Alan and Jonna's four day Kyoto adventure

Alan flew over to Japan at the end of July and met, Jonna who was returning from a month in Mongolia, for a few days of playing tourist in Kyoto, Japan. Jonna flew into Osaka one day earlier, then we met up at the airport the next day and took a bus up to Kyoto where we spent four busy days visting temples, shrines, gardens, museums, castles, palaces and markets.

Here are some of our favorite photos from our short time in Japan:

1) A blue tile roof Jonna saw while walking around in Osaka.

2) Our first day in Kyoto, we did a bicycle tour through Kyoto Cycle Tour Project. This was a great way to get a feel for the city and get oriented. We did the four hour "Back Streets Tour" through the Miyagawacho and Gion districts, along the Shirakawa River and through the Imperial Palace Park. Our guide Mayuko was very polite, knowledgable and helpful. She even helped us plan out the rest of our trip during a rest break. We highly recommend KCTP!

3) One of the stops on our morning bike tour was the Tatsumi shine. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to entertainment and the arts. It is in the middle of a little square aloneside the Shirakawa River. A peaceful spot, even with scooters and bicycles whizzing by.

4) Mayuko took our picture on a old bridge over the Shirakawa River at the Tatsumi Shrine.

5) In the afternoon, we rode along a bike path on the bank of the Kama River. Not only was this a very effecient path to bicycle, it was also a neat look into the lives of locals as we passed people fishing, walking their dogs, resting on benches and bicycling past.

6) The end of the bicycle tour was a ride through the Imperial Palace Park. We stopped at the quiet Syusui-Tei Tea House Gardens on the southern edge of the park and walked over one of the bridges so we could get a view of the tea house, see some of the landscaping and look down on the massive pool of carp that live in the pond.

7) The temperature in Japan in the middle of summer is hot. I mean really hot...and humid. After the bicycle tour, we walked to the To-ji Temple to check out a famouse monthly flea market there. With temps around 100F and humidity high enough to fog glasses, just wandering around was exhausting. We soon discovered how the Kyoto residents beat the heat...cold, day glo colored, syrupy sweet snow cones. We bought this "peach" flavored one and thought we'd discovered nirvana inside the grounds of the 1300 year old To-ji Temple! (The temple, a UNESCO historical monument, was nice too but that snow cone...oh, that snow cone!)

8) Tragedy!

9) We used our last bit of energy for the day walking through the 1/4 mile long Nishiki Food Market. This covered street houses over a hundred food shops, all wish storefronts wish displays alongside the central walkway. It was a fascinating place...exotic fish, odd vegetables, unrecognizable herbs, mysterious prepared dishes. It was mesmerizing to just walk along trying to take everything in.

10) This is just one part of one storefront. Not only was all the food interesting to look at, it was also beautifully presented. One of the recurring traits we saw all over Kyoto is the highly developed aesthetic sense...whether it being how shop wares are displayed, how food is presented, how gardens are laid out or how entire temple grounds are designed. It is a visual feast just to walk through the Nishiki Market.

11) Small simple shrine on the street. These are around every corner.

12) Alan taking a break in the shade on the second day in Kyoto. We rented two bicycles from KCTP, this time without a guide, so we could get around more easily. This photo was taken at around 8am and it was already starting to get warm!

13) Our first destination, once we were on our own, was riding up to Ginkaku-ji Temple. This 600 year old Rinzai Zen temple was being renovated and was closed to the public. However, the gardens were open and were spectacular. It has many of the features for which Zen gardens are famous: a sand garden, bonsai trees, waterfalls and ponds. It also has this peaceful hillside covered top to bottom with different kinds of moss.

14) A bamboo mat in the moss at Ginkaku-ji temple.

15) These dried maple leaves reflect how wilted and hot we felt in Kyoto.

16) After Ginkaku-ji, it was time to get introspective, or at least pretend to. The Philosopher's Walk is just under a mile in length and runs south from Ginkaku-ji. We rode along side the canal on the bikes watching the postman deliver the mail and women cleaning their patios.

17) Next on the agenda was Eikando temple. Just like Ginkaku-ji, the main temple building was closed for renovation so we were unable to see the famous statue enshrined there. This photo is of one of the many stunning gardens on the Eikando grounds.

18) Street side Jizo shrine. Jizo is known for guiding those who have died in the afterlife.

19) Hand of Buddha statue.

20) Despite our growing hunger and the increasing heat, we bicycled to a third temple: the 700 year old Nanzen-ji temple. This is another Renzai Zen temple but with grounds that are much larger and more accessible than the previous two. We toured the main temple buildings and walked up on the forested hillside behind the temple. This photo is of the famous rock garden just outside the Abbot's quarters.

21) We'd struggled to find a restaurant the previous night but thanks to our guide book, we found Okutan just outside the Nanzen-ji temple. This 350 year old tofu restaurant was incredible!

22) The tofu feast at Okutan.

23) Umbrella in the courtyard of our peaceful lunch spot.

24) "Tanuki" or raccoon dog statue in front of Okutan. These statues are placed in the doorways of Kyoto shops for their charm and luck.

25) In stark contrast to the two Zen temples we've visited in the morning, the Kiyumizo Tendai temple was a radically different experience. This 1300 year old temple is a UNESCO World Heritage but it also has a carnival atmosphere due to all the places to purchase luck charms, get fortunes, buy cups of magical water, and find luck in love. This photo is of just one of many very busy places where one could purchase blessings.

26) Nun out Kiyumizo temple with a begging bowl.

27) After surviving the afternoon heat of Kiyumizo, we went for a another helping of shaved ice. This one was kuzu flavored - a Japanese citrus fruit that tastes a bit like orange.

28) We ventured out for dinner and found Kushiyamonogatari. Kushi-age is food deep fried on a skewer. This place has a glass case full of pre-prep'ed skewers with about fifty different ingredients: fish, cubed meat, cut veggies, etc. There are also choices for sauces, noodles, salads and deserts. As shown in this photo, on the table is an electric frier full of hot oil, a bowl of egg wash and a bowl of bread crumbs. You chose your food, bread it and then let is fry until ready. Interactive eating!

29) Our third day in Kyoto started with an hour bicycle ride to the southern edge of Kyoto to visit the Fushimi Inari Temple. All three temples we visited the previous day were Buddhist but this is a large Shinto temple. The highlight of this temple are miles of trails through these vermillion torii gates.

30) One of the more memorable sites we saw in Kyoto was the main hall at the Sanjusangen-do temple. Inside this 700 year old, 300 ft long building are 1,000 wooden statues of the boddhisatva Kannon.

31) We took an Asian art class in Boulder and one of the pieces we studied was a statue of a Buddhist monk chanting with the chant made visible as small buddha's coming out of the monk's mouth. It turns out that statue is in Kyoto at this temple. We visited the small Rokuharamisu-ji temple. As has become the norm, the main hall was under construction but the famous statue of Kuya was on display behind these buildings.

32) At the end of the nineteenth century, the Japanese government decided to set up three national museums to preserve some of their national treasures. This is the Kyoto National Museum (the other two are in Tokyo and Nara). We spent a couple of hours exploring their collection, as well as enjoying their air conditioning.

33) We found our walk through the Nishiki food Market so interesting that Jonna got online and found a Emi Hirayama. She leads guided tours of the the market. We did a one hour walk of the market with Ms. Hirayama explained many of the mysteries of the market, got us samples of some items, explained which ingredients were local and which were brought in from elsewhere and even brought some cookbooks for us to look through and see how many are used in traditional Japanese cooking. This photo shows one of the fish vendors. Little fish, big fish, bits of fish and all of it artfully displayed.

34) We just barely made it into a tour of Nijo Castle before it closed for the day. This shot shows the main building, the Ninomaru Palace. The tour showcased of some of the famous art, impressive architure and, my favorite, the nightingale floors that squeak when you walk on them.

35) We took a few artsy shots but haven't included many here. This shot, taken of a tile roof inside Nijo castle, is one of them.

36) Blooming lotus at a garden in the Nijo Castle.

37) Perfect reflection in the Nijo Castle garden.

38) The moat around the Nijo castle is impressive but just as interesting is the method of stacking the large rocks used in the castle walls. Notice the angle of the rocks used in the wall at the corner visible on the left side of this photo.

39) A collection of bonsai trees in the alley next to our hotel.

40) One thing we noticed again and again was how well maintained vehicles are in Japan. This Honda Benley 50 we saw in the Imperial Palace Park was made in the 60s yet looks nearly showroom perfect. This was just one of many old bikes and cars that we saw in great condition.

41) Our last thing to do, before heading to the airport, was taking a tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Despite the brutal heat, it was a very interesting walk around the outside of the palace. The guide, in particular, helped keep everything interesting. This view is of the Shishinden hall...the one used for the coronation of the Japanese Emperor.

42) This panorama shot is of the Oike-niwa garden, the main garden within the palace grounds. This was historically the private garden of the Emperor.

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Alan Fleming