Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 52

We are back in Japan again, this time in Kyoto. Kyoto is in the central part of the island of Honshu, which is what most of us think of as Japan. Its' population is close to 1.5 million and was ranked as the 11th of the world's most livable cities in the magazine Monocle in 2012. One of the reasons that we went was that it was spared from the atomic bomb during WWII. According to Wikipedia, it was on the list of cities to bomb but then was replaced with Nagasaki at the insistence of Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. The city was largely spared from conventional bombing as well, although small-scale air raids did result in casualties. As a result, Kyoto is one of the few Japanese cities that still have an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya.

We flew into Osaka and took the train up to Kyoto, arriving at Kyoto Station. It is Japan's second-largest station building (after Nagoya Station) and is one of the country's largest buildings, incorporating a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, Isetan department store, and several local government facilities under one 15-story roof. There have been several station buildings with this one, architected by Hiroshi Hara, opening in 1997 for Kyoto's 1,200th anniversary. Architecturally, it exhibits many characteristics of futurism, with a slightly irregular cubic facade of plate glass over a steel frame.

For those of you who have been following our blogs, you can tell we like to go into food markets, and Kyoto is no exception. This is the Nishiki-koji street, a covered food market near our hotel. The market itself dates from the middle ages although it has changed locations. It was nice that it was covered for the rain, which seems somewhat normal for Kyoto (perhaps they get lots of rain).

This is the area near our hotel and around the river the first night. The streets are lined by all kinds of stores, and the sidewalks are covered (for rain) and lit at night.

We walked around a little bit, trying to waste some time before dinner, and tucked back on a side road is this little temple.

This was a restaurant that we picked because it got a good review from Andy Hayler's blog, which Tom seems to read. The restaurant is called Takasebune and it was down a little tiny street next to the canal. We had gotten reservations through the hotel, which in one way was nice, but on the other hand, wasn't (I'll explain). The first picture is the outside, which as you can see, is quite unassuming. As you come in, there is a wooden boat, which Susan decided to "mug" for the camera in-front of. There is a counter where people sit (they LOVE their counters here) and catch watch in the kitchen as they cook. Our reservation put us into the little room in the back, which had the low table and cushions to sit on. So while the good part was that we could ensure we got into the restaurant and we could relax while we ate, the bad part was that we couldn't see them cook.

We started with a bottle of sake (yes, this IS Japan!) as we looked over the menu. There were several set menus and we picked 2 of them to get a nice combination of foods, that we both shared. The restaurant is known as a Tempura restaurant and so of course, we got Tempura! We also got a bit of sashimi and some vegetables. There was also Miso soup, which is VERY different than the Miso soup that we've had before and especially different from what we get in the US. The broth was a darker and thicker broth and the flavor was much more pronounced.

As we left, the owner came out with us to thank us, and we snapped a picture of us together!

In many cases, our friends have asked us "how much does gas cost there" and we never know because, well, we don't own a car so we never buy gas. However, we decided to grab a picture as we walked by this one. While I can't tell which is which, we assume the 118 is Diesel and the 142 and 150 are the 2 prices for gas. That is Yens per Liter, and at roughly 80 yen per dollar and 4 liters per gallon, that comes out to be 7 bucks a gallon.

We headed out the first morning to go to a walking tour. We walked down to the Kyoto station, but on the way, we walked by the Nishi Honganji Temple, or 'The Western Temple of the Original Vow'. It was established in 1602 by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who split the main Honganji in Kyoto into two temples, Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji, in order to diminish the power of the Jodo sect. The temple is listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We didn't go inside but grabbed a few pictures from the street.

The Kyoto Tower is the tallest structure in Kyoto, sitting opposite of the Kyoto station and on top of a 9-story building with a hotel and stores. It has an observation deck at 100 meters and its spire is 131 meters tall, and weighs in at 800-tons. It was was proposed in the early 1960s, and it was planned to be constructed and completed in time to correspond with the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Construction began in 1963 on the former site of Kyoto's central post office and was completed near the end of 1964. It was unique in that instead of a metal lattice frame, Kyoto Tower's interior structure consists of many steel rings stacked on top of each other, covered with lightweight steel sheets that are welded together and painted white. The intended overall effect was for the tower to resemble a Japanese candle.

We picked up a walking tour by Johnnie Hillwalker's Kyoto Walking, which came highly recommended. The first thing on the tour was the Higashi Honganji, the Eastern Temple of the Original Vow. The is the 2nd other temple mentioned above where they split the sects. The buildings were built in 1895 after a fire burned down the previous temple.

The walking tour guide mentioned this symbol, which looks like a fish tail. The fish tail symbolizes water, which is supposed to keep away fire. However, she mentioned that pretty much every temple has been burned down, so obviously, not effective.

As we continued walking, we saw this ... Tommy Lee Jones advertising for something in a vending machine.

We next walked by a place where they made prayer beads, which you can buy in tons of places around. When you go to these temples, you have these prayer beads in your hands. She mentioned that you can have very cheap, mass-produced beads or these more hand-made prayer beads.

Next up was a fan maker. Kyosendo is a shop for Sensu or Japanese folding fans where we watched the craftsmen (and craftswomen) at work. The famous Japanese fan came into being sometime in the 6th-8th centuries AD In Japan, the folding fan is generally called the Akomeogi (named after the woman's dress called the Akome) or hiogi. The akomeogi is made of small strips of native cypress wood, called hinoki. Here you can see the woman putting a layer of glue on the cypress wood fan frame, then she wipes off the extra. Then the man would thread the pre-folded and pre-painted fan paper onto the cypress frame, then they put them into a tray closed to "size" them.

This is a home altar that is quite elaborate.

We then got a quick education on religion in Japan. As our guide told us, most Japanese people do not identify themselves to single religion but utilize both Shintoism and Buddhism but for different life events. Shinto, meaning "the way of the gods", is Japan's indigenous religion and originated in prehistoric times as a religion with a respect for nature and for particular sacred sites. Shinto worship of kami is performed at shrines and it is especially important to perform the act of purification before visiting these shrines, therefore, you will always find a water station at the entrance. Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century from Korea. Our guide mentioned that how the Japanese intermingle these two religions is around the different life and death events. Life cycle events are often marked by visits to a Shinto shrine, including weddings and celebration of a birth and birthdays. Japanese funerals are usually performed by Buddhist priests, and Buddhist rites are also common on death day anniversaries of deceased family members.

Next up was the Ayako Tenmangu Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine. Here our guide (in the 2nd picture) explained a bit more about how a person would pray at a Shinto Shrine. She showed how you would purify yourself when you arrived. There are little pouches that you can buy, each has a different picture on it and each is for a different thing. So if you want luck in getting pregnant, there is a little pouch you would buy. She says they are only "good" for about a month, so you have to keep buying them. She also mentioned a difference between Shintoism and Buddhism around praying. In Shinto, the gods are now "in" the temple, but up floating in the air. So before you say your prayer, you have to ring a bell and clap 2 times. This basically is how you tell the Gods to come down to hear your prayer. In Buddhism, the Gods are there in the temple (in the form of the Buddha statues) so there is no bell and no clapping.

Next is Chokodo or Renkoji, which is a cemetary. You can see the graves which are very small and tend to be for an entire family. She mentioned that basically everyone in Japan is cremated .. there are no burials per se, just your ashes being put into these little headstones. The wooden planks are what your family and friends buy and place when they come to visit.

As we walked further, we came across a house that had this little Shinto Shrine gate laying across the roof drain pipe. She said that this is a way to say that you cannot pee here. Kinda odd.

This is where Nintendo started, and it started as a playing card company. Then we crossed the river and stopped off for some tea and cookies at the brown and white building where Susan is sitting on the bench in front.

Last on the list was the Toyokuni Shrine. It was built in 1599 to commemorate Toyotomi Hideyoshi and it is the location of the first tamaya (a Shinto altar for ancestor worship) ever constructed, which was later destroyed by the Tokugawa clan. It is also the official tomb of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who died in 1598 in Kyoto. The karamon gate (pictures 2, 3, and 4 below) is rumored to have been moved from Fushimi Castle. Next door is this huge bell.

As we weaved around the little streets to get to our ending point, we walked through things that looked just like houses, but were really pottery makers. One of the interesting things as we walked by was a "store" that was really just a house where they set the finished pieces outside on tables. Each has a price and there is a little slot where you put the money, totally on the honor system. Yea, like that would ever work in the US! HA HA HA

This picture we were just going for the mountains in the background, which is kinda nice to see.

The next day, we headed over to the Sanjusangen-do, which is another Buddhist temple. Its' official name is Rengeo-in, or the Hall of the Lotus King. The main hall is very long, and in the Edo period, archery exhibitions were held on the west veranda. The temple contains 1,000 life-size Japanese cypress statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon, which are positioned to the right and left of the main statue. They are in 10 rows of 50 statues. Not all are from the original temple, however. Only 124 statues remain from a fire in 1249 and the other 876 statues were created in the 13th century.

From there, we walked up to the Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (casually known as the Kiyomizu Temple). The temple was founded in 798 but the buildings that we saw were constructed in 1633. The really interesting thing here is that not a single nail was used to construct the entire complex. Kiyomizu means "clear water" or "pure water" and the temple gets its name from the waterfall within the complex. It is built up on a hill and seems to be a favorite for little kids.

In the front, there is a pagoda.

The main hall has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city.

There is a Japanese expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" which is equivalent of the "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Unfortunately, Tom didn't have an option because it is now prohibited.

I'm not really sure what this is but there are statues with aprons on.

Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers.

At the same complex is the Jishu Shrine, which is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Okuninushi, the god of love and good matches. As normal, there were lots of little wooden plaques with wishes hanging up. There is a pair of "love stones" placed 20 feet apart. Supposedly, if you can walk between them with your eyes closed, you will find love, or true love. Susan didn't do try the walk (I already HAVE true love!!) but she did get a picture with one of the stones.

This is our attempt to getting a picture of the Kyoto tower at night, somewhat unsuccessful.

Dinner was a little izakaya in the Gion district. There were 4 or 5 guys working there and we got a perfect seat at the counter. We picked up a few different things on the menu, which were cooked and then handed to us.

Nijo Castle has two different walls of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, a central keep or donjon, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, as well as a few other buildings and gardens. It was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of Shogun Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun. However, it wasn't completed until 1626 by the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. We crossed the Outer mote, entered through the Higashi Otamon, or main gate, and then went around the corner to Kara-mon and then went through the Ninomaru Palace.

The Ninomaru Palace was built in the simple shoin-zukuri style, and consists of lots of linked rooms or sections. It has 33 rooms and over 800 tatami mats. We roamed through although no pictures were allowed.

Then out through the Ninomaru Garden and then across the Inner Mote to the Honmaru garden.

I'm always amazed at how BIG the blocks are that were used to build some of these things!

The Honmaru Palace, which was closed, was added in 1626 and burned down in 1750 (go figure). The current buildings (built in 1847) were part of the former Imperial Palace of Katsura and moved here.

The central keep, or donjon, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1750. However, you can still climb up and get great views of the complex.

As we were leaving, there was a little market setup. And of course, a bell.

Kinkaku-ji is the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and is (yet) another Buddhist temple. It started in 1397 as a villa purchased by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who transformed it into the current Kinkaku-ji complex. When he died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son. In 1950, a 22-year old monk burned the pavilion down and it was rebuilt in 1955. We took alot of pictures of the grounds and gardens. The golden pavilion itself sits in the garden

within the pond, they have some mighty big fish.

And then a waterfall.

Up on a hill is the Sekka-tei Tea House, a small tea house built in honor of a visit by Emperor Go-Mizuno-o in the 17th century. The simplicity of the tea house is meant to focus the attention of the guest on the tea ceremony. Sekka-tei was burned down in a fire in 1874 and was reconstructed in 1884.

Fudo-do is a temple whose main image is a stone statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo-myo-o.

A nice little sushi lunch!

After noon was spent in Yasaka Shrine and the Chion-in Temple. First up, the Shrine. Yasaka Shrine is also called the Gion Shrine and is a Shinton shrine in the Gion district. There are multiple buildings and gates in the complex.

Then we walked through Maruyama Park and then to the Chion-in Temple, which is the headquarters of the Jodo-shu (Pure Land Sect) founded by Honen. The original temple was built in 1234 by Honen's disciple, Genchi (1183–1238) in memory of his master and was named Chion-in. Thie large brown gate is the Sanmon, built in 1619, and is the largest surviving structure of its kind in Japan. Unfortunately, the main building that we wanted to see was under renovation.

We stopped by a little Gyoza store along the street, and I do mean LITTLE!

The Heian Shrine is another Shinto Shrine In 1976, the Shrine was set on fire; and nine of the buildings, including the honden, or main sanctuary, burned down. Three years later, the burned buildings were reconstructed with money collected from donations. The Outen-mon (main gate) is a bright orange 2-story structure built in 1894.

The Grand Shrine Gate was built in 1929 with a height of 24.2 meters and a top rail length of 33.9 meters.

Soryu-ro are the look-outs at roof center and at four corners, built in 1894.

The last night in Kyoto, we went to Gion Corner for a show. Gion Corner Theatre became popular due to the movie based on the book 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden. First is the Chado or Tea Ceremony. The tradition of tea tasting originated in china in the 8th centry and brought to Japan by Zen Buddhist priests around the 12th century. This is the stylized tradition of steeping and serving tea to guests and we saw the “ryurei” style of the Tea Ceremony. It was quite interesting to watch, they first took hot water and warmed all of the bowls and utensils, then made tea using green tea powder, not tea leaves.

The koto is an ancient Japanese 13-stringed harp traditionally imported from China about 1300 years ago.

Kado is flower arranging, which started in Japan around the 6th century. In the 16th century, it became fashionable to use flower arrangements in tea ceremony houses.

Gagaku is the name for indigenous Japanese music and dance performed at the imperial court, shrines and temples. Gion Corner offers maigaku performances accompanied by dance.

Originating in Kyoto, kyo-mai is an elegant and dazzling dance performed by maiko dancers in beautifully ornate dress.

Banraku or a Puppet Play. There are 3 people (dressed in black) that work the puppet.

On one of the main shopping streets, the sidewalks are covered, we assumed because it rains alot.

Dinner was at Kushi Kura, which is housed in a 100-year-old warehouse with heavy-beamed, dark-polished wood and whitewashed walls. Its' speciality is yakitori. We sat upstairs at a low table with tatami mats.

We started with some Japanese plum liquor, calleed Ume-shu.

We ordered a bunch of different things, cooked on sticks over coals.