Careening around Kyoto

Here’s a quick dump and run of some of the sights to be had in the back streets and riverside of Kyoto.

More painted privacy screens, serene trainee Geisha and traditional architecture.

Once again we take a detour down into the traditional Gion heart of Kyoto to enjoy the clean, calm architecture on show.

We can see lots of examples of Machiya (町屋/町家)  traditional wooden townhouses found throughout Japan but typified in Kyoto.

 

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The city’s key selling point – the Maiko, appears on everything from this little warning cone to posters and to the beautiful wooden “rules” boards.

Here’s a peek into a beautiful zen garden that just oozes calm and serenity.

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I love the plain lines and wooden aesthetic of the traditional houses. Apparently most Japanese people buy a house to pull it down and rebuild a new one as they depreciate in value from the minute you start to live in them.

So old houses are becoming a more and more rare sight due to the constant churn of building and subsequent destruction.

The typical Kyoto machiya is a long wooden home with narrow street frontage and often containing one or more small courtyard gardens.

The front of a machiya features wooden lattices, or kōshi (格子), the styles of which were once indicative of the type of shop the machiya held.

Finally here’s the nearest thing I got to a picture of a Maiko – a photo of a poster!!! 🙂

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Shrine details

Also close to Nishiki market is the Nishiki Tenman-gū Shrine.

Although the entrance to the shrine is now rather incongruously within a covered shopping street the roots of the shrine go back to the year 1003.

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Then a temple called Kanki-ji was built, as well as a shrine to Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning, was also founded to protect the temple.

The temple and shrine were moved to the center of Kyoto as a part of the reconstruction of Kyoto by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Above these fun little wooden amulets are shaped like a plum and are called Daigan-ume.

It is said that Sugawara no Michizane loved plums, which is why these amulets are shaped like them. You pop your message inside them and hang your wish on the tree.

The god of learning, Sugawara-no Michizane, became one of the highest ranked scholars in the land, so many people visit the shrine in order to achieve academic success.

 

These cute illustrations show you clearly how to use the water for ritual purification.

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Apparently Nishiki Tenmangu is famous for its great water that runs into a stone trough.

The water quality here is so good that it’s said Nishiki Market was build close to this shrine because of it.

I’ll leave you with a few images of my favourite things – wooden Ema and the (by now) obligatory origami crane chains!!

Nishiki Market

Almost opposite our hotel in Kyoto is Nishiki Market. A sprawling warren of food stalls begging to be explored.

Known to locals as “Kyoto’s pantry”, Nishiki Market is one of the best traditional food market in the city.

There are plenty of traditional shops to give you a glimpse of what a traditional shotengai (shopping street) would have looked like.

There’s a wide varity of traditional Kyoto cuisine on display here including tsukemono (Japanese pickles), Kyo-yasai (Kyoto vegetables) and wagashi (Japanese sweets).

Below is an example of the ever popular Narazuke.

This refers to vegetables of the gourd family that are pickled in sake lees. It is said to have originated in the Kansai region of Japan.

Narazuke is usually made by soaking vegetables in sake lees for a long time and replacing the lees over and over until the vegetables mature.

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As well as a multitude of pickled vegetables there are also plenty of super kawaii (cute) items for sale including these adorbs purses.

Stacks of pumpkins and gourds are ready to get Halloween off to a cracking start as it seems to be a favoured holiday.

There’s also a lot of battered and fried ingredients above including shrimp, octopus, cheese, squid, quail eggs and burdocks.

Barrels of pickled vegetables line the street but still don’t seem that tempting to me . .

The other striking thing I spot in each market is the wide plethora of brightly coloured sweeties.

Below the tiny spiky balls are Konpeitō. The word “konpeitō” comes from the Portuguese word confeito (comfit), which is a type of sugar candy.

I think this cute little sign is advertising Mochi ice cream.

This is a small, round dessert ball consisting of a soft, pounded sticky rice cake (mochi) formed around an ice cream filling.

Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea.

Below the pastel chalk like sweets are Rakugan, which is a variant of Higashi, which is a type of dry Wagashi.

Below is a selection of jewel bright small traditional sugar candies known as Kyo-ame.

Tōdaiji Temple

Located in Nara province, Tōdaiji, the “Great Eastern Temple” is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples.

The temple was built in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan.

It grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 to try and reduce the temple’s influence on government affairs.

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Todaiji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden ( AKA Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, even more incredible is that the present version is only two thirds of the original temple hall’s size.

The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu).

The 15 metres tall, serene seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas. It’s an impressive sight as you head into the dim exterior of the hall.

The statue’s shoulders are 28 meters across and there are 960 six curls on its head.

Below we can see another huge wooden statue, this time of Pindola Bharadvaja (or Binzuru in Japanese).

There is a belief that if you have a bodily ailment, you must rub the corresponding  part of Pindola, then rub the same part on yourself and it will be cured. Hence the somewhat weathered condition of this old deity.

It’s an impressive place, especially in the gorgeous sunshine – shame I am gurning hideously – it somewhat detracts from the lovely building behind us!!

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Nibbly Nara Deers

We’re off to see some more of Japan’s famed wildlife now with a trip to Nara.

Due to its past as the first permanent capital Nara remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples.

But it’s also famous for its resident deer. Hence these cute little cartoon critters.

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According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, the god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō.

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Since then the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country.

Although as this sign clearly warns, they do not always act like heavenly little creatures…

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In 2015 there were more than 1,200 sika deer in Nara. Snack vendors sell sika senbeid (deer crackers) to visitors so they can feed them.

Apparently some deer have learned to bow to people after receiving senbei. However these seem to prefer to just ambush people from the shrubbery!!

They may look doe eyed and docile but these little guys can be very persistent and we did witness several small children screaming as they fled for their tiny lives with the deer in hot pursuit!

Drop the crackers kids – drop the crackers!!!

Next we’re heading to the impressive Todaiji Temple, a massive wooden temple with humongous Buddha statue.

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Here’s a few more snaps of our doe eyed little followers. Who hang around looking cute in the hope of crackers.

But they don’t manage to be quite as adorable as this little cartoon fella!!!

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Food stalls

As we leave another lovely shrine we pass by rows of hot food vendors, all rolling, flipping, steaming and grilling various snacks and street food.

I’m not sure what they all are. Below the green and white lumps could be Dango, this is a Japanese dumpling and sweet made from mochiko (rice flour) or it could be mochi which is pounded sticky rice.

Below a vendor creates his next batch of Taiyaki – cute fish shaped cakes filled with custard, chocolate or cheese.

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Various meat on sticks are next up in the little food tents. It must be a hot and sweaty job!

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They could be a type of Yakitori – chicken skewers cooked in a savoury sauce or it could be grilled pork belly. Being a veggy means I am not great at meat identification!!

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The meat below could quite possibly be little sparrows on sticks – quite upsetting for the other half who is a real bird lover.

As well as food there are some adorable little fabric creations up for grabs.

Here’s another look at the stall holder creating his little fishy shaped snacks.

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Tiny lucky charms

Having conquered the Inari mountain and negotiated the endless winding corridors of orange Tori gates we head back into the rest of the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine complex.

There is a fascinating story attached to the origin of the shrine.

The legend goes, a rice cake was shot into the air, which turned into a swan and flew away, eventually landing on a peak of a mountain, where rice grew – this is an auspicious omen in Japan.

This led to the deity Inari Okami, the god of rice, being enshrined on the plateau and the start of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Can’t keep me away from the endless strings of cranes. I am like a magpie faced with shiny objects!!!

Then with a few final glimpses we’re off – leaving this fascinating shrine behind.

Heading for the summit

Here’s a few more snaps from the orange frenzy that is Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.

Foxes (kitsune), are regarded as Inari’s messengers and can often be found with things in their mouths such as keys (for the rice granary).

The trails climb up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span four kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

We take a brief respite at Yotsutsuji intersection which is roughly half way up the mountain. It offers awesome views and cold drinks before the next section of the climb.

Although the cool little local doesn’t seem too friendly to me!

Below we can spot some more statues of Kitsune dotted between the endless Tori gates.

There are thought to be around 10,000 Tori gates in total and each one bears the name of the business or individual who donated it.

Each gate has been donated by a company or organisation giving thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future.

Finally we’ve made it to the top! I am very proud although the man mutters something about it only being a ‘little’ mountain . .  I care not, I climbed a mountain!!

Definitely take the time to visit this intriguing shrine if you’re visiting Kyoto.

It’s completely different to any others that we visited, both in scale and in visual impact. It’s an orangey delight!

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Next up on our Kyoto sight seeing hitlist is Fushimi Inari Taisha.

This incredible shrine is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and very different from the usual Japanese shrines.

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan.

The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span four kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up.

It is a dream like corridor of seemingly endless orange Tori gates that wind their way up the mountain.

In some places the gates are so close together that the light barely penetrates through.

Since early Japan, Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business.

At the start of the hike the temple is jammed full of eager visitors but the higher and higher you climb, the sparser the crowds become!

I’ll post a few more snaps of this jazzy orange delight, so watch this space!!

Colourful clothing and consumerism

As we pass through the streets of Kyoto I stealthily snap away at some of the beautiful, colourful ladies parading in traditional costume.

Locals and tourists alike enjoy hiring these elaborate outfits.

The women we spot are mainly wearing Yukata. These are inexpensive, informal summer robe for summer that’s popular for cherry blossom viewing parties, festivals and fireworks. It’s not quite a kimono but it has much the same feel.

These are teamed with contrasting Obi – these are ornate wide sashes that are wrapped around the waist.

On their feet are Zori, a type of Japanese sandal worn with Tabi, socks with a separated big toe to enable them to be worn with sandals.

Below is a selection of traditional footwear for sale along with delicate fans and intricate paper goods.

I love these cute little cartoon ladies in more detailed traditional clothing and piles of kimono cloth ready for creating new wearable masterpieces.

These sachets of green tea make simple souvenirs and their packaging is exquisitely simple.

Meanwhile the Kawaii delights continue with fabric frogs and adorable old people!