Sunday, March 10, 2013

Strolling on a Kyoto Summer's Eve

With the weather currently still so cold in Kyoto town it feels a little odd to be posting about summer but that is a direct indication of  how far I am behind the 8 ball with sorting through my images.  

Spring is doing its thing in Japan right now and the Ume (plum) are blooming  - albeit much later than usual due to the long, cold winter the country is experiencing.  (did I mention I am green with envy?) The Sakura (cherry blossoms) will be smiling shortly and I'm craving a visit... fortunately I won't have to wait long... but I digress. As I tend to do. 

Sydney is moving into the slightly cooler weather of Autumn - thank God! I've made it through my first back-to-back summer experience - and concede that Kyoto feels about 20 times hotter and more humid than Sydney.  So in farewell to summers far and near I'm giving you a little taste of the more pleasant side of the season in Kyoto. In previous posts I have vented, in colourful detail, about  my extreme dislike for the incredible heat and humidity experienced from around June to end September in Kyoto's bonchi (basin) so it really is about time I say something positive. 

If I'm honest - the very start and end of  summer are bearable - I'm an Aussie and I can hack it (just) -  but July and August are slash your wrists intense. You will thank me for this warning - don't bother attempting to travel around Kyoto at that time of the year unless you are super hard core or have accommodation with excellent air conditioning and a swimming pool and don't mind living in a slick of your own sweat at all other times - or feeling as though you are going to collapse every few meters as you walk at a zombie like pace through air that is as dense as a swamp.  I did say I was going to report something positive right?... let me see..
It was August so there was no way we were heading out on an adventure at any time other than evening to visit the Gojozaka/Kiyomizu-yaki ceramic festival.  We started our walk at the gates of the Yasaka jinja above. I loved seeing dating young couples dressed in yukata (a lightweight cotton Kimono) - romance was definitely in the air.  Tick.
And that's my boy dressed in his colorful best - all in ode to the season of course - and Uniqlo!

 Looking back towards the city along Shijo dori (street) we had fun spotting the summer roof-top beer bars and watching the usually reserved locals letting their hair down. That's what summer is in Kyoto. It's too freakin' hot to pretend you are feeling fresh and breezy - you just have to drink enough ice cold beer to put you to sleep for the night!
As the sun sank into the mountains the light hitting the vermilion paint of the Yasaka Shrine drew us in like moths to a flame. 
Someone's happy. One of the most important parts of the summer festival is Obon (when the spirits of the dead return to earth to visit their families before being sent back on their way a few days later - the lantern light, floating candles and the bonfires of Daimonji and Co to illuminate their path) - for which fun (and supposedly spooky) seasonal lanterns like these above and below-were displayed along the cobbled streets leading to Kiyomizu Temple area. 
Some lanterns are just beautiful as they are - like this business signage which you can see all year round.
The sun continued to set but sadly it didn't get any cooler - it is a really good thing that Kyoto is so gorgeous....

A gorgeous old noren (split curtain) at a local restaurant
Sake vending machine - almost as important as beer
Rickshaws are popular around Kyoto tourist spots and let me tell you those boys are super-fit  - and often pretty cute. Some of the best -looking and friendliest menfolk in Kyoto are pulling rickshaws - a rather smart initiative on the part of the rickshaw business owners!
Local crafts, bags etc made with Kimono material 
Back out onto the main drag of Higashioji dori we came across the Rokudo Mairi festival (sign above) attached to the Rokudo Chinnouji temple - it marks the commencement of Obon so thought we'd better check out on route to the ceramics festival - it was only a minor detour after all.  And just slightly more important in the scheme of things.
Chinese lantern plant - in keeping with the lantern theme - very popular at this time of the year
Incense  - an important part of temple and home life in Japan
Wafting the incense plume over selves and written prayers for good luck, good health and happiness
Summer means Kakigori time - shaved ice drizzled with sweet syrups
It seems the flavour of the day is Ramune below ( Japanese lemonade)
Floral offerings
The festival continues on the street

More Kakigori - in flavours of strawberry, lemon, melon, grape, orange, apple, cola, black sugar etc
At a temple around the corner a mother shows her son how to get the gods' attention 
Up high I spot a family looking down at us... they all look scarily similar
Back on Gojo Dori (street) we finally reach our intended destination - the ceramics fair. It wasn't exactly what we were anticipating...
Hand cut gourd lamps above and freaky character soft toys and cushions below... not quite ceramics but fun to see anyway
Cold drinks, burgers and cosplay
Walking back towards home we came across the familiar sites and scents of Gion
The Kamogawa (Kamo river) was helpfully lit for strolling during Tanabata (the star festival) - and for spirit guidance ....
The lovely thing about summer's eves in Kyoto town is that you get to see people out and about, having fun and relaxing. During winter most people are tucked up in their homes quite early in an attempt to keep as warm as possible. 
Local buildings are strewn with bright lanterns
Come on - it's time to go home....
Or... maybe just one ice cold beer ( literally on ice) with a couple of delicious snacks from one of our favourite joints on Pontocho - Ajiro (Kushiyaki-ya and Obanzai - ie things grilled on sticks and Kyoto homestyle dishes).
Taro cooked in dashi, a mayonnaise dressed salad of cooked seasonal veg, fried eggplant
Who knew ice + beer could be so damn good. This particular variety is only available in Summer - it was slightly fruity and extremely refreshing. When I returned to the same place in autumn the beer was available in a new seasonal flavour - with slightly more spice in the mix. I LOVE that about Japan. There are enough people to manufacture a beer (or other food or liquor product) just for one season. 
Gobo - burdock in a sesame dressing
Excellent Chicken Karaage
Huge  and deliciousTsukune ( chicken meatballs - yakitori) 
Grilled Bacon and cheese ( bloke's choice...)
This curious medicine shop is on route to our place  - I am always completely fascinated with what's in the window and hadn't noticed until recently how very cheeky that monkey is...
Same to you buddy!
Skulls, snakes, snake eggs... you know that kind of thing...

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