Higan

The autumn equinox is a national holiday in Japan (23rd or 24th of September), a celebration of turning seasons and the balance between the hours of light and the hours of dark. Many pay respects to their relatives, visiting cemeteries and temples. The leaves have begun to fall from the trees at Ryoan-ji, reminding me that soon the mountains will look like a furnace of colour and the bitter winds of winter will sweep into the city.
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28 09 07 - 23:16 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Scaffold

Myoshin-ji is undergoing some major renovations and we caught builders erecting a frame around the island reliquary. Soon most of the more beautiful buildings are to be hidden beneath netting and so it was a nice chance to photograph what I could before the transformation.
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27 09 07 - 05:52 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The gourd and the carp

Taizo-in was created by Hatano Shigemichi in 1404, the oldest in Myoshin-ji's town of temples. The small building is perhaps most famous for Josetsu's painting Catching Cat-fish with a Gourd (1413). Josetsu Taiko popularised sumie (Chinese ink painting) in Japan and was commissioned by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimothi to create this piece of art. The riddle of the painting and the improbability of catching a fish with a thin-necked gourd is almost zen-like in its mind bending logic, and sadly is Josetsu's only remaining intact artwork (now in Kyoto's National Museum). Kano Motonobu created a rock garden in the Muromachi Period at Taizo-in and his use of water, bamboo, stone and islands are considered the most beautiful in all of Myoshin-ji's precincts. The gardens are chameleonic and almost seem to transform throughout the seasons, making it impossible not to visit Taizo-in on more than one occasion.
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27 09 07 - 05:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Finding zen

Grev and I spent a few minutes in amongst the tourists staring at the stained oil-walls and raked gravel of Ryoan-ji's world-famous zen garden. Many of the men and women will be here for an eternity trying to unlock the secrets of the heart, but we knew something they didn't... that the truth and beauty of understanding is a lot more likely to come from the beautiful moss forests and serene mandarin lake than gardens of sand. Sometimes nature is a far better teacher than the ideas of man. Peace out.
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27 09 07 - 05:15 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Five minutes of fame

Grev finds his five minutes of fame as elementary school students swarm for his signature after asking for his name and home country.

27 09 07 - 04:58 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Pat Butcher's earring

When Grev showed an interest in visiting Kinkaku-ji again this morning, I raised an eyebrow. Surely one time is enough in anyone's life. Still, it was good to work out the alcohol still pooled in my blood and so I joined him. Each time I return it seems just a little less impressive, a little more gaudy: a Christmas bauble or waylaid Pat Butcher earring. The reality is that the meagre building is less than fifty years old, destroyed by a mentally disturbed monk in the 50s, so it is unsurprising the gilding looks a little too perfect. Tourists absolutely throng here and I always come away wishing I could explore more of the grounds that remain closed to the public. Hundreds of elementary school kids in their yellow hats poured along the landscaped paths and we allowed ourselves to be dragged along in their wake, wondering why many people see the pavilion as a picture-perfect representation of Japanese culture. It is loud, it is boastful, it is arrogant... everything Kyoto hates. And that is exactly what it was meant for, a tool to convince a Chinese delegation that Japan was great and the emperor that the shogun was the one true ruler of the country.
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27 09 07 - 04:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Moon viewing

Gosh it is hard to take photos of the moon. It is just -annoyingly- too far away. Today is Shu-syu-no-Meigetsu, the most suitable day of the year for enjoying the moon. Summer is slowly dying and the evenings (aside from what seems to be a very wet start to autumn) are getting a lot more comfortable.

27 09 07 - 04:27 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Toil and trouble

With a herald of chinking beer glasses, we cheered the return of Grev. Having to wait for a long time among the crowds mingling in the new restaurant zone across the street from Saiin Station, it was worth it to sit down in the rather luxurious surrounding to fill up on barbecued meats and beer. Nomihodai and Tabehodai basically means you can eat and drink as much as you can manage, which turned out to be quite a lot. Nicky gets a big rosette for finishing off a few bottles of red, so much so that a rather jealous Mike was having none of the canoodling that seemed to be going on outside Geese (where Rhod was pleading a copy of Halo 3 early). Attacking the rather creepy looking hairdresser, we made our escape.

Saiin, a few minutes walk South of our apartment, in the Heian Period was known as Sai-no-Kawara. It was a place where paupers buried their children in shallow graves. By the Edo Period, farmers had cultivated the area into market gardens, growing rich in the process. Some of their legacy can still be seen in the huge old farmhouses of the region. In the early 20th century, Saiin benefited from the Keifuku Railway in 1910, the Hankyu Line in 1928, and the expansion of Shijo-dori in the 1930s. During breaks from filming, actors from the Shochiku and Toei film studios would walk the Saiin backstreets, though the golden age of Kyoto film-making is long dead. Since then, Saiin has been home to a community of Koreans before yielding to the demands of the student population. Now, it is a cheap place to live and eat out.
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27 09 07 - 04:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Grandpa Grover

A new addition. Glad to see that Grovers are still going strong, especially after all that brouhaha with bloody Elmo trying to take over Sesame Street.

24 09 07 - 19:52 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sheep

My very own herd of sheep.

24 09 07 - 19:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

More fake maiko spotted

23 09 07 - 03:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Beauty and the beast

Halloween approaches. Sigh.

23 09 07 - 03:37 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Journey into the maelstrom

When it rains it pours. Never a true word was spoken of the early Autumn weather in Kyoto. As soon as the heavens open the rain comes thick and fast, and is most troublesome when you happen to be on your bicycle. Mike here shelters under the awning of an old sembei store. Click on (more) to see pictures of the route from our house to the city centre (and my work place). Take away the temple embellishments and the mighty wall of Nijo Castle, and Kyoto looks decidedly Birminghamesque in this weather.
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23 09 07 - 03:35 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Wakarimashita

Outside Starbucks and close to the old Sanjo Bridge there is a small store that specialises in sembei (crispy rice cakes). In a small cage lives Tofu-chan, a talkative myna bird. As we sheltered from a downpour, he began chirruping away and then suddenly made an incredibly human-sounding noise. 'Ehhhhhh!' The sound (which we will post on a video soon), with its rising intonation, is used by the Japanese to denote surprise, shock or disbelief. The whole thing was funnier because it was an exact imitation of a Japanese woman. The bird then started shaking his head and in a creepy old woman voice cried 'Wakarimashita' (I Understand!). We listened for a while until a rather large, buxom old lady returned, clearly the owner, and we all understood who the bird was mimicking.

23 09 07 - 03:26 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Slices of Gion

19 09 07 - 23:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The last emperor

As the last emperor to reside in Kyoto (Emperor Komei 1831-66) left for his new palaces in Edo, the Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 to both commemorate the founding of the capital 1,100 years before by Emperor Kanmu (737-806) and the moving of the capital to Tokyo. The orange, green, and white buildings of Heian Jingu are intended to be replicas of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace (destroyed in 1227), at two-thirds the original size. The main buildings are the dignified East Hon-den and West Hon-den (the Main Halls), and the Daigoku-den (Great Hall of State), in which the Heian emperor would issue decrees. Outside the shrine and arching over a busy road is the torii (shrine gate) of Heian Jingu, the largest in Japan, built in 1929.

19 09 07 - 08:22 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kiyomizu

Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (the Pure Water Temple) in Eastern Kyoto is one of the best known sights of the city. The temple takes its name from the waterfall which runs off the nearby hills, though is more famed for its grand veranda that rests upon hundreds of pillars, not one employing a single nail or screw. The popular expression "To jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "To take the plunge". This refers to an Edo Period tradition that held that, if one were to survive jumping from the stage, one's wish would be granted. The lush vegetation below the platform might in theory cushion the fall of a lucky pilgrim, though the practice is now prohibited. 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo Period and, of those, 85.4% survived.
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19 09 07 - 08:21 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

May the people prevail

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19 09 07 - 08:15 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Fake maiko

In the garish sunlight tourists squeal with delight, scampering down the winding alleys so that they might snatch an opportunity to snap the maiko as they slide on their way. But these women are not maiko at all. They have merely paid for the luxury of dressing as one of them. And as hard as they might try, to the more jaded Kyotoites they can never fully realise the illusion of convincing others that they are geiko. Their manners, their make-up, the gait of the walk...eventually something betrays them. Around Kiyomizudera there are scores of studios willing to dress you up as a maiko or samurai in return for piles of hard cash, and so it comes as no surprise to see fake maiko posing in front of the grand temple and giggling for the crowds that gather round.
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19 09 07 - 08:13 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Socks

Student socks.

18 09 07 - 21:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mushy tuna and steaming broth

While feeling nauseous, it is not perhaps the best time for the person opposite you to try a bowl of mashed raw tuna sprinkled over rice and garnished with spring onions and seaweed, with a side order of pickles and cloudy miso soup. I am sure it tasted delicious, but 'twas a miracle I kept anything down.

17 09 07 - 08:39 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Rain rain go away, come again another day

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13 09 07 - 22:22 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The world of Micky Barkes and Nicky Marques

Red wine and cockroach spray, sunglasses and modelling, pagodas, an obsession with koi, little mossy men, a Nishi-oji slum, trampy mothers (not their own) and dancing in the streets...welcome to the bizarre world of Nicola Marques and Michael Barkes, our neighbours.
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10 09 07 - 21:21 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Walking a starry path through the floating garden

As dusk fell we entered a magical land of rainbow fountains and starry paths in the sky. The floating observatory that spans the gap between the two towers of Umeda's Sky Building boasted a glittering path, a galaxy of stars. It was essentially just luminous paint and ultraviolet lighting, though to be fair we did take the glass elevators down before night drew on. In dusk, Osaka looks a little more bearable than during the day, though you have to ignore the urban sprawl to really appreciate the beauty of Japan. After Mike had gotten over his fear of heights, we enjoyed the cool breezes that seem to suggest Autumn is just around the corner.
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10 09 07 - 20:33 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Grev arrives

We kidnapped Grev and brought him back to Kyoto for okonomiyaki, sento and temples. He is practising hard for his 6 week performance at USJ for Halloween. Hopefully we will get a group together and go see him at the beginning of October.
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10 09 07 - 20:12 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Swimming with the fishies

Mad as hatters, we decided that Sunday was the perfect day to visit Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan). Of course, this was madness and rather than seeing fish, we saw a lot of rude people shoving and pushing, and using their children and battering rams. British yobs would look polite next to the rush of bodies all wriggling to the glass windows, throwing out all decorum and pretence of etiquette. Japan has far too many people. I love seeing the dolphins, the sad-looking turtles, perpetually open-mouthed sun fish, the adorable sea otters, the somersaulting manta-ray, the alienesque deep sea crabs and the leviathan that is the whale shark (the star attraction). I do not love people very much. Rude, rude, rude.

Once upon a time there used to be three whale sharks, now there is one. A few months ago another perished. All very sad. The aquarium is one of the largest in the world and the walk-through aquarium displays several habitats in 16 tanks, along with the marine life inside them. The habitats are from the Ring of Fire and the Ring of Life areas of the Pacific Ocean. A great day out, but I would advise anyone to go on a weekday. Rhod displayed my new pet octopus on his head at lunch.
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10 09 07 - 19:43 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Domo-kun

The very cute Domo-kun advertises NHK's new Kyoto Digital Broadcasting. Glad to see that Kyoto is up to date with modern developments (eh-hem).

10 09 07 - 19:07 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The biggest wheel

Rhod made excuses, Mike bottled out, and I merrily -foolishly as it turned out- agreed to join Nicky on the giant ferris wheel outside the aquarium. Tempozan Harbour Village wheel was , at one time, said to be the largest ferris wheel in the world, though China is already constructing a larger version and Tokyo has regularly claimed the title. With the day decidedly grey and increasingly windy, we slowly ascended and I suddenly was not fine with being in the tiny capsule. Chatting maniacally and calling Rhod to say goodbye in case something happened, the 17 minutes seemed to take an eternity. The view was a dismal sprawl of ugly buildings, scarred coastline and industry. We looked out at Osaka Bay, the Ikoma Mountains to the east, the Akashi Straits Pearl Bridge to the west, Kansai International Airport to the south, and the Rokko Mountains to the north.

The wheel has coloured lights that provide a weather forecast for the next day. Orange lights indicate a sunny day, green lights a cloudy day and blue lights indicate rain. Green green green. I was very happy to have my feet back on solid ground.
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10 09 07 - 19:03 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Koyru-ji and Grev

The Koryu-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Yamashiro, Kyoto. It is said to have been founded in 603, one of seven large temples in Japan constructed by Prince Shotoku (573-621). Aside from some minor inconsistencies in the story of its creation, it still makes Koryu-ji very old. The Hata family, silk-weavers and money-lenders, patronised the temple long before Kyoto existed and from the moment the foundations of Heian-kyo were laid, the temple continued to play an important role in serving the faithful of the city. Many suggest it is the oldest temple in Kyoto.

The Kodo (lecture hall) is the oldest building in Kyoto, constructed in 1165. Only Daigo-ji's pagoda is older. Inside the hall is a huge 8-foot high wooden image of Amida Nyorai, a statue of Jizo-Basatsu to the right and one of Kokuzo-Bosatsu to the right. In the temple's main hall (Joguo-in) is a statue that is said to be of Prince Shotoku at age 33.

Nice to show Grev around our local neighbourhood.
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10 09 07 - 00:27 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Monet

There are very few times that a sunset stops me in my tracks and has me looking around for other people to grab and point and say 'Oh my God, what a beautiful sunset. If I had easel and paints I would be away!'. But this is one of those times. Stunning, and no photo could do it justice, for anywhere below the second floor is a jumble of electric wires and mutilated trees.
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07 09 07 - 02:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Onsen bus

"An onsen is a natural, mineral-rich hot spring where Japanese people have gone to soak away their aches and pains for centuries. This national obsession makes sense, since they are more abundant in Japan than any other country in the world, with over 2,300 of them scattered throughout Japan's thermally active islands. Many of Japan's best onsens are located in remote areas, such as Hokkaido. But, if you're in dire need of a good soak somewhere within easy reach of Kyoto, then a visit to the ever-picturesque Kurama Onsen is your best option. Tucked away in pine and cedar forest in the city's northern mountains, just 30 minutes from Kyoto city, this hot spring has the option of bathing either inside or outside. Of course bathing outside, rotemburo-style, in cypress wood baths among dense pine and cedar forests is surely the way to go. With the scent of pine on the wind and Mt. Kurama to gaze at, bathing inside quickly loses its appeal." Quite.

02 09 07 - 20:24 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Temple of Snow, Festival of Fire

Close the cable-car station is the Shrine of Snow (Yuki-jinja), strangely the building where Kurama's Fire Festival emanates from. Swamped by the forest, the shrine was constructed in 940 to house a deity (Onamuchi-no-Mikoto and Sukunahikona-no-Mikoto) in an attempt to quell the natural disasters striking the capital. Every October 20th the Torch Festival begins in remembrance of the time when the local townsfolk lit a bonfire to welcome the deity to his new home. Torches of varying sizes are lit and carried through the town to the shrine, lighting up the early evening in a river of fire that vanishes into the forest.
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02 09 07 - 20:17 - kieren - Photostory| four comments - §

Tengu Mountain

Kurama is one of those temples that is completely outshone by its surroundings. After reconstruction in 1971, the temple really is nothing special to look at. The mythology of Yoshitsune being trained by the king of long-nosed goblins is far more interesting than the sorry looking buildings that fill the space. Even the view is rather plain, forested mountains surrounding the ledge you find yourself standing on.
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02 09 07 - 20:04 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Buddhas

Mike, Rhod and some statues at the base of Mt. Kurama.

02 09 07 - 19:47 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Up up up to Kurama

With Sunday stretching out before us, we tossed around a few ideas and decided we would take the mountain train up to Kurama. The journey is perhaps more beautiful than the modern reconstruction of the temple itself. The tracks skirt forests, span gorges, follow the bends of a small river and cut through the mountain flanks to reach the small town at the foot of Mt. Kurama. Hopping off, we were grateful for the cool mountain air and passed by the tacky tourist stores and scattering of small traditional hotels. Through the grand gate at the mountain's base, we took the cable-car up a short but exceptionally steep stretch of hillside and emerged at a pagoda. Borrowing some walking sticks, we climbed the winding road as it sliced through the forest.
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02 09 07 - 19:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Battle on Mt. Kurama

As the cable-cars ground to a halt for another day, Rhod, Mike, Nicky and I strolled down the mountain from Kurama's temple. As the light slowly vanished, we walked through the alien landscape of exposed roots, soaring cedar trees, vermillion lanterns and small shrines. This twilight world has been immortalised by literature and poetry from the Heian and Kamakura Periods. The legends of the warrior Ushiwaka-maru (Minamoto Yoshitsune 1159-1189) have been passed down through the centuries. When he was a young lad, he took military arts under the Tengu-san at Kurama and went on to be an excellent soldier. Many historical sites attached to him remain on the mountain. The red long-nosed goblins of lore live in these forests and in remembrance of them and the young hero, Rhod and Mike did battle with their walking sticks on a bridge half-way down the mountain.
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02 09 07 - 19:20 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Torches and temples

The clear waters of the Kiyotaki River streams over its rocky bed, cutting through the three ridges of Takao, Makino-o and Togano-o. Famous in autumn for its bright colours, the mountains offer cool respite in the summer time. Temples sit on the top of each of the three ridges, and Saimyo-ji Temple rests comfortably between its more famous neighbours Kozan-ji and Jingo-ji. The temple was founded by Chisen, one of Kukai's ten disciples, in the Tencho Era (824-834). Over a bright vermillion bridge and up a small flight of steps cut into a cliff, the temple grounds are scattered with scores of stone lanterns. Keishoin, the mother of the 5th Tokuagawa Shogun Tsunayoshi, rebuilt the main sanctuary with its Shakanyorai statue carved by Unkei (modelled from that at the Saga Shakado Temple).

The temples of this area are immortalised in poems, and it is easy to understand why. In the shade of the forest, with the river gushing beside the path, it is easy to forget the crush of modern life, a short cycle away.
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01 09 07 - 02:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The first field of tea

Returning to the bridge that crosses the Kiyotaki River, after a sweaty descent from Jingo-ji, we followed the road into the next town. Several benches and a ramshackle camping area provide a place for picnics, but we saw only a few people eating their lunch by the invitingly cool waters. If we lived closer I would be swimming every day, sunning myself on the small strips of rocky beach that gather at the curves of the river.

Again the path began to climb, hinting that we were going in the right direction. All the temples are built on the hillsides, so we expected a steep hike to reach our goal. Kozan-ji is Jinjo-ji's barren neighbour. The temple hides in a cedar forest, below a canopy that throws all into twilight. The paths are rocky and the undergrowth sparse, the complete opposite of Jingo-ji's sunny heights.
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01 09 07 - 01:57 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Where the frogs battle and the rabbits frolic

Many years ago I saw a cartoon of frogs and rabbits fighting one another. It came as a shock to discover that the strange depiction of animals in human roles was more than a thousand years old and is considered the origins of Japanese manga. The small strips are as fresh today as ever they were, a distant cousin of The Wind in the Willows. What is more surprising than the fact they have survived fire on their frail pieces of parchment, is how small the pictures are, stored in glass cabinets, without explanation nor spectacle.
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01 09 07 - 01:44 - kieren - Photostory| one comment - §

Tossing disks

A little walk through the cedar woods of Jingo-ji brings you to a small look-out. Here the Kiyotaki River has cut a huge valley into the mountains. Little clay disks, which are for sale at a small stall on the plateau, can be thrown off (kawarake-nage) the cliff into the valley. It is said that the disk takes bad luck away if thrown all the way down into the valley. The whole view looks stolen from a Swiss postcard and it feels not one bit like Japan. Which makes it a beautifully different, save the foolish Japanese men who are unable to throw the disks and end up smacking the people about them.
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01 09 07 - 01:31 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Jingo-ji

The summer has seen a record number of electrical storms, lighting up the morning skies and smothering the stars in broiling thunderheads. So it came as a surprise waking to a cloudless Saturday. Rhod and I have recently had our bikes overhauled and so decided to explore the North Western mountains, one of the few places we have never set foot. Cycling into the countryside truly feels like 'Japan', all that you have grown accustomed to falling behind you and the houses growing grander and vegetable patches replacing the dusty city parks. Although Takao is less than forty minutes away, the journey is a constant uphill climb without proper signs, the thundering forms of crazed lorry drivers screeching around corners to scare cyclists half to death.

The early September heat is still relentless and brutal, so it was a great relief to park our bikes and stumble down the rocky steps into the deep valley floor. Shuttered restaurants and houses of the late 80s boom now look ghostly and lend the Kiyotakigawa stream an air of crumbling tradition. After crossing a bright vermillion bridge, a rather steep path meanders uphill toward the temple grounds. Takao is famed for its autumn colours when the maple transform the valley into a furnace of reds and yellows. Out of season, it was nice to have the place almost to ourselves. Some restaurants remain open, terraces looking over the river, but most hibernate until the boom season of fall.
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01 09 07 - 01:22 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

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Rhod and Ki's tour of life in Kyoto, Japan.

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