Even though we were in Japan too early for cherry blossom season, we were lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the Higashiyama Hanatouro (花灯路) Illuminations – a lantern festival that consist of around 2500 lanterns that line the winding path that leads to the foothills of Higashiyama Mountain. The Hanatouro Illuminations are hosted twice a year – in the winter, it’s held in Arashiyama and in the spring it’s held in Higashiyama. It incorporates many of the popular temples and shrines in the area and is a good way to pack in a visit to many of the temples and shrines in one hit – even though it is still crisp in early March. This crispness can make it hard to convince yourself to head back out into the cold at dusk, but it’s well worth it!
Hina dolls on display as we walk up the Historic Streets of Kyoto.
We rugged up in thick coats and all the Heattech we could muster (thanks to UNIQLO) and wrapped our scarves around our noggins and headed out into the cold in search of interesting illumination. Luckily we were staying at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto – it’s a hotel that sits right on top of the Kyoto main train station (and bus station) and provided us with a great starting point for any trip out from Kyoto (and also has some of the biggest rooms I’ve ever seen in Japan). So after trekking out, we hopped on a bus bound for the Higashiyama district.
Making our way up the preserved “Historic Streets”.
After getting off at a vague bus stop at the insistence of the bus driver (who seemed to know what we were looking for) with some equally bemused tourists from Singapore, we followed the flow of people and ended up at the Yasaka shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja, also known as the Gion Shrine). Hooray! In this area, we visited some of the larger temples and shrines and followed the path up towards Flower Lake where the Ikebana Promenade lay waiting.
Following the lantern-clad path to Maruyama Park.
In this area, a flower arrangement (ikebana) competition was being held – and there were some seriously strange flower arrangements going on. I mean, some involved pipes, others involved mannequins. It was pretty intense.
As we wandered further though Maruyama Park, we came across the exhibition called the Takeakari-Yugennokawa (Bamboo lanterns/Profound Stream) – where a thousand Touro lights made of young bamboo were placed on/in the Yoshimizu Stream that flows through the park. It was impossible to get a shot of this because there were so many people jostling with their cameras in tow – I didn’t particularly want my camera to end up in a watery grave, so I cautiously crossed the bridge and admired the site from afar.
In front of the large central weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park (shidarezakura).
Large lantern statues created by the temples in the area.
By the time we had visited many of the temple sites and shrines it was quite late and we starkly realised we hadn’t had any dinner yet. It was also bone-achingly cold – so we headed into the Gion District and sought sustenance by the way of a practically empty, but apparently quite “famous” shabu shabu restaurant (日本料理 しゃぶ禅 京都祇園店 – Nihonryourisyabuzen Kyoutogionten). Due to the extreme cold, by the time we had finished dining, we decided to take a taxi home (around 1000 yen). Fun but extremely cold!