a pond.

Each of the three levels of the structure are meant to reflect different Japanese architectural styles, while the top two levels are covered in genuine gold leaf. The temple houses Buddhist relics and is set in appropriately relaxing, if not completely Zen, gardens.

Walls of the Kyoto Imperial Palace
From Kinkakuji we headed by bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, completely unaware of visiting times, days and permissions (unfortunately, I hadn't done my research ahead of the day trip).

Even just walking around the perimeter of the grand palace, it was definitely an ideal setting for anyone keen to live out ninja fantasies of running fights across the rooftops.

Kyoto houses

Gates of Yasaka Jinja, Gion, Kyoto
We headed to Gion late in the afternoon purposely to increase our chances of seeing geisha or more accurately, maiko apprentices in the streets of old Gion.

The Yasaka Jinja Shinto shrine sits before the huge Maruyama Park in Gion. The Shinto faith intrigues me so just watching worshippers' routines at the shrine was an educational experience.

Torii gate entrance

Tied paper fortunes

Yasaka Jinja Shinto shrine

Lanterns at an entrance

Maruyama Park, Gion, Kyoto

Hanami-koji Street, Gion, Kyoto
Gion is the traditional area of Kyoto and while some streets don't look too different from city roads, there are streets where unglamorous-looking tea houses and restaurants sit, and presumably further into the back street, houses where geisha and maiko live.

Buildings in Gion

Side street in Gion
The older style buildings in these back streets was much more along the lines of what I expected from Gion, and Kyoto generally. There were plenty of Japanese tourists in search of maiko in these streets, with a tour group leader even asking a shop keeper if he had any in his store.

Yakitori restaurant in Gion
To refuel after a hot day of touristy walking and bus travel about Kyoto, we ended up finding quite a modern-looking yakitori grilled chicken on skewers restaurant in one of the side streets.

A maiko after sending off a client
After dinner as we headed back to the main road to find our way back to Osaka, we spied a maiko across the road, sending off a businessman in a taxi after presumably dinner or drinks with said client.

In traditional platform geta wooden clogs, she walked slowly and delicately along the footpath in an ornate kimono and obi, with hair accessories swinging.

Up closer, we could see the maiko's detailed application of make-up: white face, neck and upper back in a distinctive pattern, tiny red painted lips and dramatic black around the eyes.

maiko acrossing the road in Gion
We actually spotted another maiko waiting at the same street a crossing, descended upon by both international and Japanese tourists asking to take photos. She looked so shy, but obliging, as she posed for mobile phone cameras that I actually felt bad for the young girl and just admired her from a distance.

With our geisha/maiko spotting checked off quite inadvertently before a quick drink in a swish back lane bar, we got the bus back to Kyoto Station and the train back to Osaka with complete ease. How I miss public transport in Japan.

More Japan posts to come - back to Tokyo. See more photos from my Japan trip on my Facebook page.


john@heneedsfood said...

Awesome. I do love reading your posts on Japan, but I'm sure I've said that numerous times now. The maiko look just stunning so I can understand the urge to get up and take photo's of them.

Not Quite Nigella said...

I've always wanted to visit Kyoto. It's one of those places that seems so unique in the world. Love the shot of the maiko.

Tina said...

Hi John - Agreed; up close, the attention to detail is incredible.

Hi Lorraine - Absolutely, it's definitely worth at least the day trip from Osaka.


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