Captivating Kyoto

Leaving Hiroshima behind the next stop on our tour is the fascinating city of Kyoto. A heady mix of bustling modern city and hauntingly beautiful traditions.

Before we even get into the city however I am distracted (it doesn’t take much TBH) with a selection of colourful magazines.

Then a cute little shrine, festooned with more colourful chains of origami cranes.

Kyoto is famous for its illusive  Geisha and their trainees.  Apprentice geisha are called maiko (舞妓), literally “dance child” or hangyoku (半玉), “half-jewel” meaning that they were paid half of the wage of a full geisha.

They’re also know by the more generic term o-shaku (御酌), literally “one who pours (alcohol)”

We’re on the lookout but for the time being we had to be content with stalking tourists and locals who like to parade in beautiful traditional costumes at the weekends. A pastime that I decide to call “Butterfly stalking .  . .”

We then duck into some tiny alleyways to enjoy some of the traditional architecture that still prevails in Kyoto.

Below is Ishibei-koji Lane an atmospheric pedestrian-only alleyway that is one of the most perfectly preserved of Kyoto’s old streets.

If you manage to find the hidden entrance to this gorgeous little slice of history then you’re in for a treat.

Ishibei Koji Lane means stone moat and is a twisting, turning lane full of traditional eateries, ryokans and private houses. It is the stuff of fairytales, definitely a place to spot a Geisha or two . . . and we did!

We almost literally bumped into two exquisite maiko who were lost and looking for their tearoom!

Usually a happy snapper I was so gob smacked to see them that I just gawped at them. They stood in front of us for a good two minutes before tottering off up the lane to be grabbed for a selfie with some American tourists!!

Then it’s onto the twin delights of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. These steeply sloping Imperial era shopping streets are steeped in history and feel like (very crowded) film sets.

Here it is possible to imagine how Kyoto, and indeed Japan itself, would have been before crass modernity intruded.

Even with the throngs of visitors it is still a picturesque sight and one that we’ll return to time and time again!

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Last shrine scenes

Here’s some final pictures from the Daishoi-In Shrine on Miyajima island. This quirky little temple is chock a block with interesting sights.

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These little Buddhas demonstrate the concept of getting through life by ignoring everything!

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Within the shrine is a beautiful cave full of hundreds of lanterns. Henjokutsu Cave holds 88 principal Buddhist icons which are related to a pilgrimage route of visiting 88 temples in Shikoku.

Followers believe that they can be given the blessings in this cave instead of visiting all the temples of pilgrimage route.

In esoteric Buddhism, Dainichi Nyorai, or Cosmic Buddha, is believed to embody Buddhist philosophy, and other various Buddhist deities are incarnated in figures of Dainichi Nyorai.

There are four groups of Buddhist deities: Nyorai, Bosatsu, Myo-o, and Ten. You can find out more about them here.

Plus there’s my own personal favourites – Daruma. This is a traditional Japanese wishing doll or charmingly referred to as a “goal doll” that keeps us focused on achieving our goals!

These pop up on the wooden ema wish boards everywhere. I even took one home with me.

If you get the chance do visit Daishoi-In Shrine. It’s not as well known as other shrines on the island but well worth exploring.

Statue mash up

Carrying on our trip around Daishoi-In Shrine we come across a room full of little gold statues.

This is the room of 1000 Fudo Images. Commemorating the succession of the current (77th) head priest, one thousand Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images were donated by worshippers.

The shrine is stuffed to the gills with a variety of wacky statues and religious deities.

Below the statue in the middle is a Tengu, with wings and long nose, these have been considered to possess supernatural powers since ancient times.

Various Tengu legends and faiths were created, leading them to deification. Tengu are indispensable to the holy sites in mountains.

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate these lines of adorable teeny tiny buddha babies!

Could they actually get any cuter?! I certainly do not think so!! How many can I stuff in my suitcase? . . .

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Daisho-in Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine might be the most well known but it is not the only shrine on Miyajima Island. We’re off to explore one of the lesser known (but to my mind even better) shrines.

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Daisho-in is the main temple of the Shingon Buddhist school of Omuro and it’s a treat!

It is located at the foot of the thickly forested Misen. Until the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period, the head priest of Itsukushima Shrine engaged in politics here.

Above the man stands in front of the Niomon Gate. This serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate.

Nio kings are believed to ward off evil and preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

 

There are 500 Rakan Statues lining alternative steps to the temple. These are the statues of five hundred of Shaka Nyorai’s disciples and they all have unique facial expressions.

Each one of these tiny little fellas currently sports a jaunty little knitted hat.


Below are a variety of the sights to be seen including the multitude of Mani (prayer) Wheels.

Spinning the wheels is believed to invite blessings equivalent to reading one volume of the Hannya-shinkyon or Heart Sutra.

The shrine is full of different statues, some almost cartoonish.

Below are an eclectic collection including an Anpanman Statue. He’s a famous Japanese animation character and particularly popular among children.

Daisho-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temple in the western part of Japan.

The Shingon sect is known as esoteric Buddhism in Japan. The sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines.

 

The shrine is a boisterous, riotous bounty of religion, colour and cartoonish delight.

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Lot’s more of this fun shrine to come!

 

Itsukushima Shrine

We’re carrying on our exploration of Miyajima Island now and we manage to wrangle an actual snap of us together!

There’s a pretty little stretch of beach on the island that is completely empty except for us hardy Brits!

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Next up on our mooch is the pretty Itsukushima shrine where walkways seem to hover above the water.

Itsukushima Shrine is a beautiful orange Shinto shrine best known for its floating torii gate that sits out in the bay.

The shrine has been destroyed several times, but the first shrine buildings were beleived to be built in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century.

The shrine was designed and built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water, separate from the sacred island, which could be approached by the devout.

Here is the gorgeous Sori-bashi (Arched Bridge).

It is said that this bridge was also called “Chokushi-bashi” (Imperial Messengers’ Bridge) and that imperial messengers crossed it to enter the Main Shrine on important festive occasions.

The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and a noh theater stage, which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.

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Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.

To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are the terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are forbidden.

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The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto god of seas and storms, and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

As usual you can buy a range of sacred items for wish fulfilment and good luck.

These wooden paddles are something different though, I am not sure what you are supposed to do with those!

 

 

Miyajima Island

Next stop on our whistle stop tour is Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, a small island in Hiroshima Bay.

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We hopped on the JR ferry for the short trip across the bay to the island. You can get a ticket as part of the Japan Rail Pass so bonus for us!

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Just offshore, a giant, orange Grand Torii Gate stands and marks the entrance to the 12th century Itsukushima Shrine.

The Torii gate here is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views.

 

Sadly for us it’s a) a bit misty and b) being repaired so has rather unsightly scaffolding spoiling it a bit!

As well as the Torri gate, the island is also well know for its tame deer that wander the streets.

These delicate little creatures are almost totally dependant on tourists for food.

This means that they are not only fearless, but also quite persistent . .  I nearly lost our guide book to one very nibbley specimen!

Man versus spindly legged beast, it’s a tense standoff!

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A bit of general knowledge about the impressive red gate that is the symbol of the island now.

The great Torii gate is the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds.
The first Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in 1168 and was built about 200 meters offshore.

The base of the great Torii is not buried deep in the seabed, but stands by its own weight.

The sun and the moon are painted on the east and the west of the Otorii roof. Because the northeasterly direction is considered to be the demon’s gate in Feng Shui, the painted sun is said to block this demon’s gate.

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The gate is a brilliant red pigment known as vermilion and originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar.

This vermilion colour is considered to keep evil spirits away.

Next up we visit the beautiful ‘floating’ Itsukushima Shrine. Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.

Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle (広島城 ) was built in the 1590s, but was destroyed by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.

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It was rebuilt in 1958 and now serves as a museum of Hiroshima’s history before World War II.

Mōri Terumoto, one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s council of Five Elders, built the castle between 1589 and 1599.

It was located on the delta of the Otagawa river. There was no Hiroshima city at the time, instead the area was called Gokamura, meaning “five villages”

From 1591, Mōri governed nine provinces from this castle, including much of what is now Shimane, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okayama and Hiroshima Prefectures.

Of course, we’re making a bee line for the costumes! Visitors can dress up as a wartime samurai, complete with a samurai helmet. Samurai Gibbs reporting for action!

I get in on the dressing up action as a Japanese princess and this lovely lady helped me make sure I was kitted up correctly.

Here we make the perfect Japanese Royal couple! Although it did take a lot of trussing up to get us there!

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Within the castle walls, three trees survived the atomic bombing: a eucalyptus and a willow at approximately 740m from the hypocenter, and a holly approximately 910m from the hypocenter.

The man manages to magically locate bicycles using his wheely third senses!

Hiroshima by night

AKA endless shopping pictures from the mecca of department stores – Don Quijote.

Night falls in Hiroshima and casts new shadows on the brooding A dome. Still ominous and dominating the riverside vista after 70 years.

But the horrors of history are not the whole story of Hiroshima, it’s vibrant and bustling with a neon night life just like any other Japanese city.

Here’s a beautiful dark wood sake bar, the man attempts to make off with a vintage ride.

And joy of joys . . we have our first CERK – Close Encounter of the Robot Kind!

This adorable little fellow is Pepper! According to his makers he is capable of identifying the principal emotions: joy, sadness, anger or surprise.

He is also capable of interpreting a smile, a frown, your tone of voice, as well as the lexical field you use and non-verbal language such as the angle of your head, for example.

The combination of all this information enables the robot to determine whether his human interlocutor is in a good or a bad mood.

All we know is he is darn cute!!!!!

 

After this heady excitement we swiftly stumble upon another unexpected (and non guide book) treat – Don Quijote, the department store to end all department stores!

It is floor upon floor of consumer delights, from the basement department full of all things snackable and eatable!

This included a mind boggling choices of Kitkat flavours.

There have been more than 300 limited-edition seasonal and regional flavors of Kit Kats produced in Japan since 2000.

These include soy sauce, ginger ale, red potato and vegetable juice!!! I can heartily recommend the strawberry flavour ones . .nom nom.

The snack floor is a cornucopia of mainly unidentifiable, but cute, edibles.

Above are some very tasty Brazilian orange Pocky – this crunchy sweet snack also comes in a wide range of flavours.

Pocky has been a part of Japanese life since 1966 when the Ezaki Glico Company created it. It’s since spread around the world, in fact we first nibbled in them in Thailand back in 2009!

As you head upwards the store then takes a turn for the bizarre with a floor of fancy dress, masks and fake facial hair!

I have no idea what most of these things are but if you can see a little yellow blob being poked by chopsticks below – this is Gudatama! Basically a clinically depressed egg yolk  . .

As well as adorable plastic toys, there’s also a section for . .  rather more grown up plastic toys!! With a certain amount of trepidation we draw back the curtain .. .

My eyes!!!!! Who knew there could be so many whirling, vibrating, horrifically realistic bits of plastic out there!

All in all, we had a spiffing time in what is basically a department store!! *warning – this won’t be the last time that you are treated to us basically faffing around in a shop!*

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Horror and hope

Our next stop is a sombre one – the now infamous town of Hiroshima, forever synonymous with the horrors of the atomic bomb.

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Whenever we travel, we do our best to try and get beneath the surface of a country, to see all sides of it and it’s history. This can sometimes mean uncomfortable, or harrowing viewing.

We did this in Thailand with the Hellfire pass and death railway, in Cambodia with the killing fields and in Poland with the claustrophobic horror of Auschwitz.

While for some people this might seem macabre, or distasteful, we feel that we owe it to the people of each country to try and fully comprehend their histories, for good and bad.

The Atomic Bomb Dome was formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and is now part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Little Boy was the code name for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

The Dome was 160 meters from the hypocentre of the atomic blast but because the bomb exploded almost directly overhead, the building kept its distinctive shape.

Everyone inside the building was killed instantly.


66,000 people were killed as a direct result of the Hiroshima blast, and nearly 70,000  were injured to varying degrees.

The dome was controversial, with some locals wanting it torn down, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing and a symbol of peace.

Ultimately, when the reconstruction of Hiroshima began, the skeletal remains of the building were preserved to forever stand testament to the horrors of war.

Close to the A bomb is a statue dedicated to Sadako Sasaki a little girl who was two years old when the bomb was dropped.

Sadako became one of the most widely known hibakusha — a Japanese term meaning “bomb-affected person”.

She is remembered through the story of the one thousand origami cranes she folded before her death, and is to this day a symbol of the innocent victims of nuclear warfare.

Sadako developed leukaemia nine years after the bombing, in a pattern that quickly became apparent as high levels of the illness began to occur as a result of radiation exposure.

Her hospital roommate told Sadako about a Japanese legend that promises that anyone who folds one thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish.

She therefore set out to make 1000 of the cranes in the hope that she would get well but sadly she died aged 12.

To this day people from around the world continue to make beautiful colourful chains of cranes in memory of Sadoko and for the hope of eventual peace on earth.

 

Brick Lane revisited

Along with a glut of candy coloured neon joy we also took a tour of some of London’s street art hot spots.

We take a quick turn around Wood Street in Walthamstowe before heading to my favourite art spotting haunt – Brick Lane.

We first visited around four years ago and it’s interesting to see how the area is changing.

While there is still a street art scene it doesn’t feel as vibrant or as strong as previously.

There are still colourful collages of stickers, paste ups and coloured paint to be found.

However the developers are moving in. Exclusive highrises are popping up and Costa coffee and designer burger joints are starting to encroach.

I have the feeling that the gradual gentrification of the area will sound a death knell for the street art scene. As the middle classes move in, so the artists move out.

It’s ironic that the very thing that has made the area so appealing to developers will be the victim of its own success.

But in the meantime there is still political satire to be found, musings on the surveillance state and statements to be made.

Key themes currently are the American political situation, Brexit and thoughts on the consumerism and commodification of the female form (or maybe I have overthought it)

Below are some cute paste up from the likes of Sub Dude London and Keef. Cuteness belies that biting messages that the work delivers.

Street art divides opinion, some people see it as vandalism and some see it as an open air, transient art gallery.

I think there’s a clear divide between what I personally class as “ART” ie pieces that exhibit actual skill or have a clever message to tell, and then just the mindless tagging of lazy aerosol wielding idiots. (who quite happily destroy other artists work)

Brick Lane has both in abundance and it’s a moveable feast. Pieces that appear and disappear almost overnight. Or are mutilated or transmogrified by human or natural interventions.

I almost love the weathered, old pieces the best. The ones that have been left to sink or swim by their creators. To claim their own transient place in the world – just like us.