David Chart's Japan Diary

September 25th 2004

What is it with all these diary updates? Well, in this case the main reason is to try to cover more of Sheila's visit. I may even get to the end of it, but at least I'll cover Takayama.

I had dinner with Hang last night, which was very nice, both in terms of food and company; Hang had cooked. Today was the last episode of Sailor Moon, so I no longer have to furtively watch it every Saturday. Oh, wait, I was never furtive. Nevermind.

Apart from that, not a lot has happened (no surprise). So, on to the past.

Sheila's Visit - Takayama

The first trip we did outside Okazaki was to Takayama. While this was a repeat location for me, we did a lot of things I hadn't done before. The train journey was just as spectacular as it was when I went with Mum, Ray, and Silver, and once again we had nice weather there.

A washroom The washroom at Sumiyoshi. You can just see the edge of one of the sinks.

We stayed at Sumiyoshi Ryokan, a rather more upmarket place than the Rickshaw Inn, although the taxi driver initially assumed that that was where we were going. Sumiyoshi was extremely nice. The food was good, the decoration was fascinating, and the location was excellent. It's definitely one of the nicest places I've stayed while I've been here. The wash area was amazing; absolutely packed with small ornaments and apparent antiques. I've really never seen anything like it. Another nice thing about the ryokan was that the sakura in the garden was in bloom, so Sheila did get to see the cherry blossoms.

As Sheila notes in her account, it did appear that we had been accidentally booked to share a room, but changing to a suite of three rooms was no problem; a bedroom each, and a room for eating in. I assume they weren't full, given just how easy it seemed. The staff were very friendly and helpful, too, so I recommend it highly.

A shrine with wheels The shrine with chrome rings in Takayama.

Anyway, the first thing we did was the walk round the edge of Takayama that is recommended, but which I didn't have time for on the previous visit. I'm glad I did get to do it. The scenery was lovely, as we made it up into the hills and could see the mountains beyond. There were a lot of temples, explaining why Takayama gets called 'Little Tokyo', and a number of shrines. One small shrine, which we only saw because we got the route slightly wrong, was particularly interesting. As well as the standard torii and shrine house, it had two large chrome rings (see the photo). There must be a story behind that, but there was no explanation around. I've not seen anything like it elsewhere in Japan, but I thought it was quite effective.

On our second day, we went to Takayama Jinya. This was much more pleasant in May than it had been at the end of March; in particular, I didn't freeze my feet walking round in socks. It hadn't changed a lot.

Then we wandered through the old town, where Sheila did a bit of shopping, to the old merchant house that we didn't visit last time. Quite impressive, but I don't see why the guidebook recommends this 'if you don't have the chance to see inside a Japanese home'. Most Japanese people don't live like this. That's why they're open as museums... Still, well worth seeing, and the tea and rice cracker were a nice bonus.

Lunch was good, and unlike Sheila I did eat my raw egg. Then we picked up our baggage and headed for the station to get the train to Kyoto.

Sheila's Visit - Kyoto

The train journey to Kyoto was fine, and we dropped our luggage off at the ryokan before quickly going out for dinner. Quick as we were, it wasn't fast enough to go to the first place we tried, because it closed at 8pm. (Why, is somewhat beyond me.) Anyway, the place we went instead was great; the food was delicious.

On our first full day, we started at Nijo Jinya, which is full of secret doors and traps, as it was a lodging for daimyo visiting Kyoto, and needed to allow them escape routes and hidden guards. There are certain guard posts in that building I really wouldn't want to be stuck in for hours at a time. This was fun, although the tour, which you have to book in advance, is only in Japanese, so not so good if you don't speak the language.

Nijo Castle The main buildings at Nijo Castle. This photograph is taken from well inside the grounds.

The next stop was Nijo Jo (castle), which is, unsurprisingly, not too far from Nijo Jinya. This was the official residence of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto. It's amazing. The rooms have gorgeous painted screens, and it's also one of the places with the famous nightingale floors. These are the floors designed to be noisy, so that it was impossible to sneak up on the shogun. One of the things that's hard to remember in these places is that the largely empty rooms are as they were when the place was in use; there was very little furniture in most Japanese rooms.

The gardens were also very nice, and I have refrained, out of pure altruism, from posting the picture I took of Sheila there. This was a very good visit. After lunch, which was nice, we went to Heian Jingu, popping into the Catholic Cathedral on the way. The cathedral is an interesting building, apparently imitating the shape of a tent in concrete. Heian Jingu was much as before, but still a pleasant garden, although it being Golden Week meant that the crowds were out in force.

Clear Water at Clear Water temple The rain coming off the spout on the roof at Kiyomizu-dera. It was raining quite hard.

The following day started at Sanjuusangendou, which I think was the highlight of this visit for me. This temple contains 1001 images of thousand-armed Kannon. Actually, they only have forty arms each, but there are 1000 human-size statues and one big one, as well as statues of the heavenly attendants on Kannon. The overall effect is utterly stunning, and has to be seen to be believed. Photography is not, unfortunately, allowed inside the main hall, and the outside isn't that much to look at. I suggested that one of the four heaven kings looked like he was dancing to 'YMCA', and Sheila blamed the subsequent change in the weather on this.

Said change was that it started to rain. Very, very heavily. The next stop was Kyoto National Museum, across the road, so that wasn't too bad, and then it wasn't too far to Kawai Kanjiro's house. Then we went on to Kiyomizu-dera, which I have now visited twice in pouring rain. It's still a really pretty temple, and the view from the platform is beautiful pretty much whatever the weather.

Drummers The drumming performance at the shrine.

From Kiyomizu-dera we went to Kodaiji, which has gardens that I really enjoyed when I visited them last November, when they were lit up. This time more of the buildings were open, so I was able to see a bit more, and the gardens were still good. The bamboo grove wasn't quite as eerie by daylight, thought.

The final bit of the walk took us down through Maruyama kouen, where there was a taiko performance in progress in front of a shrine. The rain had eased off substantially by this point, so standing and enjoying it was possible. I rather like taiko performances, and seeing a free one in the stage at a shrine is surely the best way to experience them.

After that, dinner, and an interesting chat in the lobby of the building containing the restaurant with a gentleman who was a professor of linguistics. He said that he made it a point to welcome foreigners to Japan, and lamented the fact that Japan was not a more international society. It's certainly true that foreigners are fairly thin on the ground here; I think quite a lot of people are scared off by the thought of having to learn the language. And quite right too.

For the rest of Sheila's visit I was in school, so we met up for dinner, and that was about it. Overall, it was a good visit, but I don't think I'd be over eager to travel in Golden Week again if I could avoid it; places were, indeed, extremely busy. It's probably as well that we booked all our accommodation before Christmas.

Well, that's got me to the end of that visit. Before the end of this break, I might even manage to cover Dad and Joy's visit. That would be good...