Showing posts from November, 2016

Tokyo's National Art Centre

The sun shone bright this morning when we left Kanazawa and took the shinkansen back to Tokyo. As usual, the 10:56 train left the station at 10:56 on the dot. Going back to Paris is going to be devastating after these two weeks.

We arrived at Tokyo Station two hours and change later, just in time to have a quick lunch amidst throngs of people going from one track to another. We have one night booked at the MyStays Haneda; I figured it'd be convenient to stay near the airport for tomorrow. Even though our flight is at noon, we can take our time with breakfast and not have to rush. The downside is that it takes about 50 min to get there from Tokyo Station; I wanted to check out Roppongi on our last afternoon here, but it would be a pain to get to Haneda, check in, drop our luggage, then get all the way back to Tokyo again.
The solution? A quick Internet search, which told me that Roppongi Hills has suitcase-sized coin lockers! Remember when train stations had lockers? In Japan, they…

The 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum, gold foil

I've been thwarted! Foiled! My grand idea for today was to go to Takayama, a well-preserved old town in the mountains. I'd researched beforehand that you can get there by train from Kanazawa via Toyama, but today when checking the timetables I saw that there are only like three trains a day between Toyama and Takayama. I saw to my horror that our only option to get there would see us in Takayama no earlier than 14:30, and we'd have to take the train back before 17:00, so it'd be a lot of train hours for very few sightseeing hours... With Hiroshima it was totally worth it, but we've seen several old quarters already.
So we stayed in Kanazawa! I put together an alternative plan for the day and we took a bus to see the 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum in the centre of town. It's a very modern disc-shaped building, in a low-key kind of way. The floor plan is a perfect circle, inside of which lots of smaller rooms make up the different exhibitions. I think they m…

Kenroku-en and Nagamachi

After a big, hearty breakfast at the hotel, the first order of business today was to visit Kenroku-en, Kanazawa's most famous attraction and one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Its name means "Garden of the Six Attributes" because it has all six classical attributes that a garden is supposed to have in the Chinese and Japanese tradition: "spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water courses, and magnificent view from the garden," according to the tourism information centre's documentation.
We took a bus from the station, packed with people, that stops unnecessarily in six bus stops where nobody gets off before reaching Kenroku-en in the city centre, where the entire bus vacated. We walked a little bit uphill to find one of the garden's multiple gates and paid 320 yen for a ticket (€2.7).

Right off the bat we were greeted by Kenroku-en's main sight, that of the pond with the famous two-legged stone lantern in the foreground. It was cloudy…

Hiyashi Chaya-gai

Although it rained heavily all throughout the night, by the time we left our apartment with our bags the morning was cloudy but dry. Today saw us on the road again, as we took a THUNDERBIRD train to Kanazawa. With such a bombastic name I had assumed it'd be a state-of-the-art shinkansen, but it's in fact a regional line. No thunder or birds spotted on board either.
It takes a little over two hours to make the trip from Kyoto north to Kanazawa, and it can be booked with the JR Pass. The landscape during the journey seemed nondescript from my seat, but it's likely due at least in part to the gray, drab mist that clung to our train for the majority of the ride.
We arrived at Kanazawa Station, which is yet another massive city-within-a-city with a mall, shops and restaurants. On top of that, there's another 7-storey mall literally next door to the station. We're staying at the Dormy Inn Kanazawa, a mid-range hotel just three minutes from the train station. It's very …

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Surprise day trip!
So I was looking at the guidebook yesterday, planning what to do today, and I came to a realisation. There are a million things in Kyoto that I still haven't seen; between 2013 and this trip I've spent a combined eight days in this city and I still feel like I'm only scratching the surface. There's an immense wealth of history and art here, and the sights are very scattered all around the city and the mountains. All that said, after enough days in Japan it's entirely possible to burn out on temples and gardens, and we've seen so many that we risked saturating ourselves by the time we get to the great garden of Kanazawa.
So I thought, why not dust off our JR passes and go somewhere for the day? Somewhere not about temples and gardens, but something equally representative of Japan? Options included Osaka (Dotonbori is fun, but I've already been), Himeji (hosts Japan's most famous castle, recently renovated, but I've read there isn'…

Fushimi Inari, Tofukuji

Sunny Sunday in Kyoto!
Today I finally got to cross the one item on my 2013 Kyoto trip list that I never got to visit: Fushimi Inari, the famous shinto shrine in the south of Kyoto with thousands of bright red torii gates. Last time I left Fushimi Inari for the last day, but then I was too late and I missed it. Not this time!
We took the JR Nara line to the Inari stop, and from there it's a 10 min walk to the shrine, which is clearly signalled along the way (although, as always, Google Maps helps). As with many shinto shrines, this one is free to visit, and has several bright red buildings containing omiyage shops(souvenirs), omikuji counters (where people buy a random paper slip with their fortune on it, and then tie it to a tree or a rack nearby), water fountains where people can wash their hands as a ritual of purification, different altars for praying, and of course the main hall. Ceremonies take place inside, and on the outside people queue to pray; they throw a coin into a big…

Autumn in Nara

Today we were also treated to a gloriously sunny morning, so we decided to go on a day trip to Nara to make the most of the nice weather.
There are JR trains going to Nara that you can board with your JR pass, but that line goes to the JR Nara station, which is rather far away from Nara Park, and it also takes longer; it's better to pay the 700 yen (€6) and take a Kintetsu line to the Kintetsu Nara station, and from there to just walk to the park. The train ride takes about 40 min.
Rather than making a bee-line for Nara's main attraction, the Great Buddha, we started with Yoshiki Garden, which is free for foreign visitors! It's a gorgeous 20th century Japanese garden (not that I could tell; to me it looked like it had lain there for centuries, it was so well designed). 

The garden occuies a rather modest plot, but as with many Japanese gardens it has been masterfully designed to offer lots of distinct spaces. There's a tea ceremony garden, a moss garden, and a more Wester…

Kiyomizu-dera and Kodai-ji

Sleeping on a futon over tatami is GLORIOUS. I don't know what it is about it that hits my "off" switch and instantly puts me in a deep and dreamless slumber. The alarm had to wake me up to a bright, sunny morning!
Today's Friday, so I thought it might be wise to go to Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto's most popular temple, before the weekend crowds rush in. It's a bit up on the eastern hills of the city, so wherever you're staying it's probably best to take a bus. Buying that Japanese SIM card was the best purchase I've done all trip, because now I can just look up on Google Maps where the bus stop is, which bus I need to go on, and how many stops I need to wait through. The closest to Kiyomizu-dera is Kiyomizu-michi, which is still about a 10-min uphill walk away from the actual temple.

As soon as we started ascending we started seeing more and more people joining the route, until we got to the temple itself, where all of Kyoto seemed to have gathered. There …