Thursday, 28 April 2016

A visit to the thousand-year capital

From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, we travelled to Kyoto for a bit of leisure time and to wander around one of the most beautiful and oldest cities in Japan. One thing you will definitely notice is the unique architecture. The traditional designs and craftsmanship are all part of the rustic charm of Kyoto. It is like a city frozen in time. Kimono-clayed women is a common sight filling the city with a sense of nostalgia of days of old. Rich in history and culture, I think we enjoyed our 3-day stay here more than our stay in Tokyo.

It was a shopping paradise as well – much to the delight of my better half. Some of the shopping streets appeared to have no end and so was the variety of items on sale.

And there was the food. Gastronomic offerings that send you on a remarkable journey of taste and aroma.

We stayed at a traditional ryokan establishment in order to make our visit to Japan complete and it was certainly a new experience. The setting and accommodation gives you an insight on what it is like to live in Japan during that era of time.

The owners of the establishment are dog lovers and have no less than 5 Golden Retrievers running around the compound! One particular dog was allowed to enter the lobby and he was truly docile and friendly. Needless to say, he received a lot of affection from us.

The Nijo Castle is a world renowned site located right in the city centre. Although the architecture is not as breath-taking as some of the other tourist locations but the historical elements and it being the home to samurais and ninjas make this a unique attraction among Japan’s long list of impeccable tourist spots.

Now, for the birds. My encounter with the Mute Swan at the Imperial Palace has taught me to be more vigilant when it comes to moats and true enough, I was greeted by another lifer – a male Mallard. I have seen this species before back home but they were domesticated birds and cannot be compared to seeing a wild one. The latter will always evoke more excitement – naturally.

What is it with Great Cormorants and moats? And am I ever going to have a chance to photograph one a little closer than across the width of moats?

Flocks of White-cheeked Starlings were present at some places of the castle grounds and here, they exhibit little fear for man unlike the ones I usually encounter at my local patch in Shibuya. Daylight is early during this time of the year and the light starts to fade early as well. Shooting these active starlings in shaded areas in the late afternoon was a challenge. Only a few of my images turned out sharp despite the close proximity.

For the second time in my Japan trip I came across the Dusky Thrush. Foraging on a lawn, it was nice to see the beautiful markings out in the open and in reasonably good light. There was a low barrier that I could have stepped over to get closer to the bird but I decided against it. If it happened to be a lifer and something truly incredible like a pitta, then it would have been a true test.

Moments later, I also found my second Pale Thrush. It seemed like this two species have a tendency to share habitats. With no barrier in my way this time, I managed to stalk my way quite close to the bird. The lighting condition was a hindrance and my shots did not turn out as sharp as I had hoped. However, both the thrushes enriched my visit to this castle tremendously.

There are quite a few unique sites in Kyoto that are in a class of their own. The awe-inspiring Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of them. The view and feel of the place was amazing and I am sure I speak for the hundreds of other visitors that were present there as well. Japan seems to be the country to visit this year. Even two of my colleagues have visited Japan already. On the whole, most of the tourist locations were packed – even on weekdays. I can only imagine how it bad it would be during the dreaded Golden Week in Japan.

As appealing as the bamboo forest may be, there were hardly any birds and the one shot that I did take was of a Japanese White-eye. Even then it was at the edge the forest and not among the bamboo.

There is a lake just outside the bamboo forest and here, I encountered a pair of Mallards. It was a sizable lake but despite a careful sweep, the Mallards were the only sign of life. Japan is one of those places where the waterbirds come to you and not vice versa. And I for one have no complaints about that.

As soon as the pair realized that they will not be getting any handouts from me, they drifted back to the middle of the lake. Even at a distance, they still had me spellbound.

The Fushimi Inari Taisha is located just a little south of Kyoto and I do not have any bird encounters to share from that location. But the hundreds of vermillion tori gates that cuts through the hill slope like a fire snake is truly a sight to behold. It is one of those places that will be etched into your memory for a long time. I also found myself a local patch in Kyoto that goes by the name of Maruyama Park and that will be covered in my next post.


Linda said...

Such a wonderful post, and your photos are really beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, Linda

john said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts about Japan. I have been to Japan twice, (airport layovers). My Japan bird list, 0 species.
It s amusing to me to read about your enthusiasm with the Mallards. They are ubiquitous here in Anchorage, Alaska. The only duck that remains in town all winter. You can find dozens of them crammed into a patch of open water a few meters across.
A few years ago a Dusky Thrush showed up here. It was seen in two consecutive winters. Needless to say, it caused quite a stir locally.

Choy Wai Mun said...

Thank you, John. You should visit Japan when you have the chance. The Mallard was a lifer - my first wild bird. The Dusky Thrush was one of the highlights of the trip.

David Gascoigne said...

I once thought I had a twenty-five hour layover at Narita and then realized that I had crossed the International date Line and had only one hour, so any plans I might have had to bird didn't materialize. As for Mallards come here and I can predict that I can confidently show you a hundred in an hour!

Choy Wai Mun said...

That is a shame, John. You could have enjoyed the birding in Tokyo. Yes, I know Mallards are common but unfortunately, not from where I come from.