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Travel singapore with kids

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Travel singapore with kids 

  Singapore is one of the easiest Asian countries in which to travel with children it's safe and clean, with efficient public transport. Kids are welcome everywhere, and there are facilities and amenities catering to children of all ages. Oh, and don't be surprised if locals fawn over your little ones!
Animal Kingdom
Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari & Jurong Bird Park
  Kids can get up close and personal with orang utans and cheeky proboscis at Singapore Zoo, watch antelopes trot past at Night Safari, press up against giant manatees at River Safari, or feed Technicolor parrots at Jurong Bird Park. Interactive shows at all venues (except River Safari) crank up the excitement.
Island Thrills
Sentosa Island
  Whole days in the sun is what you get at attraction-packed Sentosa. Older kids will get a kick out of the rides at Universal Studios, while young tikes can frolic on the beach or get splash happy at Adventure Cove Waterpark.
Pulau Ubin
  This small, relatively flat island is the perfect place to spend a day cycling and exploring. Kids will love the Sensory Trail ( GOOGLE MAP ; 6542 4108; www.nparks.gov.sg) and Chek Jawa Wetlands, both filled with plenty of flora and fauna. Kids bikes are available for hire, as are child seats and helmets.
Kid Friendly Culture
National Gallery Singapore
  Imaginations run wild at the Keppel Centre for Art Education, a wonderful facility dedicated to nurturing children's creativity and curiosity. Kids are encourage to interact with artworks and also create their own masterpieces. Check the website youth programs are run throughout the year.
Botanic Blockbusters
Gardens by the Bay
  As if the space age bio domes, crazy Supertrees and bird’s eye Skyway weren’t enthralling enough, Singapore’s jaw dropping botanical masterpiece is home to a one hectare Children’s Garden, complete with motion sensor wet play zones and giant tree houses.
Rainy Day Mall Trawls
Orchard Road
  Where do you go when it's pouring down with rain? Mall packed Orchard Rd, of course. You'll find cinemas, Imax screens and, of course, Toys 'R' Us. There's no shortage of quality food courts, cafes and underground walkways to keep you dry.
Ride a Duck 
Singapore Duck Tours
  The embarrassingly fun Singapore Ducktours transports visitors on a brightly coloured amphibious former military vehicle. The tour is informative, loud and over the top, especially when the vehicle drives off road into Marina Bay!

Downtown Kyoto shopping

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Downtown Kyoto shopping

  Central Kyoto’s streets and alleys team with shoppers, business people, tourists, students and sightseers. They are drawn by the department stores, boutiques, restaurants, banks and food markets that line Kawaramachi and Teramachi, between Sanjo and Shijo dori, and Nishiki koji, from Teramachi to Karasuma.
  Kyoto’s downtown district has not changed much in centuries. Now, cars and modern dress replace carts and traditional dress and glitzy neon and colorful lettering supplant the subdued hand carved signs once mounted over shop entrances, but the entrepreneurial spirit remains.
  Some streets, such as Kawaramachi dori, did not exist 1,000 years ago. The easternmost street then was Kyogoku (now called Shinkyogoku or New Kyogoku Street) that runs parallel to Kawaramachi on the west.
  To the east, Kawaramachi was bordered by the Kamo River, an overflowing torrent during heavy rain but reduced to a shallow flowing stream within a vast sandy expanse. Realizing that when the river was low the city was vulnerable to attack, the warlord Hideyoshi (1536 98) began a project to reshape the capital by enclosing it with a large earthen wall and building sturdy bridges. Sanjo Bridge, constructed in 1590, still closely resembles depictions of the original bridge seen in old woodblock prints.
  The Kamo River banks were home to entertainers, precursors of Kabuki, while the narrow nearby Takase River carried charcoal and cords of wood to the pottery kilns along Gojo Street in the central eastern part of the city.
  Over the centuries, the defensive earthen walls that confined and guarded the city’s eastern flank disintegrated and Kyoto pushed east. Eventually, the expanded area to the east of the Kamo River became home to the villas and ateliers of wealthier citizens and artists.
  Teramachi (literally, Temple District) got its name when Hideyoshi moved many temples to this street and to Shinkyogoku. His goal was not to show off Kyoto’s religious heritage to travelers, but to provide defense if the city were attacked from the east.
  Today, some shops still sell religious goods altar ornaments, handmade candles, prayer beads, incense and Buddhist images. But the clutter of souvenir stores, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and game centers have largely crowded them out. As covered pedestrian only streets, both Teramachi and Shinkyogoku remain extremely popular with shoppers.
  Nishiki koji (Brocade Street) does not reflect its name. Originally called Gusoku koji, this wide street was where warriors’ armor was forged and sold. But the name, pronounced quickly, sounds unhappily like Excrement Street. The dismayed Emperor renamed it “brocade” in 1054 to complement Twill Street (Aya no Koji) two blocks south, thereby protecting Kyoto’s reputation as a refined aristocratic capital.
  About 300 years ago, as the demand for armor decreased, the convenient location drew fishmongers and other food vendors. Many items are displayed along the arcade, uncovered and within inches of onlookers, so that strolling along the narrow street  is a visual and olfactory adventure, even for locals. Prices are higher than at local supermarkets, but customers, from housewives to discerning chefs from Kyoto’s finest restaurants, rely on the quality of the vendors, whose reputations can go back generations.

Heian Shrine

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Heian Shrine

  The magnificent torii gate on Jingu michi Street, south of the main entrance to Heian Shrine, marks the shrine as a major tourist attraction, and justifiably so. Curiously, given the hundreds of shrines in the city, this is one of the newest.
  Heian Jingu was constructed in 1895 to commemorate 1,100 years of the city’s founding, and dedicated to emperors Kammu (Kyoto’s first emperor, 794) and Komei (1831 67, father of the Meiji Emperor).
  The setting is a little east of the Kamo River, thus outside the ancient city proper, but a splendid site to construct one of the city’s most gorgeous stroll gardens.
  The present buildings, with their vermilion woodwork and green tile roofs, closely resemble the original palace but were constructed at two thirds the original size. Ablaze in sunlight, they are a notable testament to Japanese carpentry skills. Entrance to the shrine is free but the expansive stroll garden requires a fee.
  Designed by Ogawa Jihei (1860 1933), one of Kyoto’s foremost gardeners, the grounds blend contemporary and ancient aesthetics. Copious and innovative use of flowering plants is incorporated into the millennium old layout favored by Heian nobles.
  Paths first wind through the hanging cherry garden, an incomparable display of deep pink blossoms in April, possibly one of the loveliest places on earth when in bloom. The first pond, surrounded by azalea bushes and longstemmed irises, is best seen in May and June. The stepping stones in the pond were formed from the stone pillars from Gojo and Sanjo bridge supports. The pond beyond has a variety of later blooming azaleas and water lilies in June. The unadorned wooden bridge that crosses the pond was moved here from a former Imperial palace and has bench seating that allows visitors a restful view of the grounds.
  In early June, when the open courtyard is the setting for torchlit Noh plays during the evenings, the shrine provides an exotic backdrop to this traditional form of drama.
  This is a popular shrine for parents to come and ask the Shinto gods for blessings for their three-, five and seven year old children and for weddings in the special hall to the east of the Main Hall. The gods play a vital part in dispensing their grace on new borns, the growth of children and young couples, so many suppli cants come especially on those occasions.

Nijo Castle

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Nijo Castle

  Like its European counterpart, this castle, the administrative center for the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan from 1615 to 1868, has a moat. But there the similarities end. While Nijo’s gate is imposing and its earthen walls thick, it is the ornate rooms, gold foil backed screens and exotic stroll garden that wielded the power to intimidate enemies.
  At Ninomaru Palace is a goldhighlighted, elaborately carved wooden Chinese Gate brought from a warlord’s castle in Fushimi. The carriage entrance is precursor to the genkan, where guests, even today, shed their outer clothing and remove their footwear.
  The palace rooms lie in diagonal succession. Guests entered only as far as rank allowed, with a select few permitted into the farthest chamber where the Shogun conducted business.
  More practical than aesthetic, the garden beside the main room is an expanse of rocks (gifts from different provinces) and short, stout cycad palms that offer no place to hide. The inner uguisu bari, or nightingale floors, also designed for defense, “chirp” when trod on to alert guards to an intruder.
  The art in the inner audience rooms, painted by Kano Tanyu (1602 74), embodies wealth and strength, with hawks, tigers and huge powerful creatures rampant on gold leaf surfaces. Ohiroma, the most impressive room, where the Shogun met the highest officials, is painted with images of magnificent pines. Rather than a display of weaponry, a room large enough to accommodate this artwork illustrated the ruler’s power.
  The ponds, exotic trees and paths through the outer gardens are as much a reminder of the residential environment of Japan’s military class as the buildings themselves. The gardens are especially lovely in the cherry blossom season and are lit nightly.

Travel to Singapore

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Travel to Singapore

  Capitalising on its melting pot of cultures, Singapore is finally getting some spark, and is fast becoming one of Asia’s hit list destinations.
  Whizzing around Singapore can take a matter of minutes, thanks to one of the world’s most efficient and widespread public transport systems. Hankering for a roti prata breakfast in Little India, but want to visit the temples in Chinatown before lunch? No problem, you’ll be there in a jiffy using the sparkling MRT system and why not stop at Marina Bay for a spot of shopping on your way? Plus, with new metro lines opening practically every two years, this tiny island just keeps on becoming easier to explore.
  Food in Singapore is taken very seriously. From cheap hawker fare to Michelin starred fine dining, food enamoured Singaporeans will line up for it, Instagram the hell out of it and passionately debate whether it is ‘die, die, must try’ Singlish slang for ‘to die for’. Don’t fret about finding a place to chow down, as each neighbourhood is home to local hawker centres and coffeeshops dishing up some of the island’s best meals for just a couple of bucks. Simply follow your nose or join the longest queue  whatever morsels lie at the end, they are almost guaranteed to be scrumptious.
  The concrete jungles that once dominated Singapore’s skyline are slowly giving way to green skyscrapers, which look more like living ecosystems than business hubs. Fervently working towards its ‘City in a Garden’ dream, the nation is ploughing money into becoming more sustainable and well, green. Head out of town a little and you’ll find plenty of walking trails, treetop jungle bridges, wildlife galore and the city's green jewel, the Unesco World Heritage listed Singapore Botanic Gardens these are the lungs of Singapore.
  When the sweltering outdoor heat gets too much, Singaporeans love ducking inside for a spot of retail therapy and a good dose of air conditioning. Orchard Rd is the queen of shopping malls with all the high street brands, plenty of high fashion houses, and a few discount outlets thrown into the mix, everyone’s needs (and more often wants) are catered for here. If you prefer your shopping a little less mass market, head out to local neighbourhoods for independent designers, quirky art galleries, bustling markets, Chinese medicines, Persian carpets and a sari or two.

Kennin-ji Temple

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Kennin-ji Temple

Enter the Kennin-ji complex in its busy midtown setting and the city fades away.
  The monk Eisai (1141 1241) founded this Rinzai temple in 1202, making it the oldest of Kyoto’s Zen temples. The Rinzai sect emphasizes reaching enlightenment through sudden understanding, aided by pondering a koan. By giving the student this conundrum with no rational answer, the teacher spurs the acolyte to higher awareness.
  Kennin-ji, like the other Zen temples in Kyoto, is laid out in Chinese style in a grid pattern based on a north south axis, with subtemples and small gardens constructed in Japanese style lining the periphery. An immense hall in the center of the compound houses an image of Shakyamuni flanked by two attendant images.
  Recent renovations allow visitors to enter the Abbot’s Quarters and the buildings connected to it via tiled roof corridors. The doors have been removed to allow views of the expansive kare sansui sand and rock garden. Zen gardens are for contemplation, an aid in transcending the mundane through the abstract principles implied in the rocks and sand. One popular interpretation of this garden is the grouping of three standing rocks in the raked sand, often thought of as representing Buddha and two acolytes. The sumptuously green moss garden is called the Sound of the Tide Garden. With its soft undulating mounds of star moss, it is as soothing to the eyes as the former is stimulating, evoking entirely different images and reflections.
  In 2002, Kennin-ji celebrated its 800th anniversary and commissioned artist Koizumi Junsaka (1924 2012) to paint two majestic twin dragons charging through the heavens, the wish granting jewel in one five taloned claw. The ink painting, on thick Japanese paper, was attached to the ceiling of Nenge do Hall.
  Other halls open to the public contain sliding fusuma doors painted by famous Kyoto artists, and include Hashimoto Kansetsu’s depiction of the Zen principles in “The Cycle of Death and Rebirth.” The temple gallery features replicas of painted screens (the originals are in the Kyoto National Museum) of the thunder gods, Fujin and Raijin.
  A few steps away from Kyoto’s busiest intersection, Kennin-ji, an active monastery, remains a world apart from its secular neighbors.

Kitomizu Temple

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Kitomizu Temple

  Named after the pure healing waters that flow from Otowa no Taki waterfall, the World Heritage Site of Kiyomizu is older than the city, founded by General Sakanoue no Tamuramaro and given to the priest Enchin in 780.
  For over 1,000 years, supplicants, some on their knees, ascended the two main staired streets known as the “two year slope” and the “three year slope” to offer prayers to the Goddess of Mercy. The street names came from a superstition that if one tumbled on the age softened stones, that person would incur two or three years of misfortune.
  On both sides of the entrance to the complex is the gate with muscular Nio temple guardians, both challenging the evil beliefs of those attempting to pass between them. The gate (1478) is one of the oldest structures in the complex (the Sutra Hall is oldest).
  The Main Hall, rebuilt in 1633, is a magnificent structure with an extended “dancing platform” supported by massive beams that form the scaffolding beneath, a 400 year old marvel of engineered joinery without nails. In the cool, dark recesses behind the main altar, gilded bodhisattvas glimmer dimly, adding to the mystical atmosphere. The main figure, Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, is so sacred that it is only displayed every 30 years, with the next opportunity in 2024.
  The path to Okuno in, another building supported by scaffolding, offers a spectacular view of the Main Hall and the city beyond. In the late afternoon, the sun bathes the halls in a rosy glow, peeling away centuries and evoking the time when pilgrims traveled far to see this magical vista that remains one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations.
  The waterfall flowing from the mountain, from which the temple takes its name, has been divided into three channels, with long handled dippers available for visitors to sample its efficacious water.
Walking farther along the wooded pathway leads to the three tiered pagoda and another panoramic view of the Main Hall and Okuno in, the second pavilion.
  The Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) district around the temple is rich in color and craft. Rickshaws swoop around the hilly terrain carrying tourists. Tiny twisting streets and alley ways are lined with shops selling shichimi togarashi, seasoned chili powder, while characteristic archshaped baked sweets, yatsuhashi, permeate the air with the aroma of cinnamon.
  Thrilled and embarrassed by the attention they draw, young women visitors, professionally dressed in the gorgeous kimono and obi worn by maiko, stroll the streets, snapping each other’s photos and posing for tourists.
  Antique shops, cafes and eat eries catering to all tastes fill the Higashiyama area, and shops still feature the characteristic porce lain ceramics and enameled stoneware. Generations of potters took advantage of the foothill’s updraft to evenly fire their pottery in climbing kilns on the slopes until pollution laws in the 1950s required them to relocate.
  Higashiyama offers many pleasures, from window shopping to visiting a temple that predates Kyoto, while the area’s playful and relaxed atmosphere encourages one to linger for hours.

Kyoto’s Imperial Palace

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Kyoto’s Imperial Palace

  Visitors can easily slip back 150 years in the Imperial Park that surrounds the former Imperial Palace. Until the Emperor moved to Tokyo in 1868, the spacious grounds were home to more than 100 aristocrats. Today, their names are inscribed on markers scattered among the large boulders and stately old trees, the remains of their private estates and gardens.
  Today, much of the parkland is public student sports groups jog outside the wall of the inner palace, parents mind barefooted toddlers wading in the narrow stream in the southwest side, dog walkers meet and chat along the large gravel covered paths. There are tennis courts, baseball mounds and a small court for gate ball, a croquet like sport popular with older people.
  The two former Imperial residences, Kyoto Gosho in the center of the park and Sento Gosho in the southeast corner, require permission to enter, obtained from the Imperial Household Agency in the northwest corner.
  The entrance gates to the inner palace are formidable structures, magnificent in their own right. The largest, Kenreimon, faces directly south and was accessible solely by the Emperor. The east gate, Kenshumon, was for the Empress. The architecture exemplifies the restrained beauty that is so characteristic of Japanese art and is a marvel of ancient carpentry traditions.
  Twice a year, in the spring and fall, the inner palace is open to the public. The Shinshin den, or main building (destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1855), is where new emperors are enthroned. Its gates are brilliant vermilion, but the inner palace buildings are of unpainted wood with huge, curved cypress  bark roofs.
  The smaller hall, the Shunkoden, contains the sacred mirror of the Imperial family, a symbol of Imperial presence used only on special occasions. It harkens back to ancient mythology when the sun goddess, Amaterasu no Mikami, emerged from a cave, bringing light back into the world. Shrine mirrors, often of bronze, reflect the light of the sun as it passes along the southern horizon, and remain one of the essential possessions of Shinto shrines.
  The front courtyard of Shinshinden is of the purist white gravel. Japanese believe that in such sacred spaces, known as yuniwa, one can sense the presence of deities and it is here that they listen to the petitions of their devotees.
  Entrance to the interior rooms is not permitted but its gardens are compact masterpieces of landscaping and worth seeing. The outer Imperial Park is also well maintained by the same special corps of specially trained gardeners. The plum, peach and cherry trees are among the most popular destinations in spring, and the park’s ponds and oldgrowth trees a haven for birds.
  Opposite Open twice a year to the general public and upon request, the brilliant cinnabar colored doors of the former Imperial Palace reveal an expansive inner courtyard.
  Below The outer walls of the palace are constructed of stone and clay, the five white lines denoting an Imperial dwelling. Massive gates, cypress bark roofs and slate gray funneled roof tiles belie Japan’s preference for understated design in carpentry and masonry skills.
  This page Most traditional carpentry involves precise joinery, with scant use of nails, but when nails are used they are covered to enhance the integrity of the overall design. The red struts of the under eaves at left and the smooth curves of the cypress layered roof below show centurieslong skill in the handling of natural materials.

Top Events Singapore Month By Month

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Top Events Singapore Month By Month

Chinese New Year, February
Chingay Festival, February
Great Singapore Sale, early June to mid August
Formula One Grand Prix, September

January

  After the New Year's Eve parties and overpriced drinks, the year kicks off with extreme Hindu devotion and indie music.

St Jerome's Laneway Festival

  A popular one-day music festival serving up top-tier indie acts from across the world at Gardens by the Bay. Acts span rock, folk and electronica.

February

  Chinese New Year is a big deal in Singapore, where the majority of the citizens are Chinese. The occasion is celebrated with a two-day holiday and loud, intense, colourful festivity.

Chinese New Year

  Dragon dances, parades and wishes of 'gong xi fa cai' ('I hope that you gain lots of money') mark the start of the Chinese New Year (Feb). Chinatown lights up, especially Eu Tong Sen St and New Bridge Rd, and the 'River Hongbao' (www.riverhongbao.sg) at Marina Bay features market and food stalls, shows and fireworks.

Thaipusam

  Hindus head from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Rd to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Rd carrying kavadis (heavy metal frames decorated with peacock feathers, fruit and flowers) during this dramatic festival (www.thaipusam.sg; usually Feb).

Chingay

  Held over two nights during the first weekend of Chinese New Year, Chingay (www.chingay.org.sg; Feb) delivers Singapore's biggest street parade. It's a flamboyant multicultural affair featuring lion dancers, floats and other cultural performers. Buy tickets in advance for a seat in the viewing galleries, or battle the crowds for a place at the roadside barriers.

March

The northeast monsoon peters out and the mercury starts rising.

Singapore International Jazz Festival

  Held at Marina Bay Sands, the three day Sing Jazz delivers established and emerging jazz talent from around the world. Past acts have included Jamie Cullum, India Arie and Natalie Cole.

April

  Temperatures continue to rise in April, however, fairly predictable afternoon thunderstorms cool things down. Don't be concerned if Easter falls in April most shops and attractions will continue to operate as normal.

Affordable Art Fair

  A three day expo with more than 40 local and international galleries showcasing art priced between S$100 and S$15,000 from hundreds of artists. Held at the F1 Pit Building, the event also takes place in November.

May

  It's the quiet month leading towards the peak of the 'summer' heat and the busy school holidays. A good time to visit Singapore.

Vesak Day

  Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death are celebrated with various events, including the release of caged birds to symbolise the setting free of captive souls. The centres of activity are the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery.

June

  School holidays coupled with blockbuster sales equal big crowds. It's one of the hottest months on the calendar, so get ready to sweat.

Great Singapore Sale

  The Great Singapore Sale (www.greatsingaporesale.com.sg; early Jun mid Aug) runs from early June to mid August. Retailers around the island cut prices (and wheel out the stuff they couldn't sell earlier in the year). There are bargains to be had if you can stomach the crowds. Go early!

Hari Raya Puasa

  Also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, this festival celebrates the end of the Ramadan fasting month (dates change annually). Head to Kampong Glam for nightly feasts during Ramadan.

Singapore International Festival of Arts

  A world class offering (http://sifa.sg/sifa;Jun Sep) of mostly dance and drama curated by Ong Keng Sen, one of Singapore's most respected theatre practitioners. Runs from late June to early September.

July

The dry months continue, and so do the school holidays.

Singapore Food Festival

  A two week celebration (www.yoursingapore.com; Jul) of all things edible and Singaporean. Events taking place across the city include tastings, special dinners and food themed tours.

August

National Day, Singapore's best known event (at least for the locals), is held every August. Even the unpatriotic love it because it's a public holiday.

Singapore National Day

  Held on 9 August, Singapore National Day (www.ndp.org.sg; 9 Aug) is a hugely popular spectacle of military parades, civilian processions, air force fly bys and fireworks. Tickets are snapped up well in advance, however, you can watch all the aerial acts from Marina Bay Sands.

Hungry Ghost Festival

  This festival marks the day when the souls of the dead are released to walk the earth for feasting and entertainment. The Chinese put offerings of food on the street and light fires. Chinese operas and other events are held.

Beerfest Asia

  Asia's biggest beer event (www.beerfestasia.com;Aug) pours more than 500 types of brews, from both international heavyweights and craft microbreweries. Events include DJs and live music.

Singapore Night Festival

  Spectacular light projections, plus interactive installations, performance art, cabaret, comedy and more. The festival (www.nightfest.sg;Aug) is held over two weekends.

September

  While the Formula One night race is the hottest ticket on the annual calendar, it does mean that local hotels jack up prices. Beds are hard to find, especially in the Colonial District where the action happens.

Formula One Grand Prix

  The Formula One Grand Prix night race screams around Marina Bay. Off track events include international music acts. Book accommodation months in advance and be prepared to pay through the nose.

Mid Autumn Festival

  Also known as the Lantern Festival, the Mid Autumn (or Moon Cake) Festival is celebrated with lanterns in Chinatown and locals nibbling on moon cakes. Takes place on the full moon of the eighth lunar month.

Navarathiri

  Dedicated to the wives of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma, the Hindu festival of 'Nine Nights' includes traditional Indian dancing. The Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple are the main activity hubs.

October

  October is an inter monsoon period. Thunderstorms are frequent but extreme weather is rare.

Deepavali

  Rama's victory over the demon king Ravana is celebrated during the 'Festival of Lights' (Oct). Little India is ablaze with lights for a month, culminating in a huge street party on the eve of the holiday.

November

  As always, Singapore's cultural calendar is packed with religious events.

Thimithi

  At this eye opener of a fire walking ceremony, Hindu devotees prove their faith by walking across glowing coals at the Sri Mariamman Temple.

December

  A sense of festivity (and monsoon rains) permeates the air as the year winds down. The rainy season means that you'll need an umbrella to avoid getting drenched, though the weather is mercifully cool.

ZoukOut

  ZoukOut is Singapore's biggest outdoor dance party, held over two nights on Siloso Beach, Sentosa. Expect A list international DJs.

Kyoto’s Exquisite Arts And Crafts

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Kyoto’s Exquisite Arts And Crafts

  The variety of arts and crafts available to Kyoto residents, the fruit of generations of artists and ateliers, is truly splendid. Surprisingly, the best place to survey the breathe and width of crafts is a department store, notably one of the larger ones Takashimaya, Daimaru and Fuji Daimaru. The sixth floors are reserved for crafts lacquer ware, metal utensils, ceramics, bamboo and wooden items, kimono and all manner of woven and dyed items. Exhibition halls and galleries are also an integral part of the stores as are the restaurants on the seventh floors, making department stores mammoth reservoirs of social, culinary and cultural activity, in addition to their primary commercial role.
  There are numerous craftspeople practicing their art in the city today, most notably kimono and obi sashes, for rarely does a single person design and make one item. Most are collective enterprises that span many ages and skills. The Nishijin district is filled with businesses that import raw silk, begin the process of dyeing it, encase some threads with gold or silver foil for the obi, sell and repair looms, operate spinning machines, specialize in threading looms all leading to the production of clothing and the wholesellers who line Muromachi Street offering magnificent seasonal showings of their products, for kimono and obi are not mass produced each is custom designed and made.
  Just saying the word “Nishijin” conjures up resplendent images of elegant wear, but the original meaning of the word denotes the Western campsite of a decades long war. The rivers in Kyoto might be one of the reasons the weaving and dyeing industry settled here, for the Kamo River was often the site of luxurious lengths of dyed silk being washed and readied for the next stage of work. Today, most looms are automatic Jacquard looms, but individual artists still dot the area, especially the finger nail weavers, who spend hours bent over the cloths patiently straightening the weft with serrated fingernails, and the obi weavers, who create unique designs either for wealthy clients or performing artists.
  Another famous product is Kiyomizu yaki, ceramics made near the Kiyomizu Temple. Today, the old wood firing kilns are not allowed in the city, and most pro duction takes place in a ward beyond the Eastern Mountains. Using centuries old techniques, steady hands apply delicate ten drils of gold enamel glaze before loading the pots into kilns for their last firing. Many shops and galleries along the Eastern Hills (Higashiyama) display fine porce lain and clay products, often with high prices that reflect the work and talent that went into them.
  The best known crafts shop is the Kyoto Handicraft Center, west of Higashi oji, on Marutamachidori. Items range from simple greeting cards to high end antiques with a nice representation of woodblock prints, cloisonné, pearls, lacquerware and swords.
  Many antique and print shops and galleries are clustered along Nawate dori, Furumonzen dori and Shinmonzen dori, three areas north of Shijo, near the Shinmachi and Gion districts, and along Teramachi, north of Sanjo dori. A stroll along these streets can be like visiting a museum, but one in which you are allowed to handle the exhibits.
  The best artists in the land served the court, and even today the concentration of ateliers makes Kyoto a delight for those with a discerning eye.

Unique Kyoto Food Traditions

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Unique Kyoto Food Traditions

  Traditional Japanese cuisine, especially that of Kyoto, is one of the most sophisticated food cultures in the world. Kyoto’s rich food culture dates back a thousand years, with today’s chefs drawing on centuriesold records detailing ingredients and techniques. Specialized food for the old Imperial court and, later, wealthy merchants, was presented, as it still is today, in bite sized pieces easily handled with chopsticks. Often served cold, it was accompanied by a hot soup and rice.
  The fields of Kyoto boast several distinct vegetables, collectively called kyo yasai. Kyotoites are very familiar with their local produce, and accord it a place of honor in exclusive restaurants and in the homes of discerning epicures.
  The soy product tofu is a Kyoto specialty. It is made by soaking dried beans overnight in good quality well water, churning them into a smooth mash, straining and then boiling the resulting soy milk, and adding calcium sulfate to act as a coagulant. The mixture is then poured into block molds to set.
  Tofu adopts itself to a variety of dishes. Smooth silky tofu (kino) is served cold in summer with a dab of grated ginger. A firmer type, momen, is often cut into cubes, simmered in a kelp broth, and then scooped out and dipped into a light soy flavored sauce. In addition to plain tofu, many of Kyoto’s supermarkets as well as the food courts found in the basements of department stores sell tofu flavored with sesame seeds, black beans or shiso (beefsteak plant).
  Another unique Kyoto soy based food product is yuba, the film formed on the surface of boiled soy milk. The thin, translucent beige sheets are hung, and then sold dried or fresh. The taste is a delicate, slightly sweet concentrate of soy milk. Yuba accompanies many a Kyoto dish, especially in the multi course kaiseki meal served in better restaurants.
  Although it is the gourmet epitome of Kyoto cuisine, kaiseki grew out of the simple meal served at a formal tea ceremony. The present day kaiseki meal developed in the 16th 17th centuries as the merchant class gained wealth and sought out rarified ingredients and preparations to impress prospective clients.
  While delicious, kaiseki’s most striking characteristic, however, is what meets the eye. Moritsuke, the artistic arrangement of food, is an art form in itself, and the dishes on which the food is served are a critical component. For example, the chef will consider color and texture and perhaps even reference the food to flowers or poetry. Presentation is so highly regarded that diners often whip out their cell phones to photograph the dish before them, perhaps to show their friends or to relish in memory the anticipation of culinary pleasure before a single taste! Then comes the pleasure of uncovering the different dishes as one would unwrap a present, each course a delight to both eye and palette, each a culinary gift.

Kyoto’s Amazing Architectural Heritage

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Kyoto’s Amazing Architectural Heritage

  Japan’s indigenous kami, or gods, live not inside shrines but within the towering cypress trees, sacred springs and waterfalls that surround the buildings. There, in nature, devotees can stand in the spiritual presence of the gods while seeking favor and guidance. The simplicity of a Shinto shrine never competes with its natural setting.
  Under Shintoism, Japanese have stood in awe of the power and beauty of nature and the religion’s simple shrines embody this reverence. The torii that marks the shrine entrance is often marked by four pieces of timber. These gates invite those closest to the gods, their feathery messengers the birds, to sit on the crossbeams, ready to wing supplicants’ prayers heavenward.
  Temples are an entirely different affair. When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, Japan, still without an alphabet, relied on written Chinese to convey the tenets of religion, law and philosophy. Scholars, diplomats and artisans were invited to the Nara court (60 kilometers away) to impart a culture distinctly different from and admired as superior to Japan’s. With its sophisticated philosophy and texts, Buddhism immediately appealed to Japan’s courtiers who controlled the privilege of literacy, but the religion rapidly reached even illiterate peasants and merchants.
  The Chinese adaptation of the Indian religion brought new dimensions of the understanding of the universe and life beyond this one. This new theology was not grounded in the immensity Far left The vermilion doors of Jikido Hall at Toji Temple, a World Heritage Site, glow in the sunset. Center left Elaborate metal fretwork marks the eaves of the sloping cypress bark palace roofs. The Imperial chrysanthemum crest and multilayer roof tiles denote the building’s imperial status. Left The Phoenix Hall at Byodo in Temple, a World Heritage Site. Below left Billowy cherry blossoms and fresh green pines frame the gleaming gold layered Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku ji). of a cypress tree or the roar of a waterfall. It demanded humanmade artifacts a written text, a myriad of implements, statuary and, grandest of all, huge structures to accommodate believers.
  By 596, temple construction had begun. Chinese carpenters were invited to Nara and introduced their techniques to a wonderstruck population. The temples we see today in Kyoto, although fairly faithful descendants of Japan’s 6th 10th century originals, differ greatly from those still in existence in China. Japan’s climate and earthquake prone land made elevated buildings a necessity. Its rich supply of zelkova, cypress, oak and cedar forests lent itself to increasingly mammoth worship halls as the population embraced the comfort of salvation within a Buddhist paradise.
  Not only did places of worship begin to be shaped in Kyoto, but some of the world’s greatest collections of Buddhist images are found here. One of Asia’s most iconic forms, the pagoda, continues to pierce the ancient skyline, serving as a reliquary for Buddha’s remains and as a revered landmark for Kyoto residents.
  The buildings themselves, tested by earthquakes, fire and war, withstood all sorts of disaster, and when they fell into disrepair, skilled carpenters, known as miyadaiku, restored them. With new sects entering Japan, new temple compounds were established. The last Buddhist sect to come was Zen, which entered in the late 12th century, and played a major role in Kyoto’s architectural, political and religious heritage. Thus, one of Asia’s most resplendent cities developed and matured, along with the skills of its craftsmen and artists.

Zen Buddhism And The Tea Ceremony

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Zen Buddhism And The Tea Ceremony

  Zen was the last Buddhist sect to enter Japan, and by the 14th century one that had a profound influence on the arts calligraphy, Noh drama, architecture and especially the tea ceremony.
  Zen is based on meditation, a practice in which one looks into the source of the mind, leading to an inner equilibrium between the secular and the sacred and, hopefully, enlightenment. Some claim that Zen is more a discipline or philosophy than a religion, but 1,500 years of Zen writings reveal it to be one of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Unlike conventional religion, with a transcendent deity outside of the self, Zen believes that the essence of mind is innately enlightened, and that seeing into one’s Buddha nature is possible through meditation. It was largely as an aid to meditation and good health that Eisai, the Japanese monk who introduced Zen to Japan, brought tea seeds back with him from China and promoted the drinking of tea. Use of the beverage spread quickly among the priesthood and the ruling classes.
  After being taken up by the aristocracy, the drink became a privilege of a rising wealthy class. In the late 16th century, the tea master, Sen no Rikyu, started to refine the art of making tea into a ceremony, stipulating that all who entered his teahouse were equals to share in the pleasure of a simple bowl of whisked powdered green tea. This was a revolutionary idea, since Japanese society was rigidly class bound. Thereafter, the tearoom became a meeting ground for priests, artisans, merchants and aristocrats, a singularly powerful cultural statement.
  Perhaps this is one reason that Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a common foot soldier who rose to the rank of warlord, was attracted to the tea of Sen no Rikyu. The warlord became a patron of this famous tea master, recognizing Rikyu’s influence on society and his undisputed ability to create new aesthetic standards. Artists were inspired to create utensils that embodied these aesthetics, and tea enthusiasts vied in collecting new pieces, During one military excursion in the 16th century, Hideyoshi invaded Korea and brought back Korean potters to reproduce the simple rice bowls that are still highly sought after. Imparting the softness of human touch, the bowls rested lightly in two hands, their thick walls warming but not scalding. Senno Rikyu recognized beauty in bowls shaped by an expert eye and glazed in soft tones the pinnacle of graceful simplicity. The Japanese eye has become trained to recognize rustic beauty (wabi), elegant simplicity (sabi), understated tastefulness (shibui) and vague mysteriousness (yugen), a deep response to the passing of beauty (aware) or refined sophistication (miyabi), as a few examples of the many expressions still in the aesthetic lexicon that concern tea utensils.
  Consequently, most teahouses have rustic settings. Some even have thatched roofs and all have simple unadorned clay walls, a hearth or hanging kettle, an alcove for a hanging scroll, a simple flower arrangement and tatami mats. For Japanese to slip through the low door, sit quietly while listening to the low hiss of the kettle sounding like the wind through the pine trees, is a return to the heart of their culture, a respite from the demands of modern life and its interruptions. It is a journey back to their cultural identity.

Gion District

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Gion District

  The traditional entertainment districts of Gion, Pontocho, Shimabara, Miyagawa cho and Kamishichiken have especially beauti ful restaurants and chaya (establishments which offer geiko and maiko performances). The refined gait of a maiko, gorgeously attired in kimono with lacquered paper umbrella in hand, passing the dark fronted houses, presents an exotic opportunity to appreciate a moment of grace. The refined bow of a geiko as she enters a place of entertainment, a glimpse of a flowing silk en sleeve as the door slides quietly shut, bring another dimension to beauty in these districts.
  In Kyoto, geisha are known as geiko, the term meaning a woman accomplished in the arts. Her understudy is a maiko, a young woman who apprentices, usually from age sixteen, at the okiya in the geiko districts of Gion, Pontocho, Miyagawa cho and Kamishichiken.
  The Western sexualization of this ancient practice is both unfortunate and inaccurate. The gei in geiko refers to the arts, usually the performing arts of singing, dancing and playing musical instruments, including the shamisen, a three stringed banjo like instrument. The mai in maiko means dance, one of the first skills a young woman learns, because moving gracefully in a kimono requires practice, good posture and elegant, con trolled bearing.
  But to see kimono at their most magnificent, the beautiful streets that traverse Gion and Pontocho districts and their adja cent theaters are the places to go. There, you can step back hundreds of years to glimpse a maiko passing the elegant old wooden teahouses on her way to her music lesson or hairdresser.
  It is almost like spotting a rare bird, and as the maiko comes into view, throngs of camera wielding tourists congregate, seemingly emerging from nowhere, to capture the excitement of the moment. On occasion, so many people gather that volunteer guides must keep them from impeding the maiko’s elegant passage.
  The buildings lining the streets of Pontocho and Gion are another of Kyoto’s treasures. The softcolored wooden lattice doors that slide soundlessly open to reveal miniature gardens and stone paths are as beautiful as they are distinctive. The chaya teahouse differs from the dwellings of ordinary residents. The buildings are constructed of many small rooms, some with alcoves dis playing a treasured object and flower arrangement. Within these rooms, guests assemble. The crystal clear flow of sake as it is poured into tiny delicate cups and the many courses are accompa nied by the swish of a silk kimono and the graceful demeanor of the server. The seemingly effortless elegance by which a dinner pro ceeds defines an evening well spent and encompasses the essence of the geisha districts.

Singapore's Top 10

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Singapore's Top 10

  Small enough to feel intimate yet big enough to retain a degree of mystery, Singapore is a place I love discovering again and again. The city sometimes feels like it's travelling at a breakneck speed into tomorrow with its futuristic architecture, high speed efficiency and shiny image, but you only need to take a small step off the main drag into bustling village markets, smoky Chinese temples and heritage shophouse lined streets to get a dose of its rich history and culture. Then there’s the food: nothing stills my beating heart quite like a perfectly grilled satay and an ice cold Tiger Beer.

1 Hawker Food

  Fragrant chicken rice, rich and nutty satay, sweet and sour rojak, spicy barbecue sambal stingray Singapore's hawker food is the stuff of legend, and celebrity chefs, from Anthony Bourdain to the late New York Times writer Johnny Apple, have raved about the dazzling array of cheap, lip smacking dishes available you'll even find one and two starred Michelin stalls! There's really no better way to get into Singapore's psyche than through its cuisine, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to sweat it out over steaming plates of tried, tested and perfected local favourites.

2 Asian Civilisations Museum

  Travel back through time at this engrossing ode to Asia's cross cultural connections, developed through Singapore's position and history as a port city. Having recently undergone a radical transformation, the galleries are like visiting a sprawling, glittering attic, heaving with ancient pottery, religious sculptures, silver tea sets, whimsical puppets and mystical weaponry. You'll find the region's most comprehensive collection of pan Asian treasures within its walls, and the recently recovered treasures from the Tang Shipwreck need to be seen to be believed.

3 National Gallery Singapore

  The breathtaking National Gallery Singapore is the newest jewel in the crown of Singapore's art and museum scene. Art lovers could spend hours wandering the world class collection of 19th-century and modern Southeast Asian art housed across two of the city's most iconic heritage buildings, while kids are kept busy at the Keppel Centre for Art Education. Some of Singapore's newest, highly acclaimed restaurants are also tucked within the gallery's wings, and the rooftop bar delivers jaw-dropping views along with its impressive cocktail list.

4 Gardens by the Bay

  Spanning a whopping 101 hectares, Gardens by the Bay is Singapore's hottest horticultural asset. The $1 billion 'super park' is home to almost 400,000 plants, not to mention awe inspiring contemporary architecture. Two giant conservatories rise beside Marina Bay like futuristic shells, one home to ancient olive trees, the other to a towering, tropical mountain. To the north are the Supertrees futuristic, botanical giants connected by a commanding Skyway and glowing hypnotically each night during the Garden Rhapsody sound and light show.

5 Singapore Botanic Gardens

  Singapore's Garden of Eden is the perfect antidote to the city's rat race tendencies. At the tail end of Orchard Rd, it's a sprawling oasis laced with elegant lakes and themed gardens, and no shortage of perfect spots for picnics and people watching. Stroll through the orchid gardens, looking out for Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower, or cool down in a rare slice of ancient rainforest. The Singapore Botanic Gardens are also home to a dedicated Children's Garden, free guided tours and free opera performances at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage.

6 Night Safari

  As evening closes in, the Night Safari uses open concept enclosures to get visitors up close and personal with nocturnal creatures such as leopards, free ranging deer and handsome Malay tigers. Begin your nocturnal adventure with the high energy, fire spinning Thumbuakar Performance, held in the Entrance Courtyard. You can also check out giant pandas in the newer River Safari located nearby.

7 Orchard Road

  What was once a dusty road lined with spice plantations and orchards is now a 2.5km torrent of magnificent malls, department stores and speciality shops. You'll find every brand imaginable, from emerging local designers to global high street heavyweights and coveted European couture. Indeed, you can shop until you drop, pick yourself up, and continue spending some more. When you've stashed your purchases back at the hotel, duck out to Emerald Hill for Peranakan architecture and happy hour bar specials.

8 Little India

  The most atmospheric of Singapore's historic quarters is as close as it gets to the Singapore of the old chaotic days. Experience it with the masses on the weekends when it gets packed to the gills with Indian workers wanting a slice of home. The five foot ways of colourful shophouses spill over with aromatic spices and Bollywood magazines. Backpackers and coolhunters swill beers at laid back bars, and insomniacs head to Mustafa Centre to buy iPads at 3am before tucking into teh tarik (pulled tea) and roti prata (dough flour pancake).

9 Sentosa Island

  Sentosa is Singapore's carefully planned, all ages playground a world class sprawl of theme parks and amusements, evening spectaculars, luxe resorts and a subterranean casino. There's something for everyone, from blockbuster rides and shows at Universal Studios, to giant tanks peppered with marine life at SEA Aquarium and artificial surf at Wave House. Palm fringed beach bars flank stretches of sand, seemingly begging you to stop in for a sundowner, while top-notch restaurants look out over million dollar yachts.

10 Pulau Ubin

  Singapore's very own rustic island getaway offers a glimpse of the kampong (village) life that was a big part of Singapore as recently as the 1960s. By hopping aboard a chugging bumboat from Changi, visitors can explore Pulau Ubin's old growth mangrove swamps and silent, lotus peppered lakes cycle past tin roof shacks, ramshackle shrines and lazing monitor lizards rampage along a cross country mountain bike trail and end the day by digging into a simple seafood meal by the sea.

A Brief History Of Japan’s Aacient Capital

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A Brief History Of Japan’s Aacient Capital

  The city of Kyoto began to take shape in the 8th century when some of its earliest residents, the  Hata family, invited the Emperor to make his home on their hunting grounds. Under the most rigorous dictates of geomancy, planners created a grid of roads patterned after the western Chinese city of  Xi’an, terminus of the Silk Road.
  Rich with game, traversed by rivers and sheltered on three sides by mountains, Kyoto began its transformation into one of the great cities of the 9th century. By the late 800s, the network of avenues and byways had become the new Imperial Capital. Workers who lived in rough huts helped build a palace and estates for the nobility. A political court thrived on ritual, bureaucratic intrigue, poetry and the newly introduced spiritual practices of Buddhism, a faith introduced to the former court in Nara.
  Molded by deep religious beliefs and rent by warring factions, Kyoto began its journey through history, not only as an imperial stronghold but also as a vibrant residential city, with enclaves of astute merchants, gifted artisans and hardworking commoners who lived alongside the temples, shrines and gardens that even today stand as tributes to the skills and ancient aesthetics of their creators. But as much as Kyoto is rich with remnants of a remarkable past, it is a forward looking city, as embodied in the architecturally stunning and massive Kyoto Station.
  Kyoto is also a city festooned with ugly electric wires and burdened with lumpish apartment buildings, intrusive sidewalk notices and gaudy neon signs. Discarded bicycles lie in gnarled mounds. For while Kyoto residents are truly proud of their city and its historic artistic legacy, some have perfected enough selective vision to overlook aesthetic insults.
  Some would say that it was a series of historical accidents that allowed Kyoto to become one of the world’s metropolitan jewels.  Other would argue that it could have been no other way. In 1868, after the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor and his court, as well as the heads of prestigious families, moved from Kyoto to the new capital of Tokyo, then a collection of rural towns known as Edo. Despite fear that losing its status as the capital would pitch Kyoto into decline, it thrived. The city is not only a stronghold of tradition but early on embraced progress. In 1890, it built one of the country’s first large scale engineering feats, a canal that allowed rice from the agricultural prefecture of Shiga to be shipped efficiently into the city. Kyoto also quickly established hydroelectric power, realigned streets to allow construction of a railroad station and boasted the country’s first tramcar.
  The members of the oldest families who remained behind founded Nintendo, Kyocera, Murata Manufacturing and Shimadzu Corporation, now among some of the world’s leading companies, while Kyoto University boasts of Nobel Prize recipients in chemistry and physics.