More rainy day sightseeing

On a recent very wet day in Kyoto, I had to decide how to make the most of my time in that lovely city and enjoy it in spite of the inclement weather. With my list of possible diversions in hand, the process of elimination began. Shrines requiring a lot of hiking? Squishy. The Ginkakuji, aka the Silver Temple? It’s dark wood exterior was not likely to shine in the sullen skies. That left Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple!



Even in the steady downpour, surrounded by crowds almost as plentiful as the raindrops, the temple still shone brightly.


Walking though the manicured gardens, a different type of blossom could be spotted.


Rain glistened on the ends of pine needles and made the moss garden soft and lush.


Early fall color painted the Japanese maples.


The endless parade of tourists made their way back to busses, trains, taxis, and even a few hardy souls took to their bikes, and I headed off to my next stop: Toei Movie Studios!

Varying levels of crazy

With a city as densely populated as is Tokyo, you will travel through parts that run the gamut from serene to the madness of a human scrum. And along the way, the occupants of the city are busy pursuing their interests or in transit to a desired destination.


Akihabara seethes with bargain hunters, otaku, tourists, and the oddly falsetto (“cute”) entreaties of the costumed touts to the various maid cafes.


The famed Shibuya crossing (outside of Tokyo’s busiest train station) swarms with business people heading home, fashionable youths, heading out to check out a movie, or music, or dine, or shop, and travelers like myself, just enjoying being a particle of human dust caught up in the gust of the bipedal wind.


But move to other parts of the city, to the neighborhoods, such as Yanaka, where I’m staying, and you enter a more laid back time and place. People whiz by on their bicycles, but there are also the slow shopping strolls of the residents out to select a perfect piece of fish for dinner, or to pass the time with a shopkeeper.

And always, there is something fascinating to see around the next corner.

When it rains in Kyoto…

Sometimes it’s a good idea to think of plans that include sights other than temples and shrines, like the Toei Kyoto Movie Studio tour. Some of Japan’s best-loved films and dramas  have been filmed using the sets on display here, including the upcoming movie, “Ōoku,” starring Ninomiya Kazunari, who’s making a name for himself in film (beyond his participation in the super popular band, Arashi).


The history of the studio goes back many years and the displays will be most meaningful to devotees of these films. (Most of the signage and information is strictly in Japanese.)


But that’s not to say that this is not fascinating for the more casual viewer of Japanese cinema and dramas. There were many sets that had this look of familiarity, and I was frequently thinking, “Waaaate a minute… wasn’t this the place where so-and-so went to see the courtesan?”


This fast glimpse of a striding figure hurrying on his way (above) reminded me of a scene from the drama “Jin.”


And of course, there were others in character who were happy to pose for photos, such as this young man.


And, if your pockets are deep, you can, for a price, get made up in period costume and feel like a member of the cast of your favorite movie. I passed on the privilege, as I was squishy wet from the rains and not in the mood to put on layers of clothing – not to mention not wishing to be the strangest looking samurai woman one would ever see. (I’m pretty sure pale blueish eyes are not indigenous to Japan!)

But in spite of the gloom, the few school groups that were there on an outing had a great time racing up and down the “streets” of old Japan. And so did I!

One final word though: Japanese studio tours like this and the one at the Fuji TV building in Tokyo have a LOT to learn about merchandising and what belongs in a souvenir shop. There were no classic movies for sale on DVD, few images of past stars, or other items that promoted the product. Instead there were the usual souvenirs of Kyoto and small trinkets. Disappointing, really. I would have loved a Toshiro Mifune movie poster or the movie image on a shirt… (but then, perhaps these things cannot be licensed in Japan). The only drawback to an interesting outing.

I heard the nightingales sing at Nijojo


The beautiful palace and grounds of Nij??j?? (Nijo Castle) in Kyoto were a delightful introduction to Kyoto. School kids on field trips, tourists, and photographers made the most of a pleasantly warm and almost sunny day.


The highlight of the tour had to be the famous nightingale floors in Ninomaru Castle. Having read a fictional series, the Tales of the Otori, by Lian Hearn, describing the effect of the flooring (I recommend “Across the Nightingale Floor”), it was intriguing to hear them chirp first hand (foot?) and try (and fail) to move soundlessly down the halls in my stocking feet. No matter where I placed my steps, the floors sang out and were I an invading ninja, I’d be a goner. Unfortunately, this will be an experience that may only be described or witnessed in person as no cameras (or shoes) are allowed in the castle.


The palace grounds were also beautiful in that manicured and artfully arranged way of Japanese formal gardens. This site is indeed worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status.