Sightseeing in Kyoto - West side
Aug 26, 2009
|We decided to have a relaxed day today as we have been rushing around Kyoto and Kansai like crazy. I think the both of us have had a bit of a temple overdose and we really can’t see the difference between all the temples and shrines any more. All of them are very great and beautiful but we can’t really take them in anymore.
It is definitely a bit tiring doing too much sightseeing. A normal sightseeing day for us is normally between us leaving the hostel at around 9.30 and we normally don’t get back until 9.00 in the evening. We walk most of the time and don’t really have any proper sit down meals or breaks.
We woke up quite late today and spent the better part of the morning on the Internet in the hostel and eating breakfast. It was very nice and relaxing catching up on news, emails and bank statements. Even these mundane things can be quite relaxing and an enjoyable break from temples and shrines.
Around eleven in the morning we finally headed out and got the bus to Nijo castle. We had again bought a one-day bus pass - they are great value - and made use of the bus network. At around lunchtime we got to the castle.
The castle is pretty interesting and yet again one of the World Heritage sites we seem to be so good at visiting. The palace was originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun. It was completed in 1623 by the third shogun with the addition of some structures transferred from Fushimi Castle. Nijo castle is one of the finest examples of early Edo period and the Momoyama culture in Japan as it also makes splendid use of the early Edo period building designs, lavish paintings, and carvings.
The palace is surrounded by a beautiful moat and a high defense wall. It has some nice gardens within these walls. Inside the walls is the main palace. It looks like a very Japanese house - one floor building built on a wooden platform and has rice paper sliding doors everywhere. We walked through the palace and it was very beautiful. We were able to see maybe 20 rooms and all of them were beautifully decorated although there was no furniture.
They had very elaborate wall paintings and carvings. It was strange to see the paintings because they were so different to what you would have found in Europe. The Japanese paintings were very large scale and a tree branch or some birds covered a whole wall. It felt almost like sitting up in a tree because you were surrounded by branches everywhere. In Europe in contrast, I think you normally concentrate on full landscapes instead of details. There was loads of gold paint everywhere.
The rooms were beautiful and very grand. The shogun had definitely spent a lot of money getting his palace right. They only had paper walls throughout the building. This must have made it very cold in the winter though.
The floors in the building was also pretty interesting. Due to fears of attack and assassination, they had so called nightingale floors. These floors were constructed such that they also squeaked when you walked on them. Hence, you could always here if someone was walking in the corridor when you were sitting in a room. Pretty ingenious invention.
They castle garden was also quite a sight (as most Japanese gardens are). I think they had transported a fiar amount of “interesting looking” rocks from various parts of the country and arranged them around a pond. It looked very nice (as always) and had a very pretty waterfall. The garden looked very nice and complemented the palace.
There was also a smaller palace - Nonmaru palace - within the grounds of Nijo. It had its own moat and gardens but it was closed to the public. Would have been nice if we could see it.
We were finished with Nijo castle at around two in the afternoon. Both of us were very impressed with it and we were very happy to have seen it. It was really nice seeing something that wasn’t a temple or a shrine! It’s probably the building that I have appreciated the most in Nara and Kyoto in the last few days.
Our next stop of the day was Arashiyama. It was a bit of an unplanned excursion and we only really went there because we ended up seeing a bus going there and recognized it as a recommended excursion spot. The bus there took about 45 minutes but it was worth the trip.
Once we got to Arahshiyama we had some nice noodles with Japanese sweet tofu. It tasted really nice and came at a bargain price of 300 yen. We found it interesting that the Japanese are so dedicated to decorating things and making things pretty - that they also bother presenting noodles priced at 300 yen in an artistic fashion. The Japanese are certainly not relaxed about anything and don’t seem to leave anything to chance.
We ended up sitting slightly longer for lunch at it started raining midway. It was actually the second day of rain on our trip (the first one was in Irkutsk) so I guess we have been very lucky with the weather.
Our map had a recommended route for walking through Arashiyama and we followed this quite closely. The neighbourhood was fairly nice and it reminded me very much of a posh suburb. It had loads of small houses everywhere and there were some temples and paddy fields with rice scattered around everywhere. Apparently the area is very popular for Japanese tourists to go to watch cherry blossom in the spring and for general gentle strolls in a pleasant surrounding.
We really enjoyed walking through a bamboo forest. They had a marked trail/path that we followed. As it was gently raining when we walked through Arashiyama, we managed to get some very nice pictures. The bamboo pictures were first-class and we’re now using them as the wallpaper for windows. I have never seen so much bamboo in my life and I was amazed by how green it is.
I never really appreciated the movie “Crouching tiger, hidden dragon” but I really liked one of the fight scenes in a bamboo forest in the end of the movie. I really liked the green-ness of that scene but I thought it was very artificially manipulated colours. After having seen this bamboo forest, I’m not too sure anymore.
We’re also very surprised by the number of man-pulled rickshaws we see near every tourist attraction (this one being no exception). These rickshaws are pulled by young (18-25 year-olds) able-bodied guys. There is also the occasional young girl pulling them.
Now, I have always imagined that most Japanese would never really want to do such a manual job and I’m really surprised to see so many people willing to do this. I don’t know if it’s students on leave from university, a sign of high unemployment among youngsters or what. I know that in Singapore, rickshaw pulling is pretty much the only job that is open to ex-convicts,. These Japanese guys look far too well-behaved and young to be ex-convicts that I don’t believe this to be the case. This is a conundrum to me.
There were plenty of nice art shops and quite sights in Arashiyama and we went into a few. Iris really enjoyed them and would have bought everything (or a fair bit) if space and weight in our backpacks wasn’t an issue.
After Arashiyama we headed to what I think we consider the highlight of the day. We went to an onsen. An onsen is a Japanese hot spring bath - similar to the ones found in Iceland, Bath in England, and many other places. We went to the Funaoka Onsen which is meant to be one of the oldest onsen in Kyoto.
To begin with, I was a bit reluctant to go, mainly because I’m not too into hot springs. But Iris had been before during her Hokkado trip a couple of years ago and she was very keen. It turned out to be a very nice experience.
Before entering the onsen, you are meant to clean very thoroughly. Everyone seemed to do this very properly so it felt pretty fine sitting in the various pools thereafter.
There was a separate male and female part of the bath. In the men’s part there was a super hot bath, a very hot bath, a moderately hot bath, an electric bath, a jacuzzi and a super cold bath. There was also a very hot sauna and an outdoor bath made out of cypress wood. I tried all of the baths except for the super hot and very hot ones. The sauna was pretty good too, especially jumping into the cold pool after having been into the sauna for a while.
The part that I was most uncomfortable about was that you don’t wear any swimming clothes in these onsen - you are stark naked. Some people have a little towel to cover their private parts when walking around in the onsen but many just seemed to walk around fully naked. A lot of the men covered their private parts with a towel but Iris reported that none of the women even attempted doing this.
Apparently, the Japanese are very particular about not bringing their towels into the pools because they believe this contaminates it (same reason why you‘re not allowed to wear swimwear). So either they leave the towel on a rack by the pool or they put it on their head. Some may then walk around the onsen with the towel on their head… Very strange habit!
The onsen was very refreshing and nice - we probably ended up being there for one and a half hours. The best experience though was jumping on the scales they had. I have now lost six kilograms since the start of the trip and for the first time in a long time I am below 80 kilograms. I can also feel the weight loss because my trousers don’t really fit anymore - I need to start wearing a belt soon.
We went and had dinner in central Kyoto at a simple eatery. We had some beef rice and Iris liked it more than me. Afterwards an ice-cream. We headed back to the hostel by bus and got back at around ten o‘clock. We tried to work out what to do over the next two days before we are flying to the US and decided on a day excursion to Himeji Castle and Kyosan.