Seeing Kyoto under a Different Light

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

January 11 – 12, 2014

Photo set on Flickr 

22 hours is a very short amount of time, especially for Kyoto, one of the world’s best travel destinations. That however was all the time we got between our overnight trip to Kinosaki Onsen and our flight back to Hong Kong. Instead of trying to cramp as much as possible into this limited time frame, we instead picked and chose a few things that we missed out on our last visit five years ago.

Our slower pace allowed us to see more of Kyoto the city. We didn’t have to bounce around the city’s four corners all day long like last time, exhausting ourselves seeing many of the main sights. Our familiarity of Kyoto is growing but we remain captivated by how much more there is to explore in the ancient capital.

Already I am thinking of visiting Kyoto and Osaka again later this year for some of the slightly out-of-the-way places like Uji and Koya-san. Also on my list are restaurants like Fujiya 1935 and Gyuho. So much for my pledge of not visiting Japan too often because it is too easy.

Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺)

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji is a tricky subject to photograph. Good lighting is always essential, but some subjects allow you to get away with less than optimal condition. Not so with Kinkaku-ji. Instead of a sharp golden hue, poor lighting will turn the temple’s iconic exterior into the colour of Dijon mustard.

We got to Kinkaku-ji at the perfect time, just as the sun was shining directly upon the temple. Since Kinkaku-ji is not one of my favorites, I am glad the shots turn out fine and I can devote my time to elsewhere next time.

Nishiki Market (錦市場)

Nishiki Market

Compares to the other seasons, Kyoto is much less crowded in the winter. Nishiki Market, otherwise one of the busiest place in the city, was mostly empty during our morning visit. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, the market takes the form of narrow alley that stretches across five blocks. All kinds of local specialties were on sale, such as pickled vegetable, seafood, wagashi, roasted chestnut, matcha, oden and an assortment of fruit and vegetable.

The food wasn’t cheap. We bought a small bag of chestnut for ¥1,000, a box of matcha mochi for ¥500, two pieces of oden fish cake for ¥1,600, two pieces of daifuku (mochi stuffed with red bean) for ¥500 and two unagi-don for ¥3,800. The daifuku and unagi-don were worthy of their price tags; I wouldn’t try the others again.

Gion (祇園)

New Year Street Market, Gion

I find Gion overrated – its shops sell mostly the same souvenirs. A high concentration of very good kaiseki restaurants do seem to populate the area (according to Tabelog), but we had already blown our budget in Kinosaki Onsen. Just when we were about to leave, a sign on Hanami-kōji (花見小路) led us to a bustling street market two blocks west on Yamato Oji-Dori (大和大路通). From what I understood by reading the banners, this new year year market would last from January 8 – 12.

The food, just like Nishiki Market’s, wasn’t cheap. We spent ¥300 for a pork bun, a whopping ¥400 on an ear of corn and another ¥600 on a dish of stewed beef.

Kyoto Ebisu Shrine

We followed the crowd and eventually arrived at Kyoto Ebisu Shrine (ゑびす神社). Ebisu is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune in Japanese mythology, and a large gathering of people were lining up to either pray or purchase good luck charms.

I spent half an hour taking photos and soaking in the convivial mood. Funny how being on the road would alter one’s behavior – I always avoid Hong Kong’s jam-packed Chinese new year festivities like the plague.

Sanjūsangen-dō (三十三間堂)

Tōshiya, Sanjūsangen-dō

Every new year on the second Sunday, just ahead of the Coming of Age Day, an archery contest called Tōshiya (通し矢) takes place at Sanjūsangen-dō. Seemed like this was a big deal as posters of this event were everywhere in Kyoto, so we gave it a look before heading to the airport.

Admission was free (normally ¥600) to the main hall, which houses 1,000 human-sized and a three-meter tall wooden Kannon (觀音) statues. Hundreds of people were lining up to get inside, not because of the statues, but for the Rite of the Willow (柳枝のお加持), where a monk performed a ritual to cure headache by sprinkling water onto the worshippers with a willow branch.

Outside the hall was an even larger gathering of participants and onlookers for the archery contest. The participants, most of them dressed in kimono, are about to turn 20 years old in the coming year, thus “coming of age” in becoming adults. The contest last from 9 am to 4 pm, with the men competing in the morning and the ladies in the afternoon. So thick was the wall of spectators it was impossible for us to find any opening with a clear view of the field.

Time was running out on us – instead of digging in deeper trying to find a spot we opted to go grab some breakfast.

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