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Travel Trends 2013

Where are savvy travelers headed to in 2013? Here are the travel destination picks of National Geographic Traveler editors and Lonely Planet.

Kyoto National Geographic Traveler Best of the World 2013
National Geographic Traveler Best of the World 2013:
Crimea (Russia), Marseille (France), Raja Ampat (Indonesia), Ravenna (Italy), Great Bear Rainforest (Canada), Malawi, Quito (Ecuador), Bagan (Myanmar), Cape Breton (Canada), Uganda, Hudson Valley (New York), Thessaloniki (Greece), Grenada, Bodø (Norway), Valparaiso (Chile), Missouri River Banks, St. Augustine (Florida), Memphis (Tennessee), Kyoto (Japan), Jarash (Jordan)

Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2013:

Top 10 Countries
Sri Lanka, Montenegro, South Korea, Ecuador, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Iceland, Turkey, Dominican Republic, Madagascar

Top 10 Cities
San Francisco, Amsterdam, Hyderabad, Londonberry Derry, Beijing, Christchurch, Hobart, Montreal, Addis Abbaba, Puerto Iguazú

Palawan, Philippines Lonely Planet Top Ten Regions pick
Top Ten Re…

Kyoto Station

Main Hall of Kyoto Station
When Hiroshi Hara conceived his plan for Kyoto Station, he thought about "geographical perspective" and Kyoto's grid patterned streets. I am reminded of Piet Mondrian's painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie, which is based on the grid pattern of the streets of Manhattan. Hara had essentially incorporated old Kyoto in his design. But his futuristic ideas met resistance from locals who viewed his modern aesthetic plan for the station as a threat to the traditional landscape of Kyoto.
I felt dwarfed by the immensity of the main hall with its glass and steel beamed roof. Standing in the center of the hall, I looked around in wonder and wondered where to begin my exploration of this city within a city. Here's where three rail lines converge. There's a bus terminal on the north side of the station and a mall in the basement called Porta Underground with about a hundred shops and restaurants. No need to search far for lodging. The Granvia Hote…

Gion

Hanami-koji, Gion
My first impression of Hanami-koji was that it was clean and orderly. Wooden machiya merchant houses line this street of ochaya (tea houses) and expensive restaurants serving Japanese haute cuisine. It was late afternoon but the machiyas were still shuttered from the world. It was relatively quiet as I walked up the street hoping to see a geiko (term for geisha in Kyoto) or two.

A side street in Gion
I passed by somnolent alleys where not even a cat stirred. I reached the end of the street and looked up at the houses to check for signs of life. No such luck.  I retraced my steps to Shijo Dori past Gion Corner where one can pay to watch maiko (apprentice geiko) perform traditional Japanese arts like the tea ceremony, ikebana, music, and dance. Then suddenly I noticed a maiko coming towards me from an alley to my right. She was walking fast in her geta sandals. I had to move faster to get that fleeting image. What I saw was an exquisite woman in a beautiful kimono. He…

Fushimi Inari

Romon Gate
Fushimi Inari Taisha is the main Shinto shrine of the thousands of shrines in Japan. It is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and sake. With Japan's transformation from an agricultural economy to an industrial state, Inari has come to represent success and prosperity especially for businessmen and companies.

Shinto is an ethnic religion that flourished in Japan from the 12th century. References to Shinto practices have been traced as early as the 8th century. Shinto, unlike Christianity, does not recognize one god but rather believes in a multitude of deities (kami) who demonstrate superhuman qualities. About 46% of the Japanese population profess the Shinto faith.*

Torii Gates
Behind the honden (main hall) is a trail lined with thousands of vermilion torii gates which were donated by individual worshippers and businesses. The cost of a small torii gate is around 400,000 yen. Etched in black on the back of each gate is the name and address of the donor. The t…

Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)
All that glitters is gold at Kinkakuji Temple in northern Kyoto. Gold leaf covers the two upper floors of Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion which was once the retirement villa of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. When he died in 1408, his villa became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism as specified in his will.  It is officially called Rakuon-ji which is also the name given to Yoshimitsu on his journey to the next world.
The Golden  Pavilion represents three architectural styles. The first floor is in the Shinden style featuring a large room with a veranda and wooden pillars supporting the upper storeys.  The second level reflects the samurai style and was used for private meetings. It's completely gilded on the outside. The top floor emulates Chinese Zenshu style of architecture with cusp windows, gilding inside and out, and houses the Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas. A bronze phoenix which is also covered in gold leaf crowns the roo…

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

West Gate and Three Storied Pagoda
Kiyomizu-dera has one of the most enviable locations in Kyoto. Set in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto, it has a commanding view of the city that was once the capital of Japan.  Kiyomizu-dera or the Pure Water Temple has been around since 778. It was named after the Otowa waterfall which flows down from a spring in the mountain above the hills. It is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Kita Hosso sect. 
Kiyomizu Stage
The Hondo or Main Hall was built in 1633. It has an impressive veranda known as the Kiyomizu Stage. It hangs 13 meters above the hillside and is supported by wooden pillars which were assembled without using a single nail. It is held together by wooden braces. The floor of the stage is made of cypress boards. The Hondo is considered a national treasure and is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site.
The pillars supporting the stage
It's a quite a climb up the hill to the temple halls but there are several spots to stop and rest along…

Higashi Honganji - Kyoto

"Now, Life is living you"
I was struck by this message on the wall surrounding the Higashi Honganji mother temple. "Now, Life is living you".  I believe we should live life. Not the other way around. Perhaps this is a wake up call.  The Shakyamuni Buddha taught a path to self awakening. "Through this, one is able to become aware of the futility and suffering caused by one's actions and eventually come to truly appreciate life as it is." (from Higashi Honganji - The Teaching of Jodo Shin-shu) 
A door leading to the Goeidō
When Kennyo the 11th  Monshu (Chief Priest) of the Jodo Shin-shu sect passed away in 1592, he named his third son, Junnyo, his successor. This created a conflict between Junnyo and Kyōnyo, the eldest son. Hideyoshi who arbitrated in this dispute of succession asked Kyōnyo to step down. In 1602, Kyōnyo, received land from the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. There he built his own temple. Honganji was thus divided into two branches. Higashi (…

Nishi Honganji Temple

The Altar
The Nishi Honganji (or West Honganji) is the main temple of the Hongwanji-ha denomination of Jodo Shin-shu Buddhism in Japan. Shinran Sonin founded the Jodo Shin-shu (True Pure Land) sect during the mid Kamakura period and it became one of the largest and most influential schools in succeeding centuries. Over time, the Jodo Shin-shu sect was challenged by both interminable wars and warlords who were bent on controlling the country.  Oda Nobunaga, a military leader, finally succeeded with the help of Emperor Ogimachi in moving the group out of Kyoto in order to diminish its power. Later, in the 17th century, the sect was divided into two factions, effectively weakening its political influence. The Nishi Honganji faction are followers of Junnyo, the third son and successor of Kennyo, the 11th Monshu (spiritual leader) and descendant of Shinran. To this day, the Jodo Shin-shu sect has kept its large following intact. It is the largest of any sect in Japan. 


The Goeidō Hall (l…

Kyoto

I have been dreaming of going to Kyoto since I read Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" many moons ago. This dream was fortified when I watched the movie version and was enthralled by the characterization and haunting scenery. After years of planning, I finally had the chance to visit Kyoto last September. I approached a "Kyoto travel expert" before leaving and asked him to recommend three temples I should visit on my first trip to this city. These were his recommendations: Kinkakuji, Kiyomizu-dera and Ryōanji . To this list I added Gion, Kyoto's famous geiko district. I had a lot on my plate with only two and a half days to spare. I thought I shoud take a bus tour so I could maximize my time. The guided tours though were quite expensive and after my introductory walk to Terramachi, I found Kyoto easy to navigate on foot and discovered that several buses stopped at most of the temples I wanted to visit.

So here's what I managed to see during my stay i…