A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Gin-Kaku Ji - The Silver Pavilion

Many people have heard of Kin-Kaku Ji, Kyoto's famous Golden Pavilion, but not so many people know about Gin-Kaku Ji, the Silver Pavilion.

I knew about it, but wasn't really sure where it was exactly and hadn't got around to finding out yet. However, recently Andrew and I found ourselves in Kyoto 'without agenda' just wandering along the riverside.

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Although that was pleasent enough we decided we should really try to aim for somewhere. As luck would have it, it turned out that we'd unintentionally wandered quite close to Gin-Kaku Ji and so we headed there.

Maybe the biggest fact to point out about Gin-Kaku Ji is that, unlike the Golden Pavilion which is actually coated in gold, this pavilion isn't really silver. The original plan had been to cover it in silver leaf, but it never happened. So what you have in reality is a rather modest looking wooden building set in a nice Japanese garden by a pond.

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One interesting feature though is the zen garden; a garden of sand and small stones raked into simple forms to encourage meditation and contemplation is a common fature at Buddist temples. This was one on the nicest examples I've seen of these gardens.

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After leaving the temple I realized that we were actually at the beginning of the Tetsugaku no michi (The Philosopher's walk), named after a Professor of Philiosophy who used to walk this route everyday, so we decided to head back that way. It's a nice foot path running along a small water channel lined with both cherry and maple trees, meaning it looks beautiful in both spring and autumn - though we managed to arrive a couple of weeks before the leaves all turn red.

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All along the way there are paths leading off to various small shrines far too numerous to check out, though the one we did stop at turned out to be quite unusual; all Shinto shrines have different animals 'guarding' them, common ones included foxes, lions, tigers and even wild pigs - but I'd never seen mice before!

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Of course they might simply have been hiding from all the stray cats along the main path.

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Once we reached the end of the path, we once again found ourselves lacking purpose - so we began to follow a group of Japanese people who seemed to be walking with great purpose. We had no idea where they were leading us, and for a moment it looked like we were just going to end up in a hotel with them (which would be awkward), but suddenly they went off up a small flight of stairs and led us to another temple - which one I have no idea, but it was pretty big and had a large cemetery attatched. Score one point for following random people!

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So in the end we saw Gin-Kaku Ji, Tetsugaku no michi and another big temple. Considering the directionless manner in which we started our day I think it ended up begin a triumph of random exploration over logical organisation, and I got to check another famous site of my 'must see' list - result!

Posted by DKJM74 00:27 Comments (0)

Omi-Hachiman revisted

After going to the in lantern festival in Hachiman (and discovering the bicentennial project to open up old buildings as art installation spaces) I was eager to go back and check out more of the exhibitions around the town.

So I asked Haru and her mother to join me for a second visit. At first I had some trouble trying to explain exactly why I'd asked them to come and what it was I wanted to show them, so we started off this visit by riding the cable car to the overlook point behind the historical town centre and browsing shops instead.

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Around lunch time I guided them to one of the buildings I'd visited last time, which also serves as a cafe. There I managed to introduce them to the art work exhibits and have lunch at the same time.

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Finally they understood what I was trying to show them and having aroused their curiosity they wanted to see more, so I took them to my favourite of the three places I'd visited last time; which looked totally different during the day.

I quickly realised that even with this second visit, having spent so long explaining the purpose of the visit and revisiting two previously seen locations, we weren't going to see everything and that we'd have to make some choices about what we wanted to see.

In the end we managed to find six more places following the route along the canal.

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Eventually though we had to be selective and only actually went inside three of those.

The first was a small old house with wooden floors over dirt, all dimly lit and dotted with suspended glass sculptures. What it really called to mind was the ocean depths and the small bioluminescent creatures that flit about in the darkness, wire frame pieces that resembled jellyfish or coral added to this feeling.

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Coils of incense had also been carefully placed to curl smoke up into the thin shafts of light slicing down from between the boards over the windows; creating, from the right angle, a swirling shifting veil that hung in the air.

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The next stop looked very interesting a large metal warehouse type structure that could potentially hold a really big exhibit or sculpture. Which is why it was quite disappointing to find that all the artist had installed was a mirror ball in the shape of a mouses head and a projector playing abstract sounds and images onto the floor and walls. The overall effect felt like a bad attempt to turn a garage into a nightclub.

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Luckily that last place we saw more than made up for that. Another canal side metallic storage space, but much bigger and more maze like this time, that was showcasing a wide range of pieces. The space had been put to much better use, and a very enthusiastic guide decided to join us and talk us around the whole site.

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I was happy that this was the last place we had time to visit, it was certainly the best we saw and it was a high note to go out on. To finish off the full tour would take a third visit which I don't think is going to happen, two was enough.

To finish off here's a few fun things we passed on the way back home; I like the house that looks like a Jack-O-Lantern.

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Posted by DKJM74 18:46 Comments (0)

Amanohashidate; North Kyoto

Our 1 year anniversary

So we were in Kyoto and although it was a couple of days early we decided to have an anniversary meal to celebrate in advance of our planned weekend away. We wanted something elegant, romantic and intimate, where we could share some tender moments together, so there was only really one place to go... THE UNDERGROUND NINJA LAYBRINTH RESTURANT!!

You know you're in for a good time when you get lead to your table down a long winding corridor by a running ninja who teaches you a secret knock to open the hidden entrance to the restaurant :-)

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Edible shuriken, ninja magic at your table and desserts in the shape of frogs - what more could you want? Actually although it might sound like I'm being sarcastic it was really good fun and an inspired choice by Haru to go there and it got the anniversary celebrations off to a good start.

However, the big plan for the weekend was a trip up to the North of Kyoto Fu (as the prefecture as a whole is known). It's easy to forget that there's more to Kyoto Fu than just Kyoto city, and in the north of the prefecture there's some pretty spectacular coastal views to be seen.

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This panorama was taken at view point on the Tango Peninsula, the northern most point of the prefecture.

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Not only is it really beautiful there, but it also overlooks a JDF (Japanese Defence Force) naval base making it a good spying spot as well.

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From there we worked our way back south and west along the coast checking out several other nice views along the way.

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The main goal of the trip was to go and see Amanohashidate (which loosely translates as 'Heaven's Bridge'), a site considered to be one of the three essential views of Japan (another of which I'd previously unwittingly seen when I went to Mijajima Island, as I later found out that the gate in the water there is also one of the three).

The reason for its fame is this incredible long natural sandbar dotted with trees that stretches almost all the way across the bay.

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The best way to see it is to take the chair lift up to the imaginatively named 'View world' where tradition has it that you should stand with your back to the bay then bend over and look at the view between your legs - any sane reason for this has been lost in the sands of time, but it's still a popular thing to do; and when in Japan...

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Of course just looking at it isn't much fun so we headed back down and rented bikes to cross Heaven's Bridge.

To get there you have to first go down by the big temple next to the bridge (that spans the short gap between the end of the sandbar and the shore), so we checked that out as well.

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I'm not quite sure what was written on these prayer boards but they seemed to send Haru through a range of emotions.

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After that we got out bikes and were ready to head off... but the bridge wasn't ready. Interestingly, despite looking old, this bridge is actually a modern hydraulic bridge that can pivot on its central support to let boats pass; like this -

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Then we were off.

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That was fun even if I nearly killed a couple of people taking pictures and cycling at the same time, I like the effect of the blurred background and Haru being in focus. When we got to the other side we had lunch in a cafe that seemed to be going for an American diner feel with masses of old metal Cola signs and the like - and, rather oddly, some Slovak beer mats?? Which I photographed for my friends back in Slovakia :-)

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After that it was about time to head back we still had to return the bikes and drive back to Shiga, but we'd had a good weekend and it was a nice way to celebrate our anniversary. I just hope that next year we are still as close and happy as this -

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Though I suspect that after another year in each other’s company we'll be more like this -

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Only time will tell.

Posted by DKJM74 08:00 Comments (3)

Nara City, Nara

Ancient capital of Japan

Nara falls into the same catagory as Kobe; nearby big towns that for some reason I hadn't got around to visiting yet. It's been on the list of places to go for sometime now, but it just hadn't happened.

Nara is best known for being an historical centre with some of Japan's oldest temples and, while it's quite common knowledge that Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, it's less well known that before that so was Nara 710 to 784; a time known as the Nara period.

The motivation to finally go there came when I saw that there was going to be a moon viewing festival held there on the day of the full moon. The plan was to go down in the evening watch the festival, stay over night and spend the next day exploring the town.

Despite arriving a little later than expected we thought we'd still have time to catch the highlight of the festival; a dragon headed boat circles around a large pond carrying several figures in traditional costumes and a large offering that is thrown from the boat onto the reflection of the moon on the waters surface - I'm sure it would have looked spectaclular... but the weather wasn't playing fair and heavy clouds had been gathering all day so that by evening there was no sign of the full moon to be seen anywhere and the offering was thrown into the blank black depths instead. Still the lanterns and the boat were quite pretty (Yes, feel the disappointment).

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The next day the weather was still sulky, cold and showery (not enough to scare you off, but enough to make you keep one eye on the sky most of the time). Haru really wanted to take a bus out of the town to see the site where they are currently reconstructing the old imperial palace and grounds. This is a huge project which won't be finished for several years and is mostly green fields now though one big building is already finished; and has been built using the same historical techniques used to create the original building.

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After another cold shower and a second bus ride back to town we headed out to see the famous temples and to meet God's messangers.

That's the other thing Nara is really famous for - 'God's messengers', which the status given to the local deer population. As such they are considered holy animals and are allowed to range freely through the town; though they restrict themselves pretty much to the main tourist routes where vendors sell wafers to feed them.

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This all leads to some pretty interesting results, not only do you see deer resting under trees in open parks but you also see them grazing by the roadside or in one extreme case actually on the narrow centeral reservation.

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This poses obvious road safety hazards though the deer seem to have learnt some basic concept of road crossing protocol. The few I saw crossing the road always seemed to do so near an actual crossing (probably having seen that's where all the people do it) but without waiting for the lights - just going when they thought it was safe.

Another interesting bit of learned behaviour from the deer is bowing for food. If you buy the wafers to feed them, then hold it out, but raised high, most of them will bob their head in a mock bow or even do a little knee bending curtsy. This all sounds very cute and Japanese people have a tendency to like nature in an abstract, cute, Bambified way. So it was fun to see several Japanese girls buying wafers to feed the cute animals then almost running away when the smelly furry beasts mobbed them at the first hint of food.

Despite the warning signs...

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...I guess people forget that they are still essentially wild animals even if they have learned to coexist with us, and I have to admit these deer aren't shy and will give you a quick head butt if they think you aren't giving them enough attention - and when you're surrounded by ten of them there are always a couple who think they're not getting enough attention.

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Once you get past the gauntlet of God's messengers you hit the main temple, Toudai-ji. This place holds two world records.

One, it's the largest wooden building in the world,

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and two, it houses the largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

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The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue:

Height: 14.98 m (49.1 ft)
Face: 5.33 m (17.5 ft)
Eyes: 1.02 m (3.3 ft)
Nose: 0.5 m (1.6 ft)
Ears: 2.54 m (8.3 ft)

The statue weighs 500 tonnes (550 short tons).

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Behind the statue there's also a famous wooded pillar through which a small hole was carved long ago. If you can pass your whole body through this gap you will be blessed with good luck - well, here's me getting lucky!

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Despite the historical magnificence of the ancient capital, the weather and a general feeling of saminess when compared to several other places meant that this trip to Nara fell into the 'Meh, that was alright I suppose' catagory. (I even liked the deer in Miyajima more). However we I did get to see one totally new thing for me on the way back to the hotel - Mochi making in action.

Mochi is a Japanese sweet made by basically pounding sweet rice into a thick dough like paste. It's often served in small balls stuffed with a filling and coated in some kind of powed (like flour or sugar) to keep it from being too sticky. It's much nicer than that probably sounds, but I've never seen the pounding process until now, and man these guys were fast. Working in pairs with hands or huge mallets, it's incredible that this didn't result in any broken fingers; just look at that intense concentration.

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One last related point, it has to be said that of all the Japanese mascots I've seen (and there are many) Nara's is the worst.

Meet Sento-Kun, a small buddist boy with deer antlers.

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Creepy and disturbing, and it's not just me that thinks so - he seems far from popular and has even caused protest from some buddists who find the charater offensive. I don't really find him offensive I just get a strong urge to punch him in the face every time I see him.

In case you're curious my favorite Japanese mascot is Ken-ketsu. The Japanese Red Cross' personification of the kindness of giving blood - it's a testament to how cute this character is that it's my favorite despite being so terrified of injections and needles that I'd never give blood... yet I'm almost tempted, see how sad he looks at the bottom when his droplet-ear blood reserves get too low and how happy he is when they are big and full...

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Posted by DKJM74 03:41 Comments (0)

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