Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kiyomizu Spring Fling

Just a few days ago I arrived back in Sydney after viewing the tail end of Kyoto's spring blooms. We planned to miss the Sakura (cherry blossom) peak so arrived the evening of 14 April - just for a couple of weeks. It was still pretty busy but nothing like the crowds would have been just a week or two prior. That is crazy making time. Of course the season's peak is extremely beautiful, and lovely to view in person at least once but you need to really enjoy the feeling of being packed like anchovies to do it on an annual basis.

Here is a visual journey of a walk we took around the Kiyomizu temple area in Higashiyama. 
Instead of using the main street upto Kiyomizu dera I like to start from Gojozaka - walking up through the gravesite (nishi otani mausoleum) which runs along the street to the right of the main drag. 
You first walk past a pond on your right before arriving at the above temple which is often overlooked  - but worth a quick peek as it is nice and quiet... not to mention handsome. 
As you keep walking up the incline it will begin to look like this:
You will come across several other small temples worth a gander through the front gates...
And as the path opens up you'll come across a truly spectactular site - this is just a hint, but do go see it for yourself.
Leaving the mausoleum you will have reached the western edge of the temple complex - walk a little north to reach the front gate
But don't forget to stop for a snap in front of the blossoms if it is spring!
You can't miss the vermilion gates that lead you to the temple ticket counter
purification ....
Once through the ticket gates you will come to the main hall of this temple  - a huge wooden structure held together without the use of nails... 
Buy yourself a stick of incense, light it, make a wish and make sure you drag the smoke over any part of your body which is ailing... a sure cure apparently
View from the top, overlooking those taking the magical waters from the mountains above - excellent brain tonic for those about to sit for an exam so you often see school kids lining up to whet their whistles! But anyone can partake - be blessed by the water gods!
Refreshment stop below
The camellias are stunning at this time of the year but being there are 300 or so species of camelia in Asia there are of course beautiful variations around in autumn and winter too!
I did say it was spring right? Love was certainly in the air.....
After leaving the temple we braved the crowds of the main temple dragway and I stopped for a Matcha Latte (with fake cream.. sigh) at the cafe above my favourite ceramic shop on the strip to take travellers - while others made purchases.....
Don't you just love the retro vibe? I sat by the window so I could people watch as I waited. 
A few steps further down the slope and I was once again waiting while purchases of ceramics and woodblock prints were being made... I spent some time getting to know the local Tanuki (raccoon dogs) - they didn't have much to contribute to the conversation and some seemed to be rather uncomfortably dressed in ninja outfits... the look of the season according to my niece and nephew.
We took a right off the path onto Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, two sets of stone stairs that connect to pretty streets lined with shops and eateries. Legend has it that if you fall on the stairs you will acquire either 3 or 2 years bad luck (and possible death...)- so watch your step. The story is.. you can't be too careful.
Instead of taking the second set of stairs (which lead you north) on this day we took a slightly alternative route which is often more free flowing (and a little less touristy although it is catching up)..  you will know if you are heading down this route (facing west) if you see the pagoda below:
Keep walking in this direction and in a few minutes you'll find a small shrine on your left, very popular for having your photo taken in front of  - often I see fake Maiko here .. it makes a colourful shot. 
As you can see  - this young couple are making the most of spring by getting hitched. And having their pic taken in front of said shrine of course.. Aw Kawaii!
We took a laneway to our right  (ie directly opposite the shrine entrance) where there are a few new cafes popping up - this place above and below was once only used for wedding receptions/special occasions but is now open to the public. Rather gorgeous but it seems a little overpriced. 
At the end of the street we headed back around to see a little bit of the ninenzaka strip we missed and had a bite of lunch at one of the newer Omen branches (see Kodaiji shop - the original branch is near Ginkakuji and there is also one on Shijo street just near the entrance to Pontocho).  And it was good! Simple, fresh and delicious - the signature noodles with dipping sauce and toppings, tempura and grilled chicken with sansho pepper to share.
Tourists dressed up as Maiko... you see a lot of this around the Kiyomizu precinct. The old streets are so photogenic - where else would you have your photo taken if you spent hours getting made up and frocked in traditional garb? And btw, if you can't tell a pretender from a real Maiko - then most of your friends won't be able to either so feel free to shoot away and impress all with your 'maiko' snaps when you get home!
After lunch we continued walking north along the path that runs along the edge of the eastern mountain range towards Maruyama Kooen (park). 
If you are not bothering anyone it is worth taking a quick peek into private entrance ways... so much joy  to be found in tiny pockets
We stopped in at Entokuin temple once the home of Nene - the wife of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. You can't take photos of the spectacular screens inside the house (but you can see them in the previous link, no justice is done to them however!) but the garden is quite lovely as you can see.  Worth a visit.
We zipped up to Maruyama park and Yasaka shrine after dragging ourselves away from the best matcha ice cream stall in town...
Then back to the hotel for a wee restette before dinner. 

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