Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kakunodate- Little Kyoto



This past weekend we had an outing to Kakunodate in Akita prefecture. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and it was a very warm day! Kakunodate is known both for its historic samurai mansions and the beautiful blossoming cherry trees that line the streets. Popular with tourists from all over the world, it has an atmosphere truly appropriate to its nickname of “ Little Kyoto.”


You can dress up in old fashioned Japanese clothing (like the young girl in the hat) for ¥2,000.


Many of the samurai houses are actually homes to samurai descendants. Others, you can walk through. This particular one is the Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum. It costs ¥500 to enter. The Aoyagi lineage goes back as far as the 16th century. The fouder, Aoyagi Touemon, first became a vassal of Lord Ashina of Hitach (about 350 kilometers southwest of Kakunodate) in 1570. The family moved to Kakunodatefollowing Lord Ashina when the shogun overlord transferred the master to the Akita domain in 1603. The Ashina reign only lasted three generations, and the Aoyagi clan came to serve the second master, Lord Satake-Kita, in 1653. The new lord appointed Aoyagi to the important role of Nanbu Sakaime Yamayaku, or chief of Nanbu-area boundary guards.

In the next two centuries, the family enjoyed a steady growth, both inincome and political importance. Their men climbed up the social ladder and by 1868, when the Edo feudalism collapsed, Aoyagi’s fief had expanded to become the third largest among those managed by the vassals in the domain.

Although many samurai experienced economic distress under the rule of the new Meiji government, Aoyagi was able to survive as a landlord. In 1902, Aoyagi Tomokichi became the mayor of Kakunodate. DSC_7653DSC_7679

Hachinohe Morning Market


We took a trip to the Hachinohe Morning market which is held by the fishing docks.  There are a lot of local vegetables, fish, honey and prepared food. They had a small performance the day we went. And of course, a lot of seagulls! The market is open on the 9th, 19th and 29th of each month.


3 day Kyoto Trip


We took a 3 day trip to Kyoto! I was so excited because I had been wanting to visit Kyoto since we got here. We were exhausted by the end of the trip but it was well worth it!


Willer Express


To save expenses we took an overnight bus from Misawa to Tokyo and then (to save time) we took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. We travelled home the same way. I was impressed with how comfortable I was on the overnight bus. (We got the double wide seats). Willer Express picks up in Misawa at the back of the train station. You have to order your tickets online though and your name will be put on a roster. It is a great and inexpensive way to get to Tokyo!


Kyoto International Manga Museum


Kyoto International Manga Museum

There are a lot of convenient ways to travel around in Kyoto. We bought a 1 and 2 day Subway/ bus ticket pass at the train station. It was raining in Kyoto when we arrived so we decided to start by going to the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

In April 2003, officials at Kyoto Seika University proposed the planned Kyoto International Manga Museum to Kyoto city government. With the city and the university working together, Manga museum was established on the site of the former Tatsuike Elementary School. It opened in November 2006.

The museum houses a collection of nearly 300,000 items related to manga. It holds lectures, workshops and a variety of other events. Manga has played a significant role in Japanese culture and elements of manga have been found in picture scrolls produced in the Heian period (794-1192)

There were two special exhibits when we went to the museum, the first one was fashion influenced by manga. I really enjoyed this exhibit. We weren’t supposed to take pictures but here is a sneak peak of a great wedding dress influenced by a famous Japanese manga.


The other exhibit was called Magnitude Zero showing illustrations from around the world drawn for charity right after the disaster, and illustrations that were drawn later to help support efforts.

When we bought our tickets we were allowed to trade in our tickets for commemorative ones. These were much nicer looking and had colored manga pictures on them. You could choose from several different designs.

Directions: The Kyoto International Manga Museum is located a two minute walk from the Karasuma-Oike Subway Station (5 minutes, 210 yen from Kyoto Station).

Open : 1000-1800 (admission until 1730)

Closed: Wednesdays (if Wednesday is a national holiday, the following Thursday), New Year’s and maintenance periods

Admission: ¥800




Honnō-ji is a temple of the Nichiren branch of Buddhism. It is most famous for the Incident at Honnō-ji where Oea Nobunaga lodged before his invasionof the west. However, on the morning of June 21, 1528, Akechi Mitsuhide’s forces surrounded the temple and set it on fire. It was there that Nobunaga committed seppuku.

The rebuilt Honnō-ji stands on a different site in Kyoto. (It is actually along a street full of stores and vendors and seems a little misplaced).

There is a small museum inside Honnō-ji and we went inside to look. I think it was ¥350 for admission.

Directions: Honnō-ji is short walk from Kyoto City Hall Station.

Hours: 0700-1700



Fushimi Inari Taisha



Fushimi Inari Taisha (or Fushimi Inari Shrine) was my favorite site in Kyoto. It is covered in thousands of red tori gaes forming paths around the mountain. These tori gates are donated by many businesses because Inari promises success and prosperity in business.

I loved going through all of these beautiful gates. (And yes, I did run through them a la Memoirs of a Geisha. Couldn’t resist!) We got here early and started walking so there weren’t many people. It is a long LONG way to the top.

Directions: Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line (5 minutes, 140 yen one way from Kyoto Station, not served by rapid trains). The shrine can also be reached in a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station along the Keihan Main Line

Hours: Always Open

Admission: Free


Otowa-san Kiyomizudera



Kiyomizudera  is an independent Buddhist temple and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period.The temple dates back to 778, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633, during a restoration ordered by the Tokugawa Iemitsu. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.

The popular expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived.The practice is now prohibited.

Directions: Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 220 yen). Get off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple. Alternatively, Kiyomizudera is about a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line.

Hours: 0600-1800

Admission: ¥300


Yasaka Jinja



Yasaka Jinja (Yasaka Shrine) also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. Founded over 1350 years ago, the shrine is located between the popular Gion District and Higashiyama District, and is often visited by tourists walking between the two districts.

The shrine's main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. In front of it stands a dance stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. Each lantern bears the name of a local business in return for a donation.The shrine also becomes busy during the cherry blossom season around early April, as the adjacent Maruyama Park is one of the most famous cherry blossom spots in Kyoto. The blossoms were blooming late this year so we didn’t have a chance to view them even though people still had picnics under the trees.

Directions: Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama  Park can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station in about 20 minutes. Take number 100 or 206 and get off at Gion bus stop.

Hours: Always Open

Admission: Free


Miyako Odori


Miyako Odori (Dance of the Capital) is a dance is performed by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu. The first performance in 1872 was promoted as part of the Exhibition for the Promotion of Domestic Industry, as a measure to promote prosperity in Kyoto after the city's decline as a result of the capital having been moved to Tokyo in 1869. Infusion of new ideas into this annual event has made it very popular. It is now one of the main events in Kyoto. This year was the 140th presentation of Miyako Odori.

Miyako Odori is composed of eight scenes in total. It starts to depict a scene in spring, and then moves to scenes in summer, fall, winter and spring for the finale, describing the season’s transition in a one-hour performance. The prelude introduces the highlights of the following scenes. With the music by Jikata and Ohayashiin the right and left sides of the stage respectively, 20 dancers file into the stage from two passageways. The grand finale with about 60 dancers is impressive and lavish.

There are four different classes of tickets for Miyako Odori. We bought the  Special Class tickets. We got reserved seats and watched a Geiko tea ceremony. The tea was also handed out to us and I must say it was the best matcha green tea I had ever tasted! Along with our tea we got to eat a beautiful manju with a picture of a cherry blossom on top. We got to take home the plate it was served on as a souvenir. Though you are not allowed to take pictures during the performance you may take pictures during the tea ceremony.

The Maiko and Geiko believe that everything is a masterpiece and thrive for perfection during the show. It was immaculate!


Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater

Directions: From JR Kyoto Station

(by bus-30 minutes)

Take a No. 206 bus at D2 stop near the Central Ticket Gate of JR Kyoto Station. Get of at GION stop and walk 8 minutes

( by taxi- 20 minutes)

Use the taxi stand near the Central Ticket Gate or Hachijo East Entrance of JR Kyoto Station.

(private railways 8-10 minutes)

From Hankyu Kawaramachi station or Keihan Gion Shijo station, walk 10 minutes

By Kintetsu Train: At Kintetsu Tanbabashi Station, transfer to Keihan train.

From Keihan Gion Shijo station, walk 10 minutes. (Take No.6 stairs to Shijo-dori Street)

(by car- 30 minutes, 8km)

30 mins fro Meishin Expressway Kyoto Higashi Interchange or 30 mins from Meishin Expressway Kyoto Minami Interchange. Parking is limited at Kaburenjo, so please use nearby parking lots. Also beware of traffic jams that are likely in Kyoto City.


Dates: April 1-30

Location: Gionkobu Kaburenjo, Kyoto

Gion-machi Minamigawa Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City

Curtain Times: 1230, 1400, 1530, 1650. Each performance is 1 hour.


Special Class Ticket with Green Tea : ¥4,500 (tax included) includes reserved seats on either the 1st floor or in the front area on the 2nd floor, or designated seating area on Tatami mats without chairs in the balcony of the 2nd floor, tea ceremony, and Miyako Odori souvenir dish.

First Class Ticket: ¥4,000 (tax included) includes reserved seats on 2nd floor or designated seating area on Tatami mats without chairs in the balcony of the 2nd floor.

Second Class Ticket: ¥2,000 (tax included) Free seating area on Tatami mats without chairs on the 3rd floor.

for guests arriving with wheelchairs, please state so when making your reservation


phone: 81-75-541-3391



Kinkaku-ji or the  Temple of the Golden Pavillion is a popular name for one of the main buildings of this temple, whichis properly called Rokuon-ji Temple. In the 1220s it was a comfortable villa for Kintsune Saionji.

Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga, abdicated the throne in 1394. After three years, he began to build Kitayamaden and he made a special effort to make it a breath-taking site. He indulged in his peaceful life in this serene setting. After Yoshimitsu’s death, Kitayamaden was made into a Zen templ ein accordance with his will. All the buildings of those days came to ruin except Kinkaku. The garden, however, remains as it was in former days, and can be enjoyed as it was hundreds of years ago. Rokuon-ji Temple was inscribed as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994.

Directions: Kinkakuji can be accessed from Kyoto Station by direct Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 220 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 250 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, around 900 yen) or bus (10 minutes, 220 yen, bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) from there to Kinkakuji.

Hours: 0900-1700

Admisssion: ¥400





Nanzenji Temple whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto's forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger.

Nanzenin Temple was closed for renovations when we arrived but there was still a lot to look at on the grounds. Pictured above is a man grooming the garden of Tenjuan temple. On the grounds there is also a large Sanmon entrance gate which extends over the treetops. (for a fee you can climb to the top of the gate and walk around). There is also a large brick aqueduct that passes through the temple grounds. It was built during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and is part of a canal system that was custructed to carry water and goods between Kyoto and Lake Biwa in neighboring higa Prefecture.

Another subtemple we visited was Konchi-in. It was founded around 1400 bu the Shogun YUoshimoch Ashikaga with Daigo as its first chief priest. It was restored around 1600 by Ishin Suden (1569-1633) The priest’s chamber was moved here from the suburban Fushimi Castle.

Directions: Nanzenji is a 5-10 minute walk from the nearest subway station, Keage Station on the Tozai Line (about 20 minutes, 250 yen from Kyoto Station by subway via Karasuma-Oike Station), or a 5-10 minute walk from the nearest bus stop, Nanzenji-Eikando-michi bus stop (35 minutes, 220 yen from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus number 5).

Hours: 0840-1700

Admission: ¥500 (some temples and gate have a separate fee, walking the grounds is free)



Our final destination was Nijo Castle (Nijōjō) built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep.

After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.

Directions: Nijo Castle: From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. The whole trip takes about 15 to 20 minutes and costs 250 yen. Alternatively, the castle can be reached from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101 (15-20 minutes, 220 yen one way), or from Shijo Street by Kyoto City Bus number 12 (15 minutes, 220 yen one way from Shijo-Kawaramachi bus stop).

Hours: 0845-1700 (entry until 1600)

Admission: ¥600