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My Scholarship entry - Tokyo to Kyoto: A very Japanese adventure

Japan | Friday, 31 October 2014 | 5 photos

Japan is a country I’ve always wanted to travel to. I wanted to learn more about the culture, visit the ancient temples and see the beautiful cherry blossom first hand. The latter seemed a good place to start my research as my trip would be timed perfectly with cherry blossom season, but what I encountered over the next two weeks blew all my expectations out of the water. Japan is the most amazingly beautiful and diverse place, and its people are some of the friendliest I’ve met on all my travels.

Tokyo was an enormous juxtaposition of high-speed lifestyle combined with ancient temples, religion and history on a scale that completely surpasses London. This shot below is of the modern side of the capital, where 24 hours a day traffic flows through the city.

Sensi-Jo shrine in Tokyo is guarded by two huge half-lion / half-dog stone guardians called Komainu who protect it from evil. Other shrines, such as the Inari shrine which I visited in Kyoto (see below), are instead guarded by foxes. Across Japan there are many different types of shrines, all of which are dedicated to various kami or gods, such as the kami of rice.

Reaching speeds of 200mph, the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shikansen train flies by in a perfectly smooth blur with brief glimpses of the Japanese coastline and Mount Fuji in the distance.

They say in Japan that if the bullet train is late, it’s your watch which is wrong. Even the drivers had pristine uniforms and bowed to each other at the changeover of shifts. An amazing way to travel.

The 4 days I spent in Kyoto could have been extended to 40 and I wouldn’t have seen everything this beautiful city has to offer. Arashiyama Bamboo Forest was really one of the highlights for me. Vast swathes of these giant plants are grown and harvested to manufacture baskets,
cups, boxes and mats using ancient techniques in local workshops.

In Kyoto, geishas can occasionally be seen sashaying through the streets and are immediately identifiable by their white make-up, elaborate kimono and perfect hair. For me they are part of the Japanese culture which really sets it apart from what we are accustomed to in the West. To be allowed to photograph one of these beautiful hostesses was a real privilege for me.

Thousands of orange torii gates line the trail up the hillside to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto (see below). Each one is inscribed with the name of a donor who has contributed up to one million yen for the privilege of having a permanent home on the shrine. It takes over 2 hours to reach the summit of the mountain and the entire route is populated with these beautiful torii.

Once a year, for the briefest time, Japan explodes in a sea of pink and white cherry blossom. The Japanese themselves enjoy this as much as the tourists who have travelled to see it, and in Maruyama Park they hold a festival of celebration. The cherry blossom is lit up with ornate streetlights and cauldrons of incense which infuse the whole park with scent as they burn. It was one of the highlights of my trip and provided a sensory overload of sights and smells.

Back onto the bullet train and I headed for Mount Fuji. Such is the cultural importance of it that UNESCO selected the mount as a “cultural” rather than “natural” heritage site because of the inspiration it lends to poets, artists and as the object of pilgrimages. For 3 days I waited patiently for the volcano to emerge from the clouds which so often envelop it, and on the last day of my stay, just as I was leaving for the airport, the clouds cleared and the majestic mountain presented itself.

Risking missing my flight I immediately jumped into the cable car which provides the quickest route to the best viewpoint of Fujisan and rattled off as many pictures as I could.

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