Old Capital (Kyoto - March 2016)
Back to Japan after three years. I originally planned to go in 2015, but some work-related changes made the trip impractical.
I also wanted to be there during closer to the Hanami week, for the traditional cherry blossoming… but that proved impractical, too (everybody and his cousin want to see that, so even if I started inquiries in November it was already too late to book for April).
I booked again through the Italian JTB office, but this time they could only provide a limited support, in part because I had moved to Germany in the meantime (they can only provide flight booking from Italian gateways) in part because this time I had decided to spend most of the vacation in the same place: Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.


Day 1 - March. 5th, 2016

Due to the timezone difference it is a bit complicated to really decide when the trip started, or how long it lasted.
Subjectively I think it was maybe 13 hours all in all, but anyway I arrived in Osaka around 8am (local time) and then moved to Kyoto by shuttle.
According to my currently favourite tracking app I walked 19 km. in total.
Even if you start early in the morning the first day mostly goes to things like settling in the hotel, start looking around and so on.

I mostly walked around the Kyoto Station area and Kawaramachi Dori. I had been already in Kyoto for a few days in the past, so I was mostly revisiting places I had seen already.

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Frankfurt International Airport

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Kyoto Craftsmanship Center
Day 2 - March. 6th, 2016

Walked: 27km.
I walked along the Duck River to visit Kyoto Handicraft Center - it was a sort of reconaissaince visit in order to check out some of their hands-on workshops (and start my souvenir collecting spree, of course). In the same area there is also the Museum of Art and a temporary exhibition but there were too many people in a queue so I will see to it later.
Oddly enough, most shops are open Sunday. I don.t mean large malls, but even smaller 1-2 clerks shops like Tozando Shogoin, where I promptly bought a gorgeous Aikido keikogi.

Admittedly, 27km is a bit on the high side for my own standards. The reason is simple: I plan to train with Aikido Kyoto and I wanted to pay a little visit first.
They have 4 different training places, and I did not realise that the one I wanted to visit (late Sunday) was 22km from my hotel, in the Hirakata prefecture.

By the way, it is amazing how Google products can help you in a foreign country: I was able to find a convenient train to get close to the place, which is not exactly easy to reach if you don’t have a car.

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Day 3 - March. 7th, 2016

In the morning I moved straight to the Kyoto Handicraft Center again for a damascene workshop.

I also retraced my steps to a small Inkan shop where I ordered two chops. I was really glad to find the place again (I bought one there in 2013)… on Sunday it was closed and there was no insignia outside, so I was afraid it had moved or closed down.

A mere 14km today… my plan to force myself in the correct sleep cycle is not working well (I fell asleep in the hotel during what supposed to be a short stop on my way to somewhere else…).

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Pachinko hall
This is also the reason for the limited number of pics I took: part of it is due to the weather… it is not raining, which is great, but the sky is always overcast and this makes everything grayish. But the other reason is that I wasted a good part of the afternoon.

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Shunga exhibition
Day 4 - March. 8th, 2016

Walked: 24km.
The two highlights of the day were the visit to the Shunga exhibition and finally being able to practice a bit of Aikido…

Apparently this is the second time that Japan organises a public display of what was so far considered obscene art.
On the previous sunday I gave up because it looked like there was a long queue of people waiting to get in. Young people.
Today, being a workday, the place was still crowded, except it was mostly senior (retired) people.
It was a bit awkward to move slowly along a densely packed queue of older people gaping at extremely explicit art…
Apart from some work by Hokusai (esp. this one) and Utamaro there was little that I liked. The exception was the so-called Kagetsu’s album. Unfortunately only one page was shown - I would have liked to see more of it, especially for the way the artist used only hues of gray instead of colors or black lines on white.
Later in the evening, having managed to actually remain awake, I finally went to the main dojo of Aikido Kyoto school.
And while I was packing my stuff I discovered that I forgot hakama and obi at home… so I practiced with just keikogi and a white belt (leant to me by one of the guys at the dojo).
Apparently it is written in the starts that I will always consider myself a mudansha in Japan…

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Day 5 - March. 9th, 2016

Walked a meager 18km, today. My excuse is that it rained for the whole day, so even if I took my precautions in selecting appropriate clothes before leaving for Japan, I still tried to not spend too much time outside.
It was also a good chance to shop around a bit for gifts (and for little errands someone had asked me to do for them while in Japan).

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a restaurant close to the main station

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a Camelia (or so I believe…)
Day 6 - March. 10th, 2016

Walked: 19km.
Today was the only day I actually had a fully organised excursion (Nara).
This time I opted to have almost all days free to organise things as I wanted: guided tours are fine because they take you to places that may be inconvenient or almost impossible to see on your own, but the problem is that you have to run around according to the timetable, and often have to rush through sites in order to compensate for delays (for example traffic jams).
Anyway, knowing that the afternoon was fully booked, I leveraged my odd sleep patterns to have a very early breakfast and reach the Dojo for the 9am lesson.
After that I moved back to the hotel at a leisure pace in order to get ready for the tour.
Basically we saw two things. the Great Buddha in Nara and the Kasuga shrine.
Both places also offer the chance to meet the famous Nara deers, which have perfectly adapted to human presence (according to the guide that were considered sacred since XI Century, and hunting a deer or harming it was punishable with death until the XVII Century.
So they have no fear of humans, and are regularly fed by both park employees and tourists (you can buy special cookies for the deers, and usually they gladly supplement those with any interesting piece of clothing or paper you may hang in front of them).

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Day 7 - March. 11th, 2016

Walked another 18km, today. I had booked two different workshops for the day.
The first was Maki-e. I hoped that some of the hand-eye coordination gained through ShoDo would serve me well for this but to be honest the result was nothing to write home about. :(
The teacher (an old Japanese lady) was very kind and helpful despite her very limited English vocabulary, and I really enjoyed the whole activity. But honestly, I’d really need a second chance at this because not really having and idea of what I was doing I made some gross mistakes.
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a posh mini-mall
The following was a ShoDo class with Kasha Shirai, which luckily yielded better results.
The teacher promptly accommodated my requests for going a bit farther that the normal, never-done-Shodo-before class and made up on the spot the three classical forms for the character I asked to do.
This, too, was very nice as an experience (the enthusiasm of the teacher and her assistant were really infectious) and one I would also like to repeat.

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I suppose this is all I can show in terms of 花見 for this year…
Day 8 - March. 12th, 2016

Walked: 19km.
Weather was fine, so I went straight to the Manga Museum first.
Now, Manga are not much interesting for me, but I really fell in love with the place: the museum is hosted in what was originally an Elementary School and the experience of walking in the halls and seeing how the building was readapted to the new use was fantastic (there is a small room dedicated to photos and memorabilia for the school itself).
Another striking fact is that it’s not really a Museum, but more like a giant Manga library: you get in (for a small fee) and can browse or read any issue of your favourite manga, all available in enormous bookshelves all over the place.
From then I moved to the Nijo Castle to make good use of the almost-sunny day.

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Day 9 - March. 13th, 2016

Walked almost 26km, today. It was Sunday (not that this made a big difference in Kyoto) and I spent it to visit Raku ceramics museum, first, then Nomura art Museum, and finally topping everything with another 90 minutes of Aikido in the Osaka prefecture.
With a couple of notable exceptions (more about this later) I believe that most museums in Japan are a bit different from our (Western) concept of museum. They are much smaller (possibly due to the high cost of urban space in Japan) with a limited amount of pieces on display, and usually they dispense altogether with stuff like shops.
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A fairly traditional restaurant
On the other hand, they seem like places where people go to just relax and spend some time immersed in beauty. The Raku museum, for example, had two distinct areas where you could just sit and… chat? read? meditate? Same for the other one I saw on this day (Nomura).
Speaking of Nomura… Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by hills and visiting Nomura I had the chance to see a bit of Kyoto that is built on the hillside.

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Of course a lot of my time there was spent shopping for souvenirs for friends and family.
Day 10 - March. 14th, 2016

Walked: 19km again.
Today it was rainy again - and not just drizzle, either.
Luckily I had taken some precautions so I had plenty of rainproof garments with me.
Moving around (and especially taking photos) was unpractical, though - so I just moved to the Central Station and shopped a bit, including a visit to the local Isetan store which is quite something.
After a bit the rain stopped, so I ventured on the roof of the station to take some pics, and later still I I went to the dojo again for another aikido lesson.

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Day 11 - March. 15th, 2016

Walked: 24km.
The previous day rain had cleared the sky and I decided to get to the Biwa lake.
In doing so I also learned and important geography lesson: Shiga is the name of a Prefecture (adjacent to Kyoto Prefecture) but it is also a name of a (fairly small) city, which amazingly enough is not the Prefecture capital, and even more disconcertingly it is not where the Shiga Museum of Art is.
All this I learned the hard way, trying to get to Shiga first, only to find out that it was a really backwater place, and that the museum I was trying to reach was on the other side of the lake, and not really easy to reach by train alone.
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Learning my way around Shiga Prefecture - the hard way…
While back in Kyoto I accidentally discovered the Shōsei-en Garden, a delightful place (even if so early in the year most plants weren’t blooming yet).

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Iris Ansata in the Rain…
Day 12 - March. 16th, 2016

Walked: 21.5km.
Just for a change, I went to the dojo very early in the morning (lesson started at 7am).
Considering my odd sleep patterns this was no big feat, and I still managed to come back to the hotel in time to have breakfast.
Besides the never-ending shopping quest I managed to visit Kyoto Museum. This one is closer to our western style of museums - the main collection is about the history of Kyoto itself, but there were two temporary collections one commemorating the 70 years of a Kyoto handicraft association and the other about Jissoin Monzeki temple.

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Day 13 - March. 17th, 2016

Walked: 26km.
Last day in Kyoto (on the next day my plane would leave at 8am and you have to factor a 1-hour shuttle trip to get to Osaka airport…) - time to wrap up some loose ends.
I started with a not-so-succesful attempt to get a pic of sunrise in Kyoto. I was able to be on place in time, but the problem is that Kyoto is mostly surrounded by hills so the effect is not so spectacular.
Weather was nice, so I took also the opportunity to visit Kyoto Tower - again not so overwhelming in the end… but this was more than compensated by a serendipitous discovery later in the day though. I paid a visit to the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art and found out that the current temporary exhibition was a display of works by Shimura Fukumi.
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The elevator to Kyoto Tower observatory platform
To say that I was completely dazzled is really an understatement. No pics were allowed inside, so I am providing a link to google image search to give you an idea of what I saw.
I topped it all with my last Aikido lesson in the evening.

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