Thursday, October 17, 2013

After dark in lantern-lit Kyoto

Lanterns at the entrance to Nishiki Tenmangu --
and yes, it's a shrine near Nishiki Market! 

 More lanterns -- this time at Yasaka Shrine

 Still more lanterns -- this time in Gion

I swear: I was not planning to visit any temple or shrine on the fourth day of my recent Kyoto trip -- the one for which I decided I needed to do other things in order to overcome temple fatigue.  But while walking around the area near Nishiki Market, I came across the Nishiki Tenmangu shrine -- and figured that I really had learnt quite a bit about Shinto shrines when I realized, without coming any sign with its name in English, that I knew that it was dedicated to Tenjin, the Shinto god/spirit of education since that particular shrine had a large statue of an ox or bull, the animal one associates with that god/spirit.

After dinner, with my enthusiasm for shrine and temple visiting restored, I decided to head over to the Yasaka Shrine in Gion that I had heard stays open 24 hours each day. At this larger shrine, I saw a statue of a man and a rabbit similar to one that I had seen at the Jishu Shrine -- and so figured that the same deity is honored at both these Shinto places of worship.  And, as at Nishiki Tenmangu, I saw many lighted lanterns that made for a really stunning sight at night.

Since I still felt far from sleepy at that point, I decided to stroll around some more in Gion -- and decided to head to picturesque Hanami-koji, a street lined to this day with preserved machiya, including Ichiriki-chaya, the historic establishment that, according to the story of the 47 Ronin (told in many forms, including a 1941 film by the great Kenji Mizoguchi), that group's leader, Oishi Kuranosuke, whiled away years pretending to party in order to trick his enemies into thinking that he had no intention of avenging his lord's dishonorable death.

For the most part, I enjoyed strolling along Hanami-koji and a few of its side-streets.  However, I also came across sights there that made me wince.  More specifically, I encountered one humongous guided-tour group of tourists (mainly Westerners) that was precisely the type that makes me loath to go in a guided tour group and, worse, a pack of photographs who converged on a geisha and proceeded to treat her like a rare animal they had spotted while on a photo safari!

Honestly, I felt so bad for the poor geisha (or geiko, as Kyoto-ites prefer to call them) -- and also embarrassed to be a tourist like that horde of insensitive camera-clickers.  Fortunately, however, I found few of them -- and, for that matter, large groups of other tourists too -- about in the side alleys and lanes off of Hanami-koji that are peaceful as well as pretty at nightSo once again, I discovered that Kyoto is a city that attracts many tourists -- but also that there are many parts of the city, some of them very close to popular attractions and sights, where few other foreigners appear to venture!


Bill said...


This entry has a special appeal for me because I always get a rush from night photos of streets with radiant lanterns, especially in Japan and Taiwan. The bottom photo in Gion is a perfect example of why I love night photography. As you point out, "side alleys and lanes" frequently provide discoveries for the wanderer that linger in the mind long after a vacation has ended.

Glad you mention Kenji Mizoguchi, a director who had special insight into women characters and the spirits associated with them. Ugetsu is my favorite Japanese film.

"After dark in lantern-lit Kyoto" is a photo-essay for travelers, not tourists.


YTSL said...

Hi Bill --

I'm glad my lantern shots came out okay. Sometimes, my night photos don't turn out as well as I would like.

Re Kenji Mizoguchi: Think my favorite of his film remains "Sansho the Bailiff" -- the first of his films that I've seen.

And thanks much for the compliment with regards to my blog post being for travelers, not tourists. Hope you think it's by a traveler, not tourist too! :)