Friday, February 27, 2015

Raining in Nara

Day 5 in Kyoto, I took the Kintetsu express train to Nara. Unfortunately it was raining, but since I was able to borrow an umbrella from the hostel I didn't get too wet. Nara was the even more ancient capital, before Kyoto, and has some very impressive temples and shrines, as well as the deer which wander Nara Park. The deer are quite small, and just a little aggressive when seeking to be fed. Enough to scare little children at any rate.

I only went to one temple, as one of the other temples I planned to visit was completely covered up and undergoing major renovation. The Todaiji Temple, however, and its Great Buddha Hall were totally worth the trip. The Buddha is huge, though its hard to tell that from the pictures, and exerts a very powerful presence. I just sat for a while and meditated.

There were also some really old wooden statues, supposedly capable of magical powers like healing. Despite me touching the statue that looked more like the grim reaper than a deity who would heal me,  and then touching the body parts that are injured, not to mention also providing a cash donation, my back and leg showed no signs of miraculous recovery. Oh well....

I also made the effort to visit a shrine and purchase myself a fortune. If the fortune isn't all that good, one ties it to a piece of string, and if the gods see fit, then your luck will improve.

The wet weather was pretty persistent, but I was determined to visit a famous private garden known as Isuien Garden. Being a keen gardener myself it's always a pleasure to see how others interpret the aesthetic. Especially something as complex as a Japanese garden.

Some of the backstreets had some great "ancient decline" appeal, helped by the occasional rickshaw chappie, but it was cold and wet, so I headed back towards the train station, had soba noodles for lunch then took a train back to downtown Kyoto. It was time to go shopping.

Yet another joy of a Japanese city are the underground shopping centres and malls, that go for miles and miles without any need to ascend into the elements. There are some great electronics and camera stores, some impressive food emporiums, and lots of cute clothing boutiques as well as all the big name stores. I checked out some Sony lenses but didn't find anything I wanted, so decided instead to try and solve the problem of my limited wardrobe. Inspired by the stunning skirts I see everywhere,  I bought a simple skirt at Uniqlo that I can wear with my leggings. It may be boring now, but I have plans for it when I get home....

after modification, cute pockets
I'm really enjoying the energy of Kyoto. Although a biggish city, it's not frenetic like Tokyo or Osaka (neither of which I've actually visited). People get around at a relaxed pace, lots and lots of bicyclists of all ages, people young and old can be seen out and about wearing kimono, and the beautiful temples and shrines are still active places of worship. The appreciation of art and beauty is everywhere, from carefully tended potplants and bonsai, to gorgeous textiles, washi paper and woodblock prints, exquisite shopfront displays to day to day fashion worn in the streets. I could definitely live in Kyoto.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Flea Market Heaven

On the 25th day of each month there is a flea market held at Tenjin Kitano Shrine in Northern Kyoto.
And what a market!

Old Kimono, fabric offcuts, bric a brac, antiques, ceramics, beads, crappy shit, new trashy crap, collectors items, old cameras, jewellery and watches, old photographs and vinyl records, lots of food and produce and flowers and plants and….. the market went on and on.

In fact I spent a good 4 hours or more wandering the stalls and the temple, eating ramen, and purchasing a few more textiles. I really do need to start producing something from all this material I keep buying on overseas trips….

There was cheap junk, and expensive collectors items, a flea market for all tastes.

The market went for miles, well all around the shrine anyway, which was quite pretty to visit as well. As long as you left your Scottish Terrier at home.

I could have bought so much stuff, but with such tight weight restrictions on luggage I only bought one old kimono jacket and about three or four cuts of fabric. And some beads to make into earrings.

I spent most of the day there, so had little time to do further sightseeing beyond visiting the nearby Golden Pavillion at Kinkaju Temple. It was crowded, but wow!!

After Kinkaju I had wanted to visit another temple and garden in the area called Ryoan-ji, but I had run out of time, so I jumped on a bus and headed back to the hostel.

With only a couple more days to go I needed to finish off that nice bottle of sake I'd bought in Hokkaido so I sat in the dorm chatting to a young French Canadian lass who was about to head off on further travels after a month or so working at the hostel. She had acquired a mass of clothing and was trying to downsize her baggage and send stuff home. So I sat there swigging sake and questioning every choice she made, asking her to justify why each item needed to be kept. It actually hadn't occurred to her that it might be possible to pick up a really cool dress in Portugal, so why carry so much stuff all the way? And the memories that come with buying souvenirs are priceless. By the end we had at least halved her pile, though there was still some culling to do. Despite me thinking I may have been a bit mean, she thanked me for my honesty and said she couldn't have been so brutal without my help.

On this trip I had gone to the other extreme, in fact my trip in to Kyoto had only included the stuff that fitted in to my 33L backpack. I only had one pair of trousers, and was getting mighty sick and tired of them, especially as I really love the quirky Japanese fashion that the women wear here. The skirts and jackets are so cool, I wish I had taken more photographs, but women of all ages dress stylishly in Kyoto. I felt very underdressed.

Oh well, the sacrifices we make....

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kyoto: philosophy, silver pavilions and is that an aqueduct?

On my third day in Kyoto I hired a bike. Most of the city is quite flat, and besides the excellent footpaths there are lots of small roads to cycle on, so traffic isn't an issue at all. I wasn't sure if my sore leg could cope with the cycling, but as long as I walked up any steep bits my leg didn't seize up too much.

I crossed the river and headed northeast, to Northern Higashiyama. I bypassed Southern Higashiyama, probably the most commonly visited area, and headed further north, till I turned right, past a strange statue to manual labourers with small heads and huge hands, and onwards to Nenzen-In temple.

The gardens here, and those of the nearby Tenjuan temple, were lovely, with ponds, waterfalls, small water features and well presented trees. Admittedly they lack the colours of spring blossoms or fall foliage, but it's still possible to appreciate the structure and vistas they create. And the zen stone gardens are just magnificent. I also loved the beautiful painted screens in the rooms. Please note all photos taken without flash so no damage done.

Quite surprisingly, in the middle of this temple complex is an aqueduct. Incongruous European architecture in the middle of a Japanese landscape. I even scrambled up to the top of it for a gander.

After wandering around the Nenzen-In temple complex I got back on the bike and headed further north. It was now lunchtime, and rather than try one of the local tofu restaurants I decided to stop for lunch in a small Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki are cabbage patties, with various other ingredients added, cooked on a hotplate at your table. They are sort of like a spanish omelette or a frittata. Lots of westerners really like them, and after having one today I suspect it's because they are actually pretty bland and not overly testing for the western palate. Stodgy really…

After my tasteless but good filling lunch for a cyclist I continued north along the Path of Philosophy which is a car free path along a canal. It's surrounded by greenery, and from the quality of the adjoining houses it's pretty upmarket too. I stopped to buy some bananas at a little fruit stall with an honesty box, checked out a woodblock print gallery, and got completely bemused by the cat shrine, or whatever it is, complete with fat happy felines for you to feed and pet should you be so inclined. Shudder…

Next stop Ginkaju Temple. This is also known for its Silver Pavilion, and has a lovely wooden pavilion with white screens by a pond, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and some interesting dry stone gardens as well. It was quite crowded, but the groups tend to move on quite quickly, so if you take your time and don't hurry, you can usually snatch a little quiet time to appreciate the scene. I'm really enjoying the gardens, even if they aren't at their best right now, whereas I think I'm over the actual temples. There's only so many massive wooden structures with tiled roofs you can absorb before they all blend into one. Whereas capturing the garden vistas, that's much more fun.

After Ginkaju I made my way to a small temple called Honen-In. This gets a smattering of visitors, yet has a lovely garden, including two small raised dry stone beds, one with cherry blossom motifs in it. Pretty cool!!

Then I cycled over to Heian Jingu Shrine, which looked remarkably like something from China, but the garden was closing soon so I didn't cough up for the entrance fee, and instead headed home, back to the hostel through the streets of Gion, hoping, but failing, to see a geisha.

I cycled past this monument on a grassy mound, maybe an ancient burial site?

Back at the hostel I joined the staff and a few other guests in a Korean meal cooked by my French Canadian roomie, then headed off to bed early. I was off to the market in the morning.

That's next!