About two weeks ago, my family and I went to Japan for the first time and spent 8 wonderful days in the Land of the Rising Sun. Great food, uncommonly kind people and a fascinating culture greeted us there. I tried to learn a little Japanese from some short videos on Youtube that Craig had sent me before our trip (you can watch them here). After watching 11 of these mini lessons, I was feeling quite excited to try my newbie Japanese out. I have a feeling that because of watching all those anime shows with my brother, I have a pretty good Japanese accent (but that just might be me thinking too much of my language skills!) So, with my limited Japanese vocabulary in tow, and with dreams of sushi and ramen, we left for Japan ready for an adventure!
We landed in Tokyo (東京) a good 10 hours after taking off. While most people will think this a torturously long flight, my brother and I thought, “Wow, this is quite a short trip to get to Asia. We should come to Japan more often!” This is of course because we’re used to flying 15 straight hours to Hong Kong before the short 80-minute flight to Manila every time we go back home to the Philippines. That’s 6 hours less spent on an airplane, 6 hours more time spent exploring a new locale!
I can’t quite describe the atmosphere in Tokyo but it was pretty spectacular coming out of the west side of Tokyo Station (東京駅) that night. It must also have been the exhaustion of being in an airplane and then the Narita Express for so long, but looking up into the black sky dotted with skyscrapers with a 1914 building as our backdrop, it seemed magical. (I just looked up the date on WIkipedia and what do you know, Tokyo Station’s doors officially opened on December 20, 1914, same day as my birthday!) My first glimpse of Tokyo felt modern but with an air of tradition that was hard to place. We were definitely not in New York, but I liked it.
My favorite part of our Japan trip though was not the days spent in Tokyo but rather, our short 3 days in Kyoto (京都). Tokyo has its quirks and metropolitan conveniences, but Kyoto had old-world charm and an aura of history that doesn’t seem to fade even with modernity slowly creeping into the city. Somehow it felt like it had frozen itself in time just so we could sneak a peek at what it was like hundreds of years ago. Occasionally you’d spot a maiko or geisha walking around as if floating on air. They really will make your head turn, and this is coming from a fellow girl. I’d imagine a guy’s head would whip around much faster! *laughs*
Here are a couple shots from our first day in Kyoto. It was raining softly the whole day which made the walk we had planned slightly more challenging. Having to carry around an umbrella while snapping photos and stopping into all the quaint souvenir shops along the way was quite a juggling act. It did give Kyoto a moody, mysterious gray tint that made me feel even more like I had gone back in time.
Mother and son walking along the stone-paved roads leading from Yasaka Shrine to Kiyomizu Dera
Stopped at Tessai-do to look at some Japanese wood block prints (ukiyo-e).
Most of these wood block prints are 70 years old or older, but the wood blocks they were printed from are much older at around 200 years. We really liked the work of Hiroshige Utagawa whose work is in the box that my mom’s looking through in the photo and we ended up buying two prints from his Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido series. Turns out he’s considered the last great master of the ukiyo-e tradition. I guess we have a good eye for this stuff! *laughs* We came back and picked the prints up later that afternoon on the way back to our ryokan, Gion Hatanaka, so they don’t get drenched after a long day of sightseeing in the rain. When we get them framed I’ll take a picture and share them here too.
There were lots of little shops dotting the stone-paved roads to Kiyomizu Dera. Some sold kawaii Japanese souvenirs, others tea sets, others handheld wooden fans that could sell for as much as $500, others still just sold Japanese sweets or yakitori/kushiyaki. Their presence made what should have been a 20-minute journey last two hours instead! My brother was not so happy about that, there were distractions for the girls in the family left and right *laughs*
Kodai-ji Temple (高台寺)
If you’d rather not walk, you can take these instead!
I would venture to guess that this woman was actually a tourist wanting to experience Kyoto in traditional garb. There are actually places where you could get a maiko makeover done and proceed to go around town in a kimono with your hair all done up. We didn’t have the time or the energy to do that, but we saw quite a few Chinese couples walking around like that. Seems like a fun thing to try out the next time we’re in Kyoto.
Part of the Kiyomizu-dera complex
An intricate lantern at the main hall
Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) affords great views of Kyoto (it was a bit cloudy when we were there though, whoops!)
Perched atop a hill, the Kiyomizu-dera is a feat in Japanese joinery. Not a single nail was used in the entire structure when it was built! Mind-blowing considering how big this structure is!
That night we ventured to Ponto-cho, a narrow alleyway running parallel to the river that was filled with all kinds of restaurants. We had a hard time deciding which one to walk into but settled on this one on the left instead because of those giant leeks! *laughs* We had amazing sukiyaki though, with tons and tons of, you guessed it, leeks on top!
I don’t think my pictures do the whole experience justice, but at the very least they’re glimpses into the many things we saw in Kyoto. And that’s only the first day!