Hiyaaaa! Continuing with my Japan travelogue, we first set out to see the Cherry blossom trees or the Sakura, which was is in full bloom at the moment. You cannot escape the Sakura in its full glory if you're here in the season! The Sakura trees line many streets and gardens across the country. We travelled to Kyoto to see them since that's the best place right now to enjoy them. But, the moment you step out of a train station anywhere, you'll start spotting them.
To get to Kyoto, if you have a JR pass you need to get to the closest JR station (JR Namba for us), take a train to a station on the Loop line (Shin-Imamiya for us) and get to Osaka. From Osaka, take a JR train straight to Kyoto station. (Hyperdia.com will help you plan your route. An android app is also available but an ios app isn't available for us in India :( ) Once you get to Kyoto there are buses that will ferry you to what ever place you'd like for a minimum fare of 230 Yen each. We chose to get to the Kiyomizu - Dera first. The most famous and strikingly colourful Kiyomizu - dera is one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Kyoto and a landmark of sorts. The steep climb to the temple is called the Chawan - zaka or the teapot lane and is lined with beautiful porcelain, souvenir and tea centers and cafes. You'll find lots of people dressed in traditional wear making their way upto the temple, but these aren't the locals, but enthusiastic tourists that rent these kimonos and wear them for the time they're visiting Kyoto.
The temple can be quite crowded at this time, but coming from Bombay, we didn't find it unusual. People don't push and shove and everyone's just having a good time. The temple is a bright orange structure and is scattered with Sakura trees. It doesn't have the serenity of a Buddhist temple since people flock it in large numbers, but the temple structure is what's most eye catching. We reached there mid afternoon and were lucky to catch the Blue Dragon procession or the Seiryu - e. The Blue Dragon which is actually green comes out to drink water at the Otowa waterfall just below the temple. It was fascinating to watch the traditional routine with the bearers of the dragon all dressed in traditional warrior finery and drum beats and a peculiar song that they sung. We missed walking through the actual temple that is said to signify entering a female bodhisattva.
Making our way out of the temple we walked down to Kasagiya, a very old tea shop that serves Japanese style sweets and tea. The sweets were kind of a soyabean jelly coated in peanut powder and served with both green and black tea.
Walking through Ishibel - koji which is a beautiful street, we reached the Mayurama-Koen, a large park which is home to the giant Gion Shidare-Zakura.This magnificent tree is called the Shidare literally translates to The Weeping Sakura because of its drooping branches, This tree in the center of the Maruyama Park in Kyoto is a second generation tree that came from its parent tree that lived for 200 years. The huge park is filled with Sakura and cafes that serve the local cuisine. You can even eat under the trees on bamboo mats which is also called Hanami in Japanese meaning picnicing under the blooming Sakura. The paths around the park have tons of temporary stalls of food too where we found right from roasted fish to candied fruits to our very own tandoori chicken :) Walking around the park is lovely. By evening the paper lanterns go on and the park looks even more gorgeous.
After a hearty meal, we walked back to the bus stop making our way through the Yasaka -jinja.
This shrine is considered the guardian of the Gion entertainment district. The Gion district was actually built to house the travellers that visited the shrine but now it is most famous in the whole of Japan for the Geisha. We reached there by late evening and decided that the Geisha tour would have to be done another day.
The day was like living in a dream. Nothing familiar, nothing ever seen before! That's most amazing about Japan.
Tomorrow we go see the Todai-ji temple, which is the oldest wooden structure in the world. Tell you all that soon :)
Later lovely people!