Issy is feeling a bit worn out so she submits an application to take half a day’s leave from touring. I’m feeling generous, so I approve her application and she stays at the hotel while I venture off on my own.
The internet on the phone isn’t working. This only happens when I’m out on my own, lost, and don’t have a map. I’m trying to find my way to the Ginkakuji Temple, and the handwritten notes I’ve got tell me that it’s at the base of a hill. I reach the base of a hill and take the path up the hill into a forest. There are signs everywhere warning about snakes; at least I assume they’re warnings about snakes. The signs have pictures of snakes on them with some Japanese words underneath, and I decide that it’s unlikely that the signs are there to tell you that the snakes are all friendly and harmless and that there’s nothing to worry about. I wonder how dangerous the snakes in Japan are. The internet has started working again, so I Google "snakes in Japan". It tells me that the Japanese pit viper is deadly, and more than ten people die
each year in Japan after being bitten. It also tells me that I’m in the wrong forest.
I reach the Ginkakuji Temple, which is a Zen Buddhist temple founded in the fifteenth century. The gardens are very pretty, and one of their most notable features is a large pile of raked sand next to a much larger pile which is apparently supposed to symbolise Mount Fuji.
I leave the temple and walk along the apparently famous Philosopher’s Path, which runs along the edge of a man-made canal. It gets its name from a famous Japanese philosopher who reportedly used to meditate as he walked along here every day on his way to and from the nearby Kyoto University.
Next stop is the Nanzen-ji Temple. This is another Zen Buddhist temple which I read was founded in 1291. I buy a ticket to climb up to the top floor of the massive entrance gate. You’re supposed to take off your shoes and carry them with you in a plastic bag before you go up the stairs, but when I get half way up I realise that I’m carrying my thongs in my hands and have forgotten the bit
about the plastic bag. I want to take some photos from the top, but I can’t get my camera out while I’ve got a handful of thongs, and I know that I will cause great offence to everyone if I put the thongs down and let their soles touch the floor. I wait ‘til I think that no one’s looking and lean the thongs against a wall while I take a couple of happy snaps. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I leave quickly just in case.
I walk back to the hotel for a rest. Issy is now feeling more energetic, so we decide to head to Kinkaku-ji Temple. This is another Zen Buddhist temple. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous for its golden pavilion. The golden pavilion is on the edge of a large pond and is absolutely stunning. We read that it gets its colour from a thin layer of gold leaf. It is clearly a very popular attraction judging by the number of people here.
On the way back in the train a Japanese man asks us where we are from. He tells us that he lived in New Zealand
for a year. He says that he is a triathlete and his training partner is from Sydney. He asks us what we think of Japan, and we tell him that one of the things we really like is that the people are all so friendly and polite. He says that he thinks that Australians are much friendlier. We assume that this must be based on a sample of one, and that his training partner is a very unusually friendly person.
We head out into downtown Kyoto in search of dinner. We take a short cut through a large room full of people playing poker machines. As we open the door we are hit with clouds of thick smoke, deafening noise which sounds like a combination of electric organ music and the sound that a poker machine makes when someone wins the jackpot, and a vast array of flashing lights. It’s hard to believe that anyone could possibly manage to stay in here for more than a few minutes without either choking, going deaf, getting epilepsy, or a combination of all three. If all this is supposed to stop people playing the pokies then it’s not working; the place is
We walk along our favourite alleyway near the river. We see a restaurant that looks like it might be alright, but a sign on the door says that we need to go inside to get an English menu. The menus are on a shelf against the wall in the small entrance foyer. There are three girls in the foyer, all puffing away on cigarettes, and the foyer is thick with smoke. There are signs telling us that we’re supposed to take our shoes off before we go into the restaurant, but I can’t see the line showing the start of the area where shoes aren’t allowed through the thick smoke. It seems that in my attempt to reach the menu I have managed to plant one of my sandal clad feet a few centimetres into the forbidden zone. One of the smoking girls shrieks in disgust. It seems that I have committed a major transgression. We decide against waiting around to get arrested and make a dash for it through the choking fumes out into the alleyway, and then manage to hide ourselves by merging into the crowd. That was a very close call.
We find a traditional Japanese restaurant. Neither of us has had a meal today, and I’m really hungry. We both order two dishes which sound substantial, but when we finish them I’m still ravenous. We remember again our discussion last night about how hard it is to get a really big meal here in Japan. The menus tempt you with pizzas and hamburgers, with all their delectable bread and dough, but when they come out the pizzas are missing their bases and the hamburgers are missing their buns. I tell Issy that I’m going to order another dish. I tell her that I don’t care what it tastes like as long as it’s big, so I’m going to try and guess which dish on the menu weighs the most. I spy "tofu hamburger". It’s a hamburger, and it’s relatively expensive, so I figure that surely it has to be big. Just like last night I drool at the thought of a nice big juicy bit of something, anything really, sandwiched between a couple of massive hamburger buns. Issy looks a bit sceptical. She sees it before I do and gets the giggles. She says that even she didn’t believe that something called a hamburger could possibly be so small. There are again no buns; it’s a tiny bit of tofu sitting in the bottom of a small bowl of soup. I think better of challenging the owner on his definition of a hamburger, and we buy packets of chips and peanuts from the Seven Eleven and eat them back in the hotel room.
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