Tag Archives: kyoto

Japan 2014 – 37 From Kyoto to Ina (and throw in Karaoke and an Izakaya) (2014-10-08) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 23 DEC 2015

Heading into our third leg of the holiday (the first being Tokyo/Yokohama, followed by Kyoto), we were now to travel to Ina, a small city in the Nagano Prefecture which is near to Komangane where the big wedding (and reason for the trip) was to be held.

Having successfully navigated a high speed train from Kyoto to Nagoya, we had hopped off, seen a sight, and then successfully navigated our way to the Meitetsu Bus Center.

IMG_20141008_153341 ryan and craig lotter on the bus and on our way to ina, japan

Ryan’s happiness at being featured on the Hamish and Andy podcast (he had just finished taking their call), soon dissipated at the realization that he would be squashed in a bus next to me for the next couple of hours (something he was slowly but surely kind of getting used to over the duration of this trip!).

IMG_20141008_165553 highway rest stop on the bus trip to ina, japan

As comfortable as the bus trip was (for me, not poor squashed Ryan), it was a lengthy highway bound journey and sights or no sights, we were pretty happy when the stopover to stretch our legs happened.

(That said, neither of us wanted to risk being left behind by the bus, so we didn’t stray particularly far!)

IMG_20141008_165516 highway rest stop on the bus trip to ina, japan

The countryside was slowly giving way to the stunning wooded central alps region, and the last half of the highway bus trip was particularly pretty, though Ryan and I had to keep our wits about us because we needed to listen/lookout for our scheduled stop, the in the middle of nowhere Komangane IC Highway stop.

(Not that there was any reason to worry though. Just as everything had been running super smooth since the start of our trip, we didn’t muck this one up either.)

IMG_20141008_192451 terrance brown and yuko eating izakaya food

At the highway stop, Yuko and Terrance were patiently waiting for us and our luggage, and after a happy reunion, we were ferried away towards Ina, where the next adventure was to be trying to find our hidden away in the backstreets accommodation, the old Ina-chuo Hotel.

As it turned out, luckily Yuko and Terrance were on hand for the check-in, because unlike at Kyoto (where the younger staff member could actually speak a bit of English), this hotel is run by a very, very old Japanese couple – meaning that other than the occasional smile, nod, shrug, or look of confusion, Ryan and I were complete and utterly unable to communicate with our hosts!

IMG_20141008_195039 enjoying izakaya food in ina, japan

Bags unpacked, we were then immediately whisked away to a local izakaya, with Yuko and Terrance eager for us to drink some sake and partake in some proper Japanese food – not the fast food that Ryan and I had up to now been living off of. (So sue us, neither Ryan nor I am adventurous when it comes to food, and we certainly weren’t there on a gastronomy holiday!)

[Note: An izakaya is essentially a type of informal Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks, acting as casual places for after-work drinking. So kind of like a pub or tavern, but also not quite.]

A super fun, and properly authentic Japanese experience for Ryan and myself then!

IMG_20141008_212938 craig lotter attempts karaoke in ina, japan

Not that Yuko and Terrance were quite finished with the two of us just yet. After enjoying some food and drink, we next drove around the small Ina looking for a karaoke shop that might still be open this late on a week night.

Sadly for Ryan, they found one, and soon the four of us were belting out one bad song after the other. Ryan hated it, but I loved it. You have to karaoke when you are in Japan because they certainly seem to know how to do it!

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With that, the evening drew to a close, and Ryan and I were returned to our rather spacious (in Japanese hotel terms) room at the Ina-Chuo Hotel. The furnishings were ancient (but in working condition), and as our trip was proving, the less modern were were going, the more space we were getting.

Which I kind of liked.

Related Link: Ina | Komagane

Japan 2014 – 33 The Kyoto Municipal Zoo in Sakyo, Kyoto (2014-10-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 20 DEC 2015

So with a Goddess of Mercy, dolphins and trains now spotted on the day, Ryan and I next decided to take a lengthy march through to the Kyoto Municipal Zoo, passing by the massive red torii gate of the Heian-jingu shrine in the process.

IMG_20141007_150232 massive red torri gate of heian-jingu shrine, kyoto, japan

Kyoto Municipal Zoo is a small 3.4-hectare zoo located in Sakyō ward, Kyoto. Established in 1903, Kyoto Municipal Zoo is the second oldest zoo in Japan, after Ueno Zoo in Tokyo.

Although facilities have been added and removed over the years, most animals are housed in concrete and steel cages constructed between 30 and almost 90 years ago – which is probably what made this one of our least favourite experiences whilst in Japan.

IMG_20141007_161915 giraffe sculpture at kyoto municipal zoo, kyoto, japan

The zoo as mentioned is reasonably small, yet still houses quite a large variety of animals, ranging in size from big to small. Our favourite without a doubt was the cute as a button red panda, but sadly it was the bigger animals that were at the heart of our discomfort.

While South African zoos tend to be spacious with large enclosures for the animals, this zoo was the complete opposite: A lion pacing about in a tiny concrete room, an elephant stuck on a concrete slab – well, you kind of get the picture.

IMG_20141007_154642 elephant getting a wash at kyoto municipal zoo, kyoto, japan

Look, zoos are always controversial for this very fact, but upsetting enclosures aside, we did enjoy viewing animals that we weren’t necessarily familiar though – though of course, being from South Africa meant that all their main exhibits were things that we already ARE quite familiar with!

IMG_20141007_152431 animal enclosures at kyoto municipal zoo, kyoto, japan

There was a quite a few areas to explore (though some were closed due to construction), and despite my by now aching feet, it was a good little excursion.

Naturally, I didn’t take very many photos at all (fences and glass don’t usually allow for decent photos), so you’ll just have to take my word that they do in fact have around 721 animals from 175 species there!

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Once we eventually made it back to our lodgings, I put my feet up and drank beer, whilst Ryan plodded out again for the night. Seriously, the man is a walking machine I tell you!

Related Link: Kyoto Municipal Zoo

Japan 2014 – 32 Kyoto’s Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum (2014-10-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 19 DEC 2015

Umekoji Park is a large green space in rather crowded Kyoto, and thus quite popular with the locals. Of course, the newly built (2012) aquarium took quite a bite out of the space, but I have to say that as tourists, Ryan and I kind of enjoyed the new attraction.

Next up for us though was something a little less nature and a lot more man-made – Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum was beckoning from literally next door!

IMG_20141007_122509 entrance to umekoji steam locomotive museum, kyoto, japan

The Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum was opened in 1972 on the 100th anniversary of the start of railway operation in Japan.

At the center of the museum is a 20-track roundhouse built in 1914. It was built surrounding a turntable, and houses and exhibits the preserved locomotives. The roundhouse is an Important Cultural Property designated by the government of Japan as the oldest reinforced-concrete car shed extant in Japan.

IMG_20141007_125521 train yard at umekoji steam locomotive museum, kyoto, japan

The former Nijo Station House is the oldest wooden railway station in Japan. The station house was built in 1904 and also served as the main office for the Kyoto Railway Company, a private railway in operation at that time. In 1997 the station house was relocated to the museum site as a railway cultural asset, where it is now used as the entrance way and display hall for the museum.

IMG_20141007_122446 entrance to umekoji steam locomotive museum, kyoto, japan

Although Ryan and I didn’t hop on for the short 1 km trip in a steam locomotive, we thoroughly enjoyed browsing all the displays and artifacts in the station house museum, before moving on to the outside area to admire the 19 steam locomotives on display – all lovingly restored, cared for and in working order!

The beasts are pretty magnificent in their own right, and each with their own bit of history attached.

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That said though, I kind of forgot that steam locomotives were generally all painted black. Which means that visually, this wasn’t the most exciting of things that we had come across in Japan!

IMG_20141007_124100 black train at umekoji steam locomotive museum, kyoto, japan

Note: Turns out that we were pretty lucky to see this after all. The museum has subsequently been closed, in the process of a major construction overhaul which will add a massive footprint and a whole lot more trains – including a couple of shinkansen (bullet trains).

From a Japanese  news article:

“The opening date for one of the largest train museums in Japan has been set for April 29 2016, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) announced Wednesday.

The Kyoto Railway Museum, being developed on a 30,000-sq.-meter site, will exhibit a total of 53 locomotives and train cars it inherited from the former Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which was on the same site, and the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka, which is also closed.”

Related Link: Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum

Japan 2014 – 31 The Kyoto Aquarium in… Kyoto! (2014-10-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 18 DEC 2015

Talk about a change of scenery. For the last couple of days Ryan and I had been taking in a lot of Kyoto’s well known ancient attractions, in other words, castles, temples and shrines, but now having both seen more than enough in this category, we decided to take a break and check out a few different attractions in this culturally rich city.

So naturally we started with an… aquarium.

DSC07749 the kyoto aquarium in kyoto, japan

Opened in March 2012 in Umekoji Park, about one kilometer west of Kyoto Station, Kyoto Aquarium is a small (compact) two-story facility that is divided into nine zones with various themes, and exhibiting a variety of aquatic animals.

IMG_20141007_111700 seals at the kyoto aquarium in kyoto, japan

Smaller than Japan’s other more famous aquariums, Kyoto Aquarium is a little unique in the fact that Kyoto itself is an inland city and nowhere near the sea!

However, surrounded by mountains on three sides, Kyoto has historically always been water rich, thanks to the abundance of rivers that flow into it, and as such, it then makes sense that Kyoto Aquarium places much emphasis on river aquatic life – in fact, it even has a rather unique outdoor river zone to explore!

IMG_20141007_101738 dolphin show helpers at the kyoto aquarium in kyoto, japan

There were lots of preschool groups on school outings visiting the aquarium on the day, which meant that the atmosphere was quite excitable (noisy, but in a good way) – which is probably why Ryan and I then so thoroughly enjoyed the quick but entertaining dolphin and penguin show at the aquarium’s neat little dolphin stadium.

(Confirmed, you can never not enjoy watching dolphins at play!)

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Also, I hugged a rather large salamander.

IMG_20141007_121144 craig lotter hugging a salamander at the kyoto aquarium in kyoto, japan

In the end, it was a nice change of pace and an enjoyable enough visit – though it did remind me once again just how much the Two Oceans Aquarium back home in Cape Town really does need a dolphin pool! Sharks aren’t nearly as entertaining…

IMG_20141007_114818 octopus at the kyoto aquarium in kyoto, japan

Related Link: Kyoto Aquarium (Official) | Kyoto Aquarium

Japan 2014 – 30 A long walk to Sanjusangendo and the 1,001 Figures of Kannon (2014-10-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 17 DEC 2015

Having enjoyed a particularly fruitful time of taking in an assortment of both splendid and grandiose sights the previous day (a castle, a temple, a shrine, a pavilion, and a manga museum), we kicked things off on our final day in Kyoto with a long walk to Sanjusangendo, the informal name for Rengeo-in, a Buddhist temple which is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

DSC07706 walking the narrow streets of kyoto

It was a particularly long, long walk to get there, but we took the back roads which meant a lot of narrow streets, some nice surprises in terms of things bumped into, and then eventually the massive reward of reaching our intended destination without having got completely lost! (Google Maps is awesome.)

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Belonging to and run by the Myoho-in temple, which part of the Tendai school of Buddhism, the Rengeo-in temple was founded in 1164 and then rebuilt a century later after the original structure had been destroyed in a fire.

DSC07742 long wooden sanjusangendo temple building, kyoto

Measuring an impressive 120 meters, the temple hall is Japan’s longest wooden structure. The name Sanjusangendo (literally “33 intervals”) derives from the number of intervals between the building’s support columns, a traditional method of measuring the size of a building.

DSC07726 long wooden sanjusangendo temple building, kyoto

In the center of the main hall sits a large, wooden statue of a 1000-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon) that is flanked on each side by 500 statues of human sized 1000-armed Kannon standing in ten rows.

(Note that the actual statues have only 42 arms each. Subtract the two regular arms and multiply by the 25 planes of existence to get the full thousand.)

Ryan and I entered the working temple and despite neither of us being particularly spiritual, the scene in front of you is quite surreal. Row upon row of statue, eerily standing there in front and looking down on you made for quite a disturbing sight!

Obviously we weren’t allowed to take any photos of this inside of the temple, which means I’ve turned to Google to provide you with a hint of what we saw:

sanjusangendo kannon statues

Outside of the statues, the temple also has a few other things going for it. In January, the temple has an event known as the Rite of the Willow, where worshippers are touched on the head with a sacred willow branch to cure and prevent headaches.

A popular archery tournament known as the Tōshiya has also been held here, beside the West veranda, since the Edo period.

Also, the duel between the famous warrior Miyamoto Musashi and Yoshioka Denshichirō, leader of the Yoshioka-ryū, is popularly believed to have been fought just outside Sanjūsangen-dō in 1604.

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We strolled around the gardens, took in the sights, and with that, we both decided that we had now seen enough ancient temples and shrines to last us for a while, meaning that next up was something completely different – a trip to the aquarium!

Related Link: Sanjusangendo | Rengeo-in

Japan 2014 – 29 Walking through Kyoto to the Kyoto International Manga Museum (2014-10-06) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 16 DEC 2015

The weather had cleared up nicely now, and having already seen Nijo Castle, the Kitano Tenmangu shrine, the Hirano shrine, and the magnificent Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion) all in one day (our second but first full day in Kyoto), Ryan and I decided to take a nice long tourist stroll through an older part of Kyoto and slowly but surely make our way through to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, a place of significant interest to me.

DSC07551 sights seen from the small side roads of kyoto

The streets here were particularly narrow, there were loads of interesting sites to take notice of, lots of spiritual spots as well, and we even found ourselves taking a short hop on a very small train that traveled along a very narrow set of tracks!

(And say what you want to about Eskom, but our suburban power lines look a hundred times better than those in old Kyoto! Talk about a birds nest of wires…)

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Eventually we made our way to the doors of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which is housed in an old elementary school in Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto.

DSC07558 walking towards the kyoto international manga museum

In my late teens and most of my twenties, I found myself enamored by the anime and manga scene, a natural offshoot of my obsession with comic books that had entertained me since my early teenage years.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that a visit to the Kyoto International Manga Museum can pretty much be equated with that of a Holy Pilgrimage for me! :)

IMG_20141006_163543 at the kyoto international manga museum

Opened in November of 2006, the  manga museum consists of three floors and a basement, with most of its walls lined with shelf upon shelf of manga. Browsing this massive collection of over 300,000 manga items (which includes such rarities as Meiji period magazines and postwar rental books) is one of the museum’s main attractions.

A small section of the books is dedicated to foreign and translated manga, but the vast majority is in Japanese.

The museum has loads of areas dedicated for just sitting down and reading, and you can even grab some books and chill out on the artificial turf lawn in front of the building if you want.

IMG_20141006_155643 osamu tezuka phoenix display at the kyoto international manga museum

Ryan opted not to pay the entrance fee and enter with me, choosing rather to chill outside with a couple of podcasts – thus leaving me to navigate the slice of manga heaven on my own.

Fronted by a massive Osamu Tezuka Phoenix wall sculpture, for the next hour or so I completely lost myself, moving slowly through all the exhibits (Kantai Collection was being highlighted during my visit), taking time to thumb through dozens of famous manga titles, and literally walk out completely energized in terms of my artistic ambitions.

What. An. Absolutely. Amazing. Treat.

No wonder I completely forgot to take photographs whilst I was inside! :)

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Oh, and on the way back to our part of Kyoto, we did stumble across this amazing LEGO rendition of the impressive and modern Kyoto Station – which I guess was pretty cool too…

IMG_20141006_151129 lego version of kyoto train station

A couple more pics:

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(The evening was spent eating supper, drinking beer, and wandering around a super busy, super modern shopping district of Kyoto, which again I completely neglected to take photos of. Not that my phone or camera takes decent night photos anyway…)

Related Link: Kyoto International Manga Museum | Kyoto Manga Museum

Japan 2014 – 28 Walking to Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji Temple – The Golden Pavilion (2014-10-06) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 15 DEC 2015

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Kyoto is without a doubt Kinkaku-ji, otherwise known as The Golden Pavilion, and having already seen a castle, a shrine and cherry trees in the morning, this was definitely destined to be the big sight for our day!

DSC07689 ornate gold leaf Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuon-ji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408.

DSC07680 through the wooden gate to Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

(Kinkaku-ji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkaku-ji – Silver Pavilion – built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.)

DSC07686 pond at Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

DSC07704 ryan lotter and a shrine at Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape, Kinkaku-ji is also one of the 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.

(In other words, expect a LOT of tourists – and consequently, traders).

DSC07700 ryan lotter at Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

As you might suspect, Kinkaku-ji, its pond, and strolling garden is a spectacular sight to behold, and was certainly one of the visual highlights of my Japanese trip.

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Related Link: Kinkaku-ji Temple | The Golden Pavilion

Japan 2014 – 27 Strolling through the Hirano Shrine in Kyoto (2014-10-06) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 14 DEC 2015

In Kyoto you can’t go very far without hitting some or other spiritual place, and having already been distracted by the interesting Kitano Tenmangu shrine on our way to the Golden Pavilion (following our visit to Nijo Castle), we next found ourselves wandering through the grounds of the Hirano Shrine  – completely by happy accident of course!

DSC07672 tori gates at the hirano shrine in kyoto, japan

Known for its many trees and as a premier Cherry blossom viewing spot, this popular Shinto shrine was established in the year 794 by Emperor Kammu when the capital was transferred to Heian-kyō from Nagaoka-kyō.

DSC07675 at the hirano shrine in kyoto, japan

The shrine became the object of Imperial patronage during the early Heian period. In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers were sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines including the Hirano Shrine.

IMG_20141006_122149 trees at the hirano shrine in kyoto, japan

The shrine has been the site of a cherry blossom festival annually since 985. The long history of festivals at the Shrine began during the reign of Emperor Kazan, and it has become the oldest regularly held festival in Kyoto.

DSC07673 wood street lights at the hirano shrine in kyoto, japan

Having tired slightly of taking photos of shrines, I didn’t really take many at Hirano, hence the rather apparent lack of any decent photos!

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Also, the bananas from the nearby Kyoto Co Op were rather nice!

Related Link: Hirano Shrine

Japan 2014 – 26 Walking through Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto (2014-10-06) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 13 DEC 2015

Having started our second day here in the culturally rich city of Kyoto with a visit to Nijo Castle, Ryan and I then headed off on our walking tour to the next big sight – the famed Golden Pavilion.

DSC07645 ryan lotter walking the narrow streets of kyoto

Getting there meant of course quite a long walk through what felt like an older part of the city – i.e. very narrow streets and absolute chaos in terms of overhead power lines!

There were quite a few interesting buildings that we stumbled across on our way, and this being of course Kyoto, pretty soon we wandered into something pretty cool by complete accident – the Kitano Tenmangu Shinto shrine complex.

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The Kitano Tenmangu Shinto shrine is one of the most important of several hundred shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician who was unfairly exiled by his political rivals. A number of disasters were attributed to Michizane’s vengeful spirit after his death in exile, and these shrines were built to appease him.

DSC07662 the kitano tenmangu shrine complex in kyoto, japan

Sugawara Michizane is associated with Tenjin, the kami (“Shinto god”) of education. Consequently, many students visit Kitano Tenmangu to pray for success in their studies. The shrine can become especially crowded with students during exam times and school trip seasons.

DSC07656 ornate wooden gate at the kitano tenmangu shrine complex in kyoto, japan

Also of interest were the many cow/bull statues along the pathway to the shrine, the significance of which I’m not entirely sure of. (It was drizzling slightly, meaning that I wasn’t unnecessarily whipping my phone out for translations or Google Searches any more!)

DSC07654 stone bull statue at the kitano tenmangu shrine complex in kyoto, japan

We didn’t stick around for too long in the shrine complex, but nevertheless enjoyed the ornate architecture and beautiful structures and stone sculptures.

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Related Link: Kitano Tenmangu | Kintano Tenmangu Shrine