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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Laduree Osaka Mitsukoshi Department Store

Laduree Osaka Stationラデュレ大阪三越伊勢丹

To arrive at this point - seated in a temple devoted to the high art of Parisian macaroons - we endured the following:

1. torrential rain
2. a crammed Sunday express train from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station
3. Osaka Station overflowing with people (it was recently opened following extensive renovations)
4. a one-hour wait at the front of the Laduree tea shop

And it was worth it.

The Parisian tea salon par excellence crafts macaroons worthy of such a trip, and more.


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Monday, May 30, 2011

Kyoto Bicycle Chic (Rainy Day Version)

Kyoto Bicycle Chic京都自転車シック(雨の日)

A typhoon whipped through Kyoto this weekend, with the heaviest rains coming on Sunday.

A surprising number of cyclists were out in the downpour.

This woman, in front of a police box on Oike Dori not far from City Hall, was ready for  a deluge.

She is on her all-purpose "mama chari" bicycle. Her light blue "kappa" (rain coat) has a hood, and the exterior lining is a bright red.

The basket, which is above the front wheel, is covered with a rain-proof lining.

The piece de resistance, though, is the surgical mask. She either has a cold or is suffering from a pollen allergy.


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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bicycle Film Festival Tokyo


The annual Bicycle Film Festival will make a brief stop in Japan later this summer.

From August 26 - 28, films will be screened in Tokyo.

Details have yet to be announced. We will keep readers updated.


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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fushimi Inari Fox

Fushimi Inari Fox伏見稲荷の狐

Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of Inari and is located in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto.

There are estimated to be 32,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan.

They are considered to be a patron saint of business; as a result, each of the famed vermillion torii gates has been donated by a business, whose name is inscribed thereon.

Inari are also patron saints of rice.

Foxes are frequently found within Inari shrines. The foxes are thought to keep a close watch on human affairs.

These foxes are often portrayed with a key in their mouth. The key is for the rice granary.


Fushimi Inari Shrine
68 Fukakusa Yabu-no-uchi-cho, Kyoto

Entrance Fee: Free


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Rainy Season Cycling Kyoto


It is hard to decide the worst season for cycling in Kyoto.

A clear vote-getter would be The Dead of Winter.

This is when your fingers feel as they they will break off even though they are cocooned within the thick "all-season" gloves you paid dearly for; when your ears turn pink and burn from the cold; when black patches on the road mean ice.

Others might argue for High Summer. This is the dreaded time of year when riding at any time save late at night is a sweat-drenched exercise in self-immolation; when the sound of your breathing pounds in your ears; when bus fumes hang in thick clouds waiting for, no, daring you, to pass through.

Our personal vote might however be for rainy season.

Rainy season on the island of Honshu, which is where Kyoto is, generally lasts from about the second week of June until the third week of July. (Kyotoites say that rainy season ends with Gion Festival, which is held on the 17th.)

The weather varies during the six weeks, but in general it is muggy with a constant drizzle.

It rarely pours, but the rain is heavy enough that even a short ride requires rain gear.

Thus, the rain gear keeps out the rain, but keeps in a cold rancid layer of sweat that cleaves to your body and clothing for hours.

Still, compared to being stuck in a bus or subway full of similarly clammy commuters, the bike wins out.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bicycle Parking JR Nijo Station

Parking in front of Nijo Station二条駅前の駐輪

Both sides of Japan Railways (JR)'s Nijo Station have been fitted with parking spots.

In addition, there are prominent signs saying not to ride through the open area in front of the ticket wicket (you either need to get off and push, or ride a bit south and ride past the public bicycle parking lot).

These lots are free for 30 minutes, then charge a minimal amount thereafter.

In addition, at the shopping mall just west of the entrance to the station - on the opposite side - there is free bike parking for up to two areas for patrons of the mall.

And, as noted above, there is also the all day 150 yen bike lot option.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Poring Over the Racing Forms Kyoto Keirin

Kyoto Keirin punters京都競輪を賭する男二人

Two men seated in front of the grandstand at the recent Kyoto Keirin races are well into their racing forms.

With roughly five minutes to go for bets to be placed - the time remaining is posted on the scoreboard, and announcements are made at brief intervals as the clock ticks down - the men are deep in thought.

We met the man on the left, who shared a few insights with us - and his losses.

"I come to all of the races in Kyoto, have been doing so for years. I study the racers online," he said.

"My 'system' is to bring one 10,000 yen note [roughly $100 USD]. That's my limit for a day."

And how did he fare?

"I usually walk away with the original amount plus enough to go out for dinner and few beers."


"Akan! No good at all. I'm down to my last thousand with two races left. The racers are not cooperating at all!"


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shinshindo Cafe Kyoto

Shinshindo Sign進々堂京都

In the Hyakumanben area of Kyoto is one of the city's most storied cafes, Shinshindo.

The Shinshindo company was founded in 1913 and today is one of the leading bakeries in Kyoto. Founder Hitoshi Tsuzuki was the first Japanese baker to make the trip to Paris to learn authentic French baking.

He traveled around Europe in 1924 for six months and brought back what he had learned.

The main cafe is located on Imadegawa Dori across from Kyoto University.

It first opened in 1930 and has served thousands of students, professors, and others for many decades.

The tables and chairs are broad and ideal for study. The main room is spacious; a garden in the rear also has tables and a trellis with a wisteria bush.

The tables were made by Tatsuaki Kuroda, maker of the Meiji Emperor's throne.

The current owner is Satoshi Kawaguchi, the great-grandson of Hitoshi Tsuzuki.

Photography is not permitted inside the cafe.


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Monday, May 23, 2011

Gardens at Chishakuin Temple

Chishakuin Temple garden智積院の庭園

Chishakuin Temple is well-known for both its panel paintings and its gardens.

Not far from the Hyatt hotel and Kyoto National Museum, it is easy to cycle to.

In 1674, the main garden was rebuilt; however, it was later destroyed by fire.

Chishakuin's garden is believed to have been built by tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591).

On June 15, Chishakuin hosts the Green Leaf Festival. This festival celebrates the birth of founder Kukai, (aka, Kobo-Daishi, 744-835).


Hours: 9 am - 4 pm
Fee: 500 yen for adults


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kyoto Keirin Bicycle Racing

Kyoto Keirin京都競輪

Kyoto's local Keirin bicycle racing track is a trip back in time.

Not to the Heian Period or the Meiji Period or even the Taisho Era, this is a trip to the 1970s.

The venue is heavy on concrete and green cloth awnings and hard edges - a developing country's idea of an Impressive Project.

Kyoto's track is 500 meters long, so races run for five laps (Keirin races tend to be 2,000 - 3,000 meters long).

On a recent Saturday, there were 12 races.

Each race featured nine racers, with the final race having the highest ranked racers. (Keirin is, like European soccer, broken into level. Based upon one's performance it is possible to be promoted - or demoted - to another level.)

Racers ranged in age from early twenties to a ripe 60. There were five racers in their 50s. The younger men clearly have an advantage in sudden full-on acceleration. However, Keirin is a cat-and-mouse game in which the racers use guile as much as physical power to position themselves and nip other racers at the finish line.

The strongest racers tend to be in their mid- or late-30s

For much of the beginning of the race, the pace is almost leisurely. By the third lap, however, the racers are all over the track frantically vying to position themselves for the final sprint to the finish.

Gambling takes place, and ninety percent of the crowd was made up of men between the ages of 50 - 80, racing forms and pencil in hand.

The entrance fee is a paltry 50 yen (55 US cents). The first race set off at 10:50 am; the last race began at roughly 4:20 pm. There are small stores that sell coffee, fish lunches, beer, ice cream, and more.

There was little open drinking, and the atmosphere was subdued. According to two punters we befriended, at a higher stakes race with top racers the vibe would be more charged. Still, it was never uncomfortable or threatening. A foreigner with a camera elicited no stares, and less interest.


From JR Mukomachi Station (3 local stops from Kyoto Station), it is a 20-minute walk or 5-minute free shuttle bus ride.

From Hankyu Higashi Muko Station, it is a 15-minute walk or short shuttle bus ride.

Upcoming Keirin Races in Kyoto 2011

July 6 - 8
July 18 - 20
August 8 - 10
September 5 - 7


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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mail Slot Near Nijo Castle Kyoto

Letter box Kyoto民家の郵便入り口

While riding between Nijo Castle and Sanjokai the other day, we came across this mail slot on the wall that surrounded a large and gracious older home.

From right to left it reads:


Slot for mail and newspapers

We were nearly tempted to give it a try, if only to hear the clank of the solid metal banging back down.


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Friday, May 20, 2011

Cycling Krakow Poland

Krakow Old City自転車でポランドのクラクフ

Krakow, Poland, is a lovely city. The Old City is a World Heritage Site; it is vast and beautifully maintained.

Beyond it, but within walking or easy cycling distance, are the city's Jewish Quarter, Wawel Castle, and the National Museum of Krakow.

The city has a dense network of trams and buses, so car traffic is not terrible.

Moreover, the city has begun work on bike lanes, extending existing lanes and extending others.

One lane runs along Grodzka Street near Wawel Castle.

Even when there are no lanes, cycling in the center of the city is often easy-going and enjoyable.


Krakow Old City CyclistCycleKyoto Home Page


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cycling to Tojiin Temple


Founded in 1338, Tojiin Temple is located in northwest Kyoto just south of Ritsumeikan University. It is not far from the Golden Pavilion or Ryoanji Temple.

Tojiin is known for its beautiful Japanese gardens and tea house, and was originally the temple of the Ashikaga shoguns.

Lord Takauji Ashikaga, who founded the temple, had the renowned landscape designer Soseki Muso design and install the gardens and ponds on the grounds.

The garden at Tojiin is divided into an eastern section ("Shinji-chi") and western section ("Fuyo-cho," or Lotus Pond).

At the northern end of the grounds is a tea house with thatched roof.

This striking painting greets visitors as they enter the temple.

Admission Fee: 500 yen; 5.30am-4-30pm.

(075) 461-5786


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cycling to Kodaiji Temple

kodaiji temple自転車で高台寺へ

Kodaiji Temple is part of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and located atop a bluff in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

It was founded in 1606 by Nene, the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The temple itself is a short walk up from Nene no Michi (The Path of Nene), a fabulous street in east Kyoto.

It has quite a few objects listed as Important Cultural Assets. The Main Gate and the Spirit Hall, which are noted for their use of maki-e, are two examples.

Kodaiji Temple also affords a view of central Kyoto.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Higashiyama Kyoto at Night


Many of Kyoto's best-known sites are located in the Higashiyama ("east mountain") area of the city.

This stretches from roughly Kiyomizu Temple up to Chionin and beyond.

It includes the divine areas Nene no Michi (The Path of Nene) and Ninenzaka, both of which are perfect for strolling.

On a bicycle, the area can be covered in a day with no trouble.

For riders starting at Kyoto Station, head up Kawaramachi or Karasuma, and turn right at Gojo Dori. Ride across the bridge and keep on going straight until you arrive at Higashi Oji Dori.

This will take you to Kiyomizu Temple via Chawan Zaka, the narrow route lined with shops that snakes its way up to the temple.

In places, it is best to get off and push - or park and walk - because of the crowds.

Or, better yet - ride it at night. You won't get into the temples, but you will have the roads and environs to yourself.


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Monday, May 16, 2011

Japanese Screen Chishakuin Temple

Screen at Chishakuin Temple智積院の屏風

Chishakuin Temple is justly famous for its panel paintings and its gardens. It is located just across the street from the Hyatt hotel and Kyoto National Museum.

It was originally built at Koyasan, a holy mountain in Wakayama Prefecture, in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's son Sutemaru, who died at age three. The buildings were moved to Kyoto in 1598 on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In 1674, the main garden was rebuilt but later destroyed by fire.

Chishakuin's garden, which is thought to be the work of Momoyama Period tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), is known for the fabulous azaleas which bloom in late April and early May.

In addition to its gardens, it is the paintings at Chishakuin that draw in the crowds. They are done on panels and are believed to be the work of Hasegawa Tohaku and his son Kyuzo.

Roughly half of the original paintings remain. Within the temple, “Pine Tree and Flowering Plants," “Cherry and Maple Trees," “Pine and Plum Trees” are in particular magnificent.

For those in Kyoto on June 15, it is worth stopping in on the Green Leaf Festival at Chishakuin. This celebrates the birth of founder Kukai, (aka, Kobo-Daishi, 744-835). The festival is a fire ceremony, which is a symbolic link between heaven and earth.


Hours: 9 am - 4 pm
Fee: 500 yen for adults


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wroclaw Poland Bicycle Lane

Wroclaw Bike Laneポランドヴロツワフの自転車専用レーン

Wroclaw, Poland, has a decent network of bicycle lanes.

Most, if not all, lanes are not separated from the rest of the street or sidewalks.

However, there does not seem to be a need for barriers and other measures often used in other cities.

The trams and buses that run throughout the city are ubiquitous and frequent enough that automobile traffic is not horrific.

Bicycles are an established part of the fabric of the city's public transportation.

The lane pictured above is just north of the main square in the Old City. The bike lane is demarcated merely by the white lane and the symbol of a bike.

The cobblestones and doorways created a wonderful backdrop for the lane.


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Friday, May 13, 2011

Nape of Woman's Neck Arashiyama Kyoto

Nape of woman in kimono京都嵐山着物項

To the Western male, the nape of the neck does not rank high on the potential delights of the female body.

To Japanese men, it is a highly erotic area.

This is perhaps due to the fact that in the past it was one of very few parts of the body left uncovered.

Geisha continue to exploit this fascination, wearing the collar of their kimono low to expose the nape, which is painted in dramatic fashion in white.

The nape moreover has been depicted in many works of art. "Shaving the Nape of the Neck" is a well known work by painter Utamaro. In the manga series "Kimi no Unaji ni Kanpai!" ("Cheers for the Nape of your Neck!") the main character instantly falls in love when he spies a woman's nape (and only with the nape, not with the woman!). In Yukio Mishima's novel Forbidden Colours, the nape of young man is noted by the (gay) author.

The woman pictured here was at a ceremony in Arashiyama to celebrate her daughter's twelfth birthday.


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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Church of Saint Peter and Paul Krakow

Krakow Church聖ペテロ&パウロ教会クラクフ

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul is located on Grodzka Street in the Old Town district of Krakow.

It is a Polish Baroque church built between 1597 - 1619 by the Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni.

The dolomite facade of of the church is particularly striking.

Grodzka Street is a direct route from the center of Krakow's Old City to Wawel Castle.

The street can become very thick with pedestrian traffic - and is quite touristy - but there is a bike lane along this street.

The lane is not fenced off but locals and tourists alike respected the boundary of the lane, marked only by bike symbols painted onto the street, and rarely ventured into it even by mistake.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bike One Rental Krakow Poland

Krakow Bike Lotポランドクラクフレンタルサイクル

On a recent trip to southern Poland, we had the chance to visit the beautiful city of Krakow.

Its Old City is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is large but easily navigated on foot.

For those who want to ride, though - to move more quickly or to points farther afield - the city has a public bicycle rental system.

It is similar to Barcelona's Bicing, Paris's Velib, and Kyoto's Community Cycle.

The Bike One program debuted in 2008. To use the bikes, one must register and make a deposit so it is perhaps better suited for residents than short-term visitors.

The city is criss-crossed by tram routes, so automobile traffic is not usually a problem.

The bikes are sturdy and useful for trips to the Jewish Quarter, Nowa Suta, and other places.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Paul Klee Exhibit Kyoto


The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto is currently exhibiting 170 of Paul Klee's works.

The Swiss painter (1879 - 1940) is hugely popular in Japan, and following the Kyoto run the "Art in the Making (1883 - 1940)" exhibit will move to Tokyo.

The majority of the works come from the Zentrum Paul Klee, in Bern.

Most have never been shown in Japan.

The Museum is in Okazaki, which is a short ride from the center of Kyoto.


March 12 – May 15
Closed on Mondays
Exception: Open on March 21 (Mon./Holiday) and May 2 (Mon.) Closed on March 22 (Tues.)

Regular hours
9:30AM-5:00PM (admission until 4:30PM)

Evening hours (every Friday)
9:30AM-8:00PM (admission until 7:30PM)


1500 for adults, 1100 for university students


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Monday, May 9, 2011

Kyoto Cycle Cafe

Kyoto Cycle Cafe京都サイクルカフェ

Cycling near Nishijin recently, we found this ordinary mom and pop cafe.

Other than the sign itself, there did not seem to be much about the cafe that was related to cycling or bikes.

It won't make our Best Cafes in Kyoto, but the sign was worth a photo.


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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bike Parking in Wroclaw Poland

Bikje Parking in in Wraclowポランドヴロツワフの自転車駐輪所

Among the many charms of cycling in Wroclaw, Poland, are the ubiquitous parking "lots" - arty metal sculptures to which you lock your bicycle.

Found throughout much of central Wroclaw, these lock stands are usually packed full with bicycles.

This one (top right), near the city's Duchowne Seminary, was empty and there was little pedestrian traffic in the area.

The park to the left of the photo was also nearly empty.

More typical is the situation below left, in the Main Square of the city's Old City.


Wroclaw Parked BicyclesCycleKyoto Home Page


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fushimi Canal

Fushimi Canal伏見運河

In the southern end of Fushimi, in deep south Kyoto, a narrow canal runs close to several of the sake breweries.

In days of old, this canal was used by barges that moved the barrels of sake north to Kyoto and south to Osaka.

Today the canal has tourist boats, tied to the sides of the canal.

The canal is lined with cherry trees and a short walk from the Gekkeikan Museum.


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Friday, May 6, 2011

Kyoto Bicycle Anti-Theft Sticker

towing sticker kyoto自転車にツーロック!

This colorful sticker was attached with a rubber band to a bike illegally parked along Kawabata Dori near Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto.

In fact, each of the 30 or so bikes parked along a railing that separated the sidewalk from the Kamo River below was decorated with such stickers.

From right to left, the sticker reads "This bike is being targeted!"

Below that, a bicycle is in the crosshairs.

The left column states:

"Let's definitely lock up twice."

The police campaign is urging cyclists to use two locks. It is a bit strange, as this area sees a lot of foot traffic. The bikes are taking up precious space on the sidewalk.

The usual stickers - warning against parking here at all - have been absent for a while.


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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Path of Nene Green Tea Ice Cream Cones

Ice cream cones on Nene no Michiアイスクリーム寧々の道

Nene (1546-1624) was an aristocrat who lived during the Sengoku and Edo periods of Japanese history. She was married to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified and ruled Japan.

She was his principal wife.

Nene was a highly intelligent woman but did not bear him children.

What Nene is best known for today is the street that bears her name:

The Path of Nene

This beautiful street runs north to south in the Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto. It lies below Kodaiji Temple, and is a short walk from Kiyomizu Temple.

On a recent evening, these giant fake green tea ice cream cones beckoned to the few passersby.

During peak times - cherry blossom season and fall colors - cycling is not recommended.


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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cycling in Wroclaw Poland

Biking in Wroclawポーランドのヴロツワフでサイクリング

Wroclaw, Poland's fourth largest city, is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.

It is located in southwestern Poland in what was at various times in history a part of Germany.

Until 1945, the city was called Breslau and controlled by Germany.

After suffering terrible damage during World War II, then neglect during the decades of communist rule, the city today is vibrant and attractive.

It is a city of rivers and trams, squares and parks - and very good for cycling.

Bike lanes run through much of the city and along the river path that runs from Podwale.


Bicycle docking stations already have appeared in the main square. Further information can be found here.


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Wroclaw Parked BicyclesTags

Inoda Coffee Kyoto

Inoda Cafe Kyotoイノダコーヒー本店

For Kyoto coffee freaks, a trip to Inoda Coffee is somewhat like visiting Philadelphia's Independence Hall is to Americans - this is where it all started.

The main store - pictured at right - is an old elegant building. The coffee shop opened in 1946, and has been going strong since.

To the hipster crowd, Inoda represents a musty place with waiters and waitresses that seat the blue-haired set out for a day of shopping.

To which we reply, yes, guilty!

However, look at the building, smell and drink the coffee, groove on the interior.

There are six shops in Kyoto, and the main Inoda Coffee is the best of the bunch.

This is where coffee culture, if not actually began, got a huge caffeinated shot.


On Sakaimachi Dori south of Sanjo dori.


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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Traditional Bike Shop Fushimi Kyoto

Bike Shop Fushimi Kyoto町家自転車屋伏見

On a corner of Ryoma Dori in Fushimi is this wonderful neighborhood bicycle shop.

The Miyata Bike Shop is a regular, local place where you can have a tire repaired or buy a simple bike for shopping.

Perhaps because of its location - in a historic area with links to Ryoma Sakamoto (a rebel leader who attempted to overthrow the Japanese government but, prior to doing so, was ultimately assassinated, in central Kyoto, on 15 November 1867) and many sake breweries - the buildings have a unified elegant look.

Fushimi itself is of course worth a trip, and of course a tour to a sake brewery.


From Tofukuji Temple, at Kujo Dori, ride south on the street that runs north-south and is due west of the temple. Fushimi Inari Shrine will be on the right. Ride under the Meishin Expressway. At the Sumizoe intersection, turn right and cross the train tracks. Several blocks later, at Route 35 (Shindan Highway, a two lane urban street), turn left. This will take riders into Fushimi. At the Ote-suji intersection - Fushimi Momoyama train station is just down the block to the right - turn right and head toward the station.

About one hour one-way.


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Monday, May 2, 2011

Ninnaji Temple Roof

Ninnaji Temple Roof仁和寺の屋根

The main gate at Ninnaji Temple features two devils to ward away evil.

The roof itself spreads wide in tent like fashion, imposing and strong.

This photo is standing to the left at the base of the steps leading up into the temple - and looking directly up.


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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gion Kyoto Delivery Bicycle

Gion Delivery Company祇園配達自転車

On the eastern edge of Gion we found this amazing delivery bicycle.

Perhaps even more amazing was the building it was parked in front of: it is a delivery company (takyubin)'s local administrative center.

In other words, if you peek into the open door you will see:

a. a geisha
b. a maiko
c. a woman in kimono serving green tea
d. lots of cardboard boxes waiting to be delivered

The answer is of course d., and this nearly brought tears of joy to our eyes.


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