Get ready for a storm of pictures – pictures that will make you never want to see another cherry blossom or temple ever again.
Just kidding. But seriously, if you want to see your share of sakura, temples/shrines, and geisha – you must make your way to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, and the heart of its ancient culture.
First up, we all met at Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Everyone had to wake up super early to meet up, so half of them were half-asleep while the other half was buzzing with excitement. Luckily everyone showed up on time, so we all hopped on the Nozomi Shinkansen (新幹線), otherwise known as the famous bullet train. And yes, it travels very, very fast.
Here I was, all comfortable and reclined, ready for a nice long nap… only to be woken up about three hours or so later, to discover we were already in Kyoto. Talk about fast.
After switching to a local train, we took it to the… middle of nowhere. It was a huge change of scenery for most of us, as many of us hadn’t seen such open land in a long time. Tokyo isn’t exactly the most river, forest, and mountain friendly city here in Japan. So we took our time, taking everything in, and simply absorbed our surroundings. It started to get drizzly, so Haru had to put me back in her bag. It was a good thing too, since our next event was the Hozugawa (保津川) boat ride.
Here it is: our vessel. Haru and a few of her friends got front row seats, which meant some serious splashing form the rapids. Therefore, before we went anywhere, the lot of them were bundled up in plastic sheets.
It was a good thing too, because the weather was ridiculously unpredictable. One minute it was sunny, the next it was raining, and after that it was HAILING. Yes, hailing. Here’s a photo of Brittani and Yuan huddled under the plastic sheet wrap.
Next up was the Rurouni Kenshin bridge, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. That’s not its real name, but we couldn’t remember the real name of the bridge – just that it was the inspiration for the scene where Kenshin and Misao defeated a gang of thugs by destroying said bridge. At least that’s what Tonghwi said. And I’ll take our awesome student guide’s words at face value. After all, he’s lived in Kyoto for a while, and goes to Kyoto University too.
Anyway, you can also see a maiko, a geisha in training, walking with her entourage. There were plenty of them walking about Kyoto. It’s just not something you see here in Tokyo.
After eating lunch nearby, we went off to see Tenryu-ji (天龍寺), a super famous Buddhist temple with its famed gardens.
Although it was still rather cold and not all the flowers were blooming, it was still a sight to behold.
Soon after, we went to visit the Nonomiya Jinja (野宮神社), a Shinto shrine situated almost right next door. The shrine is especially famous for its amazing bamboo path. When the wind breathes through its sheltering foliage, the entire area is filled with music so sweet and a feeling so enchanting, that its as if the path belonged to another world altogether.
It was so beautiful, so otherworldly, that I believe I have turned into a poet during my short stay there.
Of course, for those who wanted to see sakura, or cherry blossoms in bloom, Kyoto had them by the road-full.
Here we are, walking into the Gion district. And if you are familiar with the name, you’ll know its home to the geisha. While we did pas a few geisha in training, Haru was more interested in capturing scenic photos.
With our three Kyoto University student guides leading us, we walked through the area visiting several stores.
For instance, here’s the Studio Ghibli store that Haru and her friends just HAD to visit. Being fans of Ghibli films and all, it was something none of them could pass up.
Of course, visiting this area also meant having to see the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), an Eastern Kyoto temple that has achieved super-star fame as far as Japanese temples go. It’s associated to making wishes come true, such as finding true love.
In the Edo period, people actually believed that jumping from the Kiyomizu-dera’s stage and surviving the 13 meter drop would grant their wishes. Don’t try it though, since it’s more suicidal than anything. Not only is it prohibited these days, but let’s say you wish to become the world’s best-looking athlete. Even if you survive the fall, surely you’d have a few permanent injuries to the limbs and face. How would that wish come true then?
Anyway, the walk through the temple at night makes for a fantastic spot for a night time photo shoot. But even photos cannot capture what it actually felt like being there, watching the temple grounds light up at night.
After the walkthrough though, this is what people looked like.
As night fell, it was time to head to the hotel for some good food and a good rest. And it wasn’t just any hotel we went to – we actually lodged at a temple, the Hongan-ji Monpo-Kaikan to be exact.
The food was delicious, and the rooms were super comfortable. And for my public-bath-loving friend, it had a great hot tub.
Our adventures in the Kansai area are not over yet! Next up, I’ll tell you about the deer we met and fed in Nara.