Culture Vulture

The past few weeks have been jam packed with cultural excursions. Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan, is yet to disappoint. Now that I’ve been living in Kyoto for about seven months, I’ve visited the major attractions (at least, that’s what my Lonely Planet guide tells me…). This means that now I’ve got the opportunity to discover the quirky places that might have otherwise slipped under the radar. Hooray for a year of exploration!

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Pong Pong Yama – we made it!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve joined the hiking circle at Kyoto University. The hike we went on the other day was a lot of fun. I met loads of people, both from my university and also from other universities in the locality. The mountain we climbed, Pong Pong Yama, gave a splendid view over Kyoto, and the trip to the onsen (hot spring bath) afterwards was the perfect way to soothe our aching legs!

I’m joining another hiking trip this weekend (complete with trip to onsen – I won’t say no to that luxury). The hike is near Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, so I’m sure the views will be pretty impressive.

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View from the summit.

A few days after the hike up Pong Pong Yama, some friends and I attended the Miyako Odori, a famous Geisha dance in Kyoto. For more information, check out this website: http://www.miyako-odori.jp/english/. The event began with a tea ceremony where we received matcha (powdered green tea) and traditional Japanese sweets. Delicious and a great experience, particularly as we somehow wangled front row seats! After this we proceeded to the theatre where the dance took place. The performance was made up of a few different stories alongside the depiction of the change of the seasons. Even the male characters were played by the geiko and maiko (geishas and geishas in training), in contrast to Noh theatre, where all characters are played by men. The colourful kimono and elegant gestures were mesmerising. It was a quintessentially Japanese experience and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to see it.

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Tea ceremony before Miyako Odori.

To celebrate my friend Claire’s birthday, we enjoyed a trip to the outdoor onsen in Kurama (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3933.html). Before coming to Japan I thought the idea of bathing naked in a public bath was completely insane. I’m now an onsen convert – what a wonderful way to relax and, especially in the outdoor baths, get closer to nature! Luckily for me, my love of onsen is even placated by the cafés in Kyoto as one of them, Sarasa Nishijin, is a converted public bath house. The original tiles are still in place, giving the establishment a vibrant, quirky atmosphere, and the cocktails aren’t bad either (http://cafe-sarasa.com/shop_nishijin/).

Yesterday I visited Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art and saw two fantastic exhibitions. The first one of these was a group exhibition of modern artwork, ranging from paintings to sculptures. Vibrant colours and exciting textures gave this exhibition depth and vivacity. The second exhibition entitled ‘Clay and Colour’ was of ceramics and drawings created by individuals with learning disabilities. I was very impressed by the pieces on display, from the ornate crocodile encrusted pyramid, to the seemingly Rilakkuma inspired teddy-bear (explore the world of Rilakkuma here: http://www.san-x.jp/characters/rilakkuma.html). What a fantastic way to inspire self-expression and creativity. Visiting such varied exhibitions reminds me of how much fun I had dabbling in different mediums during my art A level. Hopefully I can discover some artistic courses in Kyoto – this cultural capital must surely have something on offer!

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