How I Spend my Days in Kyoto

My weeks here, in Kyoto, usually look something like that :):

ImageImageImageImageImageImage7. Freestyle Sunday

So I only can say that:

8. Me plus Kyoto egal love

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There are 2,000 Temples and Shrines in Kyoto

Yep, that’s true and that’s also a bit discouraging, as I realize I can’t possibly visit each and every one while I’m here. Tough life :).

In Japan, the two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism coexist happily. Usually, the temples are Buddhist, and the shrines are Shintoist, with their architecture being quite similar.  There are a few elements that distinguishes them: at a Shinto shrine you enter through a torii gate (it’s often painted in bright orange) which marks the transition from the profane to the sacred, a pair of guardian dogs, or lions, or foxes sit at the entrance and there’s a purification stream near the entrance where people cleanse their mouth and hands before prayer. The Buddhist temples display images with Buddha, in their main hall there is always a huge incense burner whose smoke is believed to be healing and you can often see a pagoda close to the temple.

Up to now, I managed to visit around twenty something of them, so I have so far a list of my favorites. But I’m sure my preferences will evolve by the time we leave Kyoto.

Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) 

The golden image of the temple reflected in the serene pond is one of the famous images from Kyoto. The temple displays three distinct styles of architecture: palace style (first floor), samurai house (second floor) and zen (the third floor). The peaceful gardens are also a delight.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera

Is one of the most touristy temple in Kyoto, always packed with tour groups and school children. But it’s beautiful and you can have a peaceful walk down the  forest and just enjoy the silence. An incredible thing about this temple is that it was built without any nail, everything being held in place through impressive tall wood pillars.

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Fushimi-Inari

When I learned we’d gonna move to Japan, the image of Fushimi-Inari was the first thing I came across when I googled Kyoto. It was impressive in the pictures and it remains impressive in reality. There are thousands of bright orange torii gates that keep going up through the forest, into the mountain. For about one hour they keep you company on the quite steep way, until you reach the top of the mountain. During the night it gets even more beautiful, with the tourists gone and the gently lit torii gates, reflecting in the forest.

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Nanzen-ji

What I love about this Buddhist temple is the surroundings. It’s a good place to get away from the noise of the more touristic places and take a walk on the 19th century aqueduct you find within the temple complex.

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Shimogamo Shrine

Much like Nanzen-ji, Shimogamo is surrounded by a peaceful forest and it’s one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. When I first discovered it, I fell in love with the leafy road that leads to the shrine. Perfect for biking, running, reading, dreaming.

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Yoshida Shrine

Though probably this is not on the must-do list of the tourists, let’s say it’s my guilty pleasure :).Yoshida is a complex of small shrines that you discover one by one on the small hike that gets you on the top, oferring a nice view of Kyoto. Or you can just linger in the woods, with a book.

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The Flying Fish in the Sky

Throughout April and early May, I noticed hundreds of giant fish shaped kites popping up all over Japan. They were really beautiful as they were fluttering in the wind, all colorful and intriguing. What was their meaning, why were they displayed in different parts of the cities, from public places like museums or construction sites to Japanese homes?

Well, it turns out that they are called koinobori and they mark Children’s Day, on May 5. In Japan this day used to be known as Boys’ Day, up until 1948, when they decided it would celebrate the happiness of all children.

The carps symbolize strength and courage and there’s one for every member of the family: the black one is the father, the red carp is the mother and there’s one baby fish for every child in the family. A personal fish for everyone.

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Rainy Saturday Inspiration

Famous blue raincoat.

The crude green of the trees against the cloudy sky.

Fitting your thoughts into white boxes.

Saturday morning inspiration, rainy days, thoughts

Images credit: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

 

The Spanish ‘Olé’ meets the Japanese ‘Arigato’

This weekend, we went out to eat with my husband’s colleagues at a nearby Spanish restaurant. It’s called Tio Pepe, and is as cozy and homey as the name suggests. It’s even located on the tiniest street in one of the quietest residential neighborhoods in Kyoto.

So around 7:15, we sit down at our table and start chatting. Out of a sudden, here comes the most gracious and obliging waiter ever (even for Japanese standards). He looks like he’s dancing on water as he moves between the tables, with the widest possible smile on his lips all the time! He just seems so above all earthly things, emphatic yet impenetrable. He doesn’t even flinch when another waitress spilled an entire mug of beer on one of the guests right in front of him… he just casually picks up a handful of paper towels and graciously cleans up the mess.

We order drinks and in a couple of minutes we get our first starter, octopus salad. It vanishes quickly from our plates, to show how hungry we all were. The waiting time until next appetizer arrived seemed like eternity, but it was worth it: jámon and toast dipped in fresh tomato sauce. Very tasty, but quickly gone! So we start chatting again, and a while later here comes the waiter with another round of dancing. He quickly collects the used plates and hands out the next appetizer: delicious grilled shrimp in olive oil and garlic, and loads of bread to dip.

It’s about 8:45 now, and I was already feeling kind of full and ready to call it a night, when our waiter announces the main dish: chicken or monk fish. That’s a surprise, I thought the meal was over. After a little back-and-forth everyone is all set with the main dish sitting comfortably in front of them. We wolf it down, and feel really satisfied with the meal. I’m getting ready for the coffee and check, but the waiter is in no rush to get rid of us. Another half hour passes, and he keeps coming to our table more obliging than ever: offering us warm towels, asking if he can remove the used towels, and before removing them ceremoniously announces that he will be removing them :) and it goes on and on… It’s already 9:30, and we’ve been here for more than two hours.

But lo and behold, the waiter comes back bearing two huge platters of paella for the whole table. I thought the meal was over after the third course, but now there’s five of them! The paella is very good and brimming with seafood, but I feel my stomach overflowing and can barely feel my legs and butt after having sat for almost three hours. Just as I thought the meal was over and could finally go home, here comes the inevitable: the waiter lures us with coffee or tea, and it turns out that everybody at the table wants that! I was already getting restless before that, but it’s a good half hour until we get our coffee, and our dinner reaches the three and a half hour mark. I know that Spanish dinners are supposed to last for ages, but I guess when you team that up with the overdeveloped Japanese sense of customer service, that means you’ll be trapped at the table until the next day :) But the food was one of the best we’ve had in Japan. Period. And the pictures prove it, olé! :)

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Jamon 2

Paella

Images credit: Tio Pepe