All posts tagged: Japan

Shirakawa Gion // Kyoto’s Most Beautiful Street

If you are a traveler from overseas on a tour group, tour guides might skip this part of Kyoto and head straight to the busy hub of Gion (祇園) for shopping and food. Dubbed by locals as Kyoto’s most beautiful street, Shirakawa (白川) is a few minutes’ walk from central Gion and the Hanamichi (花道小路) area. It is off the beaten path, and there seemed to be no sight of other tourists when we visited it. The street runs into a Y-shape, with a little shrine situated at the intersection. This little red shrine, like the Yasaka Shrine, was frequented by geishas living in that area. And by our lucky stars, we caught a happy couple taking their wedding photos at this picturesque place just when we reached it. A babbling stream runs through this street with shops, restaurants and tea houses lining one side of it. On the other side, you see willow trees, cherry blossom trees and Japanese maple trees. The majestic willow trees were indeed a sight. Their long strings of leaves …

Shopping in Gion // Buys that are uniquely Kyoto

One place that no tourist would miss in Kyoto is spending an evening in Gion (祇園) – a place best known as the district where geishas reside, entertain, wait to be ‘rescued’ by their patrons, and where maikos learn their art while serving the needs of their bigger sisters. And if you have read or watched ‘Memoirs of the Geisha’, a visit to Gion must be in the cards. There is much to do here – shopping for scarves and superbly made canvas totes, having kaiseki dinner (懐石料理) in the famous geisha quarters at Hanamichi (花道小路), exploring the most beautiful street in Kyoto near the babbling brook of Shirakawa (白川), and watching the sun set over Gion Shrine (八坂神社 / 祇園神社). To leisurely enjoy the sights and experiences that Gion has to offer, I would suggest heading to Gion in late afternoon to get some shopping done, and then enjoy a stroll to catch the sun setting over Shirakawa and Gion Shrine, before dinner at one of those nostalgic restaurants along Hanamichi which will bring …

Yuzu Ramen at Eitaro // Hidden Gem in Kyoto, Shijo

Did I share that I simply love the taste of yuzu (ゆず、柚子) ? From yuzu vinegar to yuzu fruit, yuzu sake to yuzu cakes, I’ve tried it all! Naturally, when I hear that there is a shop in Kyoto serving yuzu ramen, I had to go try. I was already imagining how such disparate flavors would combine – one is obviously a fruit! I arrived at Eitaro (英多朗) at 11am, when the shop opens and way before the lunch crowd hits. The shop exterior is not eye-catching and one could have easily missed it. So, here’s a picture to help. Eitaro is a small ramen shop and does not have a lot of seats, so it was good to get there early. Of course, I ordered the yuzu ramen (ゆずラメン) at ¥700 (approximately S$9 – S$10). When the bowl of piping hot noodles was served, the refreshing whiff of the citrus fruit  greeted me first before the fragrant chicken broth started mingling with its fruity accent. You can either squeeze the mini yuzu fruit or …

Nijo Castle // 二条城

Nijo Castle (二条城) is the first castle I visited in Japan. Situated in Kyoto, this Castle is famed for its “nightingale floors” (鴬張りuguisubari) found in the corridors of Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿 Ninomaru goten) – a National Treasure that one has got to see, and in this instance, hear in order to experience how it must have been like to live in the 16th century where shoguns ruled the day. The Castle was built upon the order of the 1st Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) in 1603. It was completed during the reign of the 3rd shogun, Iemitsu, in 1626. The Castle served as the Tokugawa shogunate’s center of power in Kyoto. Teamed with the dramatic, stormy skies that day, Nijo Castle appeared like it came right out of a samurai movie. I could almost envision ninjas darting across roofs in a silent attempt to assassinate some officials. This white building, found at the corners of the Nijo Castle, is probably where guards would station themselves to look out for possible attacks. A wide moat surrounds …

Shinsen-en // Garden of Divine Springs

Shinsen-en (神泉苑) or Garden of Divine Springs is a surprise discovery, en-route to Nijo Castle. I was a little lost, walking a long way from Nijo Station and not seeing the castle, I wandered into Shinsen-en hoping to get some directions from the kind-looking locals sitting in the shade. I was really glad that I did. This is one of those moments I will always love during travels – not really planning, and stumbling upon a beautiful place or a hidden corner that was not as widely-written as those on my itinerary. In all sense of the experience, a discovery of a hidden treasure. It is after seeing this beauty that I did some research after I returned from Kyoto. The crimson bridge will catch your eyes when you first enter Shinsen-en. Hosei Bridge 法成橋 has an elegant curved line, which reflects perfectly in the pond surface, where its strong vermilion seems to quiver with every ripple and every wave. The azaleas shrubs along the length of the pond made mirror images on the pond …

Katsura River // Arashiyama

Before I left the bamboo forest, I met a local elderly man who was sharing that beautiful view with me. He kindly advised me to hike to the halfway mark at Arashiyama Park (嵐山公園) for a good vantage point of the rolling hills and the Katsura River (桂川). After a slippery hike up a pathway of big, smooth rocks, I had a misty view of the Katsura River, meandering through the mountains with a few huts lining the shore. A few lungful of fresh air made me understand what the Japanese meant by 空気美味しい (translated as the air is very delicious). I made my way down Arashiyama Park and passed little spots of tranquility. If only I could read all those difficult Kanji. Japanese maples provided the perfect canopy for my walk down, letting slivers of the gentle sunlight through. Last night’s rain and the morning dew made their leaves a fresh green – a contrast from the toasty reds of the fallen leaves. Upon reaching the end of the measured steps down, I saw …

Bamboo Groves // Arashiyama

I still recall the first time I saw this place – in a picture gleaned from the Internet. It was then, that I made a mental note that it will be one of those must-visit places if I ever set foot in Japan. And so, there I was, one cool morning, in Kyoto, Arashiyama (京都, 嵐山). Little drizzle accompanied my day in Arashiyama, but it didn’t dampen my spirits or hinder my stroll in this breathtakingly beautiful, and almost unreal place. Standing at the start of the trail into the bamboo groves (嵐山の竹林), or sometimes known as the Sagano Bamboo Forest, I was astounded with how cinematic this place looked. Towering bamboos lined both sides of the trail (竹林の小道). As you looked into each side, you see such dramatic colors – greens so fresh, yellows so vibrant, and oranges so rich that makes this all seemed surreal. Bamboo shoots were sprouting from the moist, fertile soil. Sunlight was lightly streaming in as you tilted your head to look at the leaves atop these bamboo. Yes, some rain …

Tenryu-ji Zen Temple // Sogenchi Garden

Located in the Arashiyama (嵐山) district in Kyoto, Japan, Tenryu-ji Zen Temple (天龍寺 or “Temple of the Celestial Dragon”) with its beautiful landscape garden, Sogenchi Garden, is a must-go before heading to the nearby famous bamboo groves. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tenryu-ji was considered first among the five great Zen temples in Kyoto. You can read more about its history here. Head here early in the morning to avoid the crowd and truly enjoy the spectacular views that the garden offers. Entry fees are ¥100 for the temple and ¥500 for the garden. Before heading to the entrance of the temple and buying the entry tickets, there is already beauty to behold – smaller shrines with exquisite gardens and the striking Torii (鳥居). Don’t miss looking into each enclave. Get your tickets at the entrance to the Temple, and leave your shoes at the shoes’ pigeon hole before stepping into the tatami-laid grounds of the Temple. For the temple, you can sit and admire the landscape garden with its koi pond, rocks, trees and …

Ghibli Museum // 三鷹の森ジブリ美術館

When I first watched ‘Spirited Away’ in a film festival, I was so inspired that I went digging around to watch all of the animation films that Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿) directed. Before long, I’m in love with the works of Ghibli Studio – from the famous ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ to ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’, to the awe-inspiring ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and the tear-jerking ‘Grave of the Fireflies’. Strong story-telling, inspired imagination, vivid background details and magical characterization in these animation films made it a must for me to visit the Ghibli Museum (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館). Traveling all the way to Mitaka (三鷹市), a little town in Tokyo, Japan, what filled us with anticipation was this ivy-covered building, a wrought-iron spiral staircase and a glimpse of Miyazaki’s Robot on the rooftop garden. We trekked to the ‘false entrance’ to meet Totoro, posing as the ticket-seller to the museum, accompanied by the ‘soot spirits’ (or the little black balls). Of course, remembering to take a shot of the signboard and liking the silhouette cut-out. Let’s head to the …