Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Japan '08: Kyoto I

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. Mac OS X includes a nearly identical shot as a desktop image.

We arrived in Kyoto from Nara in the early evening, and after hunting around for a place to eat for a fair amount of time, settled on a Chinese restaurant near Kyoto Tower, across the street from the station. It was OK-ish: one of my few regrets from the trip was that we never got to sample much in the way of genuine Kansai cuisine, which seems to be generally regarded as superior to the vittles available in the Tokyo area. After supper, we got a cab to our ryokan in the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) part of town.

Kyoto Tower from Kyoto Station.

The next morning, we took a cab back to the center of the city, and dropped in at the tourist office in Kyoto Station. The available guided tours looked a bit rushed and limited, so we opted for all-day bus passes, a bargain at 500 yen. Actually, just hailing cabs would have been a convenient and reasonably cost-effective way to get around Kyoto too, split three ways. It was easy enough to navigate using buses and the bilingual map from the tourist office, though. There are even three lines that specialize in covering the major sightseeing areas, called Raku Buses.

On the bus in Kyoto.

Kara-mon gate at Nijo Castle.

Our first major stop was Nijou-jou (Nijou Castle), which was constructed over the period of 1601 to 1626 by the early Tokugawa Shoguns. It's in the center of town, north of Kyoto Station. One can tour the outer palace, Ninomaru (visible behind me in the photo above), and contemplate its ancient wall paintings, but photography was prohibited indoors. Ninomaru Palace has uguisu-bari, or nightingale floors, which are designed to squeak when trod upon, as a security measure.

Chrysanthemum exhibit at Nijou Castle.

Cycas revoluta (Sago Palm) in the Nijou Castle gardens.

The Ninomaru Palace gardens are nice, with impressive ponds and rock features. It's warm enough in Kyoto for Sago Palms to survive outdoors.

Inner walls of Nijou Castle.

Nijou Castle has a second ring of moats and walls inside of it, surrounding a smaller complex of buildings, Honmaru Palace. You can't tour inside of Honmaru.

Nijou's Honmaru Palace, from the top of the inner walls.

The Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) were just starting to change color, in mid-October, but it had been an unusually warm autumn. A few seeds managed to find their way into my luggage somehow, and I have some nice little Nijou-jou maple seedlings coming along now, back in the US.

Road to Kinkaku-ji

After refreshing ourselves with Fanta melon soda from one of those old vending machines that mix soda water and syrup in a paper cup, it was back to the bus stop to catch a ride to the northwestern corner of the city, and Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. The Buddhist temple complex and the pavilion are officially called Rokuon-ji, but everyone seems to refer to the place as Kinkaku-ji. The original version of the temple dates to 1397, but it has been rebuilt after fires several times, most recently in 1950. The gardens surrounding Kinkaku-ji have remained more or less intact over the centuries.

Gardens outside of the Kinkaku-ji abbot's chamber.

The landscapes around temples and shrines look naturalistic, but they require heroic efforts to maintain. There were gardeners working everywhere at the places I visited in Kyoto. Note the guy pruning the pine in the photo above.

Kinkaku-ji, from across Kyouko-chi pond.

Kinkaku-ji is pretty much the most photogenic object ever created by human hands, and the crowds jockeying for position at good vantage points were overwhelming. It took a fair amount of patience and effort to get photographs like these, without dozens of people in them, though the gardens are arranged to mostly conceal visitors on the other side of the pavilion.

Next time, I'll write about some of the sights in eastern Kyoto.

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