Snapshots of Japan: October 2014 – III

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 So long Phanfone, hello Vongfong…

In many ways, this batch of photos is a chronicle of the week between typhoons.  It starts out in Kyoto in the gloriously clear, dry weather following Phanfone’s departure, and finishes in Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula as Vongfong roars in from the South.  But truth be told, neither one of them disrupted my travels as much as you’d expect.

In this group we have photos of Shimbashi-dori, the impossibly beautiful geisha district lining the Shirakwa Canal, by both day and night.  The 20-minute walk from the machiya I shared with my sisters to the hostel I moved to took me straight through this area, so I saw a lot of it.  Next up is a sizable chunk of Higashiyama, starting with Nanzen-ji and then leading up to Eikan-do, a very beautiful Zen temple I’d never visited on any of my trips to Kyoto.

That afternoon I visited the other great Imperial villa in Kyoto, Katsura, blessed with much better weather for photography than on the visit to Shugakuin. Katsura and Shugakuin could hardly be more different – Katsura is much more human in scale, with an almost whimsical quality to it.  It’s considered by many to be the ultimate expression of the pure Japanese architectural aesthetic, and it’s striking how even in this playground of the Emperor, rather than opulence and grandiosity we see bare wood walls, and pillars made of unprocessed logs.

On the final day I was actually feeling too sentimental about leaving Kyoto without knowing for certain I’d be back to stay, so I spent the hours before my train in Osaka.  Osaka-jo is a 20th-Century ferroconcrete reproduction on the site of the original Osaka Castle (the original didn’t have an elevator) and in truth, I wouldn’t rank it among the more interesting places I’ve visited in Kansai.  I prefer Osaka by night, in Namba.

The last few photos are mostly the view from the room at the ryokan my friend and I stayed at in Shimoda (the setting for the anime Natsuiro Kiseki), on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula.  Shimoda is an extraordinarily important place in modern Japanese history – it’s where Matthew Perry arrives with his Black Ships and forcibly opened Japan up to the West – and the legacy of this event and it’s psychic repercussions are still very evident in the town.

Vongfong was slowly churning its way Northward as we stayed and the surfers were out in full force – it was interesting watching the moods of the sea change over those two days – and on the final day we actually visited a rotemburo that was only a few meters from the ocean as the rains and winds really began to pick up.  That was a powerful experience – and also interesting in that it was my first visit to a konyoku, a mixed-gender bath.  Of course we didn’t realize this was a mixed bath when we decided to visit, but it became clear soon enough when a couple of young women arrived and jumped into the water.  One of them chose to wear a towel the entire time but the other didn’t, interestingly.  I was a bit unsettled for a couple of minutes, but soon enough it became not that big a deal – just as it happened when I visited an onsen for the first time, period.  It’s worth remembering that it’s only Western influence that’s led to the decline of the mixed-gender bath in Japan in the first place.

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3 comments

  1. w

    That mixed gender bath story is the most harem-comedy thing ever. Life does imitate art…

  2. I'm just glad it wasn't full of obaa-sans, which is what you usually hear happens at konyoku. Maybe the typhoon scared them off.

  3. R

    Ugh my jealousy knows no bounds right now. I think any place is twice as gorgeous after a storm but Kyoto is another story.

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