Tuesday, October 22, 2013

KR&JP 2013 Travelogue Day 12: Castle, costume, craft and cinema in Kyoto

Although logistical concerns with checking out of the hostel and getting out limited my range of mobility on my second day in Kyoto, I managed to get my primary targets in, along with some surprises, and even a couple of "ordinary citizen" activities.

As with yesterday's adventures, I bumped into a couple more unexpected places in this history-packed city. One of them, which I encountered on an early morning walk through a residential area (top left), was the neck-up grave site of Akechi Mitsuhide, identified by a plaque (top right).

Akechi is known for launching a sneak rebellion at Honno-ji that resulted in the death of the first great Sengoku lord, Oda Nobunaga, as well as Oda's eldest son and heir, Nobutada. While his rebellion succeeded in decapitating the Oda clan, retaliatory strikes by Oda's loyal daimyo and their samurai armies ensured that it was short-lived; he was routed, and died while fleeing.

Even so, he had a major impact on Japanese history by ensuring the demise of the Oda clan, and giving two of Oda Nobunaga's subordinates, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, opportunities to rise in rank and eventually shape the future of the shogunate government. His followers are said to have buried his head at this location, now marked with a "cabinet shrine" (bottom left) containing a simple altar (bottom right).

As the sun broke past the horizon, I headed to my first of two major destinations of the day: the Heian Shrine. This Shinto shrine, like Osaka's Sumiyoshi Shrine and the Fushimi Inari Shrine to the south, is one of the 1st-ranked shrines of Japan. It was also built as scale model of erstwhile imperial residence Heian Palace, which is a good thing from a sightseeing perspective, because there is nothing left of the original palace.

I accessed the shrine through the main (naturally, southern) path, walking the bridge across the Okazaki Canal (top), and passing under the grand torii (bottom). Towering at a height of over 24 metres, it is one of the tallest torii in Japan, and its imposing height, bright vermilion surface and gold embellishments make it look especially resplendent in the morning sun.

The shrine itself is located at the end of the pathway, which is flanked by various art museums, one of which I will visit later. Unlike the shrines I visited previously, and perhaps as a consequence of the aforementioned architectural precedent, it is mostly "whole", with one huge courtyard (bottom), level and clean but for a dragon fountain (top right), encircled by shrine buildings (left top and left centre) painted with liberal splashes of vermilion and most outstandingly roofed with tiles of a beautifully contrasting blue-green color.

And today was an especially good day to be here, because Heian Shrine is the starting point for the Jidai Matsuri, one of Kyoto's annual grand festivals, or matsuri, celebrated with a fabulous parade of everyday people in traditional costumes, marching or riding from here through the city to the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

I did have other plans for the morning, having only found out about this festival the previous night, but the experience was worth clearing out a couple of hours of schedule. It was a visual buffet of history in living color and on living persons. Samurai, priests, attendants, nobles, even early modern era characters -- you name it, they wore it.

After watching the parade depart, I spent the late morning and early afternoon at Nijo Castle. This large, doubly-fortified, Tokugawa-built complex is one of the major destinations of Kyoto. After crossing the outer moat (top right) and entering the main gate (top left), I took a look around the outer grounds and the towers (bottom left), including some reconstruction displays of life here during the age of the samurai (bottom right).

A grand karamon gate (top left), decorated all over with gold, welcomes visitors to the beautiful Ninomaru Palace (top right). Its magnificent rooms' walls are covered with fine gold leaf floor-to-ceiling paintings, and its doorways are decorated with intricate wood carvings (bottom left). An especially interesting feature of this place is the so-called "nightingale" flooring (bottom right), named for the way the floors are built to chirp when walked on by, say, intruders. Encircled by the inner moat is Honmaru Palace, but that palace is only open for special viewings.

Even so, there was plenty to explore, such as the lovely gardens (top left and top right) and ponds (left centre), the inner moat (right centre), and various vantage points from which I could take in great views of the castle buildings and the serene landscape (bottom).

Last but not least in the daylight itinerary was the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (top), located near the Heian Shrine grand torii. This building featured extensive exhibitions of the traditional cultural arts and crafts of the country, and also had a special showcase of tradition-based design for modern uses (bottom) in one of the lower levels.

As I typically do when I visit other countries, I slotted in some time to eschew tourist sites and experience some citizens' entertainment. To that end, I spent the early evening in BiVi Nijo (top left), a fairly large shopping complex, at the theater (top right) of which I watched the very well-made film, Like Father Like Son (top centre). After that, I went over to the huge gaming area to try my luck trying to win Hatsune Miku figurines (bottom left) and other knick-knacks (bottom centre), as well as playing a really awesome mecha combat simulator in a sealed cockpit controller environment (bottom right).

I spent my last hour before departure in Gion, a neighborhood known for its geisha/maiko patronage and the  architecture. Didn't do much there other than walk around and grab a light dinner, though.

Having woken up super-early, with plenty of time to spare before anything on my agenda opened, I started the day with a leisurely Japanese breakfast (left top) of rice, nori, raw egg, soup and natto. I suppose the sliminess of natto might put off first-timers, as I heard it would, but I did not have a problem, having eaten weirder things on my travels past; frankly, the raw egg was of bigger concern to me. I was also looking forward to trying this dish, as it was highly unlikely to make it to a menu in Dubai. Other than this meal, I stopped by a few cafes between places, including the adorable bear-themed cafe (left bottom) near Ginkaku-ji, and tried some Japanese cinema concessions (right) at BiVi Nijo.

Aside from BiVi Nijo, I did not see much of modern Kyoto, as I had plenty of historical places to visit. I did make an exception, though, for the area around Kyoto Tower (left). But it was a short one, as I had to then make a quick stop at the central station left luggage lockers (automated, of course) before boarding my first Shinkansen train (right top) for a short, comfortable, airplane-like ride (right bottom) to Nagoya.

(top left) Cute cartoon Shell bear.
(top right) Calorie count for taking the stairs.
(bottom left) Multiple pronunciations for the same character (here, '大') -- something kanji shares with hanzi.
(bottom right) You couldn't find an Indian-looking mannequin, so you took a White one and painted him dark brown while leaving the blue eyes and red hair intact. I have no words.

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