Origami Girl

Monday, 13 April 2015

In which Kyoto is magnificent

18 days in Japan, 1600 photos and head brim full of memories. We visited 5 different locations and walked miles and miles of Japan, traveling between one site and another, trekking across cities, until my feet were sore but my head was happy. With all that it's hard to work out how to convey all the experiences we just had. I thought I could whittle my photos down a fair bit to just the good ones - but for a blog post, even the top 100 out of that many would be barely touching on it and yet too many. So I shall do 3 posts, covering different sections of the trip, and rather than just writing a diary I'll share some observations on Japan in each post, some of the things that surprised us. I hope that's ok! I'm going to start with Kyoto as the biggest part of the trip.

Interesting things. 

  • Musical sounds are everywhere, like the crossing ones in Kyoto that go 'pew. pew-pew' like a friendly laser, or the ones in Matsumoto that play a whole tune that sounds like a baby chime on a mobile. Or the mysterious twinkles of the Tokyo tube stops, or the tuneful sounds of the bell ringing the hour in Yudanaka,
  • In terms of food, people didn't eat as much sushi as we expected. It seemed to be more of a snack food, particularly these chunky triangles of rice, wrapped in seaweed with some kind of fish in the centre. The more common food was big steamy bowls of ramen or soup noodles, with a few slices of meat on top. (This doesn't mean we didn't eat a big variety of stuff. We still visited a conveyor belt restaurant and grilled our own kobe beef). 

This old man asked us to photograph him with his own camera before we used ours, and we saw him visiting temples, and taking his selfies on the way. Also this lovely little temple is actually just off a main road in Kyoto, but tucked behind a gate you could easily miss it.
First cherry trees, in the Emperor's gardens.

  • Brides. Sure, weddings are a big deal in the UK, but I have never in my life seen such a high density of weddings. On one day we saw 9 sets of wedding photos. We saw brides accompanied by stylists, in every good photo opportunity in Japan there was at least one wedding hogging the spot. Whilst they may have been Bridal photo-shoots, or weddings getting in the cherry blossom shoots it was impressive. Not to mention purpose built Italian style churches just for weddings.
  • They really love the sakura.
  • Drinks vending machines were everywhere and the main thing I want imported asap. They sell drinks at about 100円 (about 60p) and that includes hot coffee and tea and hot chocolate, even at one point warm cough syrup in a can. We used them every day for our melon cream soda which got us through the trip.

Chion-in temple.

This street and whole area surround Murayama park was so picturesque. It's where we ate outside under the cherry trees and wandered around lots of food stalls, staying long after sunset. We meant to do it again but never found the time.

Totoro sweets!
  • Sweet, sweets everywhere. Every station and ever town had it's own sweets. Like the ones at the stop for the zoo with tiny icing pandas inside doughnut cakes, or little triangular jellys in Kyoto. Every place had such a variety of sweet shops with so many beautifully wrapped boxes we could barely touch on the option.
  • Buddhist monks on motorbikes.
  • They really go for restoration. We would visit old temples which would say they date back to 680AD only to find that they are perfect reconstructions of the original after it burnt down. It suggests a real dedication to the continuity of history. However, it was a challenge to our concept of 'genuine'. Did they look any less impressive for rebuilding to exact specifications in the 1970s? No. So does it matter? Something we were sussing out - but in Britain we preserve ruins, of castles and abbeys and we love them in their run down state so it was certainly a cultural difference.

This is where my photos of the Inari shrine walk begin, otherwise known as 'photos of Tori gates'. It was chucking it down with rain but a walk up a forested mountain in the rain with huge orange arches all the way was still magical.

Tori gates all the way.
Wet, but happy at the top of the mountain. One of us was taking photos, one of us was carrying the umbrella. You can see who.

Tofuku-ji. The tallest temple in Kyoto, with serene gardens. I actually spent so long taking pictures in the gardens I didn't actually reach the temple itself before closing time.
The gateway to Nijo castle. I've visited many castles in my time, from Edinburgh to Bolton, and the British really never made their doors this fancy. We nearly didn't go here because we thought we knew castles, but it was utterly different from the ones here. I've also never before visited one where you take your shoes off before entering.

Arashiyama bamboo grove.

The river really was that blue.
Starting off for the day of Philosopher's path, several miles of river with cherry trees along the sides.

Ginkaku-ji or Silver temple. It's not actually silver, it was planned to be but it never happened. However it does have a sculpted sand Mount Fuji and the most stunning gardens. It was one of my favourite spots.
Kinkaku-ji or Gold temple. The temple is covered in gold leaf and is astoundingly beautiful.

One last thing - we read some warnings that coming in so called 'Golden week' would be incredibly crowded and thus unbearable. Sure it was busy, the bamboo grove was actually one of the worst for condensed tourists - but the trains were fine, many places were still beautiful and it's worth everything to see the cherry blossom in bloom. 


  1. Oh my goodness….serious envy condition here. Clearly an extraordinary trip.

  2. Wow- I love hearing about trips and especially ones to Japan, how lovely!

  3. Wow- I love hearing about trips and especially ones to Japan, how lovely!

  4. You go on such excellent adventures and I love reading about it! So jealous!