京都 Snapshots: November

And so we plunge into December, and I begin to freeze in my woefully lacking-in-central-heating room. My air con does heat, but it also doesn’t seem to know what 21 degrees is and aims for more like 30 degrees, leaving me perpetually too hot or too cold.It seems Japan  missed the memo that central heating is actually a pretty good idea.

This minor issue aside, I look forward to my first Christmas in Japan, and it seems Japan’s looking forward to it too – there are Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. Hopefully my next month will be filled with fun things to write about even though its getting cold.

Also exciting news blog-wise: I now have my own domain – Japangie.com! I had to buy a storage upgrade because of all the pictures I’m hosting on here and it came with a domain which is pretty cool.

For now lets mop up those bits and pieces from last month that have been sitting by waiting their turn for some attention. This will be a miscellany of temples, interesting buildings, Christmas lights and food, so I hope you enjoy some snapshots of what I’ve been up to.

紅葉 Autumn is Ending

Here are a few more pictures of the koyo (turning of the leaves) in Kyoto. This month was definitely koyo month for my blog – beautiful red leaves everywhere. Sadly it rained recently and most of the red leaves were blown away, so no more picturesque temples with autumn colouring I’m afraid.

These pictures were taken in the park nearby, by the Kamo River and near the Heian Jingu.

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 武道センター The Kyoto City Budo Centre

I came across this building on my way to Heian Jingu. I initially thought it was a temple and went in to check it out. It turns out it’s actually a dojo, and not only that but its the oldest martial arts training hall in Japan, built in 1899. At this dojo  you can train in most Japanese martial arts – Akido, Judo, Kendo, Karate etc. as well as ping-pong for some reason. Apparently they are pretty foreigner friendly (though they don’t speak English you’re still welcome to go) and offer one-off classes, so if you’re into martial arts you can train in a beautiful old dojo as part of your trip to Japan!

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 妙傳寺 Myoden-ji

This is yet another interesting building I found when I was wandering around Heian Jingu. This is a temple belonging to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, founded in the 15th Century. It has been rebuilt several times – monks from Enryaku-ji burned down Myoden-ji in 1536 as part of Tenbun Hokke no Ran which was basically a war between the three main sects of Buddhism in Kyoto. The Tendai monks burned down temples like Myoden-ji for their affiliation to Nichiren Buddhism (Nichiren Buddhism was in competition with Tendai for taxing the people and owning land). In the process they also burned down over half of Northern Kyoto and a lot of Southern Kyoto too. So much for the peaceful teachings of Buddhism…

The current Myoden-ji was built in 1708. I couldn’t find anyone to stamp my book (it was after hours) but I had a quick look around.

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御辰稲荷神社 Otatsu Inari Shrine

This small shrine is opposite Heian Jingu, and I don’t think it gets many visitors as everyone wants to see Heian Jingu instead. I decided to go in and have a look because I think even small shrines are interesting to look around. This is one of the many sub-temples dedicated to Inari, the god of foxes and rice (the god of Fushimi Inari). The temple did have a Shuin so I got my book stamped. As it is a smaller temple the stamp is very simple – just the name of the shrine, the word ‘worship’ and the date – no fancy calligraphy but still nice to remember the shrine.

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Papa Johns Cheese Cake Company

This is a small shop just behind Doshisha University’s Imadegawa campus. I love cheesecake so I was happy to find that we have a shop so close. The cheesecake was absolutely delicious and the shop itself feels cosy. I would recommend it if you are living in Japan and craving cheesecake. I really like fruit cheesecake so I got a banana slice and a raspberry one, both were superb. Yes, two slices, sometimes you just can’t decide, and maybe you shouldn’t have to.

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Cafe-Creperie Le Bretagne

I got some really nice crepes at this place in Sanjo Teramachi doori. They also have this creperie in France so you know its going to be good, though it is a little pricey for students (around 1500円, £8, for most of the dishes).  My crepes were scrambled egg, ham and some onion mustard. They were really tasty. I would definitely recommend this place if you feel like some non-Japanese food for a change.

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土支社エーブ Doshisha Eve

Japan really likes Christmas, or at least Christmas decorations. My university gave us 3 days off for ‘Doshisha Eve’, the university’s cultural fair where clubs create stalls and they get acts to perform to the students. I dropped by briefly but I was mostly doing other sightseeing stuff (like Kobe, or Kiyomizudera). The Christmas tree they’ve installed is pretty impressive and almost makes up for them making us go to class on both Christmas eve and Boxing day. Almost.

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花 Flowers

I have recently got a job at Tadg’s Gastropub, which serves hard-to-find foods such as decent fish and chips and chicken pot pie. They also do craft beer and ale, so it’s basically a perfect job for me. Last week we had a wedding party book up the pub and at the end they left us some of the flowers to say thank you. I got to take some home, they’re still alive even a week later! I hope the couple have a long and happy marriage.

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I hope you all had a lovely November and have sufficient jumpers to get you through the colder months coming up! Next month we’ll look at Christmas and New year in Japan, and if I’m lucky, maybe it’ll even snow!

京都御所 Following Imperial Footsteps

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go around Kyoto Imperial Palace – though usually closed to the public without prior appointment, the Imperial Household Agency opened up the palace for the Autumn viewing this week (30th Oct – 5th Nov). These viewings are infrequent (twice a year) so it was an opportunity not to be missed and was definitely worth seeing. The Imperial Palace or 京都御所 (Kyoto Gosho) is located in the Imperial Palace Park which happens to be right next to where I live. The park itself is beautiful, covering around 24 acres. Within it are two restricted areas – the Imperial Palace and the Omiya Palace (the palace for retired emperors and empress dowagers – today it is used as the official visiting residence when the Emperor visits Kyoto).

 This post may end up being somewhat of a history lesson as it concerns Kyoto’s past as the Imperial capital, hopefully you’ll find it as interesting as I do, though if not there are loads of pictures below. While I’ve studied Japanese history before I find we looked at specific events without pulling together a continuous narrative – by looking at one building’s history you can get a good sense of Japanese history as a continuous timeline and really appreciate how old Kyoto actually is. I’ll talk about the history in between the pictures as it breaks up an otherwise daunting wall of text. Also the pictures give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

The palace itself is beautiful with amazing gardens. I was given an English-language leaflet when I entered but it turns out that they have directly copied everything from the Wikipedia article on the palace – obviously  they’ve hired a lazy translator or they didn’t want to pay for one. The palace includes the buildings used for coronation ceremonies (only the current Emperor was crowned in Tokyo, the others were crowned in Kyoto) and the residences themselves. You can’t actually go inside any of the buildings but they have opened up the screens for the public to see. There are also beautiful stroll gardens that are worth the trip alone.

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The Kyoto Imperial Palace is no longer the residence of the Emperor; the Emperor moved to the capital Tokyo after the Meiji restoration in 1868 as he (in theory) was now in power. Prior to this the Emperor was based in Kyoto as a figurehead while the Bakufu (Samurai-based Shogunate) held government in Tokyo. Though the Emperor moved to Tokyo it is debatable how much power he actually obtained, however this marks the shift in Japanese history away from Shogunate-based government towards a government centred around the Emperor. The Meiji restoration in itself is fascinating and worth reading about as it is the birth of modern Japan – in order to understand Japanese history up to WWII you should probably start with the Meiji restoration and its causes.

Along with the opening of the grounds, there were also various displays of flower arrangements and historical artifacts. The sedan chair used by the Empress to travel from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1868 was on display; it took her 20 days to get there and the chair was pretty small – I doubt she was in a good mood when she arrived. The flower arrangements were incredible. I knew that flower arranging or 生け花 (ikebana) was an art form in Japan but I never realised how beautiful it was. These aren’t just picking nice colours and putting flowers in a vase – the Japanese pay attention much more to the form of the flowers and creating an overall structure as well as the colour scheme, making it more like painting or drawing with flowers.

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The Kyoto Imperial Palace is not the original building that was constructed in 794 – Japan has always suffered from fires and natural disasters and it burned down 6 times in the Edo period alone (a period spanning around 250 years). However, the palace has been faithfully reconstructed time and time again in the Heian architecture style (Heian period: 794 – 1185). Originally the palace was a ‘secondary residence’ of the Emperor but became used more and more frequently until it became the official Imperial residence in 1331 with the coronation of  Emperor Kogen. The palace was therefore the primary residence of the Emperor and the Imperial Court for 537 years.

The stroll gardens were also fantastic. A bit like the flower arranging the focus is on form and ‘nature’. I say nature in quotes because every tree and bush has been pruned to perfection, giving the impression of a garden that has grown exactly as it is meant to, as if all the trees and plants know the same rules and are following them. The bridges seemed to blend in with the nature, not standing out as man-made or out-of-place – the creation of a natural garden has also been taken to artistic levels.

P1010571P1010584P1010586 P1010595 P1010599 P1010602 P1010606 P1010612The architecture itself was impressive – hundreds of wooden supports underneath the roofs made them seem as if they were sitting on nests. The pattern of sliding doors and screens that went into the palace in layers showed how everything could be opened up or sectioned off to allow privacy. The screens themselves were beautiful and some appeared to be decorated with gold leaf. The Imperial Household Agency had also put up a number of figures wearing the clothes of the time to show what people would be wearing as they lived in the palace.

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Sadly I missed the opportunity to watch the ancient game of Kemari – basically a game of keep-me-up with a deerskin ball. Japanese nobles would try to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible using their feet, head, hands etc. The game was non-competitive but I can imagine it got pretty heated. They would play wearing traditional court clothes of the era – think large kimonos with long sleeves, hardly ideal sports attire.

My visit to the palace was actually pretty short – it took me about an hour to go round everything thoroughly. Despite it being quite a short tour I would strongly recommend it. Even if you are visiting Kyoto when the palace is shut you can book a free tour with the Imperial Household Agency – you just have to do it a few days in advance and you can book online in English.