Sunday, 13 October 2013

Temples, Geishas, Monkeys and Manga : Our Kyoto Top 5

Good morning, good day, and good evening world!

So we have decided to try something a little different for our next post. Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow of all our experiences in lovely Kyoto, we are going to outline our five favourite sights we saw in the city. This is by no means a comprehensive list, we saw and did plenty of things in Kyoto, but if you were to ask us what are the MUST SEE attractions, this top five should be at the top of your list. In no particular order:
This monkey looked like he was none to happy to have his picture taken. "Damn you, paparazzi!"
1) Tour of Arashiyama: Home of the Bamboo Grove and Monkey Park

I think he was only there to check out the ladies
It should come as no surprise to you folks that the area containing a monkey reserve would make this list. Mike’s adoration for all things monkey is bordering on obsessive and this long trek up a winding, steep and picturesque mountain is definitely worth your trouble. The view from the top alone is worth the trip, but in addition, you are also treated with the company of a family of over 200 plus Japanese macaques. You’ll tread lightly as you snap photos of Kyoto from up on high, all the while making sure not to step on any wayward tails, or god forbid, baby monkeys. For a small fee (only 300 yen!) you can also buy a bag of diced fruit which you can feed to the monkeys, from inside a caged cabin of course. Do this and you’ll instantly become the most popular person on monkey mountain.

Yup, that's a lot of bamboo.

Reach for the sky!

If wild animals aren’t your thing (and when it comes to monkeys, god only knows why), you’re in luck because Arashiyama also has one of the most beautiful natural sights we’ve ever seen, the spectacular bamboo grove. This path through a park leads you straight through a bamboo forest with trees reaching up to the sky as far as you can see. Temples and shrines are also nestled in the park and seem to appear out of nowhere as they emerge from the sea of green. At the end of the path, you’ll also have the option of paying 1000 yen (approx. $10 CDN) to enter the Okochi Sanso villa. This spacious property was once owned by one of the most famous Japanese samurai movie star and is quite impressive in and of itself, but at the end of the long walk you’ll also be treated to a cup of matcha tea and cake which definitely helps with the relaxation after having to make your way through hundreds of Chinese tourists (who will no doubt end up in a large portion of your pictures).

2) Ginkaku-ji and the Path of Philosophy
How very philosophical!

In the mood for a bit of enlightenment? Who isn’t, am I right? Well you’ve come to the right place! Kyoto is home to hundreds of temples and shrines and while you may get sick of temple-hopping after experiencing a handful of them, we’ve decided to highlight our favourites to save you the trouble of narrowing it down. First up is the Ginkaku-ji. This temple is located at the end of a long winding path built next to a small canal. The path, called Tetsugaku-no-Michi, or more commonly “The Path of Philosophy,” a fantastically tranquil (albeit long) walk along the canal. It is far enough away from the main roads that you barely hear any of the hustle and bustle of busy Kyoto and is particularly beautiful in the fall as the leaves of all the surrounding trees begin to change.
No, this wasn't taken with a fish-eye lens.
Follow this path to the end and you’ll reach one of Kyoto’s top sights, the Ginkaku-ji.  What sets this temple apart is its immaculately maintained zen garden, complete with groomed white sand. The sand is not merely raked, as with most zen gardens, but is actually built into small sand sculptures. In addition to the sand, the garden itself is full of tiny shrines found in the middle of forest groves, ponds and cave rock that make it even more unique than your typical temple. Finally, if the walk doesn’t turn your crank, there are dozens of rickshaw operators who will eagerly bring you up the hill to your final destination (all for a small/hugely expensive fee of course).
I hope we're going the right way.
3) Gion at Night

After a long day of walking, why not end your night with even more walking! That’s just what we did and clocking in at over 20 kilometres, we decided we weren’t quite tapped out (or just refused to admit it to each other) and headed to the entertainment and geisha district of Kyoto, Gion. This area is home to Hanami-koji, which some call the most beautiful street in all of Asia. After experiencing its lantern lit, cobble stoned street, we inclined to agree (although we’ve yet to visit all of Asia, so take our opinion for what it’s worth). This street is full of high-end restaurants and teahouses, and while it ended up costing us a pretty penny, the food and the service at the restaurant we chose, Wabiya Korekido, was well worth the expense. Our seven course meal was made directly in front of us and even required a bit of work on our part too. Nothing too major though, stirring mostly. Even Mike can’t really screw that up!
It's a beautiful walk until you almost get run over by a car. You can even see one poking through the crowds.

Delicious, even if you have to do a bit of work.
They look so sad, even if they're dancing was beautiful.
As mentioned earlier, Gion is the geisha district of Kyoto and wandering around the area, you’ll probably happen to run into one or two walking around, entertaining a group of businessmen. It took a lot of effort on our part not to rudely interrupt and snap a picture of these unique hostesses. Thankfully, Hanami-koji is also home to the Gion Corner, which is found at the end of the street and is comprised of an hour-long show which explains and performs a variety of different Japanese cultural traditions, including our favourite, the geisha dance. This was actually quite inexpensive (for Japan standards) and if you can deal with 50 plus annoying tourists snapping pictures of the presenters during their performances, it is well worth experiencing.

4) Kinkaku-ji Temple

Our final temple on the list is the golden floating pavilion of Kinkaku-ji. As Kyoto is jam-packed with various temples and shrines, it really does take something unique to really stand out. The first temple we saw in Japan was amazing, but when you realize that there are basically hundreds more pretty much like it, visiting each of them becomes quite rote. Thankfully, the Kinkaku-ji temple stands out as not only one of the top sights in Kyoto, but perhaps one of the top in all of Japan. This golden palace is planted on the edge of an amazing pond which, weather permitting, is still as glass and reflects the image of the temple in beautiful, jaw-dropping splendor that can only exist in nature. Unfortunately, this is one of the top sights in Japan and crowds of Japanese elementary school students and busloads of Chinese tourists are pretty much unavoidable. If you can stomach large, pushy crowds and interrupting hundreds of posed photos, than we definitely recommend a visit.
You've got to love how gold shimmers in the sunshine!

4) The Kyoto International Manga Museum

A poster for the museum's special exhibit
If you know anything about Mike, then you know there was no way we were going to turn down the opportunity to visit a museum devoted entirely to the appreciation of the comic book storytelling. This facility, which is a former 18th century Japanese school, is absolutely filled to the brim with every manga series imaginable (over 300,000 copies at last count). For those not in the know, manga is Japan’s version of comic books. The Japanese treat this medium very differently than we do back home though and the fact that they have a museum devoted entirely to the explanation, preservation and appreciated of both the storytelling and the art of manga should illustrate just how seriously Japan takes its comic books. While we couldn’t really grab a book, sit down and read a few chapters like many of the Japanese patrons, we did still enjoy flipping through, enjoying the art and learning about the history of not only manga, but illustrated storytelling in general. Mike particularly appreciated the section devoted to “American Manga” as it was nice to see Superman, Batman and Spider-Man get their artistic due in a museum, even if it was half a world away. The museum even offers workshops for those interested in learning and honing their own manga drawing skills, unfortunately these were only offered on weekends and missed that particular opportunity.

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum, so this is the best you'll get. Sorry!
Walking the halls of the museum, we heard the booming voice of one traditionally-dressed Japanese man. As we followed his voice, we found him in front of a crowd of people, standing next to an odd display case which contained sliding pictures. We learned this was called kami-shibai (a humorous traditional Japanese sliding-picture show) and even though we didn’t understand a word this man was saying, his exuberance and knack for story-telling came broke through the language barrier. Mike even won Maja a replacement for her wedding ring by correctly identifying Astro Boy in one of the sliding pictures! Now if only he can talk her into selling the old one and using the plastic replacement, we’ll have an extra few dollars ready for our next trip! And before you ask: Yes, Maja did indeed actually enjoy the Manga Museum so it is well worth the trip even if you are not a comic fan!

We hope you enjoyed our list of our favourite Kyoto sights and we hope they will be useful if you ever plan on visiting the area. We definitely recommend the city as it’s an excellent combination of the quiet peacefulness of a small town like Takayama, with the interesting sights and experiences that are found in a larger city like Tokyo. All of the pluses, none of the minuses!
Dressed up and ready for our Shabu-Shabu dinner at our Kyoto Ryokan.
Let us know if you prefer this new format for our posts, we had a lot of fun putting it together, debating which sights will make it and which will end up on the chopping block. We even had fun trying to desperately to recover this file when we thought it was lost when the laptop unexpectedly shutdown. Okay, so that last part wasn’t so fun, but it was an experience nonetheless.


P.S. As for the Mike/fish situation, check out the following story told via pictures:


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