Golden Pavilion, Bamboo Groove and flowers on paper walls.

IMG_2208Temple of the Golden Pavilion or Kinkaku-ji surprises, marvels, puts in doubt, makes you wonder, then astonishes again…

The view from the entrance area could not be more picturesque. Yes, here it is clearer than ever: the Japanese culture is known for its exquisite landscape design and the constant search for beauty and perfection. Looking at the Golden Pavilion, however, i had a disturbing feeling that all in all it is a little bit too much for me. I kept wondering why do I dare to feel any kind of discontent having seen such a beauty, and I was lost. The only possible answer might have been the visiting experience itself. Kinkaku-ji is like a jewel box- richly looking, shiny outside and inside and closed to the outsiders. I realize how much more do I enjoy minimalistic and humble architecture, which I can experience with all my senses?

DSC_0170cDSC_0188cDSC_0215cFrom Kinkakujicho we took a small train to Arashiyama forest. Since Tenryu-ji temple was closed due to renovation, we walked around the gardens on our way to the famous bamboo grove. 

DSC_0254cDSC_0278cDSC_0292cDSC_0324cDSC_0289c   DSC_0376cDSC_0384cDSC_0547cIn the afternoon we went back to Gion, knowing how much more we have to see.
Chion-in temple above and below.

DSC_0533cDSC_0586cShoren-in temple with beautiful floral paintings on the wall was almost completely abandoned. Those atmospheric interiors and garden tempted us to pose a bit for a few pictures :)

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Geisha Hunt

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Spotting a real geisha is not easy; they are like butterflies- beautiful, colorful and ethereal.
Despite the differences in the cultures, everyone, sooner or later, starts to admire their elegance and strive for perfection. Gion in Kyoto is the most famous geisha districts in all of Japan, where a chance to see a real one are pretty high. It is a place, where kimono rental shops grow like mushrooms after rain, offering a glimpse of a traditional life style to whoever desires it.

Geisha means ‘artist’ and refers to Japanese female hostesses who serves and entertain powerful, wealthy male businessman and politicians- the ‘modern samurai’. The ones who live in Gion are called geiko, understood as ‘a woman of the arts’. The geishas still in their training period are called maiko– ‘dance child’ and usually receive only half of the geisha salary. It takes years to master traditional Japanese arts such as dance, classical music, art of games and conversation, before an apprentice becomes initiated into the geisha community.

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After hours of a ‘Geisha Hunt’ I lost hope to see one. The moment I complained aloud a geisha almost run into me. She was in a big hurry, apparently trying to reach the pick-up spot, which was exactly where we stopped a few seconds earlier. I stood there not believing my luck. Feeling like an intruder in her presence, I was brave enough to take only this one picture (above). A few seconds later another geisha rushed by (below). Honestly, photographing running cheetahs was easier, and even though the pictures could have been better I was extremely happy to see real geishas in an atmospheric Gion district.

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Gion remains an enclave of old-style Japanese houses called machiya, some of which are okyia– the geisha houses. There are also ‘tea houses’ called ochaya, where geishas work in the evenings. The most famous one- Ichiriki Chaya, is located right at the entrance of the Hanami-koji street. It is one of the oldest and most exclusive in the country, thus the access is strictly invitation-only. It became famous because of the story of 47 Ronin and their leader- Oishi Kuranosuke’s, who spent time there trying to mislead the potential spies. Some of the most prominent scenes from the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ were also located there. It is easy to recognize thanks to the groups of tourists waiting in from of it with their cameras on a stand by :)
The ochayas usually have no kitchens, therefore, the food is being delivered from the nearby restaurants (below).

DSC_0497cMemoirs-of-A-Geisha-Image-Source-gabtorbA scene form the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ Movie; Ichiriki Chaya in the background.

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Thousand Vermilion Gates.

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One of the first directions we took in Kyoto was its Southern Part.

Fushimi Inari is said to be the most important Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates, which mark out the whole network of paths through the forest of Mount Inari. This was a good physical exercise for us; a quick way to warm up and loose breath ;) We were definitely not fit enough for these trails, unlike small Sayuri in a famous scene from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ movie (below).

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A priest in a shrine.

DSC_0679cFoxes are believed to be messengers of Inari, thus there are a lot of statues resembling foxes can be seen on the way. 

DSC_0723cDSC_0793cDSC_0715cDSC_0797cWe were not the only ones who were cold :)

DSC_0802cDSC_0805cDSC_0729cA beautiful panorama of Kyoto from the viewing platforms on Mount Inari.

DSC_0665cDSC_0678cDSC_0836cA tiny restaurant was bursting with guests- either fried fish was really good or the spectacle of preparing it worked like a magnet on its clients… the second definitely worked on me as I must have been observing it for good 10 min.

DSC_0637ccHello? Can I call you Mr Nakata? ;)

‘Kafka on the shore’ by Haruki Murakami was a good companion in Japan.

Japanese house in motion picture.

The Last Samurai is not my favorite movie with the Japanese culture in the background (since Tom Cruise is the leading actor). However, I always appreciate this film for portraying Japanese culture and lifestyle in the surrounding of traditional, country side houses. The interiors are created with care of details. And the scenes in the snowy weather are exquisite! picture-of-ken-watanabe-in-the-last-samurai-large-picturecpicture-of-tom-cruise-and-s-xf4-suke-ikematsu-in-the-last-samurai-large-picturec

Sleeping on tatami.

IMG_2167A big variety of movies, which take place in Japan, give us quite a good picture of how a traditional Japanese house looks like. Paper sliding walls, floors covered with tatami and squeaking shiny floors- this is what I expected to see in the first hostel we stayed in.

DSC_0479ccJapanese traditional houses have no clear devisions- the walls can seperate rooms or disappear when needed, crating more spacious interiors. Only sanitary- a kitchen, a toilet and a bathroom have a distinct and defined location. The most characteristic elements of the interior are the tatami straw modular mats covering the floors and defining the proportions of the rooms- and the shoji– sliding doors made out of wood grid, covered on one side with a paper layer that allows soft light to pass through.

In the pictures you can also see
tokonoma– a kind of a small alcove, located in the guest room, were usually a vertical scroll of calligraphy or piece art is hanging, decorated with traditional ikebana flowers. (In this case the ‘piece of art’ wasn’t very impressive ;)
rōkasmall hallways connecting the roomsDSC_0481ccDSC_0487ccNot really knowing what to expect I kept wondering if thin, single-layered glass walls can keep the warmth inside? The moment we entered the hostel through a tiny sliding doors to a tiny low corridor (genkan), my concerns did not disappear. It was freezing cold inside! I had no intention to take my jacket off and soon my feet turned into icicles. The nice reception girls offered, however, warm slippers and invited us to a peculiar table. Only later have I found out that it is a kotatsu a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or a heavy blanket. Underneath was a heat source and a hole for the legs, so we could sit comfortably enjoying the warmth and pleasant chat with hot green tea in out hands.326DSC_0491cc DSC_0488cc DSC_0492cEntrance doors from inside of genkan. The doors lock can not be more advanced ;) (above).IMG_2393Backpackers Guest House, Nara- than you for your hospitality.