KAWAII KITTYS!!!!!

Stop right there, this post carries a serious Kawaii warning! That is all . .  proceed at your own risk . .

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Imagine my delight, on the back streets of Gion in Kyoto  ..  That’s right, it’s Hello Kitty food!!

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Tiny little sugary cute kitten faces with unidentified pink stuff . .

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OMG kitten ice cream and fruit .. thank you Japan – yet another reason to adore this country!!

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It’s a Maccha Latte  . .  with floating Hello Kitty!!

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Is it sugar? Is it savoury . .  guess I’ll never know, all we do know is IT IS CUTE!!!

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Do you have tooth ache yet? It is all so darn sugary sweet and uber Kawaii!!!

Here’s a few none edible cuties as well. These are tiny little good luck charms that bring harmony in all areas of life. I wanted them all . . .

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And finally on our whistle stop tour of Kyoto Kawaii is this gentleman and his simply adorable canine companion . .

Look at his little furry face and tiny traditional costume!! Can it get any cuter . .

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Pure water temple

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan and that’s where we’re headed next.

It’s a perfect excuse to retrace our steps through the beautiful cobbled streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka.

These are to be found in the Higashiyama District which is one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts.

Kiyomizudera was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters.

Before we head up to the actual temple I am entranced by this man in traditional garb.

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In the temple grounds are more Japanese women dressed to the nines in traditional colourful outfits.

Kiyomizudera is best known for its impressive wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below

The stage, and the main hall, were both built without a single nail. An impressive feat of architecture.

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The famed Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them.

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Each stream is believed to have different benefits, these are long life, success at school and a happy love life.

However, drinking from all three streams is a no no as it is considered greedy.

Kiyomizudera is a busy temple that is thronged with tourists and locals alike, full of colour and interesting sights. Another that is well worth a visit.

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.

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.

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!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a brightly coloured, busy temple in the heart of Kyoto’s tourist district. It’s one of the most visited temples in the city so prepare for crowds!

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This orange and green beacon of worship is thronged with visitors who swarm up its steps from the neighbouring shopping streets.

Over 1200 years have passed since the foundation of Kiyomizu-dera Temple and it is sited halfway up Mt. Otowa, one of the peaks in Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountain range.

Visitors and locals alike come to pay their respects to Kannon, a deity of great mercy and compassion.

It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.

As we arrive late in the day we don’t enter the actual main temple, we have a snoot around the exterior and enjoy the sun setting with hundreds of other folk.

We’ll return later on in the trip to enter the main complex and enjoy the main hall that juts out over a sheer drop with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

 

Shopping, shrines and sweeties

We’re back in Kyoto in the gorgeous shopping streets of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka.

The names Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, mean ‘Two-Year Hill’ and ‘Three-Year Hill’ .

These are referring to the ancient imperial years when they were first laid out.

Legend has it that you will die within two years if you fall down on Ninen-zaka and you will die within three years if you fall down on San’nen-zaka.

Given that the cobbles are quite slippery when wet, that’s a fair few people done for!!

We stumble across a little green oasis of calm that gives us a breather from the hordes.

Before plunging back into the teaming chaos. Enjoying a browse through some of the trinkets and toys on offer in the multitude of traditional shops.

So many colourful cute things – so little luggage allowance!!! I want it all!

From green tea caddies in the shape of Geisha to delicate fans and garish, tooth ache inducing sweeties, there’s something to tempt even the most shopping weary consumer.

At the end of the streets you arrive at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. A colourful, chaotic riot of a temple. We’ll explore that next.

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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!