Hello dear readers!
This week I decided to write about one of the most interesting things I had the opportunity to do in 2016: my trip to Japan!
One of the good things about my job is having the chance of travelling with a certain frequency. I’ve been working in London as a camera assistant for four years now, and every single year I travelled abroad for work at least one or two times. Today I’m going to tell you about my first trip to an Asian country!
I went to Japan for a week. Those few days were very intense in terms of work, but also full of new experiences. We flew from London to Tokyo, and the flight took about 11 hours. As soon as we arrived at the Japanese capital – and after collecting all our luggage and equipment and going through the customs, – we took a Shinkansen train, the famous high speed or “bullet” train that connects Tokyo to the main cities of that island. Our destination was Kyoto, the city where we were going to stay for the most part of the week.
Kyoto, in the region of Kansai in Honshu island, was for a long time the capital of Japan and the Emperor’s residence. During its many centuries of History, Kyoto suffered the destruction caused by wars and fires. Although, due to its historic value, the city is still one of the best-preserved ones in Japan and an important cultural site in the country, where we can find many Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines. It’s interesting to see how Kyoto’s natural beauty and its traditional and spiritual character are blended with a modern city lifestyle.
In this post, I’m going to show you the places I had the chance to visit while I was in Kyoto: Nijō Castle, Nishiki Market, Yasaka Shrine, Higashiyama District and Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Nijō Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a castle from Edo Period (1603 – 1868) and it used to be the residence of the first shogun from this period of the History, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle has three different areas: Honmaru, Ninomaru (where we can visit Ninomaru Palace) and the gardens around this two areas.
Ninomaru Palace was the place where the shogun would live during his visits to Kyoto. It’s really interesting to see the interior of this palace and not only learn about the Edo Period and the lifestyle of the people living in that building but also admire its rather elegant decoration. The floor of the different rooms inside the palace is covered with tatami mats, the entrances have sliding doors and the corridors’ floor is covered with a material that squeaks when people step on it. Apparently, this was a security measure against intruders! Therefore, the visit to the palace has the constant background sound of the tourists’ steps walking through the corridors.
In Kyoto’s central area, we can also find the Nishiki Market. This market has the extension of several blocks and it’s a place where we can find a big variety of stores and local products. Fresh fish, the fruit of the season, Japanese typical spices, street food and traditional sweets… This market is ideal for those who want to grab a bite to eat and try the Japanese flavours! In this shopping area, there’s also chopsticks stores, traditional tableware, decoration and kawaii items, and kimonos (there are even second-hand kimonos for sale at much more reasonable prices). Nishiki Market is basically the perfect place to go not only to have some food but also to buy some gifts and souvenirs.
Once left the Nishiki Market, following Shijo Dori will lead us to a bridge that crosses Kamogawa River. When I passed by there I could notice there were lots of people enjoying a walk alongside the river, or just relaxing at the end of the day sitting on the grass.
After crossing the bridge and following the same road, we finally arrive at Yasaka Shrine, one of the most famous Shinto Shrines in Kyoto.
Shinto is Japan’s traditional religion, which is also as old as the country itself. Shinto and Buddhism coexist peacefully in Japan, and in some aspects, both religions complement each other.
At the Shinto Shrines, there’s a main hall – Honden – where we can find the sacred objects, and an offering hall – Haiden – where the visitors do their offerings and prays. At Yasaka Shrine, both Honden and Haiden are together in the same building.
It’s interesting the observe the visitors’ praying ritual. At the Shrine there’s usually a fountain where the visitor washes both hands and mouth as a purification procedure before praying. Then, at the Haiden (offering hall), the prayer throws a coin, bows twice, claps the hands twice, bows again and pulls the bell cord in order to get the Kami‘s (God) attention for the visitor’s pray.
After visiting the Yasaka Shrine, nothing better than going for a walk and have some dinner at Higashiyama District, one of the city’s best-preserved areas, where we can find a more traditional Kyoto. This is also the place where we can eventually spot some Geishas passing buy.
Another Shrine I had the chance to visit was Fushimi Inari Shrine, also a very popular one, in Kyoto’ south area.
This Shrine is dedicated to Inari – the Kami (God) of rice – and it’s well known for its thousands of red Torii gates, which are placed on the ground one after the other, building a long corridor that goes through Mount Inari’s forest. According to japan-guide.com website, hiking the trail all the way to the summit and back takes about 2 – 3 hours! Every one of those Torii gates was donated by individuals and companies, and their names are inscribed on the gates’ wood.
In the western suburbs of Kyoto, there’s another place really worth visiting – Arashiyama District. This is a more rural area, interesting for its natural beauty and also popular for its bamboo groves. This area is home to monkeys! I didn’t see them but could hear them! One day we were filming an interview inside a restaurant in the middle of Arashiyama’s forest, and at some point, we were interrupted by a few monkeys that decided to jump on the roof!
And that’s it for today. Click on this link A Spirited Journey to Kyoto’s Most Isolated Restaurant to see the amazing images of the video we made out there in Japan, as well as the names of the whole team involved in this project.
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Thanks a lot for your visit and I’ll see you guys on the next post!