Japan: Geisha, blossom and more from the land of the rising sun

Unusually for us we’ve been staying several nights in the same place for the last little while. It’s so much more relaxing! First, in Tokyo, we stayed 5 nights in a tiny room, about 2.5m square with tatami mats on the floor onto which we layered futons, sheets and blankets. With blinds on the two massive windows and a heater on the wall, we were able to make it quite snug.

Next we had 6 nights in a miniscule apartment in Kyoto with a sofa bed and a kitchenette (our first) and a strange mini bathroom that felt like it belonged in a caravan. It was much harder to get this place warm but it was good to be able to cook in the evenings and save a few yen.

Now we’re in a huge hotel room in LA for 5 nights (still the cheapest non-dorm we could find) which could probably fit 3 of the apartments into it! There’s also free toiletries, fruit, hot drinks, sweets, chocolate, plus all the television shopping channels you could ever wish for! More about LA next time though.

Our time in Kyoto was lovely. It’s a big city but it’s got lots more history than Tokyo and so you continually stumble upon temples and streets of old wooden buildings with lots of character. Like last time, I think the best option for this post is to just tell you about a few of the week’s highlights.

I’ll begin with food. We didn’t eat out much here to save money but we did have one interesting dinner out. On the table was an attractive selection of lidded pots. You had to grind your own sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle then add spicy sauce and sweet sauce from the pots. The food was a battered cutlet (I had weird vegetables, Dean had pork) accompanied by unlimited miso soup, green tea, rice and cabbage. The other pictures are of some street foods I spotted. We had the bottom right one several times: hot beef and mashed potato in a crispy coating…mmm.

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On our first day we took a walk to a really nice temple with awesome lights:

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The next day, we saw our first zen garden at Nanzen-ji temple. I have to say, I don’t really get the raked stones!

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We really enjoyed a visit to the Manga Museum which was exhibiting a university degree show instead of its usual things. The work was varied and mainly quite good. We watched some animations, saw paintings, and computer generated art. On several corridors were 100 different artists’ interpretations of what a geisha looks like. There were bookshelves everywhere full of manga and there were people sitting, standing, lying and leaning all over the place silently absorbed in whatever they’d chosen to read. A very tranquil atmosphere.

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Although most of the week was spent in Kyoto, we did a daytrip to nearby Nara, using our wedding gift from Kerry and Rod, thank you! The city was the first official capital of Japan, many years ago when the introduction of Buddhism replaced the Shinto taboo-based requirement that the capital change with every new emperor. It is renowned for its 8 UNESCO world heritage sites and for its deer which were once considered messengers of the gods and are now national treasures. They’re pretty unkempt and very attentive if you want to eat but they’re impressive due to their sheer number – hundreds, everywhere you turn. The males have all had their antlers removed: hopefully for safety, possibly just for souvenirs.

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We saw the world’s largest wooden building.

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After that we followed a path lined with hundreds of stone lanterns (lit twice a year) and visited various other temples and shrines as we continued our walk through the lovely pine woodland.

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At the end of the day, we walked through a park with a lake and then went to see the five storey pagoda of Kofukuji.

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Back in Kyoto we had another busy day out, courtesy of Rob and Sally Greenbank – thank you! This time we rode bikes provided by our accommodation which was fun but a little daunting as both pedestrians and cyclists use the pavement in both directions with no obvious rules, no signaling and no one uses their bells!

Our first stop was Nijo-jo castle which contained a shogun’s palace: bare with tatami mats and painted wooden screens (mostly modern replicas); and lots of gardens. Next we cycled to the Tenmangu shrine which was holding its annual plum blossom festival. The shrine itself was set in grounds coloured by the first plum blossoms in pink and white. It was very pretty and very busy with everyone wanting to take photographs of it. It also has statues of bulls and many stone lanterns.

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Apparently there was a scholar and political activist who was imprisoned and later died. Afterwards, several bad things happened making people believe they had angered his spirit so they built thousands of shrines around the country to appease it. His favourite trees were plum so they’re usually found near the shrines and, because he was a scholar, students visit to wish for luck in their exams.

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As part of the festival, geisha serve tea to 3000 paying guests. We hadn’t paid so we watched over a fence and took some photographs. Kyoto is one of the few places in the country where women still train and practise as geisha. It made me want to re-watch Memoirs of a Geisha now I know a bit more about them.

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After that we cycled quickly and mainly uphill to Kinkaku-ji temple which is home to a famous golden pagoda and peaceful gardens around a lake.

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A very lovely day indeed.

Other bits and bobs we’ve seen on our wanderings.

At shrines:

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An impressive bamboo forest:

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As, I think I mentioned in my Tokyo post, at various times we have seen girls dressed up in traditional clothes, wandering round taking photographs of each other. Here are a few:

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That’s all for Japan. We’re currently getting soggy in LA’s ‘storm’ – seriously it seems like a regular British day but they just don’t know what to do or wear!

3 thoughts on “Japan: Geisha, blossom and more from the land of the rising sun

  1. Looks like you went to Baikasai! Looks like fun! The young Maiko in red in the first picture is Maiko Umechie-san ^^ I don’t know who the Maiko in blue is, The Maiko in the black Kimono with the really red under collar is Maiko Katsuna-san, the Geiko in the green Kimono to the left is Geiko Ichiteru-san (I think) I don’t know who the Geiko to the right is. ^^ Beautiful images, dear ^^

      1. Going to Baikasai is definitely something I want to do as well ^^ It’s a beautiful and huge event in Kamishichiken ^^ No problem~ I’m glad I could help identify some of them ^^

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