Heian-kyō

10th – 17th October 2019
Kyoto, Osaka & Himeji.

12th October 2019

Typhoon Hagibis Day.
Slept in; a much-needed rest to recuperate our legs after yesterday’s vigorous activities. The pitter-patter of the rain tempted a snugger position under the covers. Overcoming the slumber demons, Kenny and I dragged ourselves out of bed. Time was 0915. I welcomed the burst of hot water against my sluggish skin, instantly jolting me awake. Wiped the fog off the mirror, pulled my hair up and slipped into me velvet wedges. I was decked up and ready for non-sweaty day:

(entrance of our first airbnb, Gojo Takasean)

Only to be reminded that we had no umbrellas. -FACEPALM-
Ran in the rain (in wedges no less), took the train up to Shijo station where we met my parents and got ourselves the ‘iconic’ (lol) transparent brollies:

IMG_5531

CENTRAL KYOTO – NISHIKI

2158_central_1910-2
(map from japan-guide.com)

We roamed around Central Kyoto for half a day, starting with Nishiki Market. As expected, it was crawling with tourists:

IMG_5542(entrance of nishiki tenmangū shrine to shinto god of learning)

Pre-lunched our way through the market’s sheltered lanes, snacking on grilled scallops and other seafood:

IMG_4294

While scanning for my second helping of scallops, I caught the eye of a bespectacled, middle-aged man who looked suspiciously Singaporean, or Malaysian. He was worn to a frazzle, carrying a backpack with a jacket hanging on his arm, while wearing his own so compact that it seemed to be the last thing holding him together. I smiled, and was about to resume my drool-fest when he hollered, “Hi! Hi! I overheard you two talking. I am also from Singapore!” A self-solving mystery! Within seconds, his weariness vanished into a monologue about his family’s unfortunate predicament. They had arrived in Kyoto earlier in the morning for a day trip and were now stranded as the Shinkansen had suspended their service in light of Typhoon Hagibis. A patriarch of a family of 6, he lamented over having to take care of his 2 grandchildren, an infant and a toddler, as well as his daughter and his son-in-law, not to mention his wife (i.e paying for an extra night in Kyoto and new Shinkansen tickets back to Osaka). Kenny and I listened politely, nodding along with the occasional interjection of empathetic Ohs. As though catching himself from delving into a complaint, he began singing praises of his grandkids. o_OOOO While he droned on about how travel-easy his babies were in Hanoi, I looked over my shoulder in hopes of seeing Dad and Mom, who were still nowhere in sight. On the third attempt, I spotted them. Never have I felt so unburdened! Finally catching up to us, I introduced them, halted the conversation “My parents are here. It was nice meeting you. Have a good day!” and hastily ushered the 4 of us away.

Gave Dad & Mom the lowdown as we continued exploring Nishiki Market. All of us concluded that the poor fellow needed to vent his frustration. It was awful to be stranded and have one’s plans go awry. However, I found it difficult to sympathise. News of the typhoon had been circulating on international platforms for about a week now; even before our arrival in Japan. Moreover, local tv channels and social media were constantly updating viewers with announcements of closures and safety protocols. Why would they still venture out of Osaka on the very day Typhoon Hagibis was to arrive in the Kansai area? Oh, sucks to be him.
-SHRUGS-

I sighted a matcha store and made a beeline for the glistening green pastries. While slobbering at matcha financiers in contemplation of the purchase, Kenny laughed at me, “You will eat. Buy. Just buy.” Well, since he insisted, grabbed a handful of those mini cakes I did! LOL! Mom, too, had found her dessert fix. Kenny and I then went to the cashier, paid up and waited for our matcha ice creams. I turned around to check on my parents, only to find our newfound friend performing enthusiastically for two fresh pairs of ears! What were the odds?!?! Kenny and I giggled to ourselves, wondering if he was retelling the same story. After receiving our ice creams, we walked over to the stage. “Ah, hi again! I was just telling your parents about being stuck here. Hahaha.” A self-solving mystery and a mind reader! Pulling up the most cordial smile, I interrupted his play “I am sorry, we have to go. I hope you have an enjoyable trip” and parted ways once more.

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Armed with our umbrellas, we went back out into the rain for tempura lunch – @komefuku_karasuma – which was a short walking distance from Nishiki Market.

(arrived at 1205)

5 minutes later, the first local customer entered and more began to follow in steady streams:

By 1220, the little restaurant tucked away in an alley was filled with the local lunch crowd. We were too lucky to have arrived early!

IMG_5529(tempura and ebi sets with sashimi and udon)

IMG_5530(kenny and dad thoroughly enjoyed this huge tiger prawn)

As the day wore on, the raindrops became heavier and the wind got stronger. Still a little unsatisfied at having to cut our day short, we decided to check out the nearby Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping streets as our last stop before heading indoors:

IMG_5543

@bsc_gallery on Teramachi caught my eye with its loud bomber jackets. Made from kimono material, the store carried a wide range of looks from uniquely Japanese aesthetic to anime-themed designs. Scouring the racks, I jumped at the chance to find a twin to my Chinese pilot jacket. Shortlisted 3 and this won the family’s approval:

jacket.001(look at the immaculate detailing! Cost about ¥50,000 ♥ heehee!)

Despite closing a customer, the salesman was more concerned about hammering home the point of staying indoors than selling his product. While pointing at the clock, and with a sheepish grin, he nagged at us to go home before sunset in a very kind and polite manner “Typhoon. Go back hotel, isoide” A sweet gesture definitely not lost in translation. “Hai hai! We go back now. Arigatōgozaimas!” 😀

There was still some time before Hagibis was due to make landfall in Kyoto so Dad & Mom came over to our airbnb to check out the digs and have tea. We gleefully opened our newly-bought pastries, drank cha-cha and sake while scrutinising the local news channel showing images of the typhoon’s route and its newly-created wreckages.

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After my parents left, Kenny and I binged on AMC’s The Terror: Infamy over more sake and matcha financiers, and a homely dinner of takeaway donburi and soba from the nearby Nakau, Yoshinoya’s number one local competitor. Watching a Japanese historical horror drama in a 70 year old modern machiya (renovated two years ago), moreover with the typhoon blowing over us, while having local cuisine was the ultimate immersive 4D TV experience! >D

13th October 2019

Sadly, Typhoon Hagibis made sacrificial lambs of Honnō-ji (site of Oda Nobunaga’s death), Nijō Castle and the samurai-ninja museum. So, the new and ambitious plan was to conquer Fushimi Inari Taisha and the entire Higashiyama area on our last day.

I was confident we could hack it.

SOUTH KYOTO – FUSHIMI INARI

2158_south_1504(map from japan-guide.com)

0730 – Met directly at the entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha, which was just outside Inari Station of the JR Nara line (red). Thanks to Nono’s sister’s tip to come early, we got to enjoy the pre-horde benefits of spaciousness and quietness:

IMG_5062(first gate – daiwa torii)

The pavement led us to the second gate, Romon Torii. Under the watchful eyes of the fox guardians of the Shinto god, Inari, we climbed the steps onto the main temple grounds but not before cleansing our hands at the Temizuya:

IMG_5566(the two-storied romon torii was built in 1589 by toyotomi hideyoshi)

At the main shrine, Nai-Haiden, Kenny and I gave an offering, wrote our wishes on a wooden tablet and paid our respects to the kami. As the god of rice harvest and commerce, we asked Inari for extra luck and prosperity for our business:

Screenshot 2019-11-08 at 10.51.49 PM©Photo: Nai-Haiden, discoverkyoto.com

Founded in 711, Fushimi Inari Taisha may be one of Kyoto’s oldest temples but its reconstructed buildings only date back to 1499. During the 10-year Onin War (1467-1477), the temple was completely destroyed in the fire of 1468.

IMG_5567(roof adorned with gold chrysanthemums and a pair of phoenixes on the front face)

IMG_5063(third gate towards the inner shrine)

As we made our way inwards, we spotted more fox statues. Foxes (kitsune) were believed to be Inari’s messengers and guardians. At every torii, there would be a pair of kitsune, a male and a female, with only one carrying a symbolic item in its mouth:

kitsune.001(from left: a key to rice granary, a sheaf of rice and a scroll containing buddhist teachings)

On some statues, you would find a fireball (kitsunebi) on the fox’s tail; like the middle photo. In addition to being used as a weapon, the small balls of fire were also thought to be lanterns that floated around the kitsune to light their pathways. Consequently, in the eyes of mortals, these fox lanterns were better known as the will-o’-the wisp, where the allure of flickering lights pulled travellers away from the road, causing them to lose their way.

IMG_5550 (2)(kitsune with a fireball tail at the entrance of fushimi inari taisha)

At the inner shrine, I made a second wish on a kitsune ema. Usually, the votive tablets are of a more regular shape but in Inari Taisha, you get to draw your version of a fox face on the front and write your prayers behind! (forgot to take a photo of mine) At the same time, I also got myself an omamori – a white fox charm.

fushimi-7778-2©Photo: Kitsune Ema, tatsushinkan.com

As we continued our ascend through the Senbon Torii, the climb up Mount Inari proved to be increasingly challenging for Mom, despite being only 233m above sea level.

IMG_5573(the word 奉納, read from right to left, is pronounced “hou nou” meaning offered/donated)

At the midway mark, we came to an intersection of paths called Yotsu-suji Junction. Here, one could take a break, grab some food & drink from the local eatery and enjoy a panoramic view of southern Kyoto all the way to Osaka:

R0030119©Photo: View of Kyoto from Mount Inari, Martin Smith

No photos from me as there were too many people taking their Instagram shots. Also, the sun was too glaring for a good capture.

Jpeg©Photo: Yotsu-suji Junction, insidekyoto.com

Mom decided to turn back, which in hindsight turned out to be a good call in pacing herself for the rest of the day. We agreed on a meeting spot and split up. Kenny and I pressed on and reached the peak in 15 minutes:

Jpeg©Photo: Kami-no-Yashiro at the summit, insidekyoto.com

Made our third wish at the top of Inari-san, took a minute breather and began our descend:

IMG_5580 (2)(left states the donor’s name and right displays the date of donation)

Time was 0910. Still fairly quiet. The entire 4km walk (up and down) took us about 2 hours to complete.

Along the way towards the exit, gift shops lined the steps leading to the food street, selling all kinds of kitsune and torii souvenirs. Gave one of them my money:

IMG_5614(meet my very own fox guardian, kurama!)

0950 – By this time, both the food street and the entrance area at Romon Torii were filling up with tourists as well as locals. The sky was clear and everyone had at the same idea – lets go out! Food was mediocre; Dad had a rock-hard wagyu piece and Kenny, an okay chicken yakitori.

14116935659_b71e540e54_o©Photo: Food Street at the exit of Fushimi Inari Taisha, wanderandblossom.com

After the food street, still along the main pavement towards the train station, there were several eateries selling inari sushi and other dessert grub.

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When in Inari, right? So, the Shinto story is that Inari’s foxes loved to eat fried tofu hence the rice wrapped in fried tofu skin are called inari sushi. Cooked in sweet soy sauce, these were an absolute delight. On first bite, the rough but delicate tofu skin peeled away as the sweet sauce exploded against the smooth compact grains of rice. Oh yes, it was that orgasmic. A deeply-gratifying post-hike snack indeed. I wished I had bought more.

EAST KYOTO – HIGASHIYAMA

2158_east_1910(map from japan-guide.com)

1020 – Took the train up to Gion-Shijo station, walked eastward and crossed the busy T-junction to Yasaka Shrine, our starting point to explore Higashiyama (yama means hill, higashi means east):

586e13c2efdde_586e12ac5a420_77180644©Photo: Yasaka Shrine, allabout-japan.com 

Came across a religious wedding as we strolled through the temple en route to Maruyama-koen:

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Cut through the park in the direction of the preserved historic streets aka Nene-no-Michi lane. Named after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wife, Nene, this long pavement connects Maruyama-koen through Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka all the way up to Kiyomizudera Temple:

3959_map_02(map from japan-guide.com)

As we ambled along the famous flagstone, we saw rows of old historic buildings and of course, the country’s quintessential lady of the arts:

IMG_5592(a lucky shot of the maiko as we walked past them)

Unlike the samurai, the geisha art of entertaining has withstood the test of time and is still being practised today. In the photo above, these two ladies are maiko, apprentice geisha. A full-fledged geisha dons a more understated kimono as compared to the bold and colourful ones worn by their juniors. Also, the trainees will have more elaborate accessories on their hair.

Speaking of the former, I had also located my second samurai spot, Gesshin-in Temple, along Nene-no-Michi (the first in Uji):

IMG_5591

In the midst of the chaotic Bakumatsu era (1853-1868), there was internal strife in the Shinsengumi. Despite their close relationship, Kondō Isami, commander of the Shinsengumi, and his officer, Ito Kashitaro, shared opposing political beliefs. Isami advocated the ideology of sabaku 佐幕, which supported both the emperor and shogun aka unionist, while Kashitaro held the view of tobaku 倒幕, which pushed for the destruction of the shogunate aka imperial loyalist (detailed explanation in the previous post).

In 1867, after the death of Emperor Kōmei, Kashitaro left the Shinsengumi and formed the Goryo Eji, “Guardians of the Imperial Tomb” whose purpose was to protect Emperor Kōmei’s mausoleum. Making Gesshin-in the base of their organisation, Kashitaro and his comrades gathered and practised their swordsmanship in this temple. Little did these young samurai know they were doomed to die mere months later. Isami’s spy had discovered the Goryo Eji’s plan to assassinate him. Acting first, Isami ordered the Shinsengumi to ambush Kashitaro. They killed him and used his body as bait to lure the other Goryo Eji members into yet another deadly attack.

Sannenzaka Ninenzaka©Photo: Ninenzaka section facing west, peterlamphotography.com

Surrounded by traditional wooden machiya buildings, devoid of exposed telephone wires and big flashy signs, Nene-no-Michi brought us back to a vibrant time of Heian-kyō, the old capital city.

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Approaching the Ninenzaka section, we chanced upon another wedding! This time, it was a Kyoto-destination wedding where city folks held an intimate celebration only with immediate family members, wearing the traditional attire sans the religious aspects.

(encountered the same newlyweds as we were leaving higashiyama 3hrs later. the odds!?)

By this time, we were all ready for lunch and hence began our hunt for ramen as we continued up Higashiyama:

ninenzaka.001©Photo: Ninenzaka facing west towards town, (left) les taylor (right) tsunagujapan.com

The Ninenzaka stairs is distinguished by the bamboo fence lining the stepped slope as well as the instagram-famous hanging triple parasols.

3959_02©Photo: Ninenzaka facing east towards Sannenzaka, japan-guide.com

Spied a caricature shop @ninenzaka_nigaoe and we just had to get one of Nada:

nadaportrait.001(drawn by 19 year old @jura_deai)

As we got closer to the Sannenzaka section, I caught sight of a familiar image. In my sudden excitement, I bolted ahead of the group and charged up the steps, much to the astonishment of Kenny and both of my parents. I had found my third Bakumatsu samurai spot!

When ascending, on the left, you will notice a light yellowish-beige tall building with a dark wooden balcony protruding at the top. In front of it stands a huge 400 year old cherry tree which makes it an easily-recognisable landmark of the Sannenzaka stairs. This building is Akebono-Tei teahouse:

sannenzaka.001©Photo: Sannenzaka stairs towards Kiyomizudera, (left) discoverkyoto.com (right) dig japan.com

*Note: Unless you are a history geek, best you scroll past the purple bits:

After his decisive victory in the 1600 Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu cemented his position at the expense of several enemy clans, one of which was the Mōri Clan (Chōshū Domain). As an act of preservation, the Mōri had changed their minds mid-battle and promised their clan’s neutrality in exchange for Ieyasu’s guarantee of their territories. However, Ieyasu found incriminating evidence which suggested the clan’s deeper involvement in the Toyotomi faction than initially told. In spite of Mōri inaction during battle, Ieyasu nullified their pact, removed the clan from their ancestral home and reduced their lands. The Mōri clan viewed this as an act of treachery and their resulting 250 year deep-seated resentment formed the foundation for the Chōshū domain to be one of the hotbeds of anti-Tokugawa sentiment.

Fast forward to 1858-1860 Ansei Purge:
During these two years, the shogunate, headed by Ii Naosuke, cracked down on anyone who opposed its authority and foreign trade policies. The purge ended with Naosuke’s assassination in the 1860 Sakuradamon Incident which in turn allowed the Chōshū domain to assert control within the imperial court.

August 1863 Political Change:
Unionist Satsuma and Aizu domains staged a coup d’etat and ousted the radical anti-shogunate Chōshū out of the imperial court, removing their influence over the Emperor. With a more conservative faction in power, the bakufu could now focus its attention on the increasing threats against its rule instead of “expelling the barbarians”. At the same time, the Shinsengumi was officially commissioned to quell any disturbances and restore peace in Kyoto, in the name of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Despite the favourable shift in political leadership, the bakufu failed to drive the dissenters out of the capital. Instead, they went underground which led to multiple violent clashes with the Shinsengumi.

IMG_4379(view of akebono tei when descending sannenzaka stairs)

In June 1864, the Shinsengumi raided the teahouse and attacked a wrong person, mistaking a Chōsōkabe (Tosa domain) for a Mōri (Chōshū domain). As an apology for their blunder, a member of the Shinsengumi had to commit seppuku.

More significantly, Akebono Tei was frequented by Sakamoto Ryoma, a revolutionary hero of the Bakumatsu period. Working across clan ties, Ryoma had the foresight to broker peace between rival domains which would ultimately bring an end to shogunate rule. Many of such secret mediations had taken place in this teahouse. In recognition of his contributions to the cause, the establishment now displays Ryoma’s picture at their entrance.

ramensannen.001

Along Sannenzaka, we found our food! This ramen gem, Gion Tamejiro, is situated on the second floor. We ordered 1 Yuba Don, 2 Chicken Soup Noodle-White (creamy) and 1 Chicken Soup Noodle-Clear. It was SLURPY GOOD:

IMG_5593(miso soup based; hokkaido style ramen)

Filled our bellies and went on up to Kiyomizudera Temple:

IMG_5609

Circled back to the steep Ishin no Michi (aka Restoration Road) and visited the Ryozen Museum of History, the only museum in Japan specialising in the period from the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji Restoration:

IMG_5599(no photography allowed inside)

It was sheer luck that I got to see this exhibition. Marking the 120th death anniversary of Katsu Kaisyu, a sympathiser of the anti-Tokugawa cause who still remained loyal to the shogunate, the exhibit showcased “materials relating to Katsu Kaishu, who promoted the establishment of a modern Japanese Navy; Sakamoto Ryoma, who exerted himself to work for Katsu; and the people around them, as well as the Shinsengumi.” 

The artifacts and research displayed included swords used by Kondo Isami as well as the one which killed Ryoma, an illustrated chronological table of the Meiji Restoration, diagram panels and even a model diorama of the Ikedaya Incident and the night of Ryoma’s assassination. The museum’s lack of an English guide brought no crowds and that was perfect for me. In spite of it, there were detailed illustrations next to the texts and having some background knowledge helped me to translate the images for Kenny and my parents; an impromptu tour! LOL!

*Note: Skip the purple bit if you don’t need background:

Armed with an education in European military science and training by the Dutch navy, Katsu Kaisyu was a naval engineer who rose the ranks to become the leading advocate of the creation of a unified naval force. He argued against the old practise of hereditary promotion in his vision of a modern Japanese navy led by trained personnel, regardless of social status. Kaisyu’s outspokenness about his belief in the modernisation of Japan made him a target of both the anti-foreign and pro-imperial fanatics. In 1862, Sakamoto Ryoma had set out to assassinate Kaisyu but instead, he was convinced by the latter’s perspective on the country’s future and ultimately became Kaisyu’s protégé.

Determined to achieve his dream, Kaisyu established the Kobe Naval Training Center out of his own pocket and donations from some sympathetic daimyō. Besides training naval officers and building modern warships, the institute was also a place of refuge for Ryoma and other rōnin. With the protection of the Tokugawa Naval Commissioner, the navy school had inadvertently become a major hub for progressive thinking. However, the large presence of rebels aroused the shogunate’s suspicion which led to the center’s closure in 1865.

For nearly 20 years, Kaisyu managed to tread the very fine line between pro- and anti-Tokugawa forces, making him most ideal mediator in ensuring a peaceful transition of power in the Meiji Restoration.

IMG_5605(view of yasaka pagoda facing west towards the main road)

1430 – Left Higashiyama through Yasaka Street, along which the eagled-eyed Kenny spotted a Kobe Beef sushi shop:

IMG_5615

Took a 15min cab up to Ginkakuji to rest our legs and save subway time. Alighted at a pedestrian-only avenue lined with souvenir stores, craft shops and eateries. Treated ourselves to two cones of dark chocolate ice cream as we made our way to the entrance of the Silver Pavilion. Besides Honnō-ji, Nijō Castle and the samurai-ninja museum, another place we forfeited due to Typhoon Hagbis was the morning hike up Mt. Daimonji-yama, a 1.5km trek directly behind Ginkakuji. 

Jpeg©Photo: Entrance of Ginkakuji. Turn left here towards Daimonjiyama, insidekyoto.com

IMG_5456

The Ashikaga Shogunate (1336-1568) can be characterised by 2 distinctive cultural periods, Kitayama and Higashiyama. The former classifies the rule of the 3rd Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368-1394) whose reign not only united the imperial family after nearly 60 years of succession dispute (aka the Nanboku-chō Period) but also reinstated Sino-Japanese relations, enhancing Ming Chinese influence on Japanese society. In retirement, Yoshimitsu built Kinkakuji in 1397. The famous gold pavilion came to be representative of the Kitayama cultural period.

After Yoshimitsu, the Ashikaga shoguns that followed were weak and increasingly lost power to the daimyō. One of them was Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, whose reign from 1449-1473 saw the eruption of civil war with the Onin War and the beginning of the Sengoku Period. During the decade-long Onin War, Yoshimasa did nothing to alleviate the situation at all. Instead, he spent his time dabbling in the arts and conceptualising Ginkakuji, an architecture to rival his grandfather’s Kinkakuji.

IMG_5616

Influenced by the Song, Ming and Yuan Dynasties, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa’s artistic endeavour led to the emergence of a new cultural wave in Japan. Based on Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi-sabi, Yoshimasa’s Higashiyama cultural period saw the birth of the traditional Japanese culture we know of today – Chado (tea ceremony), Ikebana (flower arranging), Noh drama, Sumi-e ink painting and Washitsu (stylised tatami rooms).

IMG_5623(walked through the zen garden across bamboo bridges, island ponds and little streams)

We visited near closing time which bolstered our Zen experience due to minimal crowd. That aside, of all of the tourist sites we had toured in Kyoto, Ginkakuji and its garden was the best for us. Kenny, who always had an eye for landscaping, really liked the placement of the plants and layout of the temple’s design.

IMG_5624(hilltop view of the zen temple and kyoto city)

IMG_5618

For someone who obsessed about Zen and its aesthetics, and ignored his ruling duties, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa certainly impressed. His 1490 legacy, Ginkakuji, undoubtedly measured up to his grandfather’s. The famous silver pavilion thus came to be representative of the Higashiyama cultural period.

IMG_5632

From Ginkakuji, we followed the Philosopher’s Path towards Nanzenji:

(encountered a pair of halloween philosodogs!)

The path began with 2 pavements (left) and ended with 1 (right):

philopath.001

Speculated it could mean that one’s thought process began in two minds and ended in one, arriving at a single conclusion:

IMG_5636

The serene, late afternoon contemplative stroll took us about 30mins to reach Nanzenji. It was a close call arriving at 1650 as the temple was preparing to close at 1700. We walked a little around the central temple grounds (free) and finally came to what I had wanted to see, the Suirokaku, a 19th century Roman-styled aqueduct in a 13th century Zen temple:

IMG_5638

Built in 1890, during the Meiji Period, the 93m-long red brick construction is part of Lake Biwa Canal, a system which supplies Kyoto water from the lake even til today.

1730 – Took a cab from Nanzenji back to Central Kyoto, Sanjo. Cabs are cheap and worthwhile for 4pax over short distances – about 20 mins. We alighted at my last samurai spot, Ikedaya Hana no Mai:

ikedaya.001©Photo: Day & Night view of Ikedaya Hana No Mai restaurant along the main Sanjo-dori road, (left) muza-chan.net (right) insidekyoto.com 

The Shinsengumi-themed restaurant now stands on what used to be Ikedaya inn, a gathering place for anti-shogunate ronin. Formed in 1863 by the Tokugawa Shogunate to protect bakufu interests in Kyoto, the Shinsengumi proved to be a formidable adversary of the revolutionaries. Between 1863-1869, the shogun’s special police force conducted as many raids as it executed assassination plots. The clashes became especially violent after the Chōshū clan was pushed out of the imperial court. One of them was the famous 1864 Ikedaya Incident, which was especially significant as the event established the Shinsengumi as a powerful force to be feared by all factions.

8th July 1864:
A Shinsengumi investigation led the capture a merchant who was secretly in cahoots with the Chōshū clan. Under torture, he revealed Chōshū plans to set the capital on fire and kidnap the daimyō of the Aizu clan, who was in charge of policing Kyoto at the time. The urgency of the situation prompted Commander Kondō Isami to conduct a raid on the very same day. Facing 20 radicals at Ikedaya, the raid became a 2 hour struggle between the Shinsengumi and the rebels. The fight spilled out onto the street (Sanjo-dori main road) and continued all the way to Sanjo Bridge:

IMG_5640

I had unwittingly saved the coolest & best samurai spot for the last! Haha! Even Dad & Kenny got excited. While Mom took a break at Lawson, the 3 of us retraced the fight from inn to bridge and scoured the finials for the historic sword mark:

IMG_5639(150 year old scar from a shinsengumi sword)

The Shinsengumi emerged victorious with 23 rebels arrested and 7 killed. They were also praised for saving Kyoto from what would be a devastating fire as every building then was made from wood.

IMG_5641(finial on the south side of the bridge)

In September 1866, Sanjo Bridge witnessed yet another fight. Chōshū allies had been vandalising the bridge by repeatedly tearing down a government sign declaring the clan an enemy of the Emperor. Disguised as beggars, the Shinsengumi waited to ambush the vandals when they returned to remove the sign again. The ensuing fight resulted in the death of 3 Chōshū allies while the rest fled for their lives.

IMG_5642

For our last meal together in Kyoto, we had concluded that we would have sukiyaki. Discovered Jibundoki, a restaurant on the 3rd floor in a building just next to Sanjo Bridge. Food was too delicious and we walloped it before I could take pictures. LOL. Service, however, left much to be desired. Nevertheless, it was a good end to Dad’s 60th birthday holiday. My parents were scheduled to fly back to Singapore the next day while Kenny and I continued on to Osaka!

After bidding goodbye to Dad & Mom, Kenny and I walked back to our airbnb in hopes of finding one more samurai spot along the way – the site of Sakamoto Ryoma’s assassination, Omiya Inn:

kyoto-samurai-20-L©Photo: Memorial sign at the old site of Omiya Inn, insidekyoto.com

We combed Kawaramachi Street to no avail. Hopefully, I can locate this the next time I return to Kyoto. ‘Twas a fantastic first visit to Japan’s ancient capital ♥

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