A Travellerspoint blog

Into the Mountains on a Hot Day

A day trip to Kurama

A few days ago, the forecast for Kyoto was in the mid 80's. A good time to go to the mountains, we thought. Not the real high mountains, but mountains close enough to make an easy day trip. So we went to Mount Kurama, a 30 minute train ride from Northern Kyoto. We could feel that it was several degrees cooler than the city!

Kurama is a cute village known for its onsen (hot springs). P1070407.jpgP1070408.jpg

Kurama is also known for a shrine part way up the mountain.large_P1070406.jpg

Here's the approach to the gate of the shrine. P1070410.jpgP1070413.jpg

A lone iris on the pathway. P1070417.jpg

Jizo is the protector of children and travelers. P1070420.jpgP1070441.jpg

Lots of big koi.P1070422.jpg

The real attraction is not so much the shrine as it is the trees, particularly the large cryptomeria, the national tree of Japan.P1070430.jpgP1070432.jpg

Small wildlife was abundant. P1070445.jpgP1070449.jpgP1070476.jpgP1070488.jpgP1070490.jpg

And lots and lots of steps. P1070450.jpgP1070452.jpgP1070459.jpgP1070466.jpg

Finally the shrine! P1070480.jpg But the trail didn't end there; it kept going to the nearby village of Kibune, so we kept going. P1070496.jpgP1070486.jpg An artist was at work deep in the forest. P1070482.jpg And there were more but much smaller shrines.P1070498.jpgP1070494.jpg

But mostly it was the forest. P1070501.jpgP1070504.jpgP1070505.jpgP1070506.jpgP1070508.jpg

Finally, we came to Kibune, the neighboring village. It looked charming, but we had misread the train schedule and thought we had to hurry to get the last train back to town, so we didn't have much time to enjoy it. As you can see, there are platforms suspended over the water; in the heat of the summer, restaurants serve kaiseki dinners on these platforms. P1070510.jpgP1070513.jpg

Posted by pokano 02:42 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Sad To Be Leaving This Wonderful City

Last Full Day in Kyoto

Our time in Kyoto is nearing an end. Today is our last full day. It has been a wonderful experience getting to know this beautiful city even more. As Dick mentioned, our comfort level this year is much higher than it was in 2012; we feel like we can navigate the subway, the trains (a little less so), and even the buses. Everyone has been so nice to us. Dick is already starting to talk about visiting again. Kyoto is like Oaxaca times 10 or 20: the cultural center of its country, but even older and bigger than Oaxaca. We just discovered an English language publication that showed how many local festivals we could have gone to had we known they existed (like a big kite festival!) They don't have notices about these in the tourist office or on online tourist websites.

Now we move on to uncharted territory: Hiroshima Prefecture, where both my parents' families came from. The good news is that Kyoto's going to have a small heat wave starting today: highs in the upper 80's. Onomichi, our next destination, should be cooler: high of around 80.

We're way behind in posting photos. Hopefully there will be some time to catch up. Here are a few photos from the Heian Shrine garden.

Don't know why this antique railroad car is in the garden. The sign was in kanji. P1070616.jpg

The garden has bigger ponds than the ones we've seen on this trip. P1070617.jpgP1070618.jpgP1070620.jpg

P1070625.jpg A light mist was falling when we visited; perfect for keeping the crowds down.P1070630.jpgAlso we missed most of the irises and cherry trees' blooming, but then there would have been a gazillion people there.

Best water lilies we've seen on the trip. P1070633.jpgP1070634.jpgP1070644.jpg

The other thing the garden is famous for is its covered bridge. P1070649.jpg82BA85F52219AC68171DE62960A4C877.jpgP1070691.jpgSee the gray heron?

We didn't take many photos of the shrine itself since we'd been there in 2012. But we did get these photos of what Japanese kids do when they have a photo op! Ladies first! P1070602.jpg Then the guys!P1070608.jpg And finally, a group leap! P1070613.jpg

Posted by pokano 17:21 Comments (0)

Random Thoughts from Pam

1. Why does a country that gave us the heated toilet seat with the toilet cover that automatically raises when you open the stall door place the hook to hang things on at the very top of the stall door, so that I have to stand on tiptoe to use it? (And I'm taller than many Japanese women!)

2.Many toilets in public areas (department stores, train stations, etc.) appear to include the full complement of private part washing functions. Does anyone ever use these????

3.How do most Japanese stay so slim when there is delicious food EVERYWHERE?????

4. There is only one pants size larger at the Uniqlo chain clothes store than the size that fits me .

5. The women's pants inseam length at Uniqlo does not take into account short Japanese legs.

6. It's worth going to a kabuki performance or a geisha odori performance even if you can't understand a word.

7.Before you cross a sidewalk in Kyoto, you need to look over your shoulder to make sure you won't be run down by a bicyclist.

8. The other night we were walking home after a long day of sightseeing. It was about 9:45 pm and dark. There was a whole passel of people wandering along the river bank in our neighborhood, looking in the grass and the bushes. What was going on? Turned out they were looking for fireflies! A man caught one for me, my very first one! I was thrilled!

A few nights later, there were even more fireflies (and people looking for them). A gentleman told us that they usually come out in May and last until mid-June. He also said they come in two sizes, with the larger one being the brighter one. Feel very privileged to have seen them.

9. You can't wear shoes into the ladies' fitting room at Uniqlo and only into the first 5 or 6 inches of the Daimaru fitting room.

10. We took at train to Kurama the other day. A man and his two little boys were seated across from us. All the seats were parallel to the sides of the train, so the little ones could not see out the window unless they stood up on the seat. Before letting the boys do so, their dad removed their shoes. P1070402.jpg

11. The inside of a sweets manufacturer when they're steaming the sweet rice is hotter than a dry cleaners on a hot day in August. P1070571.jpg This photo is hazy with all the steam. I think they sell wholesale, but they open the backdoor and sell retail to whoever passes by (like me).

Posted by pokano 09:22 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Random Thoughts from Dick, #1

Where to start . . . in the middle of this amazing second visit to Japan?

Maybe here: Our comfort level is way higher than it was on the first trip. Public transportation is a snap. While still a bull in a Japanese ceramics shop linguistically, I've also become more or less fearless. Smiles, charades, and the incredible good will of most everyone we encounter result in almost all situations being good ones. Two facts further mitigate my shortcomings with speaking Japanese: Remarkable numbers of Japanese speak a little passable English and are willing to exercise the little that they know. And Pam, always modest about her accomplishments, has substantially improved her skills, and can now read enough hiragana and katanaka to unravel at least some mysteries; and she speaks and understands much more than she did eighteen months ago.

To my own credit, I'm happy/fearless/foolish enough to be delighted to head out on my own, the Pollyanna in me confident that I can successfully undertake any assignment. So far, so good.

Starbucks and its coffee: Is the Japanese Starbucks roasted as dark as in the U.S.? I think not. While I'm not the greatest fan of the Starbucks' roast in the U.S., it'll do . . . and it has vaguely set the standard for the edge and intensity of American espresso drinks. The Japanese Starbucks' taste is milder -- lacks what some have described as a "burnt" flavor. And, in Japan, hot means hot -- much hotter than their American drink counterparts. A less litigious society?

Howard Schultz is known for his advocacy/marketing strategy of positioning Starbucks shops as "third places," gathering places that are neither work nor home, but comfortable, safe and neutral. This seems to be a successful strategy for the company most everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more than in Japan. While Japan is an affluent society, private domestic space is at a premium, and most socializing occurs outside the home. This was vividly demonstrated when we witnessed the tale-end of a little tyke's third birthday party at a nearby Starbucks late one weekend morning. The celebrant's family had reserved an alcove at the local cafe. Starbucks provided age-appropriate, kid-selected drinks and pastries, and also supplied each child with an insulated (plastic) cup as a party favor. You know--the tall grande size cups with covers that people sip their morning cuppa in when they go to work. The cups had removable, transparent outer sleeves. During the party, each child created a piece of artwork with paper and crayons. A Starbucks employee then gathered up the cups and the artwork, and inserted each child's artwork into the sleeve of one of the cups. The completed cup was then put into what appeared to be its own cloth Starbucks drawstring bag and returned to the appropriate parent. The Starbucks employees--all young people--were warm, funny, helpful hosts, and what could have been a messy, complex, stressful affair at a private home, was obvious good fun for both kids and parents, with the host parents completely relieved of any cooking or cleanup duties.P1060391.jpg

A final observation: Certainly some of the baked goods offered in Japanese Starbucks outshine their American counterparts. Starbucks' La Boulange could learn how to bake . . . from the Japanese?

Graffiti & Litter: In the Kyoto area, almost no graffiti at all. We noticed one example, but neither of us can recall what or where. We think it might have been a little "tag" on the side of a public trash bin . . . although that seems somewhat improbable as there are very few public trash bins in evidence. Eating and drinking on the street is uncommon. If you walk out of Starbucks with a beverage in a paper cup, you're stuck with it until . . . . We carry our own "litter" around with us, sometimes until we return home, because it's really hard to find a place to dispose of it. And I've observed Japanese pocketing their wrappers as well.

Posted by pokano 05:42 Comments (0)

Fushimi Inari

So Are You Ready for Some Torii Gates?

overcast 68 °F

Some of you may remember that our 2012 trip to Japan was marred by my getting tendonitis in both legs midway through. As a result, we never made it to Fushimi Inari, which was supposed to be one of the high points on our trip. Our trip this year was for months a big question mark, as I continued to have problems with my knees, lower legs and feet. But thanks to my wonderful podiatrist, Dr. Bouche, my great PT's, Tom and Noriko, and my fabulous acupuncturist, Jim, I was not only able to go to Fushimi Inari, but we made it all the way to the top, 233 meters!

First, I should tell you a bit about the friend who came with us. In 2012, we used the Good Samaritan program in Kyoto. The program offers free English speaking college students to act as guides for tourists, with the tourists paying only the guides' costs (for example, transportation costs, admission fees, food). In 2012, we were lucky enough to get two guides, Yuki and Yuuki. Yuki is a bright young woman now in graduate school. Yuuki, a wonderful young man, has two years left for his undergraduate degree and is interested in becoming a fireman/international rescue expert. We have since kept up with them through Facebook. This year, each was kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to spend some time with us.

Yuuki went with us on our Fushimi Inari. The oldest shrine in Kyoto (although its present incarnation is considerably more recent), Fushimi Inari was originally built so that farmers would have a place to pray for bountiful harvests. Over the years, its scope broadened to include businesses hoping to prosper. Now a business who wants to better its chances for success can pony up some money for its own torii gate. And it seems likely practically every business in Kyoto has done so.

Here's the main shrine, often overlooked because of the torii gates. P1070260.jpg

But what people come from far and wide to see is the torii gates, which start at the bottom and extend all the way up the mountain. large_P1070132.jpgP1070133.jpglarge_P1070157.jpgP1070156.jpgHere's a partial map of our route.large_P1070130.jpg

The lower parts can be quite crowded. It's a little intimidating to go into the torii gates, only to be faced by an onrush of school kids coming the other way. large_P1070137.jpg

Many people come to the shrine in traditional dress. P1070258.jpgP1070259.jpg

As with most shrines, people can record their wishes and leave them. At Fushimi Inari, the wishes are written on fox-shaped paper. large_P1070142.jpglarge_P1070143.jpgP1070144.jpgP1070145.jpgP1070146.jpgP1070147.jpg


And, of course, everyone is taking pictures, including selfies! large_P1070159.jpg

Here we are, Yuuki and I, getting ready to start. large_P1070160.jpg large_P1070162.jpg

Although most of the journey feels like it's straight up, there are several flat places along the way, either for rest and refreshment or for more places to put more individual shrines and torii gates. P1070163.jpgP1070165.jpgP1070167.jpgP1070168.jpg

At one of the stops, there's a lovely pond. large_P1070170.jpg You can see large fish and large turtles. P1070179.jpg And more torii gates, both big and small. large_P1070171.jpgP1070184.jpgP1070185.jpg

There were also several cats. large_P1070182.jpgThis one was particularly friendly. P1070183.jpg Plus someone brought this very nice bull terrier. P1070193.jpg

Still we kept going up--straight up. large_P1070201.jpgP1070202.jpg To paraphrase Treasure of Sierra Madre, switchbacks? Switchbacks? We don't need no stinkin' switchbacks.

In this photo, the old lady in front of us must have been well into her 80's. She climbs up about half way twice a week. large_P1070190.jpg Learning that, I realize I have NO EXCUSE not to make it to the top! (Yuki kept telling me at the bottom that he thought it would be very hard for me. I'm sure he thought I'd never make it and would wimp out half way up.)

Time for another rest stop. P1070203.jpgP1070205.jpg P1070210.jpgThey have kinako (roasted soy bean flour)-flavored ice cream cones, and nice places to sit! P1070204.jpglarge_P1070209.jpg

But we're soon on our way again. Yuuki's impressed as Dick literally ran up the stairs in front of us to get this photo. large_P1070206.jpg

Still going straight up! large_P1070216.jpglarge_9F35A6E92219AC6817E55FC740519B3E.jpg Finally, the top is in sight! large_P1070217.jpgP1070220.jpg We've made it! There's just some small stone shrines at the top. P1070224.jpg

If we had more time, we could wander around the various side trails, but Yuuki needs to get back to his hometown of Osaka to play in a soccer game. So it's time to go back down--harder on the knees than going up. P1070231.jpgThe route down is different, but still more torii gateP1070252.jpgs.

Down at the bottom, there are food vendors galore. Here's a pastry shaped like a fish. P1070265.jpg
My reward for going all the way and all the way back down is a fish pastry filled with pudding and topped with corn flakes, whipped cream, fresh bananas, and Hershey's chocolate syrup!P1070266.jpg The perfect end to a perfect day!

Posted by pokano 07:37 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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