Sunday 25 March 2018

Flying Visit to the Old Capital: Kyoto Travel Tips (Part 2)

Main sanctuary at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Once you've arrived in Kyoto, found a place to stay, and rented a kimono, you're all set to begin sightseeing. If you rented kimono at the place I recommended in part 1 then you're well placed to walk to Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) a Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of bright vermillion torii gates (sen bon dorii =千本鳥居) - and also featured in the film Memoirs of a Geisha. Keen followers of this blog may remember that the Goddess Inari is one of the main kami of Shinto: look out for all the (very stylised) foxes, especially in pairs, said to be the messengers of the Goddess. At night (it's open 24 hours) you may even encounter a real fox! The torii gates lead you on various trails heading upwards through forest, passing small shrines. Interestingly, the gates themselves get smaller as you progress up the mountain - while the crowds only seem to get bigger!

If you did rent kimono, your zōri-clad feet will no doubt be killing you after the tough climb at Fushimi Inari Shrine, so why not experience a unique Japanese-style Starbucks? This is found at Ninenzaka (map here) a beautiful thoroughfare of traditional Japanese houses, restaurants, and shops between Yasaka (Gion) Shrine and the world heritage Kiyomizu Temple. The Starbucks is officially called Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya (二年坂ヤサカ茶屋) with chaya meaning "tea house" and has tatami flooring, shōji paper sliding doors, and even a little Japanese garden.

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If you have any energy left (I did say it was a flying visit!) a final recommendation would be the gold-leaf coated Kinkakuji (金閣寺=Golden Temple/Pavilion), though it is a lot further out and requires a thirty to forty-minute bus-ride from Kyoto Station. The temple was actually burned down in 1950 by a young monk and this incident is the basis of the story for Yukio Mishima's 1956 novel named after the temple (the monk was obsessed by its beauty in the book). The story is also included in the classic 1985 film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters co-written and directed by Paul Schrader with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas as executive producers. Mishima's central theme was the dichotomy between traditional Japanese values and the spiritual barrenness of contemporary life. See here for a fascinating interview with Mishima in English which covers a range of topics - including ritual suicide (seppuku) which was the cause of his death in 1970.