Kyoto #2

January 1, 2007

December 24, 2006. After leaving Kyoto station I headed North to Higashi Hongan-ji and Nishi Hongan-ji (or East Hongan Temple and West Hongan Temple, if you prefer). Both were being renovated and all of the safety orange, scaffolding and heavy equipment detracted from the overall appearance. The interiors were impressive, but the lights were dim, and there were people there praying so I didn’t dare take any flash photos. As you can see in the first picture, there is a large white structure next to the temple which contains the main hall. The temple in the photo is immense, and I can only imagine the effect of the temple grounds in its pristine state.

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After the temples I went to Nishiki Market (sorry, no pics) which is a bustling arcade primarily occupied by food vendors. It was Sunday and the lane was packed with people (most of them tourists) gawking at the huge variety of fresh foods. Fruits and vegetables, fish, octopi, seaweed, tea, sweets and huge vats of miso were just a few of the sights and smells that made up the market’s vibrant atmosphere. One of my missions in Kyoto was to finish up my Christmas shopping, and I had a really fun time here squeezing through the crowds and looking for just the right thing.

My next stop was Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage sight that was built in 1603 for Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first in the long line of the Tokugawa shogunate and one of Japan’s most prominent historical figures. Within the castle walls are two palaces, Ninomaru and Hanmaru. Hanmaru Palace is the upper building which is closed to the public and was built in the mid 1800s to replace the original which was destroyed by fire. The main attraction however is Ninomaru Palace, and I must say it’s quite impressive. From the outside it’s not all that much to look at, but the dimly lit interior is filled with screen paintings, intricate woodwork and beautiful designs painted on the ceilings and walls. The floors in the main passages are ‘nightingale’ floors, designed to squeak and sing with every step. The effect of this with the hundreds of people walking around was a bit eerie in the dark and chilly building. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed, so you’ll just have to visit yourself to see what I’m talking about. However, there are some pictures below of the main entrance to the palace, the garden, and of Hanmaru palace.

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Before checking in to the hostel I stayed at I had a bite to eat at a soba shop that had been hand-making their own soba (buckwheat noodles) for over 300 years. They were good, but I’m really no connoisseur, so the steep 1000yen price made the experience a little disappointing.

Later that night I went out with a guy from Taiwan and a South African from the hostel. We wandered around a bit, stopped in for an 850yen (~$8 US) pint of Guinness at a super lame Irish pub, and eventually ran into a couple of English teachers at another bar who gave us the DL on the Christmas Eve nightlife. We ended up heading to a club called ‘Metro’, which was actually in a subway station on the Keihan line. We arrived just as the ‘Reggae Christmas Party’ was getting started. There was a 2000yen cover, which I thought was pretty steep until I realized there were two drink tickets included in the price. I was worried that it would be lame (Japanese reggae?), but much to my relief there was an extremely capable DJ spinning good dancehall reggae and the crowd was super hip and lively. My companions, however, were not. I sat with them for close to an hour in the back of the place trying to no avail to make decent conversation. Luckily, they left pretty quickly and the South African guy, Piter, gave me his drink tickets. I then went down into the thick crowd and danced my ass off until 3am. Around midnight the DJ made way for a live band that did a pretty good job but put on an energetic show and really got the crowd going. The subway had stopped running by time I left, so I had brisk and chilly walk across town back to the hostel where I fumbled as quietly as possible to make my futon in the dark dorm room before plunging into a happy drunk slumber.

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