Getting away from the skiers in Kyushu and Kyoto winter

by Anne Pepper

When snow falls and the chill winds blow, skiers are happy but others are inclined to stay home. To lure people away from their warm hearths, the tourism industry offers special winter prices and attractions. This is an excellent time to explore areas of Japan that are on your travel list.

Kyushu and Kyoto are particulary good winter destinations — Kyushu for its wealth of hot springs and relatively mild climate, and Kyoto because this is the only season when the best temples and gardens can be enjoyed with a bit of tranquillity. As an added enticement, certain Kyoto buildings and gardens not normally open to the general public admit visitors during the winter.

JR Kyushu will let you have the run of the entire island for two days for 12,000 yen. This new ticket, called “Challenge Kyushu Free Kippu,” allows the holder to get on and off limited express trains freely. (Unreserved seats only; children pay half.)

Whiz down to Nagasaki, Japan’s only window on the outside world for nearly 300 years. Stop off at Imari for a look at the porcelain. Go to Kumamoto’s Mount Aso, the volcano with the largest caldera in the world. Head south to Kagoshima, where not only hot springs but hot sand baths await. Come back up the palm-lined Miyazaki coast, once a favorite with Japanese honeymooners before jet planes started carrying them to Hawaii. Finish at Beppu for a hot spring bath.

For those already in Kyushu, JR Kyushu has some special winter day-return trips to the hot spring resorts of Beppu and Hida that include lunch and bath admission. Details about these and other offerings are available from JR Kyushu’s customer service line, (092) 474-2179.

One interesting way to get to Kyushu from the Kanto is the overnight ferry from Kawasaki to Miyazaki (18,050 yen one way, 34,300 yen round trip in second class). Call Marine Express for details at (03) 5540-6921.

In Kyoto, rooms full of fusuma-e (sliding-screen paintings) done in the Momoyama Period by the city’s leading artists can be seen until March 18.

One of these paintings, the Hasegawa-school “Hoko-sugi (Pointed Spear Cedar)” was known to Queen Elizabeth II, who expressed a desire to see it while in Japan some years ago. Since her itinerary did not include Kyoto, the painting was sent to the State Guest House in Tokyo. You can see this and other Hasegawa-school fusuma-e at Myorenji Temple. Admission is 600 yen.

At Myoshinji, two subtemples filled with outstanding Momoyama Period fusuma paintings are open to the public this winter. Tenkyu-in offers Kano Sanraku’s “Mountain With Snow” and “Plum Tree With Birds.” Also here is Kano Sansetsu’s “Plum Tree and Pheasant.”

Rinka-in, another Myoshinji subtemple, has both Kano school and Hasegawa school fusuma paintings, some of which are Important Cultural Properties. Admission to each subtemple is 600 yen.

At Kodaiji Temple, visitors can see Kano Sanraku’s powerful dragon painting on the ceiling, and also some of the elegant maki-e (inlaid lacquerware) for which this temple is noted, as well as other items. Admission is 600 yen.

Knowledgeable winter travelers carry warm slippers to put on after removing their shoes, and some carry flashlights to illuminate the paintings better.

For those who prefer the convenience of a bus tour, Japanese-language guided tours visit these temples daily through March 18. The six-hour tour costs 9,000 yen, including lunch at Kitaoji Uoshin, a restaurant specializing in Kyoto cuisine.

The tour featuring fusuma paintings is called the Miyabi course. Another, the Wabi course, visits noted tea houses and gardens (six hours, 9,000 yen with lunch). The Uruwashi tour ties in with NHK’s current historical drama, “Aoi — Tokugawa Sandai,” and visits three temples associated with three generations of Tokugawa women: Chion-in, Rinsho-in and Entoku-in. Five and a half hours, 8,500 yen, including lunch. The Ajiwai tour focuses on the taste of Kyoto, visiting places that produce or serve local delicacies. Five and a half hours, 9,000 yen with lunch.

All of the temples and gardens on these tours can be visited on an individual basis; admission is usually 600 yen. For maps and other information on this winter’s special tourist promotion, visit the Kyoto Tourist Information Center opposite Kyoto Station, (075) 371-0480, or the new Kyoto-kan in Tokyo’s Ark Hills, (03) 3560-3330. To call the Tourist Information Center in Kyoto toll-free, dial (0120) 444-800.

For information about money-saving ways to travel to Kyoto (JR Tokai’s Kyo no Fuyu Yu-Yu Kippu, or overnight trains and buses), consult any JNTO Tourist Information Center, or call the JR East Infoline at (03) 3423-0111.