Kyoto: Bamboo Forest & Gion May 2018

Sagano Bamboo Forest at Arashiyama is another highlight in Kyoto not to be missed.  It is an easy train ride from Kyoto Station to Saga Arashiyama Station on the JR Sagano Line and then about a 10-minute walk.   This bamboo grove is one of the most photographed places in Kyoto.  These bamboo forest paths are over 500 meters long and are set between Tenryuji Temple and Nonomiya Shrine.  It is especially nice when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth, making this peaceful sound which is a combination of trunks knocking together, wood creaking, and leaves rustling.  In fact, the Ministry of Environment has voted this as one of the “100 Soundscapes of Japan” which is a local initiative created to encourage people to get out and appreciate the natural wonders.  It is always crowded here and you have to tune out the sounds of camera shutters clicking and visitors chattering in order to enjoy the natural beauty.

DSCF0736Passing by small shrines along the way to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

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Adjacent to the bamboo grove is Tenryuji Temple which is the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism built in 1339.  Due to fires, most of the original temple buildings were lost and what we see today actually date from the Meiji Period (1868-1912).  However, the garden at Tenryuji was never destroyed and maintains its original form till today.  The landscape garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, trees, and mountains.  We were pressed for time to visit the Saihoji Moss Temple (talked about in my previous post) so didn’t make a stop here.

Back in Kyoto, we made our way to the traditional food market, Nishiki Market, also known as “Kyoto’s Pantry”.  The food stalls here mainly sell fresh tofu, Japanese pickles of all sorts, fresh and dried fish and seafood, as well as sweets, condiments, and skewers of yakitori.  There are over a hundred shops and restaurants here on this five block long shopping street.  I bought some very nice shichimi (7 flavored chili powder) and some yuzu and sesame dressing here.

DSCF0947Nishiki Market

DSCF0949All kinds of pickled vegetables

DSCF0952Fresh seafood and skewered yakitori

DSCF0956Tiny dried fish and other dried seafoods

About 15-minute walk away from Nishiki Market is Gion which is Kyoto’s most famous traditional entertainment district and is also known today as the geisha district.  Gion and specifically Hanami-Koji street or “blossom viewing lane” is worth checking out in the early evenings (around 5:30pm to 6:30pm) when the apprentice geishas or maikos appear en route to their appointments.  Other than catching sight of the geishas, the street is beautifully lit by lanterns with traditional teahouses called chaya lining both sides.  For geisha sightings, walk along Hanami-Koji Dori between Shijo Dori and Kennin-Ji Temple.

DSCF0963There are many restaurants with outdoor seating along Kamo River.

DSCF0999Enter the small alley parallel to the river and explore the many restaurants there.

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DSCF0968Heading towards Gion district

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DSCF0972Instructions for tourists because geishas often get chased down the street and harassed for photos by tourists.

DSCF0973Hanami-Koji Dori

DSCF0980Geisha heading to her appointment

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DSCF0981 (1)Geishas have their sash tied into a square knot in the back.

DSCF0985Geishas have white collars while maikos have embroidered ones featuring only red, gold, and cream colors.

DSCF0992Maikos or apprentice geishas usually wear these high wooden sandals called okobo.

DSCF0994Maikos have more colorful kimonos with their sash tied into a bow and extending to their feet.

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DSCF0989You can tell she is a maiko or apprentice geisha from her dress: high heeled wooden sandals, colorful kimono, her collar is embroidered red and cream, and she has more elaborate hair accessories.

DSCF0987Maiko on the go

Next post will be on the Otagi Nenbutsu Temple outside Kyoto with its 1,200 buddha statues.  Although I have visited Kyoto quite a few times, I have actually not heard of this place before.  It is a bit out of the way but definitely worth the trouble.  Stayed tuned!

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