Grilled as you like it

Kyoto Continued… March 14, 2010

Another wonderful day in Kyoto. The day started out cloudy and rainy, but that meant perfect lighting for photographing lotuses at Hokongoin, near Hanazono station.

It was doyo-ushi-no-hi so this shop was grilling eel over charcoal all day long. Mmm… it smelled so good.

We stopped at Nakamura-ya for a snack of korokke (croquette).

Then we walked through the bamboo grove to Okochi-sanso, the former residence of samurai film actor Okochi Denjiro.

We saw this mossy, grass-roofed house as we walked north-west of Arashiyama and Sagano.

We saw these passion flowers growing near there too.

Later we went to Nanzenji. This is the old aqueduct. First were were enjoying taking photos…

…when suddenly the sky opened up and it began pouring rain like mad. We took cover under the big San-mon gate and tried to wait it out, but after an hour it wasn’t showing any signs of letting up. We ran back to the subway station. The rain was coming down so heavily that the water in the storm drains was pushing up the sidewalk tiles and gushing back out onto the street. We were soaked.

The next day we visited Nishiki-koji market and went strolling in Gion.

Somehow I always have to come here when I come to Kyoto. I love the colorful saru-bobo.

Finally we visited Sanjusangendo before hopping back on the shinkansen to get home.

That is definitely a long hall.


Small sights from Yamadera December 8, 2009

Filed under: Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 8:38 pm
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blue ajisai (hydrangea)

I wrote earlier about our trip to Yamadera. There were plenty of summer flowers blooming that day, giving us a lot of small sights to enjoy too.

These star-shaped ajisai are some of my favorite flowers. I love the color too.

I had never noticed the bright red and green winged seeds of maples before. They were really fun to look at, but hard to photograph as they were dancing in the wind.

We saw these tiny white flowers and little green leaves in the damp shaded spots along the stone steps leading to and from the temple. They were like plants in miniature.


Kamakura April 23, 2008

March 28th, we went to the Hase area of Kamakura to see the Daibutsu. On our way there, we stopped at Hase-dera. Hase-dera has a beautiful garden and views of the coast and town below. The weather was lovely and we had a wonderful time enjoying the garden and temple grounds. Hase-dera was founded after the famous Hase-dera in Nara. It is said that the tree that the image of Kannon that is housed at Hase-dera in Nara was carved from was so large that a second image of Kannon was carved from it, and tossed into the sea, with the prayer that it would someday return to save humanity. Some years later, it washed ashore at Kamakura, and Hase-dera was founded near that spot.

On the way to the main hall, there is a smaller hall dedicated and garden area dedicated to Jizo. Here we saw the most adorable statues of Jizo.

There are many beautiful flowers blooming in the garden at Hase-dera. Of course, by this point, the cherry blossoms were blooming just about everywhere we went. In fact, this was the official opening day of cherry blossom viewing season in the Tokyo area. Here we also saw a beautiful bi-colored peach blossom. The same tree has branches with white flowers and branches with deep pink flowers.

Next we went to see the Daibutsu (Big Buddha) of Kamakura. The Daibutsu is one of the most popular attractions in Kamakura. The Daibutsu is 12.3 meters tall and is sculpted from bronze. On the wall of the temple is a pair of woven straw sandals that are sized to fit the Great Buddha’s feet. You can get an idea of the scale of the statue by standing next to these huge sandals. You can learn more about Kamakura Daibutsu, Hase-dera, and other sights in Kamakura here.

I stopped on the way to the Daibutsu at a small stand selling niku-man and other Chinese dumplings. The niku-man was 400 yen, which is a bit expensive for these steamed, meat-filled buns, but it was large enough to share, and one of the best ones I’ve had. I highly recommend it. It is the small, Chinese-style building on the left side of the street as you walk toward the Daibutsu.


Sannen-zaka and Yasaka Jinja April 22, 2008

colorful saru-bobo adorn this temple, one of my favorite temples in Japan

From Kiyomizu-dera, we walked down Kiyomizu-zaka and Sannen-zaka toward Yasaka Jinja. Kiyomizu-zaka and Sannen-zaka (and also Gojo-zaka and Ninnen-zaka) are usually bustling with tourists after the shops open. Since we had arrived around 8 in the morning, the shops weren’t open and so the streets were quiet as we hiked toward Kiyomizu-dera. By the time we were leaving, the crowds had grown significantly. At the shops here, shoppers can buy the typical tourist baubles that you find everywhere in Japan, but the area is also known for its fine ceramics and unique snacks such as Yatsuhashi, flattened mochi folded into a triangle with sweet bean paste inside and often flavored with cinnamon, green tea, or sesame. In addition to its many shops and shoppers, Kiyomizu-zaka is full of power lines too, a common sight that unfortunately mars many beautiful views in Japan.

Kiyomizu-zaka filled with many shoppers – a monk makes his way through the crowd – near Sannen-zaka

On a side street just off of Sannen-zaka near Yasaka Pagoda is a very small temple that is one of my favorites in Japan, though I actually don’t know the name of it. It is small and quiet, but very beautiful. Hundreds of saru-bobo (monkey baby) dolls are hung from the roof over a statue of a bodhisattva and from the main building of the temple. The saru-bobo symbolize family harmony, and are donated to the temple by people praying for good family relations.

Saru-bobo at a small temple near Yasaka Pagoda – cherry blossoms at Yasaka Jinja

Next, we continued on to Yasaka Jinja, the large shrine of Kyoto’s Gion area. Here, as well as along Sannen-zaka, the cherry blossoms were blooming.

The main gate at Yasaka Jinja – A lantern at Yasaka Jinja

Unfortunately we weren’t able to linger long at Yasaka Jinja since we had to head to the airport. We walked back to our ryokan through the Gion district and Kenninji Temple. Goodbye Kyoto. Next stop, Tokyo!

Yasaka JInja – Yasaka Jinja – a monk at Kenninji Temple in Gion


Kiyomizu-dera April 20, 2008

Filed under: Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 1:07 pm
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the wooden main hall of Kiyomizu-dera

Kyoto, day four (March 27th): we had a few hours in Kyoto in the morning before we would have to head back to the airport to get to Tokyo, so we woke up early to head to Kiyomizu-dera. The temple at Kiyomizu, whose name means “temple of the clear water” is one of the most famous in Japan. There is a saying in Japanese, to leap from the stage at Kiyomizu, which is similar to the English phrase, “take the plunge.” This refers to the Edo Period practice of leaping from the stage of the main hall to achieve your wish. According to Wikipedia, there are 234 recorded cases of people jumping from the platform, of whom 85% lived to tell the tale. As you can see from this photograph, we arrived before the cherry blossoms had bloomed here, but in another week or two, the hillside would have been draped in pink blossoms.

Across from the main hall, the Koyasu Pagoda is visible. This wooden pagoda, whose condition has fallen into slight disrepair, is often visited by expectant mothers praying for an easy childbirth. At Kiyomizu you can also see many statues of Jizo, the protector of unborn children.

Sanju-no-to three-storied pagoda – Koyasu-no-to pagoda – Otowa-no-taki

The clear springs at Kiyomizu, called Otowa-no-taki, or Otowa waterfall, are reputed to have great power to bring the drinker health, longevity, and success. Many students come here to drink to their academic success. Although the line to drink from Otowa-no-taki is often quite long, we arrived before the crowds.

Jishu Jinja – walking between the “blind stones”

Jishu Jinja is a shrine at Kiyomizu that is famous matchmaking. There are two stones at the shrine: it is said that if you can walk blindly between the stones you will find true love or will soon marry your partner. Of course, this shrine, and the blind stones in particular, are very popular with young women.

Jishu-jinja – a student tour group

We arrived just after 8:00 in the morning and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere at the temple when there were few visitors. Shortly after we arrived, however, a girls’ high school tour group arrived. Suddenly everything took on a different tone with chattering schoolgirls everywhere. But they do look so cute in the pictures.


Arashiyama April 19, 2008

Filed under: Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 11:27 pm
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red paper umbrella in Arashiyama

Kyoto, day three (March 26th): After stopping at Nishiki-koji for a brief breakfast time stroll, we headed to Arashiyama in northwest Kyoto. I had foolishly left my Lonely Planet guidebook behind in Gunma and figured that I would be able to recreate my previous trip to Arashiyama from memory alone. However, we took a turn down tourist lane, and I wasn’t able to find my way back to the Arashiyama that I remembered. For future reference, the route I had been intending to take was the Kiyotaki-gawa hike from the LP guidebook. Oh well…

sakura – taking a ride on a jinriksha

Arriving at Arashiyama station, we finally saw what we had been looking for for the whole trip until that point: cherry blossoms at last. There were a few trees near the station in full bloom, so we took the opportunity to take a few pictures. Further on we saw another, quite large this time, tree in full bloom before the small bridge leading to Arashiyama park. Then, by the Togetsukyo Bridge was a weeping cherry that was just beginning to bloom. Here they were, the famous springtime cherry blossoms of Japan.

From there, we did some shopping in Arashiyama, and then some more shopping, a stop for icecream, followed by more shopping. Here we saw a young girl in kimono and her grandmother taking a jinriksha ride. We had lunch at a tofu restaurant called Anju. Tofu seems to be one of the local specialties in Arashiyama, as there were quite a few tofu restaurants along the main street in town.

After lunch, we wandered through the bamboo forest for a bit and then decided to check out Horinji Temple. At the top of the steps, we were surprised to find that the cherry trees here were in full bloom. The temple was not crowded at all, so it was an excellent spot to get some great photos of the sakura (cherry blossoms) and enjoy a quiet afternoon. So even though the day didn’t go as I had planned, we certainly enjoyed some lovely sights. Of couse, I am still hoping to get back to Kyoto this summer or fall. Hopefully we can explore around the less touristy areas in Arashiyama then.


Ginkakuji April 16, 2008

Fallen blossom on a moss-covered stump filled with rainwater

Our third stop for the day was Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is also a Zen temple with a beautiful garden. While Ginkakuji is famous for its beautiful Silver Pavillion, it was actually under renovation during our visit in March 2008, and so was shrouded in construction scaffolding. I don’t know how long it will be under renovation for, but I hope to get back to Kyoto to see it sometime.

Upon entering, you first reach their dry garden. The raked sand here seems almost severe compared to Ryoanji and Manshuin. There is a huge, flat-topped cone of sand in front of the pavilion, with sharp corners at its top and base. Then there is an expanse of sand that alternates between ridged and flat sections. Rather than appearing to mimics nature, it is quite unnatural in its rigid geometry.

Past the raked sand there is a lovely garden. There is a display of the different mosses that can be found throughout the garden. The touchable boxes are labeled “Mosses at Ginkakuji,” “Very Important Moss,” and “Moss the Interrupter.”

Although the garden mimics nature, you can also see several groundskeepers making their way through the garden, unobtrusively snatching up every twig and leaf that is out of place. Yet even after they have fallen detritus, the spent blossoms remain, perfectly perched, to capture the admiration of the passing tourists. I didn’t see any groundskeepers move any blossoms to more striking positions, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they do…