Kyoto and Hemeji - Japan 2015

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October 17th 2015
Published: October 23rd 2015
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Kyoto - the ancient capital, abundant with traditional Japanese culture, gardens and temples. Upon arrival, we quickly discovered Kyoto was like many towns and cities we've visited in the Middle East - there is the 'new' city and the 'old' city. After checking in to our downtown hotel, we went for a stroll to the old quarter, Gion. At the very end of long street was Yakasa shrine - a large shinto shrine set amongst a backdrop of lush trees and gardens. It is said construction started on this in 656 and it became the object of Imperial patronage in the early Heinan period. Later we walked through the tiny backstreets of Gion to the Gion corner, a small theatre tucked away in the backstreets to see a (touristy) traditional performance of Japanese arts starting with Chado (tea ceremony) Koto (harp) playing, Kado (flower arrangement) Gagaku (court music), Kyogen (ancient comic play), Kyomai (Kyoto dance by Maiko and Geisha) and Bunraku (puppet dance). It was quite nice, probably not as authentic as other, albeit pricer, shows, but nontheless a lovely insight into ancent Japanese culture. Lucikly we had english programs so we could understand the comic play!! Afterwards, we went strolling through Gion and had a look at the old tiny wooden houses, many of which now are expensive restaurants and gift shops.

The next morning we started out early - I had booked a Maiko (apprentice geisha) dress up and photo shoot. It cost a small fortune, but hey when would i come back to Kyoto to do this again? As the plan said it would take 3 hours Bill went to Nijo-Jo. So I had the traditional white make-up and 'cute' style eye and lip makeup done, hair complete with wig and dressed into my beautiful purple kimono. Those things are heavy! Lots of layers and what I can only describe as small pillows stuffed into my costume! I shuffled into rooms and courtyards for my photo, as well as photos outside in the streets of Gion. I was most popular amongst tourists for their holiday snaps - imagine if I opened my mouth and revealed I was not a Geisha, but a Gaijin (foreigner) haha. There was 30 minutes free time in my plan, however as I didn't want to walk around by myself taking selfies I forgoed that portion of my plan. Later, I realised I should have done it anyway and as it took only 2 hours Bill could have met up with me. Afterwards, I went strolling around Gion and discovered Kodai-Ji, a large Buddhist temple complex and the museum. After meeting back at the hotel, Bill and I took a long walk to the Imperial palace. The grounds were massive - over 1 km in length! When we got to the palace we discovered you have go join a tour in addition to giving your passport details and as it was already 4pm we wouldn't of had a chance to go in. After a walk around and a cheery conversation in Engrish with a local tending to the gardens at a Shinto shrine, we went back to town for shop. For dinner we strayed off our Japanese culinary path and had thai bear our hotel. Vetted by my parents who visited last year, the food is from the Isaan region, and I had my gwuytew while Bill had laarb!

The next day we ventured early again to Himeji, to visit the castle. A short 1 hour trip on the Shinkansen, the town of Hemji itself was compact and pleasent. A short walk up from the station was the castle grounds and castle itself. Himeji castle is a UNESO listed world heritage site dated back to the 14th century. The exterior of the castle is white - the white plaster made of traditional methods including hemp and seaweed, makes the castle to look like a white egret in flight. Over the centuries the castle has expanded and been restored, and has 7 floors even though it appears to have 5 from the outside. The interior is made out of timber and as we shuffled along with the tourists we made our way to the top where there is a shrine. We also went to the West Bailey also known as the long corridor as the structure itself is a long corridor with rooms and a women's only quarter. After we left the castle, we took a Shinkansen back to Kyoto. Back in Kyoto we took a taxi to Kiyomizu temple, however due to traffic caused by numerous tourist buses we walked the latter part of the way up the hill. The walk up the cobblestoned street towards the temple adorned with shops selling their wares and hoards of tourists reminded me of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina! Ine we arrived at the temple it was stunning. There are several pagodas and main hall and the stage is built in such a way that there was not a single nail used in construction. The temple established in 778, and there is shrines dotted around the grounds, including two 'love rocks' placed 18 metres apart. It is said if one walks from one rock to the other with there eyes closed they will find true live! There are also amulets for various wishes such as love and marriage, and notes with wishes that can be bought. We then walked back through Gion and the Yasuka shrine to do more shopping in Termachi covered shopping street, finishing with dinner at a local restaurant to finish our Kyoto adventure.

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