I decided to do a day trip to Kyoto on Saturday. I wanted to see the Ryozen Museum (ie the one dedicated to the bakumatsu) because I've been pretty much everywhere else in the country that's relevant to the bakumatsu. (For those who don't know, the bakumatsu was the fall of the shongunate right before the meiji restoration). The museum is pretty small, but not bad. There was a focus on individuals during the bakumatsu, some hilariously bloody dioramas (the Ikedaya inn incident was particularly gruesome), a weird 3D movie, and a place where you could try on shinsengumi costumes. I didn't partake but only because I already dressed as a shinsengmi member for Halloween the last time I lived in Japan and nothing can top shocking drunken japanese men and yakuza by walking through the drinking district as a samurai. Unfortunately, they didn't allow photos elsewhere in the museum which is a shame since I really wanted a selfie with an actual shinsengumi banner. I had a good time but I really really don't recommend this museum to anyone who hasn't done extensive research into the bakumatsu or is fluent in Japanese. I wrote my MA thesis on the bakumatsu and am pretty good at Japanese so I was able to follow along, but I still got stymied in places because I didn't know everyone's names as well as I did years ago when I wrote the thesis and also because they change bloody names (I'm looking at you Katsura Koguryo!) What I didn't know about the museum until I got there was that the main shishi (supporters of the restoration of the emperor ie the winners of the revolution) cemetery was in the shrine across the road from the museum. I thought there were only a few graves but actually there were hundreds and also memorials for the different prefectures who fought. The big grave to visit is Sakamoto Ryoma's and there's quite a nice view of the city from there since you have to climb up the side of the mountain to reach it.
I headed back down the mountain then and turned left when I hit the more traditional streets, heading towards Kiyomizudera. There are tons of shops along there selling traditional crafts and food though I mostly just window shopped. I did stop to buy nama yatsuhashi, the traditional triangle shaped soft sweet dough with some type of bean paste inside - a staple of the Kyoto omiyage trade. I didn't mean to do so, but they had these amazing sesame flavoured ones which were awesome. One set was white and the other was pure black and both were delicious. I ate one set myself then shared the rest with my office mates like a good Japanese traveler. (The Koreans loved them and even took down the address so they could buy some, but the poor Chinese guy was obviously freaked out by it being pure black.) I had no urge to visit kiyomizudera again so when I got to the base of the hill where it's located and I turned around and headed back to visit Kodaiji. Otherwise known as one of the few major temples in Kyoto I hadn't visited. A couple of cherry trees were blooming early but the main ones hadn't started yet so it was less crowded than it could have been. The temple was quite nice to see, and then I wandered out towards the nearby Maruyama park, and then to Yasaka shrine. I'm not sure if they do this every weekend but there were some floats set out and typical stalls with Japanese festival food. I almost bought some roasted bamboo shoots but then I spotted grilled crab skewers which I had to try. I then headed back towards the Gin district to do some shopping at Book Off and see if the body shop here has hand sanitizer (alas, no luck). By that point, it was about 6pm and I was starting to limp so I made my way back to the trains and headed home.
I kinda want to go back in a week or two and see the cherry blossoms in full bloom but it was so crowded already I'm not sure if I'm up for it. There were a lot of people out in yukata or full kimono in the streets which was lovely to see but I can't imagine how anyone would manage pics if it was more crowded than it already was.
March 14th, 2016