This is a post from my old blog before I switched to a garden model.

Published on February 7, 2020

At the end of October 2019, I went on a trip to Kyoto with a group of people I practice kyudo with and so I thought I’d post about it and share some photos and such.

Here’s a map of the areas I got to visit on this trip:

We mostly stayed around Kyoto, but we had two roadtrips to remote areas and a ride on the Shinkansen to see a castle in Himeji.

What’s Kyudo?

This is a large topic that I could probably go into far too much detail about here. I’ve given a weird talk about it in the past, and it may be time to do it again. If you really want to know more though, I’m more than happy to talk your ear off about it.

For those who don’t know, I’ve been practicing kyudo, the way of the bow, for the past six years or so. Also known as Japanese archery, the school of kyudo I practice (Heki-ryu Bishu Chikurin-ha) is more on the contemplative side. Less focused with hitting the target and more focused on self-improvement.

The main kyudo group in Japan, ANKF, the All Nippon Kyudo Federation, is a more sport oriented style, with ranks and competitions, while our school which is not a member of ANKF is less focused on those aspects. We have no ranks and generally don’t have competitions.

An example of what it looks like can be seen in this video, taken by Shibata-sensei XXI at one of the kyudojos we practiced at during our trip (that’s me in the second position):

TODO - add the video back in

This is the more formal style, where we are shooting two arrows at a target 28 meters away. The targets are the little white disks below the purple banner in this photo:

Come for the kyudo, stay for the food?

I was in Japan for two weeks at this guided tour that Shibata-sensei and his wife, Hiromi, put together for about 10 of us from various parts of the US and Canada. We only practiced kyudo twice, but we had lots of food and visited some remote areas of the countryside.

First: North to Tango-hanto

Our first trip out of Kyoto took us to the Tango-hanto Peninsula in the northern end of Kyoto Prefecture. We stopped in a town where did some kyudo practice, where to photo of the target house above was taken, before heading on to Ukawa Onsen.

We had a five course meal at a restaurant at the end of a forested road that felt like something out of a Miyazaki film.

The next day we visited Amanohashidate where there’s a huge sandbar that’s a wonderful walk along the bay with some lovely bridges.

We stayed the night at Ukawa Onsen that had a wonderful view of the Sea of Japan and had a great breakfast.

We had some fresh soba noodles at a place where the guy made the noodles in the window.

Then we headed back to Kyoto.

Second: Northeast to Takayama

For our second roadtrip out of Kyoto we drove for over four hours to go to Takayama for some shopping and some more Kyudo (where the video above was taken).

The middle of Takayama near where we went shopping (and the back of Sensei’s head). There was some great street food here too.

Then we went to the budo center where we practice more kyudo. There was this statue of a kid in front of it. I have no idea what the sign says.

We had some ramen at one of the shops.

Then we drove to Akigami Onsen Inn, in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. The temperature dropped a full 10 degrees C as we went from Takayama to this onsen/ryokan.

The place was lovely, with all the trees turning colors.

From the room where I was staying, we had a nice view of the river.

Inside, it was a very traditional ryokan and onsen.

Of all the places we stayed or had food, this one was the best. The owner, an 80 year old woman, served us the food with help from the rest of the staff, and her son provided the ingredients for the meal, most of the mushrooms came from the surrounding forest.

This doesn’t even cover it all. We had fresh soba noodles as well, plus plenty of sake (both hot and cold) and beer.

The breakfast the next morning was equally delicious, but I don’t have pictures of that.

Then we headed back to Kyoto again.

We had plenty of good food in Kyoto but I didn’t take pictures as much. I’m bad at taking photos, in fact a lot of the ones above came from other people on the trip.

Kyoto, a city of a thousand temples

If there’s one thing that jumps out about Kyoto, it’s that there are a lot of shrines and temples. It felt like you couldn’t walk five feet without tripping on a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple or both. Some of the highlights are:

Nishi-Honganji and Higashi Honganji

These two temples are huge, and right in the middle of Kyoto. It was one of the first places I saw as I was walking from Kyoto Station to Shibata-sensei’s house the night we arrived.

They’re two parts of the same temple, split up. One is East (Nishi) and one is West (Higashi). They’re both of the Jodo-shinshu sect of Pure Land Buddhism.

I forget which of the two this one was, but it’s the gate of one of them. I think it’s Higashi.

This is one of the largest temple Founder’s Halls in all of Japan.

On the morning we went there we could hear chanting in the main hall, and I made a recording. I practice Soto Zen and our chanting is pretty monotone compared this, which is much more melodic.

Honestly, this post could go on and on

We had a very jam-packed trip, even when we stayed a few days after the program ended, we managed to fit in going to see Himeji Castle as well as several other places in Kyoto we hadn’t gotten around to.

So I’ll end with this recommendation: If you ever get the chance to go to Japan, you really should check out Kyoto. It’s well worth it.