Orange

SGMT —
On my first attempt to get to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, being a bit of an idiot I ended up 40 km away, in Nara. But I found my way to the shrine later that day.
*

SGMT Japan Kyoto Fushimi Inari 03

_
The distinctively orange torii gates of Fushimi Inari are paid for by companies or individuals — their names are etched on the back of the gate they donate. Torii gates in Shinto shrines usually mark the entrance to the shrine. In Fushimi Inari, there are two parallel rows of gates going uphill, a long procession of orange and black, shadow and sunlight.
*

Continue reading

Nara

SGMT — 
SGMT Japan Nara 01Dinner

 —
On my second day in Kyoto, I was feeling rather uninspired. There were still many places I hadn’t visited — including the infinitely Instagrammable Fushimi Inari shrine — but I was already having second thoughts about everything. I’d been to two lovely temples and they’d had all the “right” elements, all the things I’d wanted to see — temples, maples, a rock garden, a moss garden. But it all felt a little hollow.

It was my fault, really. I hadn’t done my homework — hadn’t read up on Japanese history and culture before I left the Philippines — and as a result I was having a mostly two-dimensional experience in Kyoto. At that point in my visit, I just wasn’t sure what I would gain from a trip to another shrine. More pictures? If that was all — if I was only going just for the sake of seeing it and adding it to the list of places I’d been to — it didn’t seem worth it. I wanted to be moved, to be engaged. I wanted to be surprised.

Which is how I ended up, accidentally, in Nara.

When I left my ryokan that morning, I figured I might as well go to Kyoto Station as it was a good jump-off point for wherever I eventually decided to go. And then, after dawdling over a reasonably priced buffet breakfast at Portal Cafe, I figured I might as well go ahead and see Fushimi Inari, if only because there wasn’t really anything else that particularly appealed to me. The train station right beside Fushimi Inari was only one stop away from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line — and I had a JR Pass, and time — so I figured I didn’t really have much to lose.

I made my way to Platform 8 and noticed — in the vague way one notices things one thinks are important but not too important — a sign that said: “For Inari, take a local train.” I got off the escalator leading down to Platform 8, saw a Rapid train waiting with its doors open, and got in.

Continue reading

Kodaiji Temple (Kyoto)

SGMT
SGMT Japan Kyoto Kodaiji Temple 04

 —
The Higashiyama ward is home to many temples and shrines. The Kodaiji Temple isn’t the most famous — that distinction goes to Kiyomizudera — but it’s also worth a visit if you are in the area. It was built in honor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a badass feudal lord in the late 1500’s whose list of accomplishments include (randomly): reunifying Japan, forbidding samurai from farming, forbidding farmers from owning swords, persecuting Christians, patronizing the arts, ordering his master of the tea ceremony (and one of his closest friends) to commit suicide, and attempting to conquer China by way of Korea (didn’t work). A complicated man, shall we say, but he was a peasant who worked his way to becoming Imperial Regent of Japan so…that’s something.

This is the main hall of the Kodaiji Temple.
*

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kodaiji Temple 01

_
Beside the main hall is Kodaiji’s rock garden — the raked gravel is intended to represent the ocean.
*

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kodaiji Temple 03

Continue reading

The seasons at Kiyomizudera Temple

SGMT –
There are iconic images of Kiyomizudera Temple — images of the World Heritage Site’s wooden platforms and graceful dark roofs wreathed in cherry blossoms or maple leaves — but you will not find them here. Other things caught my eye, other markers of the passage of time, and although they can’t quite be called iconic, these are some of my favorite images from my entire visit to Japan last November.

*
Past customs, honored.

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 11

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 01 Ema

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 02 Omikuji

*
The delicate present, savored.

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 09

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 12

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 06

*
And the future

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 08

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 03

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 05

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 04

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 07

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 10

…savoring the present too. Because no one should have to pay bills before their time. And because a heart full of joy and laughter and love is the thing one will need most in the years to come.
*


*
Where to Stay in Kyoto

How to get to Kiyomizudera Temple

  • From Kyoto Station, take bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 230 yen) to the Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop — 10-minute walk to the temple

 


*
stgmt_logo_18
The Seasons at Kiyomizudera Temple
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

 


 

Old Japan in the Streets of Higashiyama

SGMT
Narrow lanes, lovely temples, traditional Japanese architecture and…free food! Why you should stay in — or at least visit — Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward.
(Plus: where to stay in Higashiyama)

SGMT Japan Kyoto Gion 00

_
I didn’t know Higashiyama was one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts when I booked a 2-night stay at the Gion Ryokan Q-beh last November. All I knew was that a ryokan was a traditional Japanese inn and that Gion Ryokan Q-beh was both well-loved by previous guests and easy enough to access by bus from Kyoto Station. That Gion was the one place in Kyoto where one might reasonably expect to see a real-life geisha (or maiko) was a plus but not the main pull — I really just needed a good, cheap place to rest my head for two nights.

Gion Ryokan Q-beh turned out to be perfect. It was just a short walk from the Higashiyama Yasui Bus Stop but in an alley off a quiet road so it was peaceful. I stayed in the 8-bed female dorm room, which turned out to be spacious. There was a big common area in the middle of the room, and on each side were 4 compartments, two upper, two lower. Each compartment had a foam mattress, a small table, a bed light, a peg and hanger, an outlet, and a curtain — basically, it was like having your own little room within a room. Other room options include a mixed 10-bed dorm, twin/double rooms, and a family room. Bathrooms were shared, and the toilets were those Japanese toilets that spoil every other toilet in the world for you because of all its nifty tricks. Plus, the ryokan had this room with a big pottery bath that you can reserve a 30-minute timeslot for every night — it’s not quite an onsen, but still wonderfully hot and private, and perfect after a day of walking.
*

SGMT Japan Kyoto Gion Ryokan Q-beh 01

Continue reading

Tokyo’s Skyscrapers

SGMT
SGMT Japan Tokyo Skyline 03


If plans for the Sky Mile Tower in Tokyo are approved, it will become the tallest building in the world, with a height that will be twice that of the current champion, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. At a proposed height of 1600 meters — 1 mile, hence the name — it will be taller than even the Jeddah Tower, which is on course to be the world’s tallest once ongoing construction is completed. The Sky Mile Tower complex will be built in Tokyo Bay and will include such cool stuff as hexagon-shaped wave-breakers that will double as freshwater reservoirs and urban farming plots.
*

Sky Mile Tower - Tokyo, Japan

The proposed Sky Mile Tower | Image by TJ | CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading

Lake Kawaguchi: Fuji and Fall

.
SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 05 Logs and autumn leaves

.
The appreciation of fall foliage is serious business in Japan. Just as with cherry blossoms, there is an entire industry devoted to predicting when the leaves would start to turn where. In my case, I was going to be in Tokyo on the second week of November — not exactly peak koyo season in Tokyo yet — so I figured my best bet would be a day trip to Lake Kawaguchi and its famous maple corridor, Momiji Kairo.

Lake Kawaguchi — sometimes called Lake Kawaguchiko, or just Kawaguchiko, since the -ko already indicates that it is a lake — is one of five lakes at the northern base of Mount Fuji. (That area, in fact, is called the Fuji Five Lakes region or Fujigoko and is part of the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan.) Among the five lakes, Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access by public transportation and is therefore the one that is the most visited.
*

SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi 01

A bit of sepia before the color overload later

*
How to get to/around Lake Kawaguchi

_
From Tokyo, you can get to Kawaguchiko by bus or train, but the latter option is more complicated and — if I remember my research correctly — not cheaper even with a JR Pass. Take the bus.

  • From Shinjuku Station: Take a Fujikyu or Keio Bus from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (opposite Yodobashi Camera near the West Exit of Shinjuku Station) to Kawaguchiko Station (2 hours/1750 yen).
    *
  • From Tokyo Station: Take a Fujikyu or JR Kanto Bus from Tokyo Station (Yaesu South Exit) to Kawaguchiko Station.
    *

From Kawaguchiko Station, take the retro bus around Lake Kawaguchi.

  • A 2-day pass costs 1200 yen. (There is no one-day pass, unfortunately.)
    *
  • A one-time journey from Kawaguchiko to Itchiku Kubota stop is only 380 yen.
    *
  • Momiji Kairo is a 1-minute walk from the Itchiku Kubota Museum stop.
    *

Fuji-san! Fuji-san!

_
Being at the base of Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi is, of course, one of the best places in Japan from which to view its most famous mountain. That said, there are no guarantees: Fuji-san is famous for being a tease. I know quite a few people who have intentionally sought out Mount Fuji but had to leave Japan sans a sighting. Clouds are known to surround not just the summit but the bulk of the mountain itself and indeed, when I arrived in Kawaguchiko, I didn’t even know in which direction to look for Mount Fuji. I got off the retro bus, walked to the lake, and didn’t even realize there was a mountain — much less the mountain — almost directly across me. It was an overcast day; I had zero expectations of seeing Mount Fuji.

After about an hour of snapping maple leaves, though, a fellow tourist came up to me, speaking in Thai. Upon realizing I wasn’t, after all, a fellow Thai, he switched languages. “Have you seen Mount Fuji?”

I thought he was going to ask for directions so I said, “No, I’m sorry. It’s cloudy, I don’t think –”

“No, no,” he said. “Look!” He pointed.

And there it was: Mount Fuji, just above the roof of one of the buildings of the Itchiku Kubota Museum. Clouds still hovered over its summit but it was there — I just hadn’t bothered to look up. I guess that’s the problem with setting low expectations: sometimes you don’t bother trying hard enough, even though it would have just been so easy.

I walked back towards the direction of the lake, now keeping an eye on the snow-capped cone. In the middle of taking more shots of the fall foliage, I realized there was now only a thin cloud covering the summit of Mount Fuji…and that it was slowly moving away…and then…

“Fuji-san! Fuji-san!” I wanted to shout, only I wasn’t brave enough. (I was alone.) It didn’t matter. Barely a second after I caught my first glimpse of the summit, a group of Japanese tourists shouted it out for me. “Fuji-san!”
*

SGMT Japan Lake Kawaguchi Momiji Kairo 13 Mount Fuji framed by leaves

_
Continue reading