Into the Leaves: Kyoto at its Finest

As someone who grew up in Central Pennsylvania, I was always accustomed to the presence of beautiful foliage when the calendar started to hit November. Even though I was often forced into raking or mowing up the leaves on my yard, I have always had an appreciation for the changing of the seasons. In my youth, I read about the beauty of Kyoto’s leaves, but never thought the changing of the seasons would be very different than that of the interior Northeastern United States. I was about to find out how wrong that assumption was.

Kyoto is always towards the top of all travel destinations in all of the Japan-centric tour books, websites, magazines, etc., and for good reason. The city is truly beautiful. From the temples in far off Arashiyama to the often photographed Kiyomizudera to the shops and bamboo groves in between, Kyoto is a remarkable place for both traveler and Japanese resident, alike. Being this is my second time living in Japan but only my first time here in the autumn, I made sure to venture to one of Kyoto’s most famous events this weekend and take in the spectacle that is leaf viewing (Japanese: 紅葉 Kouyou).

My friends and I hopped into the JR train bound for Kyoto from Sannomiya, Kobe, early in the morning to start this day. After an hour on the fast and comfortable ride, we had arrived at our first stop on the day’s tour: Arashiyama. Arashiyama is west of Kyoto proper and is famous for its shopping streets near the Oi River, the Iwatayama Monkey Park, a host of temples, and a large bamboo grove. We were off to a few of the temples and to take in the view along the water. No monkeys today.

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We started the day off at Tenryuji to see what the famous temple and ponds would have to offer. Nearly as soon as we arrived, we were not disappointed. The grove of trees leading up to the ticket gate already had some trees sporting a full array of autumn colors. Ranging from light green to deep red, these trees were a sign of things to come for our day trip.

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Once we entered the official temple grounds, another iconic Japanese autumn scene was upon us. A room covered with tatami mats set in front of our eyes. As we peered over the tatami and envisioned tea ceremonies past, the foliage at Sogen Pond became visible. This whole scene was classic Japan, as far as I was concerned.

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We continued our way through the temple complex, gawking with hundreds of other tourists at the changing leaves, not knowing what to expect around the next turn. The photos outside showed Sogen Pond in its best state, but what could we possibly expect? There was no way the scene could look as good as presented on the ticket booth, was there? Here’s how the garden looked. Remarkable.

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With gargantuan koi swimming throughout the pond and a perfectly manicured Japanese rock garden in the foreground, we all took a second to take in this beautiful scene. The vibrancy of the red and yellow cast against the permanence of the evergreens helped make this photograph. If we had come here one day earlier or later, the colors would not have been as contrasting as they were today. Lest I forget, kimonos were in full force, as well.

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We continued onward, and upward, traversing more paths filled with vibrant leaves and tourists taking hundreds of pictures. With a mossy undergrowth to our left and right and changing leaves in front of a backdrop of pines and Kyoto, this location offered a unique view.

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After snapping a few more pictures, we continued onward to the river to see the leaves cast against the water and famous rowboats in the region. Little did we know, thousands of other tourists had the same exact idea.

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Amidst the rickshaws, children’s strollers, and masses of people, we ate some homemade karaage on the banks of the river before we continued onward to watch all of the boats on the water. Thee backdrop of boats on the river made the whole scene quite spectacular.

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After a long walk back to Arashiyama Station (and a few sweets and special Japanese drinks along the way), we were back on the train and headed to our next destination on this trip, Tofukuji. Tofukuji is famous for its bridge over a small brook that traverses the temple grounds. surrounding the bridge and an expanse between the other side of the temple are Japanese maples and other trees. These iconic trees were nearing peak color on Sunday and we were in for a real treat even though so many tourists were there at the same time. While monks waked down the stone paths amid the tourists, I stopped to take several photos of the leaves. Here is what I saw:

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Isn’t this a remarkable image? We were all taken back when we saw the leaves and could not believe the wide array of colors right in front of us.

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No trip to Kyoto is complete without visiting the famous Kiyomizudera Temple, so we decided to make this our last stop of the day. To facilitate ore visitors and an unforgettable evening, Kyoto illuminates the temple at night during leaf viewing season and the results are beautiful, to say the least. As soon as you exit the train station in Kiyomizu, there is a strong beam of light that goes straight through the nighttime sky, guiding you towards the temple. Everyone on the train from Western tourists to kimono-wearing Japanese headed towards the beam. Once you get close enough, here is what you see.

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The leaves were illuminated, as well.

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While not in perfect bloom, the colors in Kyoto this weekend made for an interesting and photogenic day trip. The combination of green, red, yellow, and orange is something I never saw before in such vibrancy back on the East Coast of the United States. If people are trying to see these leaves at their peak, I would suggest going to Kyoto as soon as you can. The nights in Kansai have been getting colder and the leaves have been falling off of the trees here in Kobe. You should take advantage of your proximity to Kyoto if you live in Kansai and go see these leaves if you have the opportunity.

I had a great time and recommend a similar day trip in Kyoto to anyone visiting Japan this fall.

All photos and content in this post (c) Erik Jacobs, November 18, 2013, erikabroad.com. All rights reserved. 

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Street Food, the Best Food

Street Food, the Best Food

Living in Japan, sampling delicious street food, trying new and exciting foods, and sometimes bartering for a better price gradually becomes a way of life. Yesterday I went to Kyoto and returned to Arashiyama to take in some of the famed autumn leaves as they change from green to vivid shades of red, yellow, and orange.

When we arrived in Arashiyama, just west of Kyoto, we noticed how amazing and beautiful the koyo (紅葉)were. The vividness of the leaves, boats on the river, and people watching were memorable and I will post about the day at a later date.

The one image that will stick with me from the trip to Arashiyama is sampling some of the abundant street food. This stand, offering yakitori, corn, and hot dogs, was the most lively. Between bartering, flipping the yakitori, and selling their products, this Japanese family sure worked hard. Sampling street food is a part of everyone’s life in Japan. This photo captures some of the energy at this food stand.

Street food is the best food.

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Monkey Business in Japan

Monkey Business in Japan

Have you ever been somewhere where you knew, for certain, that you would never return in the rest of your life? When I set foot in Arashiyama, Japan, two years ago with my study abroad program, I knew I would NEVER return to that city again. However, I was more certain that I would never go to the monkey park that is located atop one of the smaller mountains just across the river that traverses through Arashiyama.

I first went there with some friends during a trip to Kansai and was amazed by how many wild monkeys ran about freely without a fear of humans. You can feed the monkeys, take photos of them, and get very close without any fear of attack or something going wrong. I had the pleasure to return there on Saturday with a friend I met at language school last summer.

Aside from the amazing view of Kyoto from above, there are countless opportunities to capture priceless memories. Check out these monkeys drinking at the small pond at the top of the mountain while a koi feeds on a floating leaf. This picture is worth a thousand words.

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A Kimono in Kyoto

A Kimono in Kyoto

I took this stunning photo on a bridge in Arashiyama, just west of Kyoto, Japan, on Saturday, October 12, 2013. The scenery at this location was truly remarkable, but having the chance to take this candid photo truly made my day. The perfect peach color of her kimono and the bow coupled with the mountainous scenery makes this a photo I will never forget. Erik Jacobs (c) 2013

Walking into the Sunset in Kyoto

This Sunday, I hopped aboard the JR Rapid Express train at Kobe’s Sannomiya station to revisit one of my favorite travel destinations from my 2011 study abroad experience: Kyoto. What I had hoped would be an enjoyable day ended up being a nearly perfect day in many different aspects. 

As soon as I stepped outside my door in rural Kobe, I knew that today’s weather would be absolutely perfect for photography and sightseeing in Kyoto. The first time I visited Kyoto back in the winter of 2011, it was a cloudy day that was not very accomidating to quality photography. I took many photos, but not too many to worth keeping or printing. They all exuded a feeling of the day’s bitter cold and dreariness. Today’s weather would be rather different. While it was the hottest October day on record for Kobe, there was very little humidity. 

Upon arrival in Kyoto about one hour after departing from Sannomiya, I was instantly hit with the positive memories from my entire study abroad program and my initial trip to Japan. Have you ever been somewhere for the first time and you thought that you would never return to that place again? The first time I went to Kyoto, I knew, for certain, that I would never return. As a result, I took in as much of the city as I could. From Arashiyama and its monkey park, to downtown Kyoto and the shopping in the train station, I did it all. Today’s return and a probable return on Saturday with a friend allowed me to slow down and take in more of the sights and sounds than I was able to during my first visit to Kyoto. 

This time for reflection and observation took me back to 2011, as I relived heading to the famous sites with my friends and the joy we all experienced as we entered Kansai for the first time. Long-forgotten memories of getting on the wrong train and being hopelessly lost in rural Kyoto and desperately phoning our chaperone for help and other memories of enjoying a green tea flavored parfait on the streets after drinking a warm, pancake-flavored, vending machine drink rushed back to me all at once.

History even had a way of repeating itself as I nearly boarded the incorrect train bound for Arashiyama in the hectic Kyoto Station. All I could do was chuckle to myself as I nearly made the same mistake as I did years ago. The only difference this time is that I have a handle on Japanese and should not have made any of the mistakes I did two years ago!

I took a moment to take in all of the sites for a second time as I crossed the bridge into Arashiyama. It was amazing how all those positive memories from years ago came rushing back all at once. The memories and the places that hold forgotten memories helped make today a perfect day. I was taken back to the excitement of walking across the bridge to begin the ascent to the monkey park. I remembered which flags were flying outside of Kyoto Station. I even remembered what we ate for lunch that day during our free time in the city. The brain is so amazing as it keeps so many memories locked away, waiting fo rthe perfect time to reveal them once again.

The third aspect that made today perfect was the scenery. While I stayed confined to an area adjacent to Arashiyama, the scenery was absolutely perfect. Whether I was riding the one car train between Arashiyama and Kinkakuji Temple, walking through the streets, or heading down the bamboo walkway, the lighting and the atmosphere of the entire day was perfect. Joyful tourists filled the air with conversation and laughter and the clear air and clear skies allowed the sun to illuminate the area in a way I had never seen in the past. Kinkakuji glistened in the sun and the bamboo walkway became a perfectly lit walkway through a subdued forest. I even got a glimpse of some geisha riding a rickshaw before departing towards Kyoto. I started my day walking through the city and revisiting old sites and ended my day watching a young woman walk off into the sunset in the groves of bamboo stalks. 

The following photo is the best representation I can provide as to why today was an amazing day in Kyoto. May you all have the ability to walk off into the sunset someday like I did today. Image