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KYOTO / NARA / OSAKA
We left for Kyoto on the mid-morning shinkansen and arrived in time to walk to our Airbnb, drop our bags and visit NIJO-CASTLE, a world heritage site and home of the last shogun.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The next day we were treated to an extraordinary day of hospitality and generosity, led by our host Kenjiro (a professional graphic designer and world-class host), who met us early in the morning at our Airbnb and took us on a whirlwind tour of some of the major sites in and around Kyoto.
We visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha (the head shrine of the god Inari – appearing throughout the grounds as a fox – one of the forms Inari is believed to take) to walk among the orange Torii leading to the outer shrine that reminded me of The Gates installation by the Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude (known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude).
After our walk around the temple grounds, Kenjiro treated us to a sumptuous multi-course meal at the Yudofu Sagano that literally blew our minds and filled our bellies with its delicious signature dish, an Arashiyama Buddhist specialty: yudo (chunks of tofu simmered in broth).
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Next we took a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove trying hard to capture shots that conveyed the cathedral-like effect of the bamboo trees towering overhead. The images, despite the use of a wide-angle and studious attempts to shoot in the brief pauses between crowds of walkers, don’t really do the space justice.
Leaving the grove we grabbed a cab and took in views of the famous KINKAKUJI, which photographed well even against the greying, slightly rainy skies.
Walking beneath a slightly broken umbrella, after another cab ride into town, we walked one of the main shopping streets in Kyoto, capturing a few fleeting images of kimono clad women walking in pairs and groups along the avenues, as we made our way to our sushi dinner destination which ended with even fuller bellies and ample consumption of sake.
International Manga Museum
The next morning we visited the International Manga Museum which will be of great interest to genuine manga fans, and perhaps a little less to those lacking that particular knowledge. There are some fun activities for kids (getting a manga caricature done) and it’s worth a wander through for no more than an hour. (Alas, another site that restricts photography so the only shots available were from the temporary exhibition space that was on the pictographic language of manga)
As always, our footsteps were guided by our stomachs and we found our way to the warren of streets that is the Nishiki Market where we enjoyed snacking on the local speciality: takoyaki (ball-shaped bite-sized snacks made of a wheat flour-based batter and rapidly cooked in a special molded pan, filled with minced octopus and areas much fun to watch being made as they are to eat).
We had booked (pun intended) a traditional book-making, hands-on lesson for the afternoon, which was was another great hit with all of us (adults and kids alike). Our hosts (www.maniman-kyoto.com) were superbly hospitable, knowledgeable and patient and guided us through every step as we made our own journals covered in silk from vintage kimonos.
On our last day in Kyoto we made to the famous restaurant floor of Kyoto Station (9 restaurants to choose from) and had our first experience of okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake you cook yourself on an open hot griddle right at your table.
We visited Nara in the morning, feeding (and being chased by) the local deer, touring the famous Todoji-ji and successfully squirming through “Buddha’s nostril” (a carved hole in the base of a column, said to be the same size as the nostril of the large seated Buddha statue in the Todoji-ji, which, if you are able to fit, you gain enlightenment after passing through).
We completed our brief visit with a walk through the beautiful Yoshiki-en (a Japanese garden that we were able to visit almost entirely to ourselves as it was towards the end of the day and most other sites had closed access).
Osaka, famous for its food and its brightly lit Dotonbori neighbourhood, was another visual and gastronomic treat. Here we were again treated by our generous hosts, Masaru and Nobuko, who planned out a day for us visiting the Osaka Tower (Tsutenkaku), a walk through Dotonbori, sushi lunch and a stroll through Osaka Castle’s blooming plum orchard before a visit to the castle itself.
That night we went local and ate a tempura restaurant using our phones to communicate with our host who made us a series of tempura dishes, translating each one for us with his phone.