Friday, December 14, 2007

Japan 15: Kyoto 3, Gion district

For visitors who have the impression that Japan is a very expensive country, this might just be a great surprised. This is a little secret for people who have not been to Japan: The BigMac in Japan cost 280円 or about S$3.70 which is still cheaper than BigMac in Singapore, namely S$3.85. After years of deflation, while the rest of the world experience inflation, the prices in Japan has become much more affordable. Although exorbitant prices of the late bubble period still exist, Japan can be cheaper than in fact many major cities around the world, including the self-proclaimed paradise of Singapore.

In Japan, all bus schedules and trains schedules are clearly indicated. No matter in small towns or big cities, they really provide a great favour for commuters. And in this case, in Kyoto, they add a little touch of cuteness to their bus arrival times.

The streets of downtown Kyoto by night. It does not look, sadly, like an ancient city, but rather a modern city.

A beautiful modern building, with interesting rooms.

However, the district of Gion preserves the streets of the ancient city. Here is where a Kabuki theater stands along the street.

The narrow streets of Gion that snake around. Losing one's direction in the dark streets, of endless rows of houses and shops, can be easy.

But soon, the subtle beauty of the architecture is realised.

Although, at a first glance, all the buildings and structures seem to be uniformly the same, but on a closer look, each shop displays an individualistic characteristic of Japanese design, with heavy use of wood and paper, in simple, refined and symmetric design.

Most of the shops that are opened are mostly restaurants.

And looking from the exterior of these restaurants, of fine design, refined taste, one can be sure that the food served in these restaurants are of similar caliber. Of course, not forgetting to mention the prices, at least around 3000 per person or even more.

A very interesting menu indeed.
Honestly, if these are the prices to be paid for an authentic Japanese traditional meal right in the heart of the cultural centre of Japan, especially the famous Kaiseki of Kyoto, then it could be fairly reasonable, given the fact that similar establishments in Singapore charge around the same price, only the location is totally different.

In the Gion district, there is a theater catered for tourists to experience several Japanese traditional performing arts all in a short span of 1 hour, at a price of 2800.

With only foreigners present in the audience seat, one might wonder how authentic these almost factory manufactured performances are. A quick fix for Japanese cultural performances just for the mass foreigners.

Geishas can be seen from time to time in this part of the city. Probably serving to entertain very wealthy customers; this Geisha for example, just alighted from a posh vehicle. And they all seemed to be in a rush where they quickly disappeared around the corner; either catching up on their next performance, or just shunning away from the irritating visitors.

One very interesting notice located in the streets of Gion.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Japan 14: Kyoto 2, Ancient temples

Kyoto is the ancient capital city of Japan. And in this ancient capital, lies many historical monuments of which consists famous temples and shrines located in numerous locations around the city. Modeling after Chinese capitals, Kyoto has been the cultural centre of Japan for over 1000 thousand years, such that it has been named one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 17 sites in Kyoto are categorised under this World Heritage Site title, where they represent different eras of construction and architecture.

For visitors with a lack of time, the greatest concentration of temples is located at the northern part of Kyoto city, where a stretch of 3 temples can be accessed continuously on foot.

Amongst them is Ninna-ji 仁和寺. Located about 20 minutes walk from the nearest railway station, it is however, not one of the easiest sites to navigate around.

This temples is one of the few temples that allows free entry to all visitors.

It consists of not just one temple, but a complex of buildings in quite a huge area and all of them comes under one name, Ninna-ji 仁和寺.

About 10 minutes walk through hilly region, the next stop is Ryoan-ji 龍安寺. The walk through the temple area is free but entry into the main temple cost around 500円. One might think that the free entry is sufficient enough to experience this temple, as it has beautiful lush greenery, but the entry into the main building is really the main draw of this visit to this temple.

This temple is famous for its Rock Garden which consists of 15 rocks arefully laid in groups of five. It is meant for visitors to gaze upon to imagine what they represent.

It must really amazing how a rock garden can be so amazing. How the rocks blend in with the surrounding trees and the spectacular texture of the sand. And it must have four different looks in the four different seasons.

The simple yet stylistic of Japanese architecture. It simply relaxes one's mind.

Refinement at its best.

Just another short walk away, is the very famous temple Rokuonji, 鹿苑寺. One great artistic entrance ticket into Rokuonji, cost 400円.

Not only are the sights of the temples and the gardens wonderful, fellow visitors to the temples make a very interesting sight as well. The fashionable styles of Japanese school girls come to life in a temple.
This is likely one of the famous sites for postcard perfect photo in this part of Japan, the beautiful Kinkaku, 金閣, where it was painted with pure gold. Unfortunately, visitors can only get gaze at this amazing structure from afar; no entry is allowed.

This period of late spring is likely to be the school vacation period, where many students flock to different sites around Japan for their school trip.

A very rare sighting. Although Japan is a developed nation, it has quite a low obesity rate. People on the fat side are a real rarity in Japan.

Even then, one must agree that their school uniform is formal, neat and looks simply great. These students probably dress much much better than a great proportion of Singaporeans along the streets.

An amazing contrast of the old and the modern; the traditional and the fashionable; the refined and the outrageous; welcome to Japan.


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