Rakusai Bamboo Park

Rakusai Bamboo Park is a charming little stroll garden, part museum and part shop. There is no entrance fee, and before you even get to the visitor centre you pass by countless varieties of the grass overlooking the picturesque Western Mountains.

I don't remember all the facts I learned, but a couple stick in the mind. There are about 1,200 known varieties of bamboo world-wide, and the record holder for fastest grower goes to a Japanese species that was recorded growing 121cm in one day. In Japan bamboo leaves turn red in Spring, and many haikus refer to the season when talking about Autumn bamboo. Most famously perhaps, Thomas Edison used Japanese bamboo in his experiments with the light-bulb, and this proud fact is well publicised in the museum.

The Rakusai Park may be small and humble, but I highly recommend it as a day trip. The staff were very friendly, and the shop alone was worth the trip.

29 04 10 - 22:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Farming bamboo

The final stop on our hiking tour around the suburbs of Katsura and Muko was the Rakusai Bamboo Park. I have to admit that the name did not exactly set my imagination on fire, and I was feeling slightly grouchy from the endless walking in the heat, but it proved to be the highlight of the day. The path climbed up from the houses, around an elementary school and alongside a waterworks facility, until we were engulfed on both sides by thick tracts of bamboo clinging to the hillside.

At first the bamboo forest was wild, the thick fronds clacking together in the wind and the leaves whispering continuously. Dozens of dead stalks lay chaotically in the shadow, great poles that had tumbled in landslides or succumbed to stormy weather. One thwack on the head would be sure to knock you out cold or worse. But just like that the forest became more ordered, the forest floor cleared and neat fences surrounded parcels of land. Everywhere new shoots were showing through, and signs indicated that these allotments are privately owned by farmers who harvest the giant shoots to sell at market.

It is very difficult to think of bamboo as grass, but it is even more difficult to think of a plant with more uses. Mostly grown on the hillside as food, the humble fences were one such reminder that bamboo has a million and one uses...as we were about to find out.

29 04 10 - 22:46 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Abandoned charm

Here are more photos of the -mostly- deserted shrines you can find dotted around the Southern suburbs of Katsura.

The small bridge in the photos is called the Kotohiki-bashi. Although an ugly concrete thing now, it can be found in the legends surrounding Sugawara-no-Michizane. When he was exiled to Dazaifu (Kyushu), many miraculous things were reported to have happened on his journey South. One such tale involves a god serenading the humiliated minister on a bridge close to the town of Katsura, lifting his spirits with music played on a koto (Japanese harp). I cannot recall if this is the precise origin for the bridge name, and I cannot find any information regarding it, but I am fairly sure it is close enough.

29 04 10 - 22:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Shrines in the shadow of the shinkansen

In the Southern suburbs of Katsura, beneath the shadow of the elevated bullet-train tracks, sit many pretty shrines shrouded in shadow and half-forgotten amidst the small businesses and smoggy roads. Maybe in part because they are obscured, they have an air of abandonment and poverty, looking rather sorry for themselves, their grounds slightly overgrown and their buildings rotting. Sadly I do not know their names*, I don't know who built them or why they were built. But I was glad nonetheless to have visited them, and glad that the local people clearly still pray there.

One temple stands out, as mounted on the wall of the prayer hall were old archery bows, discoloured with time. An old black and white photo had been mounted showing a group of young boys in school uniform. Maybe they were part of a now defunct archery club run in the temple grounds. The slightly haunting thing about the image was the age of the photo. Clearly it was before the outbreak of the second world war, and I wonder what happened to those children. Were they enlisted to fight, did they stay friends, did they all return home safely? I hope that they did, but if not then the temple remains fitting tribute with its victorious bows and ancient camphor trees.
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29 04 10 - 19:50 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mozume-Kuruma-Zuka Kofun

The Japanese spirit is fueled by food. In fact a great deal of their culture can be said to have evolved purely because of their never ceasing devotion to food and drink. And so it is that I found myself being dragged through the dull suburbs of Katsura on a sweltering day, all because Etsuyo wanted to try a particular hamburger. Fortunately the queue was short, and the hamburger was excellent despite the rather plain looking restaurant.

After we had eaten, we decided to try one of the area's hiking trails as advertised by Japan Railways. Such trails are designed to promote healthy living and ecological awareness, though I wonder how many people actually want to come to the grey and industrial suburbs for a day out.

Slap bang in the middle of a housing estate we came across a kofun, an ancient burial mound. Before Kyoto existed, and when the land was still split amongst squabbling tribes, leaders and important figures were buried in these key-hole shaped tombs. It is still possible to see many of them dotted about Kansai. There is very little to actually see, the kofun looks more like a hill up close, but the original drainage spout was still working (sadly you cannot see the stone sarcophagus inside the tomb). Ignoring the warnings not to climb it, we used one of the well-worn paths to explore the tiny space. From the top it was possible to look back out towards the city.

29 04 10 - 19:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The monkey protector of Gosho

At the North-Eastern edge of the Gosho Palace the wall is indented. A carved wooden monkey can be found beneath the roof where the Tsuijibei fence curves, wearing an eboshi cap and carrying a 'Gohei' pole with zigzag paper strips. The monkey is supposed to be a messenger from the Hie-Sannoh shrine, guarding the North-East -demon- gate of the Imperial Palace. It was believed that ill-fortune and evil poured from the unlucky North-Eastern direction and so a monkey (the word saru can also mean 'to expel' in Japanese) was placed here to ward off bad luck. The monkey was said to have been locked up in a metal mesh as punishment for coming out at night and making mischief.

This area is also where Anekoji Kintomo is said to have been assassinated in May 1863 toward the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (the Sarugatsuji Incident). He was a court noble who spearheaded the movement to expel foreign 'barbarians', at the time when those in favor of opening Japan to the world and those against it were locked in a fierce struggle. He would be turning in his grave to imagine me strolling about care-free.

29 04 10 - 19:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Vestiges of Empire

Golden Week, that wonderful mix of four national holidays falling almost one after another, began in earnest today with tropical temperatures burning away the cobwebs of Winter. One of the enjoyable side effects of this year's peculiarly cold and damp Spring is that the cherry blossoms have lasted far longer than usual, and even towards May can still be seen brightening many parts of the city. Today -29th April- is in celebration of the Emperor Showa's birthday, and most of the country is on holiday. Golden Week is one of the busiest calendar periods for people taking vacations, but Kyoto seemed strangely calm. It might have something to do with the fact that today falls on a Thursday, and as tomorrow is not a national holiday many people still have to work for that one irritating day before the weekend.

I had planned to meet Etsuyo, but found myself with time to kill and so took a stroll around the Gosho. The Gosho was once the site of Japan's Imperial Palace (and remains a Summer residence of sorts for the current Emperor), before the Emperor Meiji transferred the capital to Edo and renamed the city Tokyo. When the capital transferred, many of the imperial buildings and noble residences were dismantled, and the barren area left around the Gosho and Sento Palaces became parkland.

The park, sitting at the heart of the city, is quite huge by Japanese standards and filled with stroll paths, playgrounds and a baseball field. As the palaces sit behind imposing walls (a tour of the old palace grounds is by appointment only) there is very little to actually see save a few ornate gates, and the various indications of where once stood grand buildings and noble villas. It is not perhaps the greatest tourist spot, but it is the perfect place to take in the fresh air and watch the seasons reflected in the thousands of trees.

The Munakata Shrine is one of the few holy sites inside the park, venerating the Munakata San'nyoshin (the three goddesses of the sea - responsible for transport, shipping, birth, production, industry and culture no less). Founded in 795, a year after the capital transferred to Kyoto (Heian-kyo), the Emperor Kanmu directed Fujiwara-no-Fuyutsugu to summon the three deities from Chikushi (Fukuoka Prefecture). The shrine's giant camphor tree is the oldest in the park, (said to be about 600 years old), and within the grounds is an ancient cherry tree, the very one that used to guard one side of the imperial throne room (Shishin-den). Before the shrine itself stands a lusterleaf holly tree: its leaves, known as 'pattra' in sanskrit, were once used for writing sutras on, which is said to be the origin of the Japanese word for postcard (hagaki)...literally 'leaf writing'.

29 04 10 - 19:16 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Breakfast bar baby

Since Erina's dad salvaged some stools, the kids have been obsessed with the new breakfast bar.

22 04 10 - 02:13 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Battered balls

Another night, another takoyaki party.

22 04 10 - 02:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Heron habitat

22 04 10 - 02:06 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The many faces of Gilead Alexander Thomas and Nikita Aina Thomas

Gilly and Kitty take turns in making human sandwiches. It involves using two black cushions as slices of bread with a child filling. Luckily they are more than willing to volunteer for the job.

22 04 10 - 02:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Timotei

For some reason, I was reminded of an 80s advert as I got off the train today in Kameoka. The fallow fields surround the Hozu-Kudari station and bloom with various flowers throughout the year.

22 04 10 - 01:54 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

A false goodbye

Today should have been one of the saddest days of my year. This morning I was preparing to eat my last Caffe Latte gelato, drink my final beer with Misako, and make Ninna-ji the last stop in my Japanese adventure. But instead my husband's prayers have been answered and the volcano god has granted us more time together. So, I get an extra full month in Japan, can return home with Rhod, and have the chance to enjoy a lot more ice-cream and sunny days. Seems like a win win situation.

19 04 10 - 02:08 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Odd one out

I have posted about Shinsen-en gardens countless times. It is a pretty little pond, the last remaining vestige of the South-Eastern imperial gardens, and perhaps the only piece of the original city still untouched. But there is a photo here that does not fit. After lunch we found a closed-down barber with this attractive advert for wigs. Likely the foreign model never imagined he would end up advertising hair-pieces in Japan.

Of course there are numerous comedies in America that allude to the insanity of famous faces cashing in on the lucrative Japanese commercial industry. The best by far are Joey from Friends, Jenna from 30 Rock, Karen from Will & Grace*...you can catch a glimpse of them in these You Tube clips.
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19 04 10 - 01:53 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

S-wing

She may not love this photo, but there is some quality to it that I love.

19 04 10 - 01:45 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The castle moat without the castle

In 1577 under the direction of Nobunaga Oda, Mitsuhide Akechi erected Kameyama Castle to guard the North-Western Passage to Kyoto. It was so named because of the turtle-shell-shaped hills that surrounded the small settlement. In 1582 Mitsuhide Akechi raised his army in the town, ready to assassinate his old master Nobunaga Oda, who had indirectly failed to protect his mother from a bloody revenge attack. Oda was forced to commit suicide in the grounds of Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto. Akechi was eventually defeated and killed by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in battle.

Although the castle has since fallen into ruins (a sad fact when you consider how popular the city might be if the castle was still standing), and Kameyama has been renamed Kameoka (in 1869), it is still possible to see part of the moats and walls.

19 04 10 - 01:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Pilgrimage to Omuro's orchard

Omuro cherry trees bloom up to four weeks later than other sakura, making Ninna-ji (the home of this particular species of tree) the perfect place to catch a last glimpse of the blossoms. It means that everyone crowds to the temple in an attempt to recapture the spirit of hanami. We paid a small fee to wander around the pretty orchards, though the weather was less than accommodating. The orchard has over two-hundred trees, and in the precincts it is also possible to see Yoshino cherry trees and the unique green blossoms of the Sato-Zakura.

19 04 10 - 01:39 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Gilly choo-choo

All young boys like trains, cars and action heroes. But Gilly-chan is not like other boys. Sure, he enjoys crashing his cars and mimicking the signature moves of Japanese superheroes, but these pale when it comes to his passion for trains. As he grows older, he is becoming more adept at creating wonderous tracks for Thomas and Henry to travel. His imagination, fuelled by the many adventures he has watched over and over on TV, creates a nightmarish world of constant train accidents, floods, typhoons and (at least hourly) bridge disasters. It is an intriguing railway, but one which any sane person would be terrified to use.

19 04 10 - 01:27 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Friendly cats and fallow boats

Before the spell of morning calm was broken by the raucous Chinese tourists that seemed to take over the town, I stole a few moments to myself. The River Oi was still and inviting, belying the tumbling foam below the weir. As I sat down a strangely marked cat welcomed me with a friendly meow. Out in the river a lone cormorant sat perched on one of the few remaining rocks still above water. I put my camera away and jostled my way back to the station through the bamboo groves.

13 04 10 - 02:56 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The electric temple

Horin-ji -overlooking the Togetsu-kyo Bridge- is the 13th and last temple on the Kyoto Jusan Butsu pilgrimage.* Established in 713 by the monk Gyoki, the temple buildings were restored (after successive storms destroyed the original prayer hall) in 829 by Dosho. It was Dosho who first enshrined the statue of Kokuzo Bodhisattva at the temple. The sculpture has not been displayed for over 100 years. In 874, once further buildings were completed, the temple's name was changed from Kazunoidera to Horin-ji.

Jusan-Mairi, a traditional event when 13-year olds to make a temple visit to 'worship the gift of knowledge' and to 'receive knowledge', is famously celebrated at the temple. Girls are given a kimono cut in the adult way, boys celebrate a coming-of-age ritual, and both pray for the divine protection of the Buddha.

Arguably the temple has one of the best views of the city from its plum and cherry-tree lined veranda, though it is often closed for the coldest parts of the year. In the grounds is a rather unusual memorial to Thomas Edison, whose experiments with electricity utilised bamboo (for which Saga-Arashiyama is rightly famed).
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13 04 10 - 02:44 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The calmness of Arashiyama at dawn

At 9.30 Arashiayama is a ghost town. There are a few elderly men and women out to stretch their legs or walk their dogs, but the tour groups have yet to arrive and many people are still breakfasting in the expensive inns that fill the town. I arrived just in time for the rain to stop. The river was swollen, the marshy islands drowned and the cormorants forced to find shelter elsewhere. Everywhere the clouds were thick and low, creeping down through the forested slopes of the mountains, threatening to swallow and drench those of us foolish enough to be abroad at this hour.

It is a magical time, and it gave me a taste of how things might once have been. Without the pandering rickshaw hawkers, I could leisurely stroll the river-banks, and climb up to Horin-ji's viewing stage with the city spreading out panoramically below.

13 04 10 - 02:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Hozukyo and the clouds

13 04 10 - 02:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Yasaka farewell

The rain wasn't going to go away and so Makibayashi-san decided it was time to call it a day. We walked through the Yasaka Shrine, stopping so that she could dab water on her face at a shrine dedicated to beauty. Weaving through the growing crowds of rush-hour, we visited Makibayashi's favourite pickle shop, observed the blossoms on Kiyamachi and sadly said goodbye.

With the health of her ears uncertain, flying is very difficult, and so I am not sure how long it will be until we meet again. I owe Makibayashi-san a great deal, and it reminds me that I have met some truly amazing people in Japan.

13 04 10 - 02:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Omar and the Kamo

Omar, Chihiro, Rhod and the river.

13 04 10 - 02:05 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Drowned in Kodai-ji

It is six years since Makibayashi-san was in Kyoto, and today was the perfect opportunity to reminisce about the places she visited when she was a student many years ago. When I mentioned Kodai-ji, she was very excited that we look around as she is very interested in Nene, the wife of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (mentioned in previous posts). The rain was extraordinarily heavy, making it almost impossible to wander through the gardens, but also clearing this busy spot of people for us.

Kodai-ji belongs to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, and is a sub-temple of Kennin-ji. It was established in 1606 by Nene (often known by the title Kita-no-Mandokoro), the widow of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, to pray for her late husband. The Main Gate and the Spirit Hall, noted for its use of maki-e (the temple is nicknamed the maki-e temple), are both cultural assets. Kodai-ji also possesses paintings, including one of Hideyoshi, as well as textiles, and a bronze bell with an inscription dating it to 1606. The roof of the Spirit Hall is constructed from remnants of Hideyoshi's luxurious flag-ship.

After Hideyoshi died in 1598 Nene became a nun, taking the name Kodai-in and establishing the temple, to which she moved. It became the burial site for her husband, his mother, and later Toyotomi Hideyori (Hideyoshi's son, mothered by the niece of Nobunaga Oda). During the contest between Toyotomi Hideyori and Tokugawa Ieyasu for supremacy, Nene took the side of Ieyasu. She was considered to be both beautiful and wise (gaining Ieyasu's respect in what should have been contentious circumstances), and there is a rumour that Toshiie Maeda had a crush on Nene before she was married to Hideyoshi. After her death in 1624 she was posthumously given the name of Hikari-no-Tenshi or 'Angel of Light' and entombed at the Hikari Shrine in Kyoto.

Nene's life is still commemorated in a short street which bears her name. The Path of Nene (Nene-no-Michi) remains lined with structures built in traditional Kyoto style.

13 04 10 - 02:00 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Makibayashi brings the rain

Unfortunately it is time to meet with old friends and bid them a warm farewell once again. Rhod and I will soon be embarking on a new adventure, this one rather more grown up. It is with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we are again packing up our possessions and returning to the home. Although rather ridiculous when you think about it, this 'return' is a very important step.

Makibayashi-san came to Kyoto to have lunch and visit a few favourite haunts in Gion this morning. Unfortunately she also brought a maelstrom of wind and rain. Recently she has retired, tiring of the constant stresses upon her health, and it is with aplomb that she is throwing her energies into music and English lessons. I am very happy that she seems so lively, and reminds me of the fond times I had working with her all those years ago.

We strolled around Gion for a while, lunching in the warm and trying to plot out how best to view the blossoms in the rain. Fortunately she was game for getting wet, so with sodden feet and battered umbrellas we climbed to Chion-in.

13 04 10 - 01:49 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Monkey shamans and Kamo koi

Animal motifs emerged wherever I trod today, whether it was the silent, bronze monkey protectors of Imahie Jingu (Shin-Hiyoshi)*, or the enormous, modern komainu of Chishaku-in. The monkeys are particularly unusual, sitting in cages before the main altar of the shrine, dressed in Heian courtly dress, both with dour expressions and magic talismans to hand. Monkeys are often used to dispel evil, as the Japanese word for monkey (saru) can also mean to expel. I visited the shrine once before many years ago with Etsuyo, though today the precincts were perfectly empty and the trees filled with blossom.

Flanking the shrine to the South, is Chishaku-in Temple (head temple of Shingon Buddhism Chizan Sect). This temple is less popular among tourists but has excellent Shoheki-ga (Fusuma-e) panel paintings, thought to be the work of Hasegawa Tohaku and his son, Kyuzo. Chishaku-in was founded in the 14th century as a sub-temple of Daidenpo-in** in the year 1130. The mother temple then moved to Negorosan in Wakayama prefecture ten years later.

In the year 1585 Daidenpo-in, including all of its sub-temples, was totally destroyed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (then ruler of Japan). The chief Priest of Chishaku-in, Genyu (1529-1605), who fled from the assault, had to wait in hiding until the Toyotomi family was defeated and the Tokugawa family in power. In the year 1601 the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu (1543-1616), gave a piece of land to Genyu so that he might revive Chishaku-in. Then, in the year 1615, Ieyasu gave them neighboring Shounzen-ji temple that had been founded by Hideyoshi in memory of his son Sutemaru who died in 1591 at the age of three. Chishaku-in suffered from several fires (in 1674 the reconstructed garden was destroyed once more) during its history and about half of the precious paintings that the temple is famed for were lost.

On June 15 Chishaku-in holds the Green Leaf Festival, celebrating the birth of founder Kukai. The festival is a fire ceremony (fire being a symbolic link between heaven and earth) and during this time many special possessions belonging to the temple are put on display.

Walking home beside the Kamo River, it was extraordinary to see how many carp were sunning themselves in the shallows. There were dozens of herons and storks fishing amongst the reeds, and a strange, brown creature that I did not recognise. On days such as these, it is very hard to think about returning home.
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08 04 10 - 01:19 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Mounds of ears and bells that kill

The sun emerged from its cloudy shroud this morning for the first time in days, so it was time to kick back and enjoy the streets and temples, close to Omar's house on Go-jo, beyond the Kamo. Without the weekend crowds, and because of the uncertain weather, the neighbourhood was mostly quiet and the craze of cherry blossoms over. My route took me past the pretty Mimizuka mound, hiding its grisly secret, to the Toyokuni Shrine where the man responsible for collecting thousands of trophy ears from the vanquished in his Korean campaigns is interred. Mimizuka is perhaps best forgotten in such times of peace (a reminder that Japan and its neighbours have had a bloody past), but it is impossible to avoid all of the many reminders and connections to Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa, two of the men responsible for uniting Japan into a mostly whole nation. Hideyoshi rebuilt Kyoto after decades of civil strife, and although he failed in creating a Japanese Empire, his influence can still be keenly felt on the layout of the city, and the glorious heritage he left in his wake.

Today there was a small antiques fair in the Toyokuni precinct but few customers were browsing, and around the giant bell hidden in the foliage there was no-one. The bell's inscription caused the downfall of Hideyoshi's heirs when Ieyasu took offence to written characters used within a poem on the side of the bell. With hindsight it is easy to see that the inscription and supposed slight gave him the perfect excuse to destroy his rivals and take control of the country. The Tokugawa family would dominate Japan for the next three hundred years. Before the bell was forged there was once a huge broze Buddha that stood overlooking the city on the same spot, said to rival the Daibutsu of Nara, but it was smashed in an earthquake only a few years after its completion.

Behind Toyokuni is Kyoto's National Museum and the area's most famous temple, Sanjusangendo, which I wisely avoided. By walking Eastward you instantly leave the tourists behind and fine some relatively peaceful temples, shrines and gardens. Adjacent to the large Chishaku-in Temple, stands a grand building that from the outside could easily be mistaken for a temple. It is in fact the remnants of a huge kitchen built by Hideyoshi to provide food for lavish banquets held after the memorial service of his mother. Although in use for a relatively short time, the kitchens show all the intricate detail and awesome architecture Hideyoshi was known for. Unfortunately the building is only open in May.

It was the best of starts to a warm and wonderful day at the end of my Japan stay.

08 04 10 - 01:11 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Kiyamachi playground

Kiyamachi* is not particularly picturesque for eleven months of the year, but in early Spring the cherry blossoms that line the shallow stream bloom. The thoroughfare is instantly transformed beneath a canopy of stunning pink, and the more seedier aspects** completely hidden. Close to where the stream disappears underground at Go-jo, I found a pretty little park overlooking the Kamo. Devoid of people, and with the late afternoon sun finally breaking through the gloomy clouds, it was the perfect way to spend an hour.
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07 04 10 - 02:25 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Intransient

07 04 10 - 02:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Canal trip and the amazing mechanical roof

All boat trips are pretty much the same when you get down to basics. There is that fresh feeling of ploughing through water, the brisk breeze cooled by splashing up spray, and the vague sense of freedom and escape from 'it all', of sailing until you strike land or tire. As 'here is Japan'* the canal boat was of course more than it first appeared. Nearing the first bridge it became apparent that the roof of the boat was too tall to pass underneath. In other countries I might panic, but not here. A few seconds from impact motors whirred to life and pistons went into action, and the overly-polite announcer informed us that 'the roof is lowering!'.

For the duration of the pass under the bridge our view was somewhat restricted, but once out the other side, the roof was robotically re-adjusted to its original height. In another country, the two bridges which required boats to 'duck' would likely have been adjusted, or the boat would be made fixed in its lowered state (perhaps with no roof?).

In Japan, though, where technology is regularly used in the most unusual of ways, in everyday things, it somehow made perfect sense (and provided an amusing distraction from the music-box renditions of Disney songs playing as we floated past the cherry blossoms).
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04 04 10 - 23:36 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Boating and the wonderous feeling of jealous eyes upon us

We were up nice and early today to pick up tickets for a boat-ride around the canals of Okazaki, but found the available seats almost sold out. Lucky to get some of the last places of the day, we had to hang around for five hours and so went cherry blossom viewing until the appointed time. The trip itself was short and sweet, not particularly beautiful or exciting but definitely worth the hassle if just to see the jealous faces looking down at us.

04 04 10 - 23:30 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Homeward sakura in the failing light of day

With hanami over it was time to cycle home through the dusky city. Sadly our return to Wales makes this the last hanami we will enjoy for some time.

04 04 10 - 23:23 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

On the old train line

Beside the Lake Biwa Canal Museum of Kyoto* stretches a short incline of train track that was once used to transport canal boats from the elevated waterway as it emerged from a tunnel through the Higashiyama Mountains, to the lower waterways of the city proper. As engineers at the time could not design a reasonable lock system, they instead relied upon men to haul the boats from the water and onto waiting flat-bed train carriages. Although the canal is no longer in use, the train-line was preserved and is now the perfect place for a walk underneath the abundant cherry blossom trees.
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04 04 10 - 23:17 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The spirit of hanami

Love it or hate it, there is no escaping from it.

04 04 10 - 22:49 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Pagoda in the blossom storm

The next stop on our blossom-tour of Kyoto -a short walk north from Marutamachi from Heian-Jingu and Kurodani Temple- was the beautiful Tendai-sect temple of Shinnyodo.

Shinnyodo was moved to its present hill-top location from Mount Hiei about a thousand years ago, though the present buildings date from the early eighteenth century. The large Main Hall contains the standing image of Amitabha Tathagata, which can be viewed by the public only once a year in a special ceremony on November 15th (which makes the autumn period incredibly popular). The hall also has other priceless treasures including mandalas, six volumes of the Lotus Sutra, paintings of the Onin War (1467-77), which destroyed much of the city of Kyoto at the time and 'the Great Picture of Nehan' showing the death of the historical Buddha, Gautama (this painting is shown to the public in March).

Shinnyodo is especially well known for its maple leaves in the Fall and the Nehan Garden, which utilizes the borrowed scenery (shakkei) of the Higashiyama Mountains behind it. There is a three-story pagoda and a giant bell, which is rung in turns by visitors on New Year's Eve. The weeping cherry trees below the pagoda were particularly beautiful.
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04 04 10 - 22:40 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Hanami idiocy

There is nothing like a hanami to get the stupid juices flowing. At the day's end there was to be quite a few bruises, and a near broken nose when clumsy Omar head-butted Rhod in the face during a skipping contest. Luckily I caught the exact moment of impact on film.*
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04 04 10 - 22:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Komainu grins and torii blossom

The cherry blossoms on the hillside above Yoshida Shrine were particularly pretty, in part because the bright vermilion gates compliment the delicate flowers. Rhod and I visited the hill during the autumn colours, and it was amazing to see how many colourful transformations the small mountain goes through during the year. The photos give the impression that the hill-top is picturesque, but in reality a car-park and ill-placed housing really ruins the illusion. My favourite part of this whistle-stop tour was the amazing clay komainu sat at the base of the stone staircase.

04 04 10 - 21:51 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Sakura in the dark

The second half of our Nijo Light-up trip. At the exit a colourful fair had been set up with stalls selling traditional goods, and in the event hall koto players were performing. It was the perfect end to a bustling night.

04 04 10 - 21:32 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Picnic on the Kamo

Hanami* -literally meaning 'flower viewing'- is little more than a picnic somewhere in the vicinity of cherry or ume blossoms. There really is not very much to it, except an excess of alcohol and traditional foods mixed in with more modern tastes. Many temples and shrines organise events, and some even set up lanterns and stages for the purpose of hanami, charging a fee to all visitors. Mostly though, hanami is a cheap and jovial way to enjoy the first suggestions of summer weather. Yozakura describes hanami at night.

Our own picnic involved a lot of running around, filling our bellies in the short respites between fun and games. It does echo the childish games I used to play with my brother and friends when I was much younger, and reminds me of how much fun there is to be had in shuttle-cock and frisbee.
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04 04 10 - 21:25 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Lighting up The Castle

Lighting up the city's monuments has become fairly common place of late. As the blossoms promised to be spectacular hanging over the glare of spot-lights, we could not resist a visit to Nijo - just one of the many light-up venues this year. Misako joined us on our crowded tour of the dark grounds, through the outer gardens and orchards of the castle.

After entering the brightly lit gate, I was a little disappointed by the overall effect. Although I understood that the lights would bleach out all the delicate colours of the blossom, I had perhaps hoped for a little bit more to the whole event. Most of the trail was gloomy and uninspiring. It was only when we were on the final path that things got interesting and the trees created a spectacular tunnel of flowers. No matter, it is still a good chance to visit the castle out of hours.

04 04 10 - 21:18 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Momo and the Hanami

Momo and Kalin invited us to a picnic on Sunday by the Kamo river, underneath the flowering cherry trees. We cycled along the river's bank, North from the Gojo Bridge, skirting hundreds of hanami gatherings. The first truly hot day of the year unfolded as thousands poured along the riverside to enjoy the sun, drink and take in the blossoms, though not necessarily in that order. Blue tarpaulin stretched as far as the eye could see, the sound of music drifting over boisterous chatter. Hanami celebrations in the city generally centre around Demachiyanagi, at the spot where the Takano joins the Kamo River, and here it was impossible to see a bare patch of grass anywhere. A live band had set up on the island point, while children dared the frozen mountain waters.

Wisely, Momo had set the picnic up just shy of the Imadegawa Bridge, where there was a lot more space to run around and far fewer people. As we waited for the others to arrive, she showed me some wonderful fried tofu-pockets she had made with cute faces formed out of seaweed. They were almost too good to eat...almost.

04 04 10 - 20:42 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

The cherry blossoms of Kurodani

A short walk North from Heian-Jingu is Kurodani Temple* (Konkai-Komyo-ji), a large Jodo-sect temple complex with some impressively large gates and halls. It was the next stop on our tour of the Okazaki blossoms and fairly free of people.
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04 04 10 - 20:34 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

Heian Sakura

There is very much to hate about the city when the boughs are heavy with cherry blossoms, so very much. But the beauty of the trees is as inescapable as the bumpkin hordes, and even the regimented foolery of hanami is somehow charming when compared with riotous drinking celebrations elsewhere in the world. Kyoto is a city literally transformed by the delicate pink and white petals. Every street, park and hillside gives in to the fleeting beauty so quickly that the dull remnants of winter can be swept aside in a single night. And as much as I cringe at the idiotic need for the Japanese to swarm around these magnificent tress, it is as much an anger at myself for feeling compelled to do the same. Sakura season is a truly universal celebration, which makes it all the more frustrating for those of us who live within the city boundaries. In all honesty who would want to share such a treasure?

On my first real photographic trip to see the blossoms this year, I went with Misako and Akko to the Okazaki district. Having procured tickets for one of the sought after boat rides along the canal that runs beside the zoo, we first visited the Heian-Jingu Shrine where a wedding was taking place in a secluded corner. Before the main prayer hall stands a great cherry tree, a nod to the tradition of placing a tachibana (orange) and ume (plum) tree before the throne-room of the Emperor in ancient times. When fire destroyed the original imperial palace, a cherry tree was introduced in place of the tachibana tree.

04 04 10 - 20:22 - kieren - Photostory| No comments - §

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

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