Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple gates.

Up bright and early again to beat the heat – with added benefit of beating most of the tourists too – and headed off to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple with its famous vermillion gates.  Now I have seen these gates in movies, and people run through the gates and throw their coins into the offering box, and make their prayers and wishes and it all takes mere minutes.  But this place is a complex of thousands of bright orange/red gates that go for over 4kms.

The stunning shrine complex was originally built in dedication to the gods of the rice harvest and sake by the Hata family, sometime in the 8th century.   These days the shrine is one of Japan’s most popular with many who observe at the 30,000 other Inari shrines located throughout Japan make pilgrimage here to pay homage.  The winding rows of gates twist and sprawl across the woodlands of the Inari-yama area and there really are thousands of these torii gates.

Below is the main two storied gate entering into the shrine complex, where observers will enter, then purify their hands – using water ladled from a well, left hand first, right hand second, take water into the left hand and drink, then let water run down the handle of the ladle, then returning the ladle face down.  Next, people approach the shrine, give an offering of a coin, bow twice, ring the bell (to summon the attention of your ancestors), clasp hands and bow their heads to make a wish, then bow again.  This is my kind of speed religious observance.  🙂The next few photos are of the Main Shrine at the base of the complex, including the amazing detail in the ceiling of the shrine.

This building is called the Gonden, but I have no idea why or what it houses.  😀There are many places through this shrine complex, and several others I have already seen, that allow for people to tie their fortunes or wishes to the shrine.  This complex had about four places that I found that you could purchase a fortune, or a fox head, or a miniature tori gate, or a wooden tablet, from the Juyosho (place where good luck charms and amulets for festivals and prayers are sold) and write your name and your wishes on them to leave behind.

And finally the famous orangey red gates that go on for kilometers.  Such an amazing sight and so distinctive in the landscape.  At the moment the bottom sections of the shrine have lanterns hung up for the upcoming Gion Festival this week, which has added to the beauty of these images.

More lanterns at the Omakaru Stone shrine, which is about 1/3 of the way into the shrine complex… there are two lots of torii gates making their way to this point, it is the area where most people visit and pay their respects, so there is an up and a down tunnel of torii gates here.The Kamimassha gate which leads on from the Omakaru Stone shrine further up the mountain.

We decided to make offerings at the Omakaru Stone shrine by purchasing a fox head to write on and hang on the shrine, wishing for good health and safe travels for the whole family.


The torii gates from the outside of the tunnels…

There are many many red foxes on this mountain and they are most commonly observed at dawn and dusk, and have been long the sacred symbol of the area.  The fox is considered the messenger of Inari, the god of the rice harvest, and the complex is full of dozens of stone foxes.  This one in the garden carries a key to the granary in it’s mouth…

These little buildings are actually the administrative buildings for the complex, I love that everything follows the design form and blends into the area, and that they haven’t put a big ugly ’60s concrete toilet block of an admin building in the middle of the place.Tori gates to buy, to either put your name on and hang on the frames below or to take home from your journey as a pilgrims token.

There are lanterns all over Kyoto, we are told they are for the Gion Festival, and we plan on doing a lot of hunting around at night to see them all lit up over the next few nights.

After wandering around the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine for a few hours, we decided to get out of the heat and go visit the Kyoto National Museum.  Yes, air condition is of great appeal at the moment, even walking a couple of hundred metres on the flat to get to the bus stop has us all working up a sweat and ready to keep over.

The National Musuem has a pretty impressive collection of traditional Japanese Buddhist and Shinto wood and bronze sculptures from the 10-12th Centuries, Buddhist ritual masks from the as early as the 8th – 12th Centuries, Japanese lacquer objects, Buddhist metal works including armour, Japanese textiles including kimono from the 1700s onwards, calligraphy that focuses on connoisseurship and that is just the first level galleries.  There are also galleries dedicated to archaeological relics dating back to 2000BCE, ceramics from the Han through to Qing dynasties, Illustrated painted handscrolls, medieval ink paintings, Edo period paintings and some Chinese paintings… and of course you are not allowed to photograph any of it!  Which sucks, but I have a few pics from a guide book that I have added in here.
faCDt4fdDckdSdme.jpgdttkP7A2hR6P56Gs.jpgJl8oRc6WFJ92LK1X.jpgK1zsh2uI3cy6CVIx.jpguFK0XV9UDrGjfi1D.jpg0fM4j0FvpJto0q71.jpgOutside was a replica of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’… I have no logical explanation to offer as to what the hell it is doing here?!? It stands out like dogs ball and makes no sense!  If anyone figures that shit out – do let me know!


Kyoto Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

… and Bamboo Forest day.  🙂

ticket kinkaku-ji.jpgSo excited!  I have wanted to see Kinkaku-ji, also called the ‘Golden Pavilion’ for nearly 20 years now.  It is such an amazing building and is one of Japan’s best known sights.  I had seen a hint on an internet travel blog that getting there Monday morning bright and early was the only way to go in the summer tourist season, so out the door we were at 8:00am and hitting the buses (I say buses, because there were several!).  We arrived on site around 8:45am and the large wooden gates leading into the complex were still closed.  This is a map of the entire complex which includes Kinkaku-ji / Rokuon-ji Temple (aka Golden Pavilion…not sure why this place has three names, but it appears to), the Sekka-te Tea House, the Fudo-do Temple and the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.




The Not So Small Child, however, was not quite as excitied ands he had no idea what we were going to see – so he was busy trying to hook himself onto some free wifi while we waited… in fact, that’s his favourite past time in Japan so far; hunting for free wifi.  😛Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-2.jpgThe doors opened and we were in a group of about 80 early bird tourists to make it in for hopefully unpeopled photographs.  We could see the tour groups in buses arriving as we were going in and I can only imagine that it got very packed very quickly.  I am unapologetically posting as many photos of this incredible spot as I can.  🙂  It was so peaceful and serene… the pavilion itself is simply stunning.

It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for a Shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but his son converted it to a Zen Buddhist temple.  The golden colour is from gold foil on lacquer covers on the upper two levels of Kinkaku, and a shining phoenix  stands on top of the shingled roof.Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-3.jpgThe first level is built in the Shinden style of the 11th C imperial aristocracy, and the second level is built in the Buke style of the warrior aristocracy.  The very top level is built in the Chinese Zenshu-Butsuden style, but overall Kinkaku isrepresentative of Muromachi period architecture.  All of which is well and good but I read that in 1950 a young monk became obsessed with the temple and his obsession culminated in his burning the place to the ground!  So what we are looking at today is a 1955 reconstruction that was completed using the exact original design, but the golden foil covering was extended to cover the lower levels, which the original temple did not have.    Obsessed monks indeed…  Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-5.jpgKinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-6.jpgOh, and forget yesterday’s Hojo Gardens at Choin-in Temple… these are far and away the most impressive gardens I have ever seen.  So immaculately kept and so beautifully laid out.  With so many people coming through I can well understand why there are no seats around for people to loiter on, but it would be absolutely amazing to be in here alone under a tree, watching the nearly 50cm long carp and koi plopping in the water occasionally and listening to the breeze in the trees.  Just stunningly gorgeous.  Makes you wish you had a few hectares at home to make a garden of your own… oh, and the resources to pay the 20 plus gardeners you’d need to keep it looking so lovely and orderly.  It has literally just dawned on me why I feel these gardens are so pleasing – they’re orderly.  They’re not strategically overgrown English cottage gardens, which have their own appeal in their own right… they’re precise, expertly pruned, well kept and very, very orderly.  Which suits my sensibilities perfectly.  Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-7.jpgKinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-9.jpgOff to the side of the pagoda is a little patio/landing where Sayuri is finally united with the Chairman at the end of the film, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’… going to have to watch that again and see how much of Kyoto, and Gion in particular, is familiar.  🙂
I mean, isn’t that one of the main reasons why we travel?  So we can go to the cinema and annoy our movie going companions by whispering, “I’ve been there!” at various exotic destinations.  Back me up here, BigSal?   😛 Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-8.jpgThis sign probably says something hideously practical, like, “Tea house This Way”, but with my in-ability to read Japanese and my current effusive state of mind, I am going to choose to think it reads, “Stairway to Heaven” today.  Ask me again tomorrow, and it might read, “Please refrain from using these steps, as you can see they are dangerously worn away from hundreds of years of hundreds of feets using them” … yes, all that in just four characters!stairs-at-Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-2.jpgNext thing we saw was the Ryumon Taki, I have no idea what that means, but the tourists have taken it upon themselves to throw coins into the curved stone bowl, and a strategically placed steel bowl that made a satisfying ting as you coin bounced out of it.  Of course we all threw a ‘temple coin’ (aka shrappers) into the bowl.  Only Mr K got it in one… and he made a wish for good health, because of course we are on the go, go, go which means he’s coming down with something.rock-monument-coin-toss.jpgEven gorgeous just peeking through the top of the trees…Kinkaku-Rokuon-ji-Temple-Golden-Pavilion-10.jpgAt the Fudo-do shrine, we saw a row of weird little Fortune boxes, and around the corner, English Fortunes, Chinese Fortunes, and Portuguese Fortunes!?  Seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up, so we threw in a coin and a genuine ‘Fortune’ came out.Rokuon-ji-Temple-Fortune-1.jpgRokuon-ji-Temple-Fortune-2.jpgEt, voila!  My fortune… “An unexpected misfortune will happen to you, but you can get over it if you can behave yourself and are prudent.”  Well, so much for that… well behaved and prudent.  What are the odds?  🙂 Rokuon-ji-Temple-Fortune-3.jpgA little baby Shinto shrine, that was around the back of the Fudo-do shrine… I really wish there was ore information on what each of these are for – the complete inability to read anything really makes you feel like you are missing stuff. baby-shrine.jpgMr K contemplating the down hill stairs – there may or may not be a bit of delayed onset muscle pain going on after the Mr Fuji adventure… everyone’s a little sore and double thinking things (the way I do every day, it’s kinda cute).Steps-down-from-Kinkaku-ji.jpgSteps-down-from-Kinkaku-ji.jpgsA3e3WfCgV5uepUV.jpgAfter we left Kinkaku-ji, we were heading for the famous Arashiyama bamboo forest – so famous, it graces the cover of the current edition of the Lonely Planet for Japan that nearly everyone we meet is carrying around (as are we).

On the way, we took a wrong turn from Arashiyama (*mutter mutter* no signs in English anywhere), and ended up wandering over a bridge completely in the wrong direction.  In a park, I saw a lovely lady dressed in a formal kimono having some formal photographs taken.  Being friendly and REALLY wanting to take her photo, I walked up to them and told her how beautiful I thought she looked and asked the photographers if they were taking photos for a magazine or something.  It turns out that this couple are getting married on the 22nd July, and this is their ‘pre-wedding’ photo shoot.  Novel idea, but it seems it is quite common here to get your photos taken before the wedding so as not to use up time on the day.
wedding-couple.jpgwedding-couple.jpgMy compliments and congratulations on their upcoming wedding were well received and they were happy to let me take their photo.  The blushing bride looked absolutely perfect – though lord knows how she did, given it was 36C, over 70% humidity and nary a breeze to be hard.  She must have been so hot under all that, but she just looked so lovely.Blushing-bride-1.jpgBlushing-bride2.jpgEventually we wandered back up in the correct direction, via a stop for kiwi fruit ice creams, and found the relative coolness of the bamboo forest… and I mean relative.  It was probably still 30C something in there, but at least you could take your hat off for a few moments and try cool off.  It’s not quite as picturesque as the pics on the guide book, but was a very pleasant stroll nonetheless.  I did wonder though that with the hundreds of people also wandering through the grove (that I worked very hard to try and keep out of my pics), why haven’t the city/council, just planted another five or six more bamboo groves in various areas of town?  Curious.
bamboo-forest-2.jpgSome lovely ladies we saw at the train station – apparently it is quite common for tourists to rent a kimono for the day and have their hair done up to tour various sites, and it is very popular with Chinese visitors.  kimono-ladies-at-train.jpgAfter all that – about 5-6 hours wandering around in just draining heat, we came back to Gion and had some quick lunch… followed by a nap for those of us who had completely lost their ability to deal, and The Last Samurai on Blu-Ray for Angel and me.  Lunch boxes here are fantastic – so cheap and full of yummy fresh sushi, and available at the 7-11.  Wish we could get this sort of thing at home.  🙂 lunch.jpgEscaping from the heat for the afternoon was a good plan, we didn’t head back out until after dark when it was a far more tolerable 26C and still 70% humidity… and only then to go have a quick look around the area at night and try to find some ramen noodles.  We found several places open just up the street – it’s weird how many tiny little restaurants there are everywhere here, in amongst the houses and down tiny alleys, great little bars and restaurants that barely seat 10-12 people.  We also have vending machines with coffee, soft drinks, water and sports drinks just at the end of the driveway that leads into the apartment, and they seem to be on every other corner.  But I digress, we found a great little ramen place about 100m from here (after passing three other restaurants!), and had some delicious traditional (according to the menu ‘traditional 1970s style ramen noodle’… lol) meals.  Very quaint little place.  🙂









Not sure what we are doing tomorrow, but no doubt it will involve more sight seeing in the morning, hiding from the heat again in the afternoon, and then going out into Gion to check out the preparations for the festival which starts in two days!  🙂  Lots of lanterns, parade floats and people in the streets, it should be a lot of fun.

Kyoto Chion-in Temple

Feeling somewhat refreshed after our transfer day and nearly everyone having had a good sleep in, we decided to head to the Chion-in Temple this morning.  It’s actually more of a ‘temple district’ really, as there are so many temples within the grounds that it starts to get confusing and you could easily get lost wandering around.  The Chion-in Temple itself, is historically significant as it was here that the Jodo Shu (Pure Land Sect Buddhism) founder, Honen (1133-1212) started spreading the teaching of “nembutsu-only” (Amitabha chanting) and he remained here until he passed away.  The official name of the main temple is a mishapen collection of alphabet spaghetti that I just have to include here – ‘Kachozan Chionkyoin Otanidera’ – I have no earthly idea how you pronounce that.  The area is still the headquarters of ohe Judo Shu.8w4YHAfcTQwg2SNA.jpgWe set off from the gate at the bottom left hand corner of this map and made our way up many, many long stone stairs before even getting to the outer gates of the temple itself… and while all our friends at home are freezing their collective arses off, we have found ourselves sightseeing in Kyoto with temps in the mid 30s, high humidity and absolutely zero breeze.  It’s that sort of wet sticky heat that feels like your soul (if you believe in that sort of thing) wants to just run out your ears and everything you touch feels… moist.

temple steps.jpg

lzg7DOcn3YvpjwG8.jpgNuuvthU0XMbuStsl.jpgbdSmCe1CW3CJZNoj.jpgfbwhGqJNN0UUK9Zh.jpgThis building holds the Seven Wonders of Chion-in:
The Nightingale Hallway – is the corridor connecting the Mieido to the Ohojo and Kohojo buildings. It is called the Uguisubari, and is a corridor boarded in such a way as to deliberately sqeak under the weight of footsteps to replicate the song of a uguisu bird.  The singing floorboards were designed to prevent unexpected intruders.
The Plainwood Coffin – holds the coffins and statues of the master builder of the Main Sanmon Gate and his wife. It is said that they bore the responsibility and blame of the deficit caused by constructing the gate and committed suicide.
The Forgotten Umbrella – under the roof at the front of the Mieido is a oiled paper umbrella believed to have been left intentionally by a famous sculptor, Hidari Jingoro, as a charm against fire.
The Sparrows That Flew Away – a set of four golden painted panels depicting
The Cat That Sees in Three Directions
The Large Rice Paddle – a huge wooden spoon is held up in the corridor which is 8.3 feet long and weighs 6.6lbs.  It is said to represent the merciful power of Amida Buddha.
and the Cucumber Rock – Near the Kuro-mon (Black Gate) there is a large rock that is said to have born cucumbers (of all things), and the rock is called Uryu-seki was at the present site before Chion-in was constructed.  I have not for the life of me been able to figure out what is so wondrous about this rock, unless it literally did produce cucumbers?!  Seems unlikely.X6FWMzrIfNZl98iS.jpgThis building, the Honen shonin Mido, was constructed in 1635 and was used as a training area for monks. It is currently serving as the main temple, as the main temple – the Mieido Temple – is under major reconstruction as the roof was in dire need of repairs so the artefacts from the Meido temple have been moved here to here.jKfe8pdBzgSOE9hl.jpg
uZYhNCaGu9PcMEt0.jpgoV4WpwWE6CKq6gkG.jpgBehind the Honen shonin Mido temple is the famous Hojo Garden. The Hojo Garden is built in a traditional Japanese style called the ‘chisen kaiyushiki’, which is a garden designed formally around a pond. It is said to have been designed during the early Edo period (1600-1868) by a monk named Gyokun, who was connected to a master gardener Kobori Enshu (which probably really means something to someone who knows a lot about Japanese gardens, but means very little to me). The Hojo Garden is considered to be Kyoto’s most beautiful garden. It is lovingly tended and very well cared for, but the ‘no go’ zones make it a very quick walk through as there is no where quiet to sit and just enjoy the space, which is unfortunate but no doubt the result of so many tourists and pilgrims coming to the Mieido each year.





Some of the tiles for the roof reconstruction of the Mieido Temple which is listed as a National Treasure.  From what we can tell, these roof tiles are being sponsored and paid for by donations.  The Meido temple serves as the centre of the Choin-in temple complex, and was built in 1639 by the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu.  It is currently closed while they do the repair work on the temple which is expected to take approximately 8 years.  I think due for completion in 2019.jaJGZzDtzdE7s8ss.jpgThis walkway connects to another temple, the Amidado (aka Amitabha Hall) which was a late addition in 1910.  It houses a large 3m tall statue of Amida and seems to be used as a multi-purpose space, for worship and for performance.Uq0dfqd6JZEz0yM4.jpgEmP5NqHH6WuQ2fRV.jpgcF75XHeYpg9VOOoK.jpg

Having entered by one of the smaller gates we left by the main gate, the Sanmon Gate, which was built in 1621 by some guy called Tokugawa Hidetada, the second of the Tokugawa shoguns, in the elaborate architecture style of the Edo period.  Apparently this is THE largest wooden tower gate in existence in Japan, being 24m high and 50m wide.  It’s enormous, very impressive to behold and quite difficult to photograph!OUTGyZUuAOXRjRQe.jpg

We left the temple district and ambled down to Gion, the traditional geisha district of Kyoto.  There are many working okiya still in the area, and still many Japanese women choose this lifestyle.XOKLFxPU86cLFbLb.jpgsh3OSRQPXBYHiFE6.jpg

Fish Markets and Bullet Trains and Okonomiyaki, oh my!

Got up this morning, it’s a transit day – we are off to Kyoto by bullet train around lunch time, but had so far missed an opportunity to go see the famous Tokyo fish markets. We had planned to go on Wednesday, but found out that (very oddly) the fish markets are closed every 2nd Wednesday of the month, so it was go this morning or miss out.

We hopped a cab to head the few kilometres over to the fish markets – with four of us, sometimes it works out cheaper to use a cab than to all whittle down the credit on our Suica cards – and were dropped off right outside the market area. The smell of fish in the air was immediately noticeable, but given that it is quite hot today, not as fishy as you would expect… fresh seafood smells, not rotten ones. We went for a wander through the markets and saw just about every seafood known to man… enormous tuna, salmon, lobsters, crabs, eels, squid, octopus, scallops, urchins, sardines, oysters, pippis, large fish of unknown species (damn not being able to read signs) and so many other delicious fishy type things.








Saw some other market stalls selling knives, kitchenware, ceramic serving dishes, bowls, cups, chopsticks. SaucyMary picked up some little Japanese garden shears that apparently make a very satisfying ‘ting’ noise when you use them.




After wandering the markets for a while we went hunting for breakfast in one of the hundreds of sushi restaurants serving all the lovely fresh fish that comes right from the wholesale markets. The line ups were incredible. Hours long some of them to get into a sushi restaurant. We had no idea which ones are better than others, so we chose a place where 1) we could stand in the shade and 2) had a relatively short line. One of patrons already waiting to go in, told us the line was very short because this restaurant was relatively new – so ‘no reputation yet’, but he assured us it was very good.


Thirty minutes of standing around later… and we finally get in the door. The restaurant was tiny, about the size of my entry way and ensuite at home, with three chefs and a row of tables and tiny stools. We were given the obligatory hot hand towel to freshen up before the meal, which was much appreciated, and food was delivered one piece at a time as the chef made it, onto wooden serving platters that were placed in front of each person. It was crazy expensive seeing it was so close to the source of all the ingredients – ¥2500 per person for the ‘sushi special’ or ¥3600 for the ‘chef special’, but absolutely worth it.




We tried the sushi special which consisted of fresh tuna, cuttlefish, eel tail, salmon, prawn, sardine, salmon roe, tuna rolls, some mystery fish that I have now forgotten the name of, and some green tea and the best miso soup I have ever tried. The chef was adamant that none of the sushi be eaten with soy… right up until the end where he gave us the little tuna rolls, and said, ‘Ok, now sauce.’  Weird that they feel wasabi doesn’t impact the taste and enjoyment of the fish, but definitely no sauce!  The chef special included some urchin and scallop, and while I love scallop, I personally don’t enjoy the texture of urchin having had it fresh off the beach in NZ many years ago. All up, a delicious breakfast of the freshest and tastiest fresh sushi I have ever tried – very happy with my wash! 10/10. Would definitely go again and drag all my friends along.

After that it was back to the apartment and collecting all the luggage – compared to other travellers about the place, we seem to be carrying a LOT of stuff. Part of that I think is because when Australians travel, we don’t just go somewhere for a week or ten days… everything is too far away and that involves expensive and tedious long haul flights, so once we are away, compared to other travellers, we tend to stay away as long as our leave and our budgets will allow. So with a 47 day trip that involves trekking up mountains gear and clobber for formal evenings on a cruise ship, that tends to cause a fairly significant packing challenge, and I find myself cursing the fact that we’re not travelling lighter.


Anyway, back to the train, then off to Tokyo Station and switching to the Shinkansen Train – bullet train for the win! 🙂 Mr K, our transport logistics expert was pretty damn excited to be getting on the bullet train. The trip to Kyoto is 513.6kms and is covered in 138 minutes flat. Love it – clean, fast, efficient and goes every 10 minutes or so. We arrived in Kyoto much sooner than I was expecting, the scenery just whizzing by outside the window, and then it was off to rapidly learn a new transit system to make our way to accommodation, which is here – 知恩院前のバス停 if anyone wants to look it up. 😀




We’ve got a lovely apartment with all the mod cons, right in the centre of where the Gion Festival is happening this week. But after a long day, we decided to get take out okonomiyaki from a place called Arachan that our Airbnb host recommended. Shared a seafood one with SaucyMary for dinner and it was absolutely delicious, full of prawn, octopus, squid and fishy bits. Best okonomiyaki ever. I’d say that we should totally have some for dinner again one night next week, but there are too many other things to try. 🙂