Thursday, September 16, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 5: Kyoto Walking GT...

Kicking out a bit later than I hoped, I grab breakfast from a little coffee shop just down the road and around the corner I spotted while wandering the open air mall yesterday and head down the road on foot for Nijo Castle.

Designed by the Shogun as his personal castle, the main building of this fortress is famous for it's so called "nightingale" floors which were added by the Shogun as a security measure out of paranoia. They cause "squeaks" as people walk across them to alert guards to uninvited intruders. It's a large complex with inner/outer walls and moats to secure the Government and an inner Keep in which the Shogun could retreat to if attacked. The outer walls are interesting for being covered with steps on the inside, so archers and defending forces could attain the top of the wall quickly, and sheer rock faces towards the outside. At one lookout point, I'm able to grab a nice half-panorama of the mountains/hills surrounding Kyoto and pictures of the buildings and gardens but no images of the building interiors themselves as photography is banned.

One thing that's nice here as I move on and make my way to the Kyoto International Manga Museum is being inland and having less overall humidity. I decide to skip transit entirely and just keep walking. Arriving at the Museum, I find a rather interesting depository of just about anything you'd want to read - if you could read Japanese. There are some good side displays though and it's worth walking through just to say you've been there and maintain geek cred. A good amount of the collection comes from private collector who operated a rental library of books until he retired in 2005 and there's a stated 300000 manga on site though only 50000 are available on shelves to be read at any given time.

I spend about an hour wandering the place and checking out a few exhibitions on site before heading north to go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I stop at a McDonalds on the way 'cause I'm in a hurry and grab a Salt and Lemon Chicken Sandwich then head off to find the Imperial Household Agency information centre to get "permission" to visit the Palace proper - a process that involves them verifying your passport and likely pulling up your name to see if any red flags go off. That done, I get a pass to go on a 1 hour tour of the grounds. This is only possible because, unlike the Palace in Tokyo, the residences have not been occupied by the family since the chair was moved.

The castle itself is a large complex with containing multiple buildings which all feature cypress bark roofs that require replacement every 30 years and take 25 years to all replace across the entire selection - at huge expense. There's an area where one part of the building has just been completely replaced and another is due for replacement where the contrast between the two states is quite evident:

There's also a display of a cross section showing how these roofs are constructed - 10 layers deep connected with bamboo nails which won't rust:

The tour continues on past multiple buildings and gates until you reach an inner Japanese garden: which focuses more on landscaping and water features as a means to reflect the beauty of the islands or specific areas than flower arrangement.

An hour later, as I move on I realize I've cocked this up a bit and probably could have had time to hit some of the outer shrines today that require train travel and still done the core buildings on my get away day. The simple reality is that it would be quite easy to leave your bags at Kyoto Station or Karasuma Oike subway station in the core, grab a subway day pass, and jump quickly between those first three in a few hours in the morning/early afternoon because, even walking, they're all about 20-30 minutes apart. Just remember that, to make the 10 AM Palace tour, you need to get there 40-30 mins ahead of time for clearance. Adjusting a bit, I decide to move the Kyoto History Museum to tomorrow since it's 2 blocks from my hotel and I want to burn some time here before heading back to Tokyo right away since check out is 10, check in is 4, and there's only 2:30 hours needed for the train trip. Instead, I take off for the Kyoto Crafts centre where I grab a gift for... someone to be determined depending on what else I find and move on to some of the Eastern shrines. Though, to be honest here for a sec... Kyoto is full of temples and shrines. If you seriously, absolutely, without a doubt have a craving to OD on Temples and Shrines... Kyoto. There's so many, they don't even all make the tourist map and you'll be wondering if you've gotten where you were going early until you read the sign telling you you've tripped over something you weren't even looking for.

That said, I make my way to Ginkakuji Temple, grabbing another panoramic video of the east side of town as a cross the main viaduct that divides it, and find it sadly closed for the day after 5. So, I proceed down the Philosopher's Path trail (so named because of it's winding path alongside a particularly tranquil riverside surrounded by Cherry Blossom Trees between multiple eastern temples and shrines where individuals would go to be alone with their thoughts), for a bit scavenging shots of a few more temples and shrines that aren't walled off along the way. Come across a small playground that's made of metal and has some rust on it... Quick - someone call the community parent's association and also find out from our city insurer's how much this is costing us!!! Think of the Children!!!

Yes, I am mocking our local tendency to destroy the same playgrounds we grew up on because they're suddenly no longer "safe" for this generation of kids.

Once I had enough wandering, I made my way south east, back to the area where the Sushi place I wanted to hit was supposed to be hiding with better directions this time, passing a museum for a former canal system and the remainder of the construction along the way.

Further on, I poke my head inside a book store to find... the entire place full of Manga compilations and people reading. Heading on and finding my way into the Sushi place this time, I grab a set dinner with a variety of Sushi, some Tempura, and fresh fish sampler and see what there is to see. It's all pretty good, though what I take home from it is that Squid/Octopus is far too spongy/rubbery for my liking and the wasabi here is like taking one quick jet of drano up your sinuses. It's not bad to start, then it just hammers your nostrils/back of your throat with how strong it is once wet and exposed to air in your mouth. It's all good though.

That done, a little wandering through the shops gets followed by me calling it a day...

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