Kyoto and Nara

So I arrived into Kyoto late on Sunday and in the evening I uploaded a whole bunch of stuff to Flickr which carried on after midnight and so in the morning I had a lie in and got up pretty late too. First I had a wander around town and went down one of the back streets that still had a traditional appearance (most of Kyoto seems to be an ugly concrete jungle.) and amazingly saw women in Kimonos on the street – unfortunately I didn’t ask them for a photo but it was good to see. After doing that and buying some water I had lunch and then headed over to the railway station to pick up something from the tourist information located there. The railway station building is actually quite pretty and has an enormous entrance though overall it reminds me of a half baked London Paddington. After I left the station I went to a camera store as my “developing world” camera is showing it isn’t well built and is already not working well this led to several surprises – first the Panasonic Lumix range is the same here in Japan as it is in Chile and the UK. I believe the same is true for the Canon range though they have different names here. Secondly there are some cameras with “new” features like autopicture taking when the target is still or smiling or something though it doesn’t work that well which seems to be like the barcode feature on Japanese phones. Thirdly a lot of the cameras seemed to be pretty difficult to use and unintuitive. Only the Lumix and Canon passed this and the Canon is really the better of the two.

After my visit to the camera shop I went to the imperial palace to arrange my palace tour for Wednesday before I headed over to the International Manga museum which was truly excellent. All the signs were in English and even if you aren’t really a fan it was still very interesting to see. They also had an exhibtion comparing Manga with French comics like Asterix. It seems that Manga has been around for several hundred years but came to life in the 19th century and it was influenced by English political cartoon Punch. The museum also currently is running as special exhibtion on the 1000 year old novel Tale of Genji which I really want to read.

On Wednesday I first had some admin and at 10am I headed off to Nara for the day. Once there I heads through the, frankly ugly, town centre to reach the interesting parts of town. First I had some lunch and then went to see the amazing temple complex Kofuku-ji. There was a small section of faded statues which you had to pay for which was disappointing as it was fairly expensive and technically you weren’t allowed to take photos. I’m not a fan of those rules as you are at some sites with seemingly no real reason and if its prevented they are usually the only sign in English at the site – maybe it’s a cultural thing though as there are never signs asking you to not use flash – even though disabling flash on every digital camera I’ve ever used is straightforward. After that I headed to Naras main sight the temple of Todai-ji which is the worlds largest wooden building and contains a similarly amazingly large giant golden buddha statue which takes your breath away. It is even more amazing that it comes from 800AD which makes the UK look like a young country in comparison. After seeing I explored the rest of the surrounding temples (at least from the outside) which were also beautiful before heading to the Nara national museum which contained further Buddhist statues and metalwork (much of which is actually of Chinese design) as well as a gallery on some of the ceremonies performed in Nara for the new year. I actually managed to pick up a local volenteer guide in one of the galleries who told me about the symbolism of the statues. Those with armour are guardians and that the Buddha statue had his hands in a certain pose compared to the Buddha in training to show he was boss – though the easiest way to tell was that the Buddha looked more confident. After this I returned on the train to Kyoto as it was dark and also very cold – I’ve been wearing my hat and gloves a lot here.

The next day I headed to the palace for my 10am palace tour. Even though I left 40 minutes ahead of time I only just made it on time for the tour but we had a wander around the palace grounds and the guide pointed out the sites in excellent English – I have lots of photos too. After that I headed into East Kyoto to see some more great temples and walk along the philosophers path to another temple which I didn’t visit as I didn’t feel it justified the standard ¥500 entry fee. I then walked onto the train station to head south to my second last stop of the day which was to an amazing temple called Sanjusangen-do this was probably the individual best temple in the city. It had loads of explantion in English and contains 1000 man sized gold statues as well as the 28 guardians of Buddhism including the 4 kings (the guardians of the east, west, north and south of Buddhism). To put the 1000 statues into perspective they are 6 deep and there are 5 or 6 along the front for each of the 28 guardians which are spaced about 2 metres apart. The only bad thing was that I only had 30 minutes before closing which wasn’t enough to do the place justice. I also didn’t get a photo of the whole hall as photography is banned.

Finally I went and picked up my “Christmas present” a new digital camera. This is my fourth camera of the trip but fortunately this time the camera just stopped working properly, the Lumix dwp-fs3 (developing world product and the model number fs3) isn’t up for the rigours of real-world use by me and didn’t “disappear”. I also changed allegence from the Panasonic lumix to the Canon Ixy 20 (I’m sure it’s also available in Europe though under a different model number) – down to Panasonic selling models with the same model number as those in the rest of the world but with only Japanese software -even though my Lumix does Japanese. In the evening I went to the hostel Christmas party which was OK but not that great.

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