Sayonara, Kyoto!

I still can’t believe that the time passed so quickly and that tomorrow is our last day in Kyoto.

I’ve been very nostalgic these past days, taking long walks and late-afternoon rides with my bike, trying to keep every detail in mind. It still feels strange to think that so soon we’ll no longer eat ramen and sushi, hear the chicken waking us up at 7 am, take the bike for every visit in the city or any hike, being greeted with the ubiquitous “Irashaimasse!” (Welcome!) whenever entering a store, a restaurant, a bar.

So, dear Kyoto I write this to you to say that I’ll miss every part of you and every single day spent here, but mostly I’ll miss:

– your calmness and your 2,000 temples full of history and tradition

– your lush green hills and mountains, so close to the city and with some of the most lovely hikes 

– go running in the evening by the river banks and take a glimpse of the beautiful geishas, sitting graciously in the fancy restaurants that line the river

– being surprised at the sight of the deers that would sometimes appear in the evening in the middle of the river

– riding my bike home from an evening in the city and having to stop suddenly to let a snake cross the narrow path along the river

– the hundreds of public workers that just stand near the crossroads or construction sites to show you the way, with a deep bow

– the ceaseless afflux of traditional greetings that you hear when entering every store or restaurant

– your always on-time buses and their drivers wearing white gloves

– your quiet streets and quiet people; I’ve never heard any car honks or people quarelling or shouting to each other. Never.

– the beautiful Japanese girls, stunning and elegant sometimes, cute and childish at times,  loud and colorful some other times, always wearing  their high heels proudly

– the arts and crafts stores where you can spend your entire day

– the beautiful and elegant kimono’s and yukata’s that color every corner of the street

– exploring your narrow, quiet stone streets with Minty ( my bike:))

– savouring your delicious sweets, bizarre at first but so good after you get used to the red beans taste, matcha or mochi texture

– admiring your stunning crafts and beautiful patterns  in any form (from pottery, to paper objects and delicate artifacts such as fans, textures, or adorable chopsticks rest).

Until we meet again, I take a deep bow and I whisper ‘Sayonara, Kyoto’.

One of Japan’s Three Most Beautiful Gardens

There are still a lot of things still clinging on my must-see list in Japan. The three most famous gardens in Japan, Kenroku-en (Kanzawa), Koraku-en (Okayama) and Kairaku-en (Mito), are some of them.

We visited the garden in Okayama during the cherry blossom and it was indeed beautiful. We were impressed by its open space, the perfect alignment of plants, trees, hills, streams and ponds.

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens

Koraku-en garden in Okayama

So, this weekend Kenroku-en in Kanazwa was the next victim on the list. Kenroku-en means “the garden combining six characteristics for an ideal garden: spaciousness, serenity, venerability, scenic views, subtle design, and coolness”. It’s kind of difficult for a garden to have all these six attributes altogether, but somehow Kanazawa has all of them.

With clear ponds, beautiful flowers (I adore irises), hills and bridges dotting the green space, Kenroku-en looks indeed like a fairy tale, something not to be missed if you are in Japan. It’s a bit far and expensive to get there (3 hours train ride from Kyoto ~about $70 one way; or the cheaper option is the bus for half the price, 4 hours ride), but it’s worth the effort.

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens JapanOne of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens JapanOne of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens Japan

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens Japan

Kotoji lantern, the symbol of Kanazawa

Besides the beautiful garden, Kanazawa has other interesting spots as well:

  • The city’s personalized manhole cover – I was very happy to find it! Since I found out about the existence of such art pieces in Japan, I’ve been a bit obsessed with spotting them :).

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens Japan

  • Cute houses next to some interesting Gaudi style buildings

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard

  • Some modern art pieces

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard

  • One of the most beautiful train stations I’ve seen

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard

  • Delicious orange juice, straight from the orange itself :) ( found at the Omicho market, Kanazawa’s largest fresh fruit market)

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gard

  • Traditional houses in the Samurai district and the Geisha district, and of course traditional weddings in the temples;

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens JapanOne of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens JapanOne of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens Japan

  • And the most delicious udon I ate so far in Japan, with home made noodles, small mushrooms and….edible gold leafs sprinkled on top. Amazing taste, I’m sure the tiny gold leafs played their role in that :).  (These gold leafs are an important part of Kanazawa’s arts and crafts, the city being the main producer. The gold that covers Kinkakuji temple in Kyoto comes from Kanazawa. People usethe gold flakes in food because of their belief that is good for health and vitality). 

One of Japan's Three Most Beautiful Gardens, Koraku-en garden, must see gardens Japan, best gardens Japan

 

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.

IMG_0862Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto

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.

IMG_20140420_105551

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.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see KyotoTemples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see KyotoTemples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto

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.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see KyotoTemples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto

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.

Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see KyotoTemples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto Temples and shrines of Kyoto,what temples to see in Kyoto, must see Kyoto

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.

koinobori, children's day japan, boy's day japan, celebration Japan, tradition Japankoinobori, children's day japan, boy's day japan, celebration Japan, tradition Japan koinobori, children's day japan, boy's day japan, celebration Japan, tradition Japan koinobori, children's day japan, boy's day japan, celebration Japan, tradition Japankoinobori, children's day japan, boy's day japan, celebration Japan, tradition Japan

Going Bananas…in Style

One of my favorite shops in Kyoto is called Don Don Down on Wednesday. Which sounds even funnier if you sing it out loud, like the store attendants do every minute or so. The whole place is a colorful explosion of funky outfits, with a very simple pricing: each item has a fruit or vegetable tag attached, with each fruit or vegetable corresponding to a certain price listed out front. Bananas are the most expensive :)

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

So, you get the idea pretty fast, and then it’s time to go hunting for your fruity-veggie outfit.

 Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

The store entrance is already kind of psychedelic, with a giant golden Elvis welcoming you and filling you in on the latest bargains.

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

First stop, the sun-glass rack. From strange shapes and crazy colors, to all kinds of animals (with a penchant for bunnies) and unthinkable objects (bowling pins, seriously?!)

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

The shop features a nice corner with colorful New Balance sneakers but…wait a minute, if you’ve ever dreamed of walking around in a pair of pandas, they have that too!

.Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

Pandas are not the only animals available, you can also find some strange rabbits on hats, a cow backpack and a bear-like-hat.

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan  Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan  Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

Like in any store in Japan, there’s the shoe etiquette: when going to the fitting room, your shoes don’t enter with you.

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

Oh, and you would fancy a pear, wouldn’t you? :)

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

I also love the way the display mannequins wander around the store. When I first saw them, I took them for store assistants, but after a few seconds realized something is fishy since they weren’t moving at all.

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan

But the weirdest thing you can buy here is a T-shirt of Snow White getting raped by the seven dwarfs (actually only by five, the other two dwarfs are busy with each other) or what seems to be a pop-art rendition of Brokeback Mountain. I guess they forgot to put the 18+ sign at the entrance.

Fashion Japan, crazy outfits, stores, shopping Japan