This is my last blog from Japan as I am off to China tomorrow. A little bit nervous about that to be honest, but that is only because I have got so comfortable here.
The Saturday was a sad day, as Beth was leaving. All we had time to do before she had to go catch her train was go do purikura, this crazy photo booth thing. You go in with your friends, have numerous pictures taken, and then you can muck around with them. You can make your eyes huge, add hats, add sparkles, words. You can try and make yourself as pretty as possible by adding makeup and adding huge eyelashes (this is what all the Japanese school girls were doing). Or you can make yourself look silly by adding bumblebee hats and other weird things.
We had so much fun doing all this that before we knew it an hour had whizzed past.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Beth. The farewell ended up being a little rushed, as Beth lost track of time and then suddenly had to run off to her platform to get her train. So it was just a very
quick hug and a yelled goodbye as she ran of in the other direction to get her train to Tokyo. I headed off to catch my own train, because although I was staying in Kyoto still, I was moving hostels, and needed to get a train to Gion (the Geisha district) as it was too far to walk with my bag.
I found my hostel easily enough, and I thought it was really nice. I met a couple of people straight away and we got chatting. Yashi, the owner of the place, was very nice and friendly too, so I knew Id lucked out and found a really awesome place.
The next day, I went off to a festival in the morning. I had found some information about it in a magazine, so I knew I wanted to be a Jishu shrine for 10am, when the ceremony started. I went with Maarit, a Finnish girl that I had met the night before.
It was a lovely sunny day, so I was a bit worried it was going to be really busy at the shrine, especially as the shrine was part of the famous (and touristy) Kiyomizu-dera temple.
The temple itself is pretty fantastic. It looks out over Kyoto and has lots of unique features which was a relief after seeing numerous temples that were practically the same.
We arrived in good time, and there were women in traditional outfits, carrying baskets full of flowers on their heads. The ceremony itself seemed to be all about offering the flowers and branches to the shrine, and then a Shinto priest would come and wave the branches over us (presumably blessing us?). The priests also made some speeches and there was chanting. It was all really interesting to watch, and i loved all the different outfits; the huge platform shoes one of the guys was wearing, the amazing hats, and the sticks the Shinto priests were holding. The miko in comparison was less brightly dressed, but she had a jingly headdress with flowers on it and this bell thing that she shock at everyone.
Jishu shrine was lovely. I didn't realise before I went that it was kind of a 'love shrine'. There were statues of Okuninuskino-mikoto, the Japanese god in charge of love and good matches, and rabbits, the god's messengers, everywhere. The shrine also has two
stone (love stones) that you have to walk between, from one to the other, with your eyes closed. If you do this safely your wish will be granted. If you fail to do it, it will be long before your love is realised. If you have someone help you (lead you from one rock to the other) it is said that you will also require help when achieving your love.
Maarit and I decided not to have a go, but there were hoards of school girls doing it, all helping each other so that they would find true love.
The shrine also told us about Okage-myojin, the god that answers your prayer no matter what it is (even if it is not a very nice prayer). He is believed to be a guardian deity, especially of ladies. The Japanese cedars behind the shrine were used for 'Ushinotoki-mairi' or '2am visit', which was popular among ladies in the old days. They would nail a straw doll on the cedar, and this would put a curse on their enemy. The nail marks can still be seen in the trees today, and there are a lot!
Kiyomizu-dera, as well as having
a lovely outlook over Kyoto, has a waterfall. You have to try and catch the water in a cup attached to a stick. If you do you get good luck and will have a long, healthy life.
After we had finished at the temple and shrine, Maarit and I decided to go see a Maiko and Geisha dance. It is usually difficult to see these dances, but every year during the sakura season, they offer (relatively) cheap shows to show off their skills and celebrate the Cherry Blossom.
The costumes and sets were amazing. So colourful and delicate. The dancing was slow and graceful, and when they walked they seemed to float (unless you looked at their feet, then you could see the funny little walk they had to do to get that effect). They use fans a lot in their dancing, and looking at it, it doesn't seem all that hard to do, but I imagine it is hard to perfect, to get the arm and hand just so.....
The music definitely wasn't much to my taste. It was very twangy, with this old lady warbling in the background, singing about the changing seasons. Every now
and then they would add the Japanese flute into the song, which is extremely shrill and piercing. It seems to be in a lot of Japanese music, so they must really like it, but I can t for the life of me understand why as it gives me a bit of a headache!
I enjoyed the experience of seeing the Geisha, but I can t understand why men would pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds to be entertained by a Geisha. It gets a bit boring after a while! Still, maybe you need to be a man to fully understand the allure?
That evening my hostel had a night walking tour in Gion. We were taken by Yashi, and it was nice to been shown around by things and have things properly explained! We went to a shrine where there was a rock with a hole in it, covered in paper prayers. Yashi told us this shrine takes things away, so you can ask it to take away an illness, or a bad habit, or an annoying boyfriend! You write you wish/prayer on the paper, then you crawl through the hole, and then you crawl back again; when you
come back through, whatever you asked to removed should be gone.
We walked past loads of other shrines and pagodas on the tour. It was great to see Kyoto in a different light and see the shrines all it us. Then I went for some Sushi with some of the people from the hostel and we ended the evening with some plum sake. Yum!
I spent the next day by myself. I had decided I wanted to do a day-trip to Hikone, to see the castle there. I had wanted to go to Himeji castle but had been told that it was completely covered as it was being repaired for the next 4 years!!! So I decided to see Hikone castle, as unlike Osaka castle, it is the original and not a reconstruction!
When i arrived, the sakura petals were falling. Every time the wind blew, hundreds of them would fall and it looked very much like a petal snow storm. It was amazing, though you had to be careful not to get a petal in the eye. Unknown to me, several petals managed to work their way into my hair, so I ended up walking around
with them in my hair for the next hour or so.
First I went to the Hikone museum, which told me all about the history of the castle and the Li family that owned it. The museum was full of the Li family's treasures; noh masks that are hundreds of years old, silk kimonos, antique musical instruments. They have even made the museum look like the castles omote goten (front hall), which used to be the Hikone fief office during the Edo period.
After the museum, I was ready to see the castle itself. It looks a lot like Osaka castle from the outside, but when you go in, it is all wooden beams on the ceiling and polished wooden floors. I loved it. It was nice to see something genuine. There were good views from the castle over to Lake Biwa, it was just a shame that the weather wasn't very nice, as the view was grey and cloudy, so the lake blended into the sky mostly.
Next I went to Genkyu Rakurakuen. The palace is know as Rakurakuen and the garden Genkyu. Though the palace was nice enough, you visit Genkyu Rakurakuen to see the
garden and the view of the castle from the garden. There are lots of bridges in the garden considering it is quite small, but they are there to make the garden a 'walking garden' and they create more paths for you to walk down.
I was especially lucky while I was there as there was a Japanese couple in traditional outfits, who had obviously just been married. I managed to get a picture of them on a bridge in the garden, in front of the castle. It looked like a scene out of a movie, or as though I had gone back several hundred years in time.
Lastly I decided to go visit Tenneiji temple. I wanted to go there as I liked the story behind it. Apparently, the 11th Lord of Hikone, Naonaka ordered the execution of a maid who was pregnant with an illegitimate child. On learning that his son had been the father, he ordered the temple built in memorial to the woman and her child.
It was a little bit of a walk to go there and it involved heading into a very industrial looking area. I wasn't sure I was going in
the right direction for a while, but I made it there, and bar a Japanese couple, I was the only one there! They had driven. so I was the only person keen enough to have walked all the way there.
The temple has 500 carved wooden rakan (Buddha's disciples) in it. They were carved by 10 people and took 5 years to make. What id wonderful is they all have different faces and expressions. It is said that if you look among the statues, you will find the face of a person you are longing to see. It was fun looking at all the faces, each one bald with long ears, to see if they resembled anyone from home. I wont tell you who I spotted as they might get offended! I sat there for quite a while, taking in all the different expressions, they were so interesting I could have sat there for hours.
I then went out to see the main gall and the zen garden. The stone garden was built to help open your heart and mind to Buddhas teachings and to appreciate his disciples serene contemplation. The central big brown stone in the garden
represented Buddha and the rest of the stones around his represent his 16 greatest disciples.
The white sand contains some sand from Niranjana River, one of the most sacred rivers in India.
Next, I went to see Budai, the God of Fortune, at the temple. This is Japans biggest wooden statue of Budai, and he is one of the seven gods of fortune. He is a god of good luck, money and physical and mental health. When I left the room with him in, I was accosted by the Japanese woman from the couple Id seen earlier. She asked me if I had prayed to Budai (it was all in Japanese so it took me a while to figure out what she meant), and she fairly insisted that I go pray to him and stroke him for luck.... So off I trotted, back inside, to have a go a praying. I tried to remember the order of bowing and clapping and said my prayer. I also burnt an incense stick (I was feeling pretty Japanese doing this). After rubbing Budai's belly my fortune was guaranteed, so I went to see the last thing at the temple, a memorial statue
to Naosuke Li. He was the 13th domain Lord of Hikone, and as chief adviser to the Shogun, he helped open up and modernise Japan. However, he was assassinated outside of the Sakuadamon gate of Edo castle (which is now the Imperial Palace in Tokyo). The memorial statue was built as a type of grave for him in Hikone, and it contains some of his personal belongings.
Then I headed back to Kyoto, in time to arrive just as the rain started. I had to grab an umbrella to make it back without being drowned. Still, at least it hadn't rained while I was in Hikone, though it had been threatening to the whole time I was there.
The 19th of April was a bit of an epic day, where I probably tried to bite off more that I could chew. I had decided to go back to Nijo castle , as i had heard very good things about it. You can only go in Nijo castle during the day, and as I had gone at night last time, I had only seen the gardens.
The main thing that had me walking the insane distance to Nijo castle
(no bike this time) was that I wanted to see (and hear) the nightingale floor they have there. Let me tell you, for that alone it was worth going. I had great fun trying to walk in different ways so I could walk along without making the floors squeak. Overall I failed. In some places I thought I had managed it, only to realise that the floors no longer worked in that area full stop!
The other thing that is more than worth going there to seem is the paintings on the walls and doors. They are glorious. They were painted on using a paint made from coloured rock power and glue. Alas you cannot take pictures inside the castle, so I have to resort to buying some postcards of the paintings so I would have a memento of them.
I then wandered briefly though the garden and was pleasantly surprised that more of it was open than when i had last been there, and thus I didn't have to see the same things again!
Next on my list for the day was Daitokuji temple. This involved a 50minute walk from Nijo castle. Like Nijo this was
worth the walk. The temple complex was huge! I had done a little research before I went and had picked two sub-temples inside that i wanted to visit (only 2 as you have to pay to see them). Zuihoin temple was the first sub-temple I went to, and is known for its zen garden. The gardens were truly beautiful. The main garden has vigorously raked sand in it to make it look like rough seas. The garden also has some very pointed stones in it that are supposed to infuse the garden with energy. A small bridge was at the end of the garden, and it is built close to the 'sea' to make it look far away.
The other garden is the Garden of the Cross. Although not quite so interesting to look at as the other garden, I liked the story behind it. At the age of 48, the patron of Zuihoin temple, feudal lord Otomo Sorin, converted to Christianity. Not long after this, Christianity was outlawed in Japan for over two hundred years. Though Christianity has never been taught or practiced at the temple, the founding patron is honoured and respected through the garden of the
cross. If you view the garden at the south-eastern corner, the stones seemingly randomly placed in the pebble garden, suddenly form a cross. If you follow the line made by the cross and look behind into the tiny garden there, there is a stone lantern, under which is buried a statue of the virgin Mary. The hidden statue is a symbol of the time that Christianity was outlawed and how Christians had to keep their beliefs hidden.
As i was the only tourist there, I found the place very peaceful and appropriately zen-like. It was nice to just sit there for a while and just take it in.
The next sub-temple I went to was Daisenin temple, and I arrived just in time because no sooner had i got under the terrace awning, and started to take off my shoes, than it started to hail violently.
Daisenin temple had what a first glance looks like a simple but pretty zen garden. WRONG! It is very complex and everything in it had a very deep and profound meaning. They give you this huge booklet that tells you what each rock, wall, and just about what each pebble represents..!!! You
aren't allowed to take pictures, so I will have to try and describe what I saw/can remember.
There was a wall between two of the gardens that didn't quite reach the ground. This meant that the sea (raked pebbles) could flow between both gardens. This wall represented the self doubt we all come up against in our lives...
There was one sub-garden bit, with no rocks in it at all, just two pyramid shapes raked up out of the sea of pebbles and a tree in one corner. This sub-garden is the great sea of our lives where everything that happens to us goes. I cannot remember what the pyramids meant but the tree is a sal tree. Sal trees come from Northern India, and it is under this type of tree that Buddha died. This tree represents the brevity of life, as when it flowers, the flower blooms in the morning, and it dies that evening, so lasts only a single day.
After I had finished with the sub-temples , I headed off for the next thing I had planned to do. I had decided I wanted to go to Ohara, an area that was technically still
in Kyoto, but is right up in the North and takes about an hour to get to from Kyoto station by train and bus. Thankfully, as I was already quite far north in Kyoto, it didn't take me that long to get there, so a metro ride and a bus ride later and I was there.
I headed off for the most famous temple in the area and on the way had a local snack called aisu kyuri, cucumber pickled in seaweed flavoured ice water and served on a stick. It was surprisingly nice! I honestly thought it was going to be foul, but I enjoyed it. The Ohara area has been known as Gyozan for more than a thousand years and is the birthplace of Shomyo (Buddhist sutra chanting).
When I got to Sanzen-in temple, I learnt that it was originally a hermitage, easy to see because Ohara is right up in the mountains that surround Kyoto. The temple had lots of interesting buildings and beautiful gardens including a moss garden, I never thought a moss garden would be nice but I loved it. However, it was funny to watch the gardeners sweep the moss to make
it looks its best. Cannot image anyone doing that back home. The moss garden had little statues of warabe-jizo (not sure who that is but it was mentioned on my map!), and they looked ridiculously cute. What I liked most about this temple (other than the moss garden) was that I was surrounded by mountains, and you could see them, all covered in lush woodland everywhere. A the sun was shining (briefly), it looked particularly lovely.
Then I went to the other famous Ohara temple. Jakkoin temple. The head priestesses of this temple have traditionally been from noble families.
The third head priestess was priestess Shinnyo-do. She had been the mother of the seven year old Emperor Antotu, but when the Heike family was defeated in the Genji war, they had both thrown themselves in the river to drown. Kenreimon-in Tokuko (priestess Shinnyo-do) much to her shame, was fished out of the river alive. She retreated to Jakkoin temple to live the rest of her life as a priestess, praying for her son and family.
The sad thing about Jakkoin temple is that most of it was destroyed in an arson attack in 2000. Even though it had
been rebuilt, and has a very sweet garden, they lost many precious things in the fire. The thousand year old Himekomatsu pine in the garden, that had been mentioned in the account of the Imperial Visit to Ohara in the Tale of the Heike, was severely damaged by the fire. Eventually it withered and died in 2004.
Then I had to try and figure out if I could find a bus that would take me near my hostel, as I didn't fancy the 2 hour walk back to my hostel, from where I had caught my bus originally. As all the bus information was in Kanji, I had a nice chat with the ticket man, who spoke no English, and eventually we both figured out what the other meant, and I hopped on a bus, reasonably sure I knew where it was going.... Luckily the bus went very close to my hostel, so it was only a 5 minute walk after I got off the bus.
Back at the hostel I met up with Marrit, Nu-no and Tom, and Yashi (the hostel owner) took us to a local restaurant for some river eel. I had sesame eel and
it was delicious. I wasn't too sure about some of the pickled vegetables that were given on the side, but the soup was good.
My next day was just as actionpacked as the day before, if not more so! A few days before, I had booked my train to Hiroshima, and I had a list of three things I wanted to do there. However, the only direct and easy trains to and from Hiroshima meant that I would have 10 hours there. I didnt think that I would need over 3 hours for each activity.....A guy in my hostel had mentioned Miyajima island, and said that it was the pressiest place he had seen in Japan. Miyajima is only 30-45 minutes away from Hiroshima, so I thought, 'why not?' I was going to see if I could manage both Hiroshima and Miyajima in one day....
Because I knew I wanted to at least try and have enough time to go to Miyajima, I fairly powerwalked around Hiroshima (and subsequently ruined one of my feet, 3 blisters and an aching arch....).
My first stop was Shukkeien garden, as it was nearest the train station. It was originally made
in 1620, but was obviously destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped in 1945. However, it was rebuilt to look exactly as it had before the bombing. Shukkeien literally means, 'shrink scenery garden' or shrunken garden. The garden is the miniaturisation of many scenic views in Japan. Some parts of the garden represent mountains, or rice fields, or valleys, or beaches. There are lots and lots of paths and bridges in the relatively small garden. Following the recommended route i was surprised at how long it took me to see the whole garden.
Next was Hiroshima castle. Rebuilt to rese,ble the original one destroyed in 1945, it is a beautiful castle from the outside. Inside is a museum which tells you about how Japanese castles were built and what living in a castle town would have been like. I was surprised to find that this museum had far more English options than any of the 'touristy' things I had seen in Kyoto and Tokyo, so I enjoyed being able to fully understand and appreciate the exhibits.
Walking around the castle grounds, you can see the ruined foundations of the original castle and the buildings that had surrounded it. This
was the first incidence where I had to think about how much had been lost in a few seconds on August 6th 1945, at 8.15am, but I wsa heading to the Peace Park and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum next so I knew I would have plenty more opportunities.
At the very tip of the Peace Park is the 'A bomb dome'. This is the ruin of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, left exactly the way it was after the A-bomb was dropped. This is a haunting reminder, surrounded by all the modern, shiny buildings, is a blown-out, shell of a building.
I then walked through the Peace Park, where I was attacked by Japanese students on a school outing. They were studying 'world peace' and wanted to ask me questions about war and practice their english. As they were all about 12-13 years old, it was kinda sweet, and afterwards, I was given a origami crane that they had made, laminated so it wouldnt get damaged.
The Peace Park has the flame of peace, which was lit with a flame from the sacred fire on Mount Misen, and the cenopath for the A-bomb victims; this
arch that you can look through and see the A-bomb dome.
Next I went into the Peace Memorial Museum, which really opened my eyes. I reckon everyone should visit this museum and see the horrific things that happened to so many innocent people. Maybe then this will never ever happen again.
I knew so little about what actually happened. and I was quite shocked by my ignorance. It had never registered that the bomb could of had such a widespread and long lasting affect. It burnt people as far away as 3km from the hyocentre, so you can imagine that the people much closer didnt really stand a chance. People 1000m away from the bomb, who didnt suffer any outward injuries, were exposed to a high level of radiation, and many died within the next ten years.
So yes, very sobering indeed!
Anyway, after I had finished with the museum, I had completed the things I wanted to do in Hiroshima. As it was only 2.30pm, I still had 5 1/2 hours before I had to catch my train back tp Kyoto, so I decided to head to Miyajima and do as much as I could there.
Miyajima is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The only sad thing was i was there at low tide, so I didnt get to see the famous giant torii gate and Itsukushima shrine surrounded by sea water, still it was mavelous.
Miyajima, much like Naram has wild deer roaming everywhere! These deer were nicer than the ones at Nara and werent so pushy (meaning that they didnt chase you for food). It was ncie to be taking in the sights and having deer everywhere.
As the tide was out, there were lots of locals on the beach digging. I imagine that they were digging for cockles or some other type of shellfish, but I was unable to get a proper look in their buckets.
One cheeky deer was checking the bags that the locals had left on the wall just before the beach, just to make sure there wasnt anything tasty in there!
The O-torii gate is huge! It is about 16.6m in height and weighs 60 tonnes. It is the eighth gate since the Heian period and was erected in 1875. At full tide, I am told that it looks like
it is just floating on the water.
Itsukushima shrine, which is just behind the torii gate, is completely on the beach, and built on stilts. Therefore, juat high tide, this too appears to float on the sea. The shrine has looked the same way since 1168, and has many historical rooms and sub-shrines inside. It has a beautiful Noh stage, that is only used once a year from the 15th - 18th of April, which I missed by 2 days!!! Still, I wouldnt have been able to afford it anyway, as Noh theatre performances are hidiously expensive.
After the shrine i went for a wander around and came across Daisho-in temple, the most distinguished temple on miyajima, as it is in charge of all the rituals held at Itsukushima shrine. It is a gorgeous temple in its own right, with lots of interesting things to see, AND, is the first free temple/shrine I had been to in a long while. There was so much inside to see that I would have quite happily paid!
It had prayer wheels on most of the flights of stairs, and interesting statues everywhere (and I had a handy leaflet telling me what
everything was). Oddlym there is a rock called the Hochozuka monument, where every March 8th, there is a ceremony to give thanks to old kitchen knives that are no longer usable....
There is a cave (Henjyokutsu cave) where inside is the sand and principal Buddhish icons of the 88 temples on the pretigious pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Worshippers believe that they are given the same blessings by visiting this cave as people who make the pilgrimage to all the temples on the route (what a shortcut!).
There are lots and lots of things in this temple, but I wont bore you (any more than I already have) with them, but if you get a chance, definitely go to this temple!!! I couldnt do it justice as I could feel time escaping from me, and I hadnt seen all that much of Miyajima.
I managed to see the five storied pagoda and Tahoto pagoda, while also checking out Momijidani park (which had loads of deer just relaxing there).
As it was starting to get dark (and I hadnt checked when the last ferries were) I decided to head back towards the pier, going through Machiya street, which
is supposed to look almost the same as it did in the Edo period (I couldnt really tell as all I could see was souvenir shop after souvenir shop). Still I saw Miyajima o-shakushi on this street, the worlds largest wooden rice scoop........
I also grabbed some dinner on Machiya street. Part one of my dinner was some grilled oyster, which was absolutely delicious as it was so fresh. Part two of my dinner was a steamed bun with hiroshima beef inside, this was also pretty darn tasty. I sat eating my bun on the wall above the beach, looking over to the giant torii gate and out to sea, watching the sun begin to go down. Then, getting slightly concerned by how few tourists and school children I was seeing, I rapidly headed to the pier to catch a ferry back to the main land (though it turns out that the last ferry is about 11pm).
Then it was the returnj journey....I arrived back at my hostel in Kyoto at 10.30pm, absolutely shattered.
I ashamed to say that I didnt do much on my last full, completely free day in Japan. As I had worked my
socks of the last couple of days, I had very little energy to do it for a third day running!! I made myself get up after a bit of a lie-in and went to look at a few last temples. First one I walked to was Tofuku-ji temple, but I only looked at it from the outside and at a few of the sub-temples, as you had to pay to get into the main bit.
Then I went to Toji temple, where I knew a market was on. There were loads of stalls, but there were also loads of people, so I wasnt there too long before I got fed up and gave up with it. It was pretty obvious that I just wasnt in the mood to look around any more temples, so I went and got a coffee and just relaxed for a couple of hours.
It was just what I needed. After I had recharged a little bit, I started to head back to my hostel, wandering slightly so that I could get a last feel for Kyoto before leaving the next day.
In the evening when I got back to the hostel, Yashi
invited me along with some of the other guests if we wanted to go out for some oden for dinner. Oden is a Japanese winter dish consisting of boiled egg, potato, japanese radish, tofu, fishcakes and other odd looking thing, stewed in a light soy-flavoured broth. Yashi was always there to tell us what we were eating, but sometimes that wasnt all the comforting. Tom (an english guy) and I werent all too sure when we were presented with some cow tendons to eat....They didnt taste too bad but I was not a fan of the texture, will be avoiding that next time!!! Still, it was nice to be eating some very traditional japanese food, with japanese people on my last night in Kyoto. I really enjoyed myself and I especially liked it when we went and got some icecream for pudding!!
And that is it for my blogs in Japan. I am now in Tokyo (though I was still in Kyoto when I started writing this blog this morning) and tomorrow I get up nice an early and head off to China. I reckon all the food mishaps and communication issues I have had here are going to
be a million times worse in China. Still I look forward to eating some crazy things like fried grasshopper and maybe a bit of cat............. :S
As always, comments are appreciated!! Miss you all!!!!!!!!
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