Japan in June, day 2

I woke this morning to clear blue skies and rising temperatures. Not what I was hoping for but still rather pleasant!

The first task for today was to visit the JR ticket office at Umeda to exchange the UK JR rail pass voucher for the actual rail pass.

I’d pencilled in 30-40 minutes for this, partly because I wasnt sure where the relevant ticket office was and partly because I wasnt sure how busy the service would be, if there would be any translation issues or complicated paperwork to deal with. It’s a testament to Japanese efficiency that it took all of 3 minutes to exchange, validate and issue my rail pass… no queue, no fuss, just handed over the voucher and my passport, signed a document and walked out with 7 days of free Shinkansen use!

Suddenly I was ahead of schedule!

My plan for today had been to travel to Kyoto, visit the Kyoto Museum of Photography, then go back to Kawaramachi, take the train to Kiyomizu, visit the temple (I’ve only ever been outside before) then head to Gion to visit the Leica Gallery before having a walk through Pontocho taking photos and eventually stopping for some food.

As I was half an hour early as I stepped from the train at Kawaramachi I decided to take a detour to nearby Maruyama park to see if it looked any different in this new, more flowery, season…

I wandered around for a while mainly snapping other park visitors, many of whom were out in colourful kimono before I headed out on my quest to find the museum of Photography.

I’d traced the route on Google maps street view several times so I felt like I had a rough idea of direction and landmarks to look out for. The planning seemed to pay off, the only surprise being that it was much closer than I expected based on the painfully slow click click progress I’d made on street view!

The museum is a lovely space filled mainly with work by Japanese photographers, but the themes of the work included lots of images from Europe. There are 2 floors, one of which seems to be a permanent exhibition, presumably by local artists while the other floor seems to be more of a curated show for a fixed period of time before it changes around again.

I was surprised to find a photographer I’ve been following for a while online in the permanent space.. I’d no idea he had work on show in the museum!

As you’ve probably guessed, the reason for the trips to gallery spaces and museums is that I’m hoping to pitch some ideas for future exhibitions here in Japan, ideally with some gallery representation and book sales to go with it! I spent some time talking to the staff member on duty, taking some cards and contact details in the process.

Needless to say i would love to exhibit my Japanese images in Japan so I’ll be in touch with all of the places I visit during this trip. Fingers crossed!

After spending some time looking at the exhibited works – then spending a little too much on photography books to support some of the artists – I set off to trace my route back towards Gion for the train ride to Kiyomizu.

On my way back I found a lovely little covered shopping street which I walked along snapping images of dimly lit shops and cafes. It was still rather early so the place was quite quiet but I’m sure it’s a hive of activity when busy.

I retraced my steps towards my original route then wandered back down along Shijo-dori to the station for the brief trip to Kiyomizu-gojo (if you’ve been following my blog for a while – this is the spot where an old man hit me thinking I was trying to steal from Hayleys backpack before realising what was going on, laughing and hitting me again anyway!)

It’s a 20 minute walk to the temple complex of Kiyomizu Dera but in the hot afternoon sun it felt more like 2hrs!

20 minutes and 2 bottles of water later I arrived at the entrance to the temple, paid my entry fee (Y400) and set off to explore what is an extremely busy and popular site.

While at the temple it suddenly became overcast and I hoped for a while that we might be in for another cloud burst like the one I experienced on my first ever trip to Japan (when I took my exhibition image “Cloudburst on Shijo-dori”) but the rain didn’t come although the shade was very welcome for a while!

Kiyomizu means “pure water” and the name comes from this waterfall. Visitors queue to catch and drink the water which is said to have wish granting properties. I was now so hot that just drinking the water would have been my wish fulfilled had I queued!!

After spending some time photographing a few visitors I wandered back down to the temple entrance for the 20 minute walk back to the station.

For a brief moment at the station I toyed with the idea of going onwards to Fushimi Inari but decided against it and returned to Gion with a view to continuing my planned route.

Back in Gion I almost immediately decided to depart from my plan as I was becoming very dehydrated and not a little hungry so I went straight to Pontocho for a walk in the shady alleys, looking for somewhere to stop for a rest and a bite to eat.

After a dish of spicy fried chicken, veg and rice I wandered back towards Kawaramachi where i noticed a “Highball Bar” was open.

I was first introduced to the Highball through reading Murakami – almost all of his characters love the drink – but had never tried one. (I normally prefer my whisky straight and almost never drink fizzy carbonated drinks) but “try a Highball” was one of my stated goals for this trip so in I went to experience my first Japanese whisky Highball.

It was amazing! Soda, whisky with lots of ice and a hint of orange.

As I was congratulating myself on the goal achievement I noticed they also did a Chita Highball. The Chita is my favourite Japanese whisky (I came back with 3 bottles of the stuff on my last trip!) , so in for a penny in for a Yen i thought and ordered one of those too – this time with a draft Suntory beer to “cleanse the pallet” in between drinks… you know? Purely so I could appreciate the subtle differences in the two Highballs… 😉

Again another great drink but if I’m honest the original took the prize due to the subtle flavour the orange added (no orange in the Chita one).

Resisting the temptation to sample the rest of the menu I dragged myself reluctantly back to Gion, primarily with a view to visiting the Leica Gallery but also with one eye on Maiko spotting! I grabbed a few pics of Maiko making their way between tea houses but failed to visit the gallery as it appeared to be closed by the time I got there. One for another trip perhaps…

It was now around sunset so after another wander back along the river side and through the now bustling lanes of Pontocho it was back to Kawaramachi for the train back to Osaka and the underground to my hotel.

Back in my room I quickly took a bath (soaking in a Japanese deep basu after a long walk is amazing!) Before falling into bed to write this blog.

I have a trip to Hiroshima scheduled for tomorrow but this involves an early start. After walking 25km today carrying 10kg of camera gear in burning temperatures I may struggle to get up in time! If I do over sleep, my back up plan is a trip to the much nearer Kobe instead. Find out tomorrow which I do!

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