A Taste of Japan: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

One of our top spots on our photography list, this famous bamboo grove is magnificent, beautiful, and humbling. Be sure to stop by if you’re in the area… or put yourself into the area so you can stop by!

LotsaSmiles Photography

A visit to Kyoto isn’t complete without a trip through the stunning bamboo grove of Arashiyama.  There is nothing more humbling than acres of majestic trees towering above your head, cutting thousands of completely vertical lines 115 feet into the sky.

Bamboo has been revered for its durability for centuries, and it grows incredibly fast, making it a popular renewable resource; the wood is used in thousands of applications.  It is particularly important to the Japanese, who view it as a symbol of prosperity and see its simplicity as representing purity.  Bamboo is unique in its elegance, which is why stalks frequent many zen-hopeful desks, but they are seldom seen in such magnificence.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Nighttime Shrines

If you find shrines are too busy during the day, try them by night! Most are open late, and this could afford you a unique take from the typical, touristy experience. Fushimi Inari was one of our favorites, and it was top on my to-photograph list.

LotsaSmiles Photography

I only have a few more of these highlights before I get into the real meat of our trip.  This week has understandably been busy catching up from our vacation and preparing for another over Thanksgiving.  I know you’re anxious for the full daily accounts, but I’m afraid I’ll have to tease you for just a short while longer…

When you visit Japan, unless you try explicitly not to, you’re bound to wind up at a few shrines.  Fortunately, that’s ok, as every one is unique in their own way.  If you really want to mix it up, try visiting them after dark.  Check to make sure they’re accessible after hours, but if they are, this can provide a great opportunity to beat a lot of the crowds at some of the more popular destinations.

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A Taste of Japan: Shrines

It’s hard to visit Japan without visiting at least a few shrines, but they’re all so different and uniquely beautiful that it’s also hard to get bored doing so!

LotsaSmiles Photography

It’s difficult to visit Japan without tripping over at least a dozen shrines and temples.  While most of the Japanese population wouldn’t consider themselves particularly religious, many practice the standard rituals of visiting shrines, saying a prayer, and drawing fortunes.  The young go hoping for favorable test scores or new love; others simply wish for good luck and good health.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: The Philosopher’s Walk

A trip down the peaceful Philosopher’s Walk is beautiful any time of the year. Next time, I’d love to see it blushing with the spring sakura, but it was stunning burning with autumn’s glow.

LotsaSmiles Photography

If you find yourself in Kyoto, set aside a morning for the Philosopher’s Walk.  Best un- (or lowly-) populated, early morning will afford you a quiet path upon which to calmly take in the song of the water and contemplate life’s mysteries.  The entire path is a little over a mile and is lined with shops, street vendors, restaurants, and temples.  Decorated with hundreds of sakura trees, this area is popular during cherry blossom season and is a great spot for fall color.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Street Food

Sometimes we say we travel just to eat. After all, food is one of the best ways to experience a new place. We never tire of all the culinary variety the world has to offer!

LotsaSmiles Photography

Some of the best meals we had in Japan came from small street vendors.  We’re no strangers to personal proprietors specializing in a single dish (or few) from a small booth on a street corner; Portland’s food cart culture is renowned.  While we feared these establishments would be less adept at English, they actually proved easier when it came to ordering.  With only a few items offered – most physically present behind a glass pane – it was a simple matter of pointing and holding up two fingers.  And very like the much-loved, tiny food vendors at home, their business only survives if they’re really good (as patrons frequently have plenty of alternate options).

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: The Robot Restaurant (Shinjuku)

This was a fun display of Japanese ingenuity. They truly are masters of space management!

LotsaSmiles Photography

For a truly wild spectacle, check out the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku (follow the giant light signs; it’s hard to miss).  The name is a slight misnomer, as this is primarily a show, with snacks, sushi bento boxes, and drinks available for separate purchase.  This is certainly geared toward tourists, with everything predominantly in English.  They pack about 200 people into a tight room, and proceed to parade wifi-controlled floats and extravagant illuminated robots.  Cute Japanese girls dance and fill the room with thunder on the taiko.  The animatronics reach out and right over the audience; it’s amazing how they can fit these things in such a small room.  Music, laser battles, lights, dancing, robots!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Mizuko Kuyou

This was one of the most interesting traditions we learned about in Japan. Sad, yet comforting to those who need them.

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Visiting temples in Japan, you might come across lines of small statues dressed in red caps or children’s clothing.  These are Jizou statues, and they are to ease the grief of a passing infant or unborn fetus (and some believe to appease the vengeful spirit).

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Onsen/Sentou

This was a totally different experience for us but one we were anxious to try. Now I can understand why the Japanese love it so much! Certainly worth a visit if you get the chance. Next time, we’ll find a true onsen for a real pampering!

LotsaSmiles Photography

We’re now home from our (amazing!) trip, so look forward to detailed daily overviews as I sift through the 3742 photos I took over the fourteen days.  In the meantime, I’m continuing to feature a few specific pictures.

One of the favorite pastimes in Japan is visiting onsen or sentou.  What’s the difference?  The former are natural hot springs; the latter are public baths.  The line between them has been blurred, and the terms are commonly interchanged, with true onsen explicitly calling out the natural hot springs feature of their establishment.  Modern sentou create artificial hot springs by pumping geothermally heated water, so it’s easy to confuse the two.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Ryokan

While we won’t depart for our big trip for some time yet, we still have smaller adventures, and we’ll feature some highlights from those in the meantime. Japan was an amazing excursion for our first overseas!

LotsaSmiles Photography

Ryokan are a luxury even for the Japanese.  These traditional hotels invite you to don yukata and sip tea on tatami mats in your room.  Far more spacious than hotels in the city, they serve as miniature suites, with a full bathroom (as in: a full room for taking baths – not showers), a “living” room that’s converted into a bedroom with futons at night, and a sitting/sun room.  Many ryokan also feature a high-end restaurant with full, multi-course, traditional Japanese meals (where you sit on tatami mats and food is partially cooked at your table).  If you’re lucky, yours will additionally offer a larger, multi-person sentou or true onsen.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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How to Use a Japanese Toilet

Ok, this post is mostly for the ladies, but men might learn something, too.

For those used to western-style, sit-down toilets, something that resembles an elongated sink in the floor might be met with trepidation and confusion.  These are squat toilets, and they’re quite common in Japan.  Sometimes, they’re your only option, so it’s good to know how to use them.

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