Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kyoto: Day 2 (Fushimi-Inari shrine and the Miyako-Odori)

On our second day in Kyoto, we left the house around 8:30 to head to Fushimi-Inari-Tiasha shrine. There are thousands of Inari shrines in Japan, but this one is the most famous - and most important - because it predates the capital's move to Kyoto in 794 and it has thousands of torii gates weaving up through the hills to the sacred Mount Inari. All Inari shrines are dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, and because foxes are believed to be Inari's messengers, you'll notice lots of fox statues around the shrine.

Even if you have never heard of the Fushimi-Inari shrine, I'll bet you've seen pictures of those reddish-orange torii gates, packed so closely together that they form a tunnel. I knew about this iconic place in Japan and wanted to visit the shrine, but I had no idea just how much hiking would be involved. The torii tunnels are literally going up to the top of the mountain, and if you are tough enough to climb the whole thing, it's a very rewarding trip. (Be advised that it is NOT stroller friendly - almost the entire trail is made of steps.) There were a few nice views of the city, but my favorite parts of the climb were sections with large, looming cedar trees surrounding us and a stillness in the forest that couldn't help but make you feel a bit more peaceful and connected to the world.

My children were also excited about going here because they had seen the same shrine on The Little Travelers Japan. My girls love going to the same places that the "famous" Little Travelers girls have been.

Our friends tried ringing the bell and calling Inari to the shrine.
The entrance of the torii tunnels.

I loved the fox prayer tablets.

We spent our entire morning at this shrine, and went back towards the Kyoto station area for lunch. We finished up lunch by 1:00pm, so we decided to walk across the river to the Gion area (the geisha district!) and make an attempt at getting tickets to the famous Miyako-Odori performance that afternoon.

Miyako-Odori is the "Dance of the Capital" and was first performed in 1872. This dance is performed by the geisha and apprentice geisha (maiko) of Kyoto, and is only done during the month of April. You can purchase different types of seats (one of which includes a tea ceremony), but we opted for the walk-in tickets priced at 2,000 yen each. We were up in the balcony, but had a great view of the entire stage. The performance was an hour long, and though we didn't understand much of it, we were nevertheless entranced by all the beautiful geisha and maiko on stage. There were 8 different dances, flowing through each of the seasons, and the backdrops on the stage were simple stunning. My daughters even watched the entire thing, making guesses about what was happening in each story. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the theatre, so I found some online to give you an idea of what the performance was like.

And click here for a video from the Official Miyako-Odori website! This experience was one of our favorites during our stay in Kyoto, and I highly recommend it if you are visiting during April.

Photo credit here
Photo credit here.
Photo credit here.
We saw the last performance of the day, so when we left, it was time for dinner. We weren't too far from a ninja-themed restaurant that we'd heard about, so we decided to reward the kids with a ninja dinner since they had trudged along with us ALL day. 

Photo credit here.
Ninja Kyoto is ninja-themed to the max. There is a ninja greeting you at the door, and once you walk in to get a table, a ninja pops out from a "secret passageway" to show you to your table, which, by the way, is through a maze of dark tunnels. Our table was in its own little room, and another ninja was our server. The food was ninja-themed as well, each plate being delivered with a special ninja-trick or weapon - fire, swords, ninja stars.... The kids loved it. The food was expectedly overpriced, but it was pretty good nonetheless. We wouldn't go back a second time, but it was another fun experience to add to our list and a nice end to a very long day.

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