ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Kyoto and Nara

ARCADES & TEMPLES, Nishiki Market (錦市場) & Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), Kyoto, Japan

No matter in Rome, Buenos Aires or Hong Kong, taking morning walks is always one of our most enjoyable ways to appreciate a city. With an ever-present tranquility, elegance and otherworldliness, Kyoto is perfect for a morning stroll, especially to appreciate the beautiful tones of aged timber, indigo shingles and seasonal vegetation all under the crisp air of surrounding mountains. And what’s best to start a morning walk? For us, it’s a cup of good coffee. Tucked in a corner of an almost unnoticeable parking lot a block away from Nishiki Market (錦市場), a tiny coffee shop successfully captured our attention with its rich aroma and lovely ambience. Housed in an old machiya house, Weekenders Coffee provokes memories of a traditional kissaten (喫茶店) where writers and intellectuals in the old days gathered for a cup of tea or coffee. Opened since 2005, Weekenders was one of the first espresso shops in Kyoto. At Weekenders, a few customers may gather at the forecourt sipping coffee while resting the eyes upon a tiny Japanese garden. This was exactly what we did: sitting in front of the coffee shop at 7:30 in the morning, sniffing in fresh morning air and coffee aroma, and being enchanted with the pleasure of life.

At Nishiki Market, pickle vendors and fishmongers were busy setting up their stores. Laughter and giggles could be heard behind the counter of a tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop, where a team of staff were busy making omelettes for the day. It was still way too early to taste the food and shop for grocery at the iconic 400-year-old market. Unlike the crowded scenes during our 2016 visit, this time we almost had Nishiki all by ourselves. At the eastern end of where the market met Teramachi Shopping Street, we were once again attracted by the lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) just like in 2016. Headed north from the shrine, we entered the arcade of Teramachi Shopping Street (寺町通商店街), a famous destination for both locals and tourists.

Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) has much more to offer than a covered arcade both sides flanked by shops. In 1590, 80 or so Buddhist temples from the area were relocated to Teramachi. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) or de facto ruler of Japan, who ordered the move during Sengoku period (戦国時代) in the late 16th century. In the subsequent centuries, stores selling books, Buddhist rosaries, medicine, stationery, handicrafts and clothing flourished and gradually developed into the present arcades. Today, in the midst of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities, places of worship and even small graveyards maintain a strong presence at Teramachi, with temple entrances open right next to boutiques and stores. While most shops on Teramachi and the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街) had yet opened for business, we took the opportunity to do some temple hopping while window shopping at the same time.

Hidden in a corner of a neighborhood parking lot, Weekenders Coffee offers great coffee in a traditional setting. [2022.12.27]
The coffee aroma goes well with the traditional machiya setting. [2022.12.27]
Weekenders Coffee is the perfect place to start the day. [2022.12.27]
The tiny forecourt has a certain zen quality that calms every customer. [2022.12.27]
A marvelous cup of latte to start our first full day in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
After Weekenders, we walked over to Nishiki, the 400 year old market at the heart of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
We came too early. Most shops at Nishiki Market had yet opened for business. [2022.12.27]
Staff at Miki Keiran (三木鶏卵) tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) shop were busy preparing omelettes for the day. [2022.12.27]
Unlike 2016’s visit, we didn’t eat or buy anything at Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine (錦天満宮) marks the eastern end of Nishiki Market. [2022.12.27]
The lanterns of Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine forms a lovely gateway to the shrine compound. [2022.12.27]
Nade-ushi, the cow messenger associated with the deity of Tenjin, the god of scholarship, is proudly on display at Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine. [2022.12.27]
Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine is full of fine details and elegant offerings. [2022.12.27]
It was surprising to see red maple leaves were still around at the end of December. [2022.12.27]
From Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine, we turned north onto Teramachi Shopping Street. [2022.12.27]
Perhaps it was the cold weather, we were quite hungry as we walked. We stopped briefly at a local bakery chain store Pan-no-Tajima (パンの田島) for a quick breakfast before continuing our walk. [2022.12.27]
Along with the adjacent Shinkyogoku Shopping Street (新京極商店街), the covered arcade of Teramachi (寺町通) offers a wide range of merchandises, from clothing, books, souvenirs to religious goods. [2022.12.27]
The covered arcades also serve as a primary entertainment district for the younger generation. [2022.12.27]
Selfie backdrops for New Year celebration could be found at a number of spots in the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]
Wandering at the shopping arcade in early morning when most shops were still shuttered offer us a quiet moment to admire the visual complexity of the retail district. [2022.12.27]
Literally means “Temple Town Street”, Teramachi (寺町通) is home to many temples and shrines since Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated a large group of religious institutions into Downtown Kyoto four hundred years ago. [2022.12.27]
Thanks to the red banners, Eifuku-ji Temple (永福寺) and Takoyakushi-dō (蛸薬師堂) is one of many temples relocated to Teramachi Shopping Street 400 years ago. [2022.12.27]
Behind a few clothing stores we found the entrance of Seishin-in Temple (誠心院), and a cheerful selfie backdrop to welcome New Year visitors. [2022.12.27]
In such close proximity to the busy shopping arcades, it was a surprise to find a cemetery behind Seishin-in. [2022.12.27]
The cemetery at Seishin-in appeared like a tranquil backyard for the temple. [2022.12.27]
The triangular Rokkun Plaza (ろっくんプラザ) is a well known meeting point at the heart of the shopping arcades. [2022.12.27]

FIRST GETAWAY SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Kyoto (京都) and Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), Japan. 2022.12.26 – 2023.01.01

After returning from Sri Lanka in December 2019, we never thought it would be another three years before we could travel again. Haven’t traveled for such a long time, it almost felt a little surreal when we went online to purchase the plane tickets. In fact, our trip was a rather ad-hoc decision made less than ten days before departure. To resume traveling after Covid, Japan was an intuitive choice for us, where cities are clean, people friendly, and the food fantastic. A revisit to Kyoto was always in our mind since our last visit in 2016. Kyoto is such an amazing city where we can wander around aimlessly from dawn till dusk, just to take in the rich history, seasonal colours, and serene ambience. Apart from Kyoto, we picked Kinosaki Onsen, a hot spring town 2.5 hours train ride away, as a side trip. After booking one of the last Kinosaki ryokan rooms available online, buying a new suitcase (we threw out the old one during the pandemic), and uploading our vaccination papers to the Japanese authorities, we could finally think about what to do in Kyoto. The planning turned out not as easy as we thought, since many attractions, museums, shops and restaurants would be closed around the New Year. On the other hand, staying in Kyoto for the New Year to witness their traditional celebrations could be a unique and remarkable experience.

After hosting our best friend for dinner at our apartment on Christmas Day, we left for the airport before dawn on Boxing Day. Hong Kong International Airport was full of outbound travelers like us, who were desperate to fly out the city as soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed. We were overwhelmed by joy and excitement as soon as we boarded the plane. Didn’t recall we have ever got so excited just to look out the window and watch the plane lifting off. After three hours of flying, our plane made a turn over the mouth of Yoshino River (吉野川) and Tokushima (徳島), and gradually descended over the waters of Wakayama Bay (和歌山湾) and Osaka Bay (大阪湾) towards Kansai Airport. Several minutes later, our plane gently touched down onto the tarmac runway, signifying our return to Japan after 3.5 years. Despite the additional Covid related procedures, our arrival at Kansai Airport was rather smooth and hassle free. After picking up the JR rail passes and topping up our old ICOCA cards, we hopped on the Haruka Express train bounded for Kyoto Station (京都駅).

Evening had already fallen upon by the time we arrived in Kyoto. Under the glazed canopy, the splendid station atrium was teeming with rush hour travelers. We found our way to Shijo Karasuma (四条烏丸), checked in at our hotel, and immediately headed out to look for a restaurant (as we had skipped lunch on the plane). In Downtown Kyoto, we were spoiled with dining options. Before eating, we stopped by a small shop selling traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物), a regional household delicacy dated back to the pre refrigeration years. All kinds of local vegetables pickled in salt, soya sauce, vinegar, or miso, and packed in lovely wrapping. It was impossible to resist and we ended up getting some to bring home. For dinner, we picked a cozy izakaya with a decent menu of deep fried Kyoto snacks. Fried shrimps and beef skewers topped with sea urchin, all washed down with sips of local sake. What a perfect treat to make us forget about the pandemic misery and officially kick start our short Kyoto vacation.

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport after sunrise. [2022.12.26]
It was exciting to resume traveling after three years of pandemic. [2022.12.26]
Our plane made a turn over Yoshino River and Tokushima before descending to Osaka Bay and Kansai International Airport. [2022.12.26]
The JR office at Kansai Airport is often the first site where foreign travelers would visit. [2022.12.26]
By the time we hopped on a Kyoto bounded Haruka Express train, the sun was already setting. [2022.12.26]
Kyoto Station was teemed with pedestrians when we arrived in the evening. [2022.12.26]
Outside the station, the 131m-Kyoto Tower stood proudly as the tallest structure in the city. [2022.12.26]
The inner streets of Shijo Karasuma were full of lovely machiya (町家), traditional wooden houses with ground floor shops and upper residences. [2022.12.26]
Housed in machiya, small shops or restaurants in Downtown Kyoto were cozy and warm. [2022.12.26]
Before dinner, we stopped by Eirakuya (永楽屋室町店) to shop for traditional Kyoto pickles or Tsukemono (漬物) and Japanese confections. (2022.12.26)
We ended up picking an izakaya serving deep fried snacks for dinner. [2022.12.26]
The deep fried snacks went perfectly well with sake and beer. [2022.12.26]
Our hotel blended in well with the surrounding machiya houses. [2022.12.26]
A lush green courtyard sat silently as the centerpiece of our hotel lobby. [2022.12.26]
During breakfast time, our hotel restaurant was quite popular among local Japanese. [2022.12.27]
Just a stone throw away from our hotel, Karasuma Dori (烏丸通り) is the main north south thoroughfare in Kyoto. [2022.12.27]
A morning stroll around the neighbourhood of Shijo Karasuma brought us face to face with many machiya houses. [2022.12.27]
Since Kyoto was spared from bombing during WWII, many machiya houses survive till the present day. [2022.12.27]
Other than traditional houses, minimalist modern buildings dotted around Shijo Karasuma as well. [2022.12.27]
Interesting buildings include this office block near our hotel. [2022.12.27]
But what caught our eyes in most cases were always the timber machiya houses of Kyoto. [2022.12.27]

DAY 5 (3/3): FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan, 2016.12.07

After we came back from Fushimi Inari Taisha, we thought it would be a good idea to find a place for lunch in Downtown Kyoto.  There was still a few hours before our 18:30 flight.

06We opted for a revisit of Nishiki Market (錦市場), the five block long market street known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”.

04For the past few days we didn’t really have a decent meal of sashimi.  We ended up sitting down at a sashimi restaurant Nishiki Daimaru Yoshi (錦大丸).  The restaurant was hidden behind its fishmonger shop.

01At this popular restaurant, we were the first customers sitting down at the long counter in front of the food preparation area.

02There was only set lunch available.  We wouldn’t mind as long as the sashimi was fresh.  The set included sashimi, tempura and grilled fish.

03The washroom at the restaurant was small but full of character.

07After lunch, we went outside of the Nishiki Market and arrived at the back side of Daimaru Department Store.  There was a small vendor selling farmer’s produce.  We couldn’t resist but bought a few items to bring back to Hong Kong.

05Then we headed back into Nishiki Market for another stroll.

08We passed by a vendor selling all kinds of traditional sweets and snacks.  We picked up some regional roasted peanuts.

09There were quite a few shops selling Tsukemono (漬物, Japanese pickled snacks).  Many items were seasonal.

10Then we passed by the chestnut shop where we bought some delicious local chestnuts before.

11At the end of Nishiki Market, we arrived at the entrance of Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine, a Shinto shrine conveniently located at the heart of the downtown.

12Another shop worth noting in the area was Tamaru Inbo (田丸印房), a Hanko shop, a store selling traditional stamps and seals made of wooden or stone blocks.  With over a century of professional reputation, Tamaru Inbo was a great place to check out Japanese hanko.

13From Shijo Dori, we walked east to the Kamo River (鴨川).   We decided to walk south along the river for a final stroll along the peaceful river.

14The weather was perfect for a relaxing stroll.

15Like us, many preferred to take the route along the river instead of the city streets.

16We passed by many restaurants facing the river.  Hopefully next time we would be able to enjoy a meal at one of the many waterfront dining patios during the summer months.

17We left the riverbank when we reached Gojo Dori Street.  We decided to get a good cup of coffee before leaving for the airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe landed on a cafe called Efish just south of Gojo Dori, at Kiya-machi Dori, a small neighborhood street sandwiched between the Kamo River and Takase River (高瀬川).  Unlike several blocks up north where Kiya-machi Dori represented the vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene of the city, here the narrow street became a laid-back neighborhood alley.

19Efish is great for its relaxing atmosphere by the river.  Other than refreshing food and drinks, Efish also showcased cool design housewares inside the cafe.

20On our way from Efish to Kyoto Station, we walked past Umeyu Rakuen (サウナの梅湯), a retro 80-year old bathhouse.  In 2015, 25 year-old Yusuke Minato, a long-time devotee to traditional bathhouses, took over the declining bathhouse and transformed it into a hip venue to promote traditional bathing, as well as occasional gigs and flea market.  We didn’t have time for a soak and would have to save it till next time.

21After another few minutes of walk we could see Kyoto Tower from a distance.  A big crow on the treetop over our head was making loud noises, as if yelling out our parting wishes with the ancient capital.

22Minutes later we reached the futuristic Kyoto Station once again.  We took the escalators down to the basement to pick up our backpacks at the lockers and hop on a Haruka Express for the Kansai Airport.  As the train leaving the station, we were already planning for a return trip sometime in the near future.  Kyoto was and always will be the perfect venue for us to dwell in the power of heritage, nature, and spirituality whenever we were overwhelmed by the dull and routine work lives.

This concludes the record of our 5-day Kyoto trip in December 2016.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 5 (2/3): FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan, 2016.12.07

On the summit of Mount Inari, there was a small Shinto shrine, and a shop selling candles and souvenirs.  The shop had yet opened its doors when we were there.  From the peak our only way was to head down.  We took our time and followed a different route to go down.  We ventured into a few quiet spots of small shrines and graves off the beaten track in the woods.  The descend was shorter than our uphill hike.  By the time we reached Yotsutsuji intersection again at midway, it was quite a different feeling with a whole lot more of visitors looking for the best lookout spot to take pictures.  We stopped by a few shrines to bow our heads, throw our coins, clap our hands and pay our respect to the Shinto deity.  As we approached the mountain foot, we were so grateful about the unique and delightful experience of the hike.  We felt a little sad for both the hike and our 5-day Kyoto trip were coming to an end.  We reached the final torii gate at around 10:40, exactly three hours from the beginning of the hike.

dsc_3993There was a small shrine at the peak of Mount Inari.  We went up, left some coins and felt grateful to have such nice weather for most of our stay in Kyoto.

01The shop at the peak had yet opened its doors.

dsc_3982The sun was higher and certainly brighter by 9:20 when we reached the peak.

03We chose a different route for the descend.

04There weren’t as many torii gates along the first part of this trail, and it felt like a walk in a densely forested hill.

dsc_3823Occasionally we would see the “donation price list” of torii gate along the trail.  Anyone, and in many cases tourists, could pay 1,302,000 Japanese yen to erect a vermilion torii gate to continue the tradition of the Senbon Torii (千本鳥居).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a few shops that were preparing to open for business.

07During our descend, we arrived at a forest opening where the peaceful sunlight shone through tree tops onto old graves and mini shrines.

08The air was crisp and fresh.  Everything was so peaceful and serene.

09There was a maintenance staff moving a few things here and there, but the atmosphere was otherwise supremely tranquil and spiritual.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter where we were on the trail of Mount Inari we could also find kitsune (fox) statues.

06Other than stone foxes, there were also occasional stone lions.

11And at one shrine, there was also a bronze horse statue.

12It was difficult to imagine how much work was needed to maintain all the thousands of small shrines and graves on Mount Inari, a spiritual destination ever since the first shrine was established here over 1300 years ago.

13There were layers upon layers of history, memories and wishes of different generations of worshipers at different corners on Mount Inari.

15Some of the temizuya (手水舎, purification pavilion) in front of the shrine was beautifully decorated.

16Despite simple, some small temizuya fit perfectly well with the naturalistic surroundings.

17The vermilion small torii offerings stood out no matter where they were placed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore reaching Yotsutsuji intersection, we passed by several shops housed in traditional wooden buildings right by the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was just past 10:15 when we returned to Yotsutsuji intersection.  The number of visitors was significantly more than earlier when we first came up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn maybe an hour or so, the shops and tea restaurants would be packed with visitors.  The famous dish at Inari was the kitsune udon (fox udon), a bowl of hot thick wheat noodles topped with pieces of fried tofu, supposedly the favorite food for foxes.

20After Yotsutsuji intersection, we basically followed the same route that we came up.

21One of the last shrine we passed by was Byakkosha (白狐社), a shrine dedicated to the deity of white foxes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vivid maples behind the last torii reminded us that autumn was almost over.  It was time for us to head back into city centre of Kyoto.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 5 (1/3): FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.07

For several years the famous Shinto shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) has been voted as the favorite tourist attraction in Kyoto on a number of travel websites.  The images of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates) winding up the Mount Inari (233m) and the clusters of miniature shrines and private graves hidden in the woods certainly nourish the public imagination of a mysterious old Japan.  We thought of visiting the shrine in late afternoon or early evening when the twilight was gradually fading away, shifting the tone of everything from orange to violet and then blue.  Somehow that wasn’t realized, and instead we chose to explore this highly popular and spiritual place early in the morning of our last day of the trip.  To beat the crowds, getting up before sunrise was crucial.  It was only a short JR train ride from Kyoto Station to Inari Station.  By the time we set foot at the entrance route of the Taisha it was a little before 7:30am.

01To make the most out of the last day in Kyoto, we get up before dawn and carried our backpack and luggage to Kyoto Station.  At daybreak, we bid farewell to the tranquil Shirakawa River in our Higashiyama neighborhood.

02At Kyoto Station, we stored our belongings at one of the many lockers and hopped onto a Nara-bounded train for Inari Station.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride to the peaceful Inari Station took only a few minutes, and the entrance route of Fushimi Inari Taisha was just right across the road.

***

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) was first established in the 8th century dedicated to Inari (稲荷大神), the God of Rice and Sake.  In the agricultural nation, the God of Rice was a powerful figure who governed the fortune of lives.  In the modern age, the power of Inari had been shifted to offer blessing on the prosperity of businesses and people’s lives in general.

04A large torii gate led us towards the Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate).

05The Romon Gate (楼門, Lower Gate) was a donation in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), the famous daimyō (大名, feudal warlord) who unified a large part of the country.

06There were only a few visitors at the Worship Hall in front of the Honden (Main Building).  After paying our respects, we couldn’t wait longer to begin the hike up to the peak of Mount Inari via the remarkable Senbon Torii.

***

On Mount Inari, two features stood out.  First was of course the vermilion torii gates.  Donated by individuals and business companies, there were over 5000 torii gates guiding our way up the Mount Inari.  The second feature was the kitsune (fox).  Uncounted statues of foxes appeared along the trail, usually came in pairs standing in front of the Shinto shrines.  Foxes were believed to be the Kenzoku, the messenger of god.

07We walked past the first pair of bronze fox statues right after the visit of the main shrine.  Many fox statues here carried a key in their mouth (to the rice granary).

08Our hike up the 4km trail began at this cluster of the vermilion Senbon Torii (千本鳥居, thousands of torii gates).

09Only a handful of visitors were there, such a blessing given this place is also famous for big visitor crowds throughout the day.  The record was 2.69 million during the 3 days of New Year period in 2006.

10Soon we arrived at the trailhead of the dual route.  Both route would ultimately converge back to a single path.  We picked the left route.

11From one direction, the Senbon Torii appeared clean and minimal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking back we could see columns of dates and donor’s names along the path as far as the eye could see.

14We stopped at most of the sub shrine along the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a while, the trail gradually turned steeper with stone steps.

18Half way through the ascend, the view from the Yotsutsuji Intersection was amazing in a clear morning.  Many tourists would turn back from here.

19We continued on the uphill journey, and stopped by a number of miniature shrines and grave clusters.  Mini fox statues, mini vermilion torii gates and candles were often seen as offerings.

20We often made detours from the trail into groups of mini shrines and graves.  We bumped into this what looked like a shrine guardian cat.

21The cat came from behind the shrine and jumped from a a stone stele to another, and finally stayed on a small tablet under the morning sun… just for a few seconds.

22A pair of stone lions and foxes were on guard by the small shrine of God of Rain.

23The early morning sun was nice and warm, and cast a magical highlight onto the torii gates.

24Fallen autumn leaves added an extra sense of solitude to the quiet trail.

26While at certain spots the autumn leaves gave a vivid background to the otherwise greyish setting of stones steles and statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we reached “Second Peak” we knew we were just minutes away from the peak.

27At around 9:15 we reached the top of Mount Inari, after about an hour and 45 minutes of hike.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 4 (6/6): RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was already past 7pm when our Kintetsu express train arrived at Kyoto Station from Nara.  We decided to check out the Kyoto Ramen Koji (Kyoto Ramen Street) on the 10th floor of the station for a quick dinner.  We took the escalators up to the famous Daikaidan (Grand Staircase).  The Daikaidan stretched from 4th floor all the way up to the sky garden on the 15th floor.  Architect Hiroshi Hara specifically provided a stage on the 4th floor, while the staircase would become an enormous amphitheater.  There was no performance when we were there.  Instead, the stage was occupied by a large Christmas Tree.  The lights changed colours according to the background music.

07The big Christmas Tree occupied the open space on the 4th floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Christmas Tree we walked up the Daikaidan (Grand Staircase) to the 10th floor for our ramen dinner.

05There was a strip of LED lights at the nosing of each step.  The lights changed colours constantly.

04With the LED lights on each step, the entire staircase became a giant screen of festive animations.

***

We entered the building on the 10th floor, and could immediately smell the pork ramen and feel the warmth of the atmosphere.  Here at Kyoto Ramen Koji (Kyoto Ramen Street), there were about ten different ramen restaurants, representing the ramen style from different parts of Japan.  We ended up picking Masutani (ますたに), a Kyoto based ramen restaurant established since 1948.

01We queued in front of the restaurant for about 20 minutes and then ordered our ramen from the machine by the entrance.

02Once inside, we handed the tickets to the staff and sat down by a wooden counter.

03After several minutes, our hot and delicious ramen arrived, a perfect answer for the chilly night!

***

After the tasty ramen, we didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet.  In front of Kyoto Station, we hopped on a night bus bounded westwards.  Our destination was the ROHM Illumination Festival 2016.  With 800,000 light bulbs lighting up 82 trees along Kasuga Dori, ROHM Illumination is the biggest annual Christmas lighting event in Kyoto since 1995.  ROHM, a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer based in Kyoto sponsored the event annually to light up the immediate area of its office in town.  The light show was smaller than similar events in other large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, it did however transform a tranquil neighborhood into a romantic, glittering and festive promenade of lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of Kasuga Dori was guarded by the two Yamamomo Trees (Chinese bayberry) covered with dazzling lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yamamomo Trees were round in shape, perfect for turning into spheres of lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKasuga Dori was lined both sides with 20 metasequoias, all dressed up with tiny light bulbs to create the luminous promenade.

11With the lighting, the yellow crowns of the metasequoias appeared as if on fire.

12Two types of light bulbs were used, small LED and twinkling incandescent lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lights transformed the small Nagura Park into a romantic public venue.

14Families and kids were having fun in Nagura Park.

15Under different music, the LED balls on the ground and the 13.5m (h) by 9m (w) LED screen made use the lawn next to the Nagura Park to put together the “Ensemble of Light”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKids had a good time at the playground and the light show.

17Antique cars somehow blended in well with the ambience of the light festival.

18At 9:30pm, we turned back to the entrance of Kasuga Dori and had a final look at the two for the trip’s last day.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 4 (5/6): NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

In October 2014, we stumbled upon a small shop in the shopping centre Tokyo Midtown.  Utensils, furniture, cloths, and other miscellaneous household items were on display on wooden shelves and stands.  Merchandises were displayed in clusters according to brands from different parts of Japan.  The design of that attractive small shop in the middle of a high-end shopping arcade, according designer Yusuke Seki, was inspired by shotengai (traditional shopping street).  We stayed at the shop for quite some time, and ended up picking up a blue umbrella with a nice wooden handle.  At its underside, there was a small label with an illustration of two deer and a traditional logo saying Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten (中川政七商店).  Later on, we did some online research and realized that Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten originates in Nara, and has been around for three centuries.

Opened in 1716, Nara’s Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten just celebrated its 300th anniversary.  Originally, the small Nara shop produced hand woven textiles for samurai and monk ceremonial robes.  The textile was known as Narazashi, or sarashi bleached hemp textile.  During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the society went through a dramatic change.  Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten was forced to diversify its focus on other products such as table cloths and handkerchief.  Entering the modern age, the shop defied all odds of modernization, persistently remained faithful to its traditional techniques and craftsmanship.  Nakagawa, the 13th president who joined the family business in the last 15 years or so, tested the potentials of his traditional shop to a new level.  Not only did he opened new shops outside of Nara like Tokyo and Osaka, Nakagawa also re-branded the company, and gave new life to old products such as using the old technique of mosquito net making for the new best selling fukin (Japanese style table cloth).  Furthermore, Nakagawa proactively engaged in fruitful collaborations with other craft companies across the country to come up with new brands and merchandises suitable for the contemporary era.

This time around, we were in Nara after a long day of temple hoping.  We promised ourselves that we couldn’t leave the city without visiting the Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店), the flagship store of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten located at a tranquil alleyway near Sanjo Dori.  At one corner of the shop, several merchandises commemorating the 300th anniversary of Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten were on display.  A beige cloth with beautiful embroidery was a reproduction of their 1925 product exhibited at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, the design world fair that gave birth to Art Deco.   90 years on, Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten is still standing at the crossroad between the old and new, advocating a good mix of traditional crafts and contemporary aesthetics.  At their 300th anniversary, their locally made fabrics and household merchandises are as cool and modern as ever.

15The subtle wooden machiya (町屋) facade of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop provides a perfect fit for the shop that advocates high quality local crafts and products.

14The design of Yu Nakagawa is a comfortable blend of traditional and contemporary elements.

dsc_3595The signage of Yu Nakagawa Main Shop (遊中川本店) with the iconic deer symbolizing the city of Nara.

dsc_3602Rows of colourful textiles behind the cashier counter attracted our attention right from the beginning.

16Cloths, bags, paper products, socks, scarfs, utensils, etc were on display in the pleasant interior.

dsc_3599Most items on display came from their own brands, such as 2&9, their line of well made socks.

dsc_3605It was already dark by the time we left Yu Nakagawa Main Shop.

17Before we left Nara, we also stopped by Nipponichi (日本市) at Sanjo Dori.  Nipponichi is also a brand from Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten focused on selling Japanese made souvenirs.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan