My trip started in Kyoto where I picked up my beautiful friend Rita and headed for the Kyoto countryside Arashiyama. Having been temple hopping a few times in Kyoto I wanted something away from the swarms of tourists where I could relax in nature and take in the beauty of a Japanese autumn. Just 30 minutes out of Kyoto, Arashiyama with its stunning views of lush mountains speckled with maple trees and Japanese red pines, crystal clear rivers, and all its historical sites, gave me the feeling of stepping back in time to the Edo period. To totally immerse myself in the surroundings I just had to have a kimono!

Arashiyama ShisuiRita and I headed off to visit Akiyo Katayama-san, a local lady who specialises in kimonos. This was my first time wearing a kimono so I was quite excited and eager to learn a more about it. The Japanese have a huge respect for the seasons, so Rita chose a kimono with the design of the kiku flower, a flower that only blooms in autumn. I also wanted an elaborate design on my kimono but Akiyo-san suggested a plain pattern so I would not detract from Rita. Changing into a kimono gives a unique perspective into the traditional Japanese culture. First, I changed into the hadagi, Japanese underwear, and a tabi, Japanese socks. The next step was the nagajuban, which goes under the kimono and is tied tight around the waist. Next comes the more beautiful kimono that is tied again around the waist with a beautiful belt. Finally, I slipped into a pair of geta, wooden sandals, and I was ready for action.

Akiyo-san put a lot of attention in the neckline of Rita's kimono. She told me since the kimono covers the shape of a women's body, it is important to show off the back of the neck. I also discovered that a kimono does not have any pockets, so I kept all my valuables in the long sleaves. Surprisingly the kimono felt very comfortable and was very easy to move in. It gave me the feeling of being a samurai warrior - I only wished that I had a sword too!

Being Australian I normally wear board shorts and thongs so the kimono made me feel very dignified and a little royal. Rita and I decided to show ourselves off with a stroll along the Katsura riverbank. Here I met a man who wanted to shake my hand because he thought I was a famous actor. Wow, a first time for everything!

HouseboatThe only way to see the Katsura River is by an old-fashioned houseboat that in the Edo period was a luxury afforded only to the privileged few. Since there is nothing too good for my baby, we enjoyed the traditional food of Kyoto's Yudofu as we cruised past Togetsukyo Bridge and the cascading colourful maple trees that line the riverbank. Ikkyu lunchYudofu is a very soft tofu boiled on your table until it is just heated, served with ginger, spring onions and a slight vinegar sauce. The tofu from Kyoto is the best in Japan as it is made with fresh Kyoto water; water being the most important ingredient in preparing a quality tofu. We also enjoyed a bento box, which had a scattering of traditional foods of the season and a selection of fresh sashimi. Everything was delicious and I could not imagine a better dining room.

After dinner, I sat back with some hot tea and took in my surroundings. In the distance I could here the temple bells ringing, mingled with the singing of local birds. We were lucky enough to see what looked like a stalk catching a fish from the clear water. The mountains in this area are most beautiful in November with the red, brown, and green leaves scattered throughout the forest. I was so relaxed after my second cup of tea that I did not want to leave, but we were keen to explore the Nonomiya Shrine.

Arashiyama RakanOn the way to the shrine, Rita and I came across these quaint little statues in the middle of the street. Each with their own personality these Buddhist statues, known as rakan, are very interesting and good for a bit of a laugh. After a short walk through a bamboo grove we came to the Nonomiya Shrine. Nonomiya ShrineIt is a small shrine famous for the god of relationships; here we found the love stone. It is said that if you rub the stone and make a wish it will come true within a year. With my beer belly getting bigger ever day I thought every little bit must help, so I went for it! With a trip around the moss garden, I found a little shrine for people seeking to be blessed with a child; I kept Rita well away.

Not far from the shrine, there is a little teahouse owned by a lovely lady named Yoshie-san. She led us through her shop into a beautiful Japanese garden in the back where she had prepared a traditional tea ceremony for us. The Japanese tea ceremony is something that takes a lot of practice to perfect. ShigetsuanYoshie son gave me a crash course to start with and then let me go for it. Being left handed myself and having hands full of thumbs, I lacked the co-ordination to pull it off flawlessly, but the result was tasty none the less. The green tea is very frothy from a lot of whisking. It is slightly bitter so Yoshie son serves it with sweet anko cakes. Rita chose coffee, which is strained through a piece of bamboo; the coffee takes on a hint of woodiness, which is an interesting twist.
Bruce
As the sun started to set we strolled down the main street, past many souvenir shops. One that really stood out was a pencil case shop owned by a very artistic guy named Bruce Lee. I am serious. Bruce's pencil cases are all shaped like people with different patterned material. His philosophy is, "Although everybody is the same, we are also very different." And so it is reflected in his artwork.

Tenryuji TempleOne place that will stay with me forever is the garden from the Tenryuji Temple. This place is magnificent; maples shimmer in the afternoon sun, carefully pruned black and red pines stand proud showing off their twists and curves, the mountain background framed in the setting sun, the tranquil rock gardens. All of which are reflected in a serene lake. Its hard to put into words the beauty of this place; we left feeling very peaceful and at ease.

Overall, I found Arashiyama a great place to take my lady for a day out and make her feel special. I learnt a lot about traditional Japanese culture and the way of life, from the food, clothing, and historical sites. I will return next month to discover the maple season.
Reported by Wesley Marshall

TODAY's ROUTE

Hankyu
Arashiyama Stn.
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Arashiyama Shisui
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Nakanoshima Park
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Boat Pier
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Arashiyama Rakan
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Nonomiya Shrine
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Shigetsuan
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Bruce
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Tenryuji Temple
map

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