Japan Day 20

I was woken this morning by the sound of the rain pouring down against the windows in the corridor just outside my bedroom.  It was a nice way to wake up, and I’ll never get tired of looking out onto the balcony and first floor roof at the rain hammer down.

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As my schedule didn’t include any classes today I had already decided it was going to be a day off, technically I was meant to be doing more work around the house, but given the fact everything that can be done to this point has been, I’d already cleared it with the boss to take a day of exploration instead.

Part of my did think about staying inside and catching up on some tv series, but it would have seemed like a wasted day, so off to explore Kyoto in the rain I went!

On the journey into the city centre I decided that I would aim to hit three sites, Nishi Honganji, Nijo Castle and the Kyoto International Manga museum!

Nishi Honganji

Arriving at Nishi Honganji temple I wandered into the grounds through the massive entrance gates to find that the temple looked almost exactly the same as Higashi Honganji which had been the first temple in Kyoto I’d seen when I arrived.  It looked the same from the outside, the main building and even the layout and courtyard.

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Now to be fair the temples are only a city block apart, so maybe they were once part of the same complex, or maybe the relation in name suggests they are sister temples or something like that.  Funnily enough on my first day when I saw Higashi Honganji it had also been chucking it down with rain, though at least this time I was prepared with an umbrella!!

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The buildings and grounds were still impressive to look at, once again I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the interior though.  It was nice this time hearing the constant sound of the rain on the umbrella, and also the face I could take in the area and take pictures without being soaking wet.  After a looking around it was time to head directly North through rainy Kyoto toward Nijo Castle.

Njio Castle

Nijo Castle was high on the list of sights I wanted to visit, as it is according to some websites one of the best places to see in Japan, certainly in Kyoto.  On the way I picked up another vending machine coffee, this time Boss Triple Blend. (Honestly the vending machines are more fun than any big coffee shop chain), and took a minor detour through a fun rain filled waterway.

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The front entrance to Nijo Castle was actually completely covered in tarps and scaffolding for restoration work, but they had kindly put a photo up of what it usually looks like.  I paid my 600yen entry fee at a machine, handed the ticked to the lady at the gates, and through I went.

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The first part of the route led me through this very impressive looking entrance gate, despite it raining quite heavily there were still a lot of people around, pretty much umbrellas everywhere.  I then reached the castle building itself, where it was umbrella to be left at the gate, and shoes to be traded for flip flops time.

Nijo Castle Interior

Once again another location where you can’t take pictures inside, I guess due to flash photography having a long term negative effect on the things inside, so I understand it’s for preservation purposes.  However pretty much everything in the temple, from artwork to artifacts stated they were replicas, so I think only the building itself is original now.

The interior had quite low lighting, and you couldn’t freely walk around like in some temples, you couldn’t even go into any rooms.  A route was setup which you had to stick to, basically a corridor about five people wide bounded by the wall and a rope fence blocking off the rooms.  The rope fence was about a meter back from the room entrances, and only 2-3 sliding doors were open on most rooms, so disappointingly a lot of the time you couldn’t see much.

The other thing is due to the volume of people (and this is on a rainy day in off peak season), you end up on basically a conveyor belt of traffic, moving at the pace of the pack.  I’m still not sure how I found the interior part of the castle, it was great to see what I did, but part of me is still left feeling a bit disappointed at not really being able to go into the rooms.

Nijo Castle Gardens

Putting the interior aside, I would still highly recommended that you visit here.  And any reservations I had about the interior part of the visit were soon dropped when I started to explore the outside garadens.

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The grounds are huge, and show a variety of open grass areas, magnificent ponds and water features, cherry blossom trees, the massive wall surrounding the main compound and the superb view from a castle wall.  The castle itself looks great, and in the rain is impressive indeed.

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To my surprise most of the people that had left the interior building seemed to head straight for the exit and not the grounds.  Their loss and my gain as I had the gardens to myself and at most about 5 other people at any given time, another reason to go to some places in the rain!

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Walking through the grounds was great, I couldn’t hear or see any other people for the most part, just the sound of me and sound effects of the rain on various surfaces.  I passed a massive pond with a small waterfall, a fantastic ancient wooden bridge over the moat, which as with most bodies of water here, had massive koi in them, then proceeded through the enormous stone wall.

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From there I headed to the edge of the compound where I climbed up one of the corner towers on the wall, the view was incredible!

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I could see out into the city, the clear still water of the moat was a stunning site with the rain patterns on it, and the outer grounds had paths lined with cherry blossom trees, which had started to bloom.

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Turning back I got a view of the castle which made it more impressive still.

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I then headed back down and around the castle, crossing over a different side of the moat via another impressive bridge, don’t know why but these bridges have started to become one of my favorite sights.

I spent more time just walking around the gardens and appreciating how amazing they were, I might say this is the most impressive place I’ve seen in the city so far! Though Arayashima is still up there, and to be fair everything over here is impressive!!

The Kyoto International Manga Museum……sort of

Next up on my list was to hit the manga museum, I wanted to see it, and after a morning out in the rain it would provide a roof over my head for a few hours.  I headed off knowing the place was only a few streets away, only when I arrived I was met with closed doors, metal fences and a sign that said in English ‘Closed on Wednesdays’.  This was something I didn’t account for, it probably says online I’m sure, but I just assumed it would be open.

Journey To The East

I was now in the central northern area of the city and I’d already explored most sights around here, so I decided I would head out toward Heian Shrine in the west of Kyoto.  My aim was not actually the shrine itself, but to locate the Kyoto craft store next to it.

This is a place where you are able to pay to make your own unique item, such as a fan or glass pendent, something which I knew you needed an appointment for, but I wanted to go see some examples of the items before I decided which one to book for.

I ended up walking about 4.5km across the city to get there, it was a nice walk in the rain.  I intended to pickup some food from some street vendors but I didn’t have any change, and would have felt bad expecting them to have change from a 10000 yen note for a purchase of about 200 yen.

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On the way I passed by the impressive city hall, crossed the river then arrived at the back of the shrine on a road that contained not only the craft centre I was looking for, but also a really cool sword shop.

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Knowing I couldn’t exactly afford a real sword, or for that matter easily take it back through customs, I just looked before moving into the craft center.  In the craft center all of the staff spoke English as well as Japanese which made asking for examples a lot easier on my part.  I browsed over the various items, there was a option to paint and make your own fan, wood block paintings, a glossed glass owl pendent, a ‘real’ gold and silver pressed pendent and a few other things.  I’ll book an appointment but I’m still undecided on which to go for, I want to make an amazing gift for a friend so I’m trying to decide what she’ll like best.

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I then headed back home, I’ll be going back to explore Heian Shrine another day.  Heading home I had to take a subway line that I’d not used, but successfully managed to ask in Japanese which train to take.  I then did a couple of house of painting to say I’d at least done some work today, before heading off to the local amusement park where I won a giant Pikachu on the crane machines!!!

The staff where great, as a lady kept coming up to show where to aim for, when I won it she came up ringing a bell and congratulating me, and by that time I’d somehow gained a group of people watching me who clapped and cheered when I finally won it! It was a very strange but really great experience!

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