A little later than I had hoped, but better late than never. Part two of the very difficult to narrow down list of my favourite places to visit in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Gion and Ponto-cho
Gion is the most famous of the 花街 hanamachi, the geisha districts of Kyoto. (Although in Kyoto they are called geiko and maiko, not geisha). It is a vibrant and historical area, with many ochiya (tea houses) still operating and geiko ducking in and out of taxis. Ponto-cho is another hanamachi, across the main street from Gion. Both of these areas are brimming with beautiful restaurants, wonderful, old style bars, and many shops selling traditional omiyage or souvenirs. The narrow laneways and traditional wooden buildings make you feel that you have stepped back in time. This area is so wonderful to lose yourself in at night, wondering the narrow streets, stopping for the occasional (or not so occasional) sake. I love it. A link to a story of my very favourite night in Gion and Poncto-cho, written by my favourite person, Super Sake Boy is here.
I read an article yesterday arguing that Nijo Castle is an underrated tourist destination in Kyoto. I have to agree. It is sublimely beautiful and has many significant historical and cultural features. Built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence for Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the final shogunate family of Japan, it took 23 years to complete. A UNESCO designated site, Nijo-Jo is stunning both inside and out. The gardens are lovely, and the castle itself is the most well-preserved examples of Edo Period castles. The screens, ceilings and painted walls are elegant, and my favourite feature is the nightingale floor. This floor is engineered to squeak at the slightest touch, to protect from the intrusion of ninjas. A link to the website, available in English is here. You can read more about my experience at Nijo Castle here.
NB. You can not take photos inside the castle.
Kinkaku-Ji is an instantly recognisable iconic landmark of Japan. The exterior of the building is completely adorned with gold leaf, and on a sunny day, this building sparkles in the sunshine, exquisitely. The original building was purchased in 1397 by the shogun, Yoshimitsu Ashikaga and transformed into the golden pavilion. After his death, it was converted, as were his wishes, into a Zen temple. The building has burnt down several times and the current building, which is a reconstruction, was built in1955. There is some doubt as to whether the original gold leaf coating was as extensive, but it is stunningly beautiful and well worth a visit. The gardens are spectacular and traditional Japanese tea ceremony is available on site. Read about our visit to Kinkaku-Ji here.
Arashiyama is a bit of a hike from central Kyoto, but well worth the trip. The famed bamboo grove and surrounding area is very touristy, but I would not discount it. It is so beautiful, even amongst a seething mass of humanity. I was very disoriented last time I was there, and also had tried to squeeze way too much into one day, so intend to return and spend some more time exploring. The river and the many temples and the scenic railway are all on my to-do list… (which, incidentally is growing by the day).
Fushimi is one of my very favourite places in Kyoto. It is one of the 11 wards of the city. It is famous for the Fushimi Inari Temple, the one with thousands of vermillion tori gates, and, more importantly, for the pure and soft spring water which makes this area famous for it’s sake. Fushimi is the second largest sake producing area in Japan. There are many breweries in original historic buildings, with there blackened walls, along tree lined canals, laden with sakura in the Spring. The area was an important trade hub and the canals were used to transport rice, sake and other things between Kyoto and Osaka. You can take a tour boat down the canals. (Another to-do list item). Read about my wonderful time in Fushimi here and here.
Daigo-Ji is a temple in Fushimi, in Kyoto. Founded in 874, there are three distinct areas. Each area has many buildings, and even with some understanding of Japanese, I am still confused by the names of all the buildings. That said, this did not detract from my experience at Daigo-Ji. Super Sake Boy and all the kids loved it too. It is a beautiful, and very serene place, housing 18 national treasures and being designated a World Heritage Site. The Sanboin, originally built in 1115, was my favourite part of the complex. The current building dates to 1598, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the second great unifier of Japan) expanded and remodelled the residence and garden for his famous cherry blossom viewing party. This house is meticulously decorated, with painted walls, beautiful screens, tatami and the most wonderful wood panelling. The garden is a Zen paradise. One of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. A link to Daigo-Ji’s website in English is here. You can read about my experience at Daigo_Ji here.
Kyoto International Manga Museum
My final recommendation is the Kyoto International Manga Museum. The museum is housed in an old elementary school, Tatsuike Elementary School, and the building itself is quite beautiful. The stairways and the old school rooms are interesting in themselves. The manga is everywhere. Thousands upon thousands of manga line the shelves. It is mostly Japanese language manga, but there is an increasingly larger International language section, with most languages catered for, to a point. It was around four times the size of my first visit on my second visit. There are also exhibitions showing the history of manga and the rise in popularity. Very interesting and all with English descriptions. You can read about both my experiences here and here. The musuem website link is here.
NB. You are not allowed to take photos inside the museum, and for some unknown reason, I did not take any of the outside.