Autumn leaves at Ishiyama-dera

In my ever-continuing quest to find Fun Things to Do in the Kansai area on my days off, I realized I’d overlooked something very obvious, and very nearby.

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If you think ‘famous literature in Japan’, what comes to mind first? Basho’s poetry? The Kojiki? …What about ‘Tale of Genji’, or 源氏物語 by Murasaki Shikibu?

For those of you not in the know, Tale of Genji is credited as the first novel written. Yes, other western novels have been given this credit- Don Quixote and whatnot- but Tale of Genji was written back during the Heian period, or the 11th century. And boy howdy is it a novel, with romances and political intrigue and all sorts of messed up stuff.

But let’s not get into the nitty-gritty of the book, we’re here to talk about the author herself. While I’ve sort-of known that Murasaki Shikibu’s influence was present in Kyoto and Shiga, it didn’t really hit home for me until a friend suggested we go to Ishiyama Temple.

Ishiyama Temple, or 石山寺、is located in Shiga prefecture, within walking distance of Lake Biwa. It’s said that Murasaki Shikibu found inspiration for the Tale of Genji there; seeing as it’s NaNoWriMo (and the friend in question is a writer), we figured it would be a good pilgrimage to pay homage to the Japanese novelist.

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Murasaki Shikibu, author of Tale of Genji

To get to the closest train station for the temple, hop on the JR Biwako Line from Kyoto Station to Ishiyama Station for 240 yen. From there, change to the Keihan Line for an additional 170 yen to get to Ishiyamadera Station. Alternatively, if it’s lovely weather outside, take a walk- it’s about a 30-40 minute hike from town. If you opt to take the Keihan Line, you only have to walk for about 10 minutes. Great for a rainy day.

From the station it’s an easy enough walk; there are maps everywhere and signs (albeit in Japanese). Exit the gates and turn right, following the water until you get to the temple gates. From there, go on in to reception.

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Past the main gate

Now, here’s something to keep in mind: there’s a lot to see here. If you want to just see the temple and gardens, expect to pay 600 yen. If you want to see absolutely everything, they have a set ticket. This includes any little side buildings and displays. I personally opted for just the basic ticket as I wanted to enjoy the gardens, rain or not.

The “basic” ticket, by the way, was more than worth it.DSC_0164.JPG

First of all, the grounds were much bigger than I was used to; I’m accustomed to standard Kyoto temples and shrines, places that are squeezed in between office buildings and large streets. This place had winding gardens up and down hills. The whole place was reminiscent of Mt. Kurama with its’ use of stairs and heavy foliage.DSC_0174.JPG

The main hall didn’t allow pictures inside, but it had your standard temple fare- charms, fortunes, a place to pray, and the all important stamps. The best part of it, in my opinion, was the view of the autumn leaves from the hall doors, but the rest of it was pretty neat, too.

Because it was rainy when I went, there weren’t many folks out in the gardens, which let me explore at my leisure. It was quiet, save for the sound of running water and the occasional bird in the distance. It’s no wonder Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write there- if it had been nicer weather I might have sat down on a bench and scribbled some things down myself!

Overall, it took a little over an hour to wander around. Perhaps if I’d splurged for the “set” ticket to see more things it’d have taken longer, but I was fully satisfied with what I’d experienced there.

There are lots of things to see in the Kansai area, from temples to museums and parks and what-have-you. But if you have some time and aren’t completely templed out, I’d recommend this little side-trip, especially during the autumn months.DSC_0180.JPG

What’s a place you like visiting in autumn?

So what’s this year’s NaNo?

Who else is subjecting themselves to the wonderful world of National Novel Writing Month this year?

Here I sit in a cafe, listening to progressively stranger music as the shadows lengthen outside. My trusty Alphasmart sits before me, patiently awaiting my abuse, but I have questions for myself first.

What on earth am I writing?

In a previous post, I mentioned the odd things that happen which seem very particular to Kyoto. The inflatable cake that appears by the river. Plaques dedicated to fallen samurai that never explain who the samurai actually was. Stamp rally madness (all right, that’s pretty prevalent throughout Japan).

There are lots of strange little things that happen around here- things a lot of people who live in the area take for granted, but can seem a bit funny to those who are not locals. With that in mind, I’ve started working on a series of little snippets about these odd things.

As I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed one particular story emerging from the rest of them: a story that was born from a joke someone made while I wandered Fushimi Castle a few weeks back.

I’ll share more details if something comes of it, but for now, I’m eager to go with the flow and see what becomes of this little story. Maybe it’ll turn out to be nothing, or maybe there’ll be something worth salvaging in this mess come December. Either way, I look forward to finding out.

Okayama adventures ahoy!

Okayama adventures ahoy!

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had been to Okayama prefecture on a daytrip from Kyoto before. Okayama is both a prefecture and city name, in the Chugoku region of the island of Honshu in Japan. It’s a castle town with gardens and tasty goodies to experience, so why don’t you and I take a look at it together?

First of all, as I mentioned in that previous post, a one-way ticket to Okayama on the bullet train from Kyoto will run you about 7,010 yen if you don’t mind an unreserved seat. It’ll take you an hour on the Nozomi, the fastest of the available bullet trains. In my case, I opted to go in the late morning on a weekday, so I had a whole row of seats to myself to enjoy my indulgent brunch bento.

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Upon arriving at Okayama Station in Okayama City in Okayama Prefecture (boy, the addresses there must be repetitive!), I stepped out and was immediately greeted by Momotaro, or the Peach Boy, along with all his traveling companions.

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Hi, boys.

Now, for those of you not in the know, Momotaro is one of the famous tales in Japan, featuring a boy (shocker) who was born from a giant peach. He then goes on to have a lot of great adventures, dealing with ogres, picking up friends along the way. There are many variations of the story, but if you ask your average Japanese person they’ll be able to tell you at least a bit of the tale. Momotaro is said to have come from Okayama, so as you can imagine, peaches are very much a thing here. Peach-flavored everything is available, as well as the fruits themselves. Help yourself, but watch out for shocking price tags!

Anyway, once you say hello to the statue, you’ll be on your way to several attractions that are easily reachable on foot. The first place I hit up was Korakuen Gardens. If it means anything, it’s supposed to be one of “Japan’s best three gardens”. I think it deserves that title, because it’s one of the biggest and loveliest places I’ve strolled through since I got here. Despite being in Okayama City, it feels very much like you’re in another place when you walk through it. There were several places within the gardens where you couldn’t see the surrounding city at all, and were able to pretend you were out in the countryside.

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City? We’re in a city?

Entrance to the gardens will run you about 400 yen, but if you’re planning on going both there and to the castle nearby, get the combination ticket that’ll be about 560 yen. It’ll save you some hassle later on, and hassle is the last thing you need when you have views like this.birthday-gardens-5

Anyway, once you get your fill of the gardens, pop out and head over to Crow Castle. Yeah. The big black castle that’s looming nearby, watching you enjoy your garden experience. It’s also a short walk away, and since you were smart enough to get that combination ticket (right?) it’ll be no trouble to walk right on in and check things out.

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I see you over there!

Okayama Castle (or crow castle, as it’s nicknamed) is a large, impressive building that is six stories tall. There’s a lot of stuff in it- folding screens, videos, etc.- that give you the history of the place, some of it even in English. But what was nice about it was the view looking down at the gardens you just left.That said, it doesn’t take long to go through Crow Castle at all; maybe an hour at most. So if you have energy left over, it’s a great chance to check out museums and other things in the area. Or get some food; food is always good.

In my case, I checked out those two places, had a sit-down dinner, then headed back to Kyoto because of all the walking. I got home around 6 or 7 p.m., and thought the trip was worthwhile. You might have more energy and be able to hit up several more things than I did; maybe you’ll just have energy for the gardens. Whatever the case, it’s a lovely area and definitely worth checking out!birthday-crow-castle

Cash-based societies and saving

I come from the US, which is the land of credit and debit cards. Oh sure, I always kept a twenty dollar bill on hand when running around “just in case”, but almost never used it. Forget about carrying coins around- it was an unnecessary extra weight.

So when I came to Japan for the first time… Whoo boy did that take some getting used to.

Continue reading “Cash-based societies and saving”