Monday, October 21, 2013

KR&JP 2013 Travelogue Day 11: Tombs, shrine and manga in Kyoto

And it's goodbye to Osaka. Kind of, because I'm still in Keihanshin, and Kyoto is a short ride away. It was also my first workweek day in Japan, so I got a little experience of the legendary morning subway squeeze on my way to the intercity trail transfer station.

I alighted in Kyoto's Fushimi ward, where I would spend the rest of the morning, at the foot of Momoyama ("Peach Mountain"). Momoyama, a few kilometres south of Kyoto's city centre, has some urban areas around its base, but much of it is densely forested with trees old (bottom). This made the long walk up the tracks to Fushimi-Momoyama Castle gorgeously scenic (top).

The interior of the reconstructed castle (top left) is closed to visitors, but the grounds are open for ambling. Two main keeps (top right) tower over the smaller structures and gates (bottom left). The castle was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and while not particularly large, is a little extra-luxurious on the inside, having been also intended to be his residence after retirement. The Toyotomi clan crest of the paulownia/kiri, which was also adopted as the seal of the present-day Japanese Government, can be seen in some of the castle's decorative components (bottom right).

A short distance away to the west is what I consider a major historical landmark for Kyoto: the tomb of Emperor Kanmu. The tomb is forested over and fenced off, but it's a beautiful place to walk around and pay a visit to the resting place of the emperor who not only created the title of shogun, but also put Kyoto on the map. Yes, Kanmu establishing Kyoto as his imperial capital, starting the Heian period. From then on, it was where emperors would remain for over a millennium -- even after the ascendant shoguns reduced them to figureheads a few centuries later -- all the way to the end of the 19th century and the shift of the re-empowered imperial dynasty's capital to Tokyo by Emperor Meiji.

Incidentally, Meiji's own tomb is a short walk southeast of Kanmu's. It's also fenced off, but the grey stone-covered tomb mound is clearly visible (top right). One can see the golden imperial crest of chrysanthemum/kikka on each door of the inner gate too (left centre). Visiting in autumn, I could enjoy the sight of the rich and diverse hues of the trees at the site (bottom). The tomb is located at a substantial height, with one cleared side facing the southern city, which afforded me a good view down (left top).

Walking southward down the very long flight of stairs (right) leading out from the Meiji tomb, I ran into a small shrine complex (left bottom), dedicated to some major figures in Meiji's administration (top left and top centre).

Another place I came across unexpectedly on the way to the station was the tomb of Emperors Komyo and Suko, the second and third emperors, respectively, of the Northern Court (the so-called Ashikaga Pretenders). They ruled from Kyoto during a period in which the imperial line was temporarily split into two branches, the other ruling from the Southern Court at Yoshino. Fukakusa no Kita no Misasagi, another important imperial tomb, is also in Fushimi, but I did not have the time to locate it.

Due to the dense schedule, morning activities were powered by a salmon onigiri (top left) and a boiled egg (top right) from a convenience store. The egg was borderline hard-boiled and was seasoned within the shell, so it had a slightly salty taste without the need for addition of the seasoning. The uniquely Japanese lactic acid beverage, Calpis (bottom left), is not really my thing, but it had an interesting taste. I also grabbed a genuine Japanese Pocky (bottom right) before heading up the next mountain destination. I have fond memories of these from my anime days.

After a train ride a little further up north, I entered the centrepiece of my day's agenda: Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gargantuan shrine complex is dedicated to Inari, the patron kami of the mercantile class (among other patronages), and is the focal shrine for Inari enshrinement. One of Inari's manifestations is the fox/kitsune, beautiful stylized statues of which appear at many places (right and top left) in the shrine complex. Par for Inari shrines, vermilion torii straddle every turn (left top and left bottom).

Apart from the requisite cabinet shrines (top left) and enclave shrines (top right), there are some large central shrine buildings in a variety of architectural forms (bottom left and bottom right), mostly of the later styles.

The place is also loaded; gold-plated decorative finials and other parts abound (top left and top right), aesthetically in harmony with their vermilion-painted backdrops. Shrine visitors also leave walls of votive icons, including some in the shapes of torii (bottom left) and kitsune faces (bottom right).

I decided to go for the full shrine experience, and walk the entire mountain trail circuit, which took about three hours even though I ran about half its length. The trail is paved, so it's not a bad walk, assuming you don't get lost; sometimes, you come across a platform that seems like the end of the road (bottom right), only to notice another path leading even further up.

The trail's most distinctive feature is the thousands of torii (top left) that straddle it every couple of metres, creating a tunnel effect. Most are vermilion-painted wood, but a few are stone (bottom left). I also passed by numerous roadside shrines (top centre) and small shrine buildings (top right) branching off the trail, each of a unique design.

I finally reached the top of the mountain (top left) and its peak shrine (top centre), and rested for a while to enjoy the view (top right) before descending via the return path (bottom), also lined with thousands of torii.

Having only had the aforementioned Pocky, and then an Asahi beer at a cafe (top) to fuel my ascent, I decided to grab a bite at one of the restaurants that can be found -- usually in clusters -- along the trail on my way down. The specialty of this area is kitsune udon (bottom), a dashi soup of buckwheat noodles with pieces of fried thin-cut tofu called aburaage -- said to be a favorite of the kitsune, and therefore very appropriate for an Inari shrine.

The trek took up most of my afternoon, so hurried down to the city and spent my last remaining slot of the day at the Kyoto International Manga Museum. The museum is comprehensive, covering the history of manga from its origins to the present day, and featuring a number of special purpose rooms and activity areas. It also has a lawn where people can relax and read from their collections.

I spread dinner over three spots. Two of them were yakitori houses (top row), and at one of which I also tried some lovely Japanese fruit liqueur (bottom right). Most outstanding, though, was the stewed pork strip (bottom left). After tasting this awesome savory and tender dish in Osaka, I hopped around the neighborhood until I finally found a place that served it.

(top) Dog is happy to be prohibited from entering Emperor Kanmu's tomb grounds
(bottom) Automated parking warden only folds down and lets your wheel pass over it when you pay the required amount

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