Japan 2023: Day 8
Baikasai at Kitano Tenmangu with an awesome tempura and sashimi kaiseki to cap the night.
Saying goodbye to spring? Not without some snow!
- Steps taken: 9,919
- Money spent: 11,170 yen | $86.01 USD
Table of contents
- Getting into a routine?
- Baikasai at Kitano Tenmangu
- And then, Indian food
- Mistakes while tired again
- Making up with a great dinner
Getting into a routine?
I got a good ~3 hours of sleep after finishing my night-time computer stuff. I considered waking earlier to get to the festival earlier, but was glad I chose to get an extra hour of sleep. (Perhaps a lesson learned from Day 6.) After having my morning mikan, tea, and stretch, I caught a bus to get me near Kitano Tenmangu shrine for the 梅花祭・Baikasai plum blossom festival that happens every year on February 25.
The stop still made me take an 8 minute walk, which was fine with me. I arrived at the gates at around 10 a.m. I was extra grateful later after overhearing someone complain that their bus to the area was incredibly crowded and uncomfortable, needing to stand the whole way; I suspect the route they took had the bus stop a lot closer to the shrine grounds.
Baikasai at Kitano Tenmangu
Even though the Internet said the festival started at 10 a.m., there was already a good amount of people and activity when I arrived. Not so much that it was hard to move around, though, and I ended up not really minding the crowd. While I've enjoyed avoiding crowds most of my trip so far to experience certain sites, just like with Day 6's festival the crowds gave me its own experience of fun and festivity for the day's special events. Unlike Day 6's festival, though, I saw many more (obvious) foreigners – perhaps at least 30 (out of thousands of people) in the 3 hours I was in the area.
Guides say entrance to Kitano Tenmangu, even for the festival, would be 800 or 1,000 yen per adult. But I think, for the festival, it was technically free (same thing happened with Dago-ji for Day 6). There were so many people wandering in and out of the grounds; I don't even know logistically how they would enforce entrance fees! Anyway, I'm sure the shrine was getting enough money from the crowd just being there, buying stuff and donating.
The first thing I did at the shrine grounds was enjoy matcha and mochi for 700 yen at a chashitsu tea house just inside the entrance. Then I wandered around the rest of the shrine grounds, which were quite colorful and enjoyable to look at. Lots of animal statues and diverse lanterns, various religious ceremonies taking place, people praying and tying up charms, people taking pictures of the blossoms...
Nodate with geiko and maiko
Next, I found what I was looking for: the line and ticket area for the special 野点・nodate open air tea ceremony where tea is prepared and served to guests by trained maiko and geiko. I needed to buy a ticket that cost 2,000 yen, but it also included entrance to the Tresure Hall. I imagine this ticket actually included the standard grounds entrance of 1,000 yen (which was a wash, in my opinion stated above), but I can't say for sure.
I had to wait about 45 minutes in line with my ticket to get into an inner waiting area. The time flew for me since I decided to give my partner a phone call then.
In the inner waiting area, we were given two sets of sweets (to pair well with tea) and split into four large seating groups: A, B, C, and D. After some time, part of a large group was called to be part of the nodate, either in a closer proximity to the geiko and maiko in the center area, seated on the ground, or in an outer area where you can sit in chairs. If you opt to sit in a chair, you are given your matcha, and then once you're done, you are asked to leave. Those on the ground got to stay longer and have a closer experience with the geiko and maiko.
Lost in translation
I made the mistake of choosing the chair; I misheard the directions and thought I was opting for the opposite! It was cool to be a part of the ceremony if just for a few minutes, but I wish I did things differently.
While the 2,000 yen ticket included this experience, the sweets, and the Treasure Hall, I admit I don't think I got my money's worth. Oh well.
Every 25th of the month in the same area there is an open-air market where folks can sell wares and festival food such as takoyaki, taiyaki, small versions of okonomiyaki, french fries (with different spices like curry!), dango, meat sticks, tempura, etc. I suspect the market this month was extra big given Baikasai. Checking out the different stands and people's behavior was its own entertainment. So many things to buy. One thing I didn't expect was a Playstation 5!
For myself, I just got some thinly-sliced sweet potato fries that were seasoned with salt and sugar for 400 yen. I remember seeing these (from a different vendor) in Arashiyama, Day 4 and regretting not getting them. Good purchase!
Towards the end of my time at Kitano Tenmangu, big snowflakes started coming down. It was a beautiful sight to see amidst the flowers and shrine grounds.
Before I left, I wanted to know where I could get my Kitano Tenmangu goshuin. Once I found the spot, to my dismay the lines were quite long and took awhile to move, given the staff were hand-drawing the goshuin into each person's goshuincho. (Sometimes staff have pre-drawn goshuin for you to glue into your goshuincho, which usually doesn't feel as special but is faster.) I decided the wait wasn't worth it and hoped to come back with my partner in the future when the crowds were smaller. I really did like the shrine grounds, anyway.
On my way to find some food outside the grounds, I stumbled across the Buddhist temple associated with Kitano Tenmangu, which had much fewer people. I got my goshuin of the area here, so in case I don't come back, it won't be the worst fate!
And then, Indian food
Many restaurants in the area were unsurprisingly full, but this highly-rated Indian restaurant called Namaste was not. While the meal at 950 yen was pretty good with a nice kick, I have had much better Indian food in the U.S.
Mistakes while tired again
After my late brunch, I was debating whether to check out Kyoto Station again or just go home, which would influence the bus(es) I would take. When one for my home arrived, I decided to do Kyoto Station instead. I waited a bit longer and caught a bus to Kyoto Station, but on the commute I realized how tired I was. It was indeed around my bed time (part 2, or 1 of the day, depending on your perspective). So I figured out how to change buses and go home instead; but that detour cost me perhaps another 30-45 minutes. :(
I got home at around 3:45 p.m. and fell asleep a bit after 4 p.m.
Making up with a great dinner
I woke up again at around 6:45 p.m. I found a restaurant called Tempura Arima that is literally around the block from my hostel (this location is just amazing!) to try. It's so far been my favorite (and priciest) meal in Japan so far at 7,080 yen.
See the rest of my posts about Japan 2023.