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Published: June 27th 2019
We spent 10 days in Kyoto.
On our first day, we strolled around Nishiki market before checking into our ryokan (traditional Japanese accomodation). The sparse nature of the furnishings, the sumptuous Japanese dinner and breakfast the following morning and even a somewhat uncomfortable night’s sleep on futons on the tatami mats made for an experience not to be missed!
On the second day, we moved to our hotel Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo, a bit out of the way but otherwise quite good. We spent the day exploring the Imperial Palace and its park on foot and later by bike. We also rode northwards along the river to explore Shimogamo-jinja temple and the Botanical Gardens.
Wednesday was a hot day but we still did a leisurely and sometimes vertically challenging walk in the southern section of Higashimaya.
Highlights were a sweet street called Ishibei-kōji and a lovely quiet temple and garden called Shōren-in. The other temples visited on the day were very crowded. At Kiyomizu-dera we had a very unusual experience descending into the Tainan-meguri. Try it, if you are not afraid of the dark!
In the evening we wandered around Gion’s lantern lit laneways and chanced upon a tiny eatery called
Wabisuke with 12 seats and the most exquisite set menu featuring some “obanzai” (home cooking) courses.
Thursday was also a hot day and we took the sky hop bus to visit Nijo-jo Castle (a sumptuous National treasure) and Kinkakuji Temple which is also known as the Golden Temple. 20 kilos of gold leaf adornment make this structure gleam against its astonishingly verdant backdrop. The visit to Daitokuji temple was much more zen-like as we admired the perfectly raked gravel gardens.
Did you know there are meant to be about 1000 temples in Kyoto? Well, we have visited our fair share! Favourites on our 4 hour “philosophical meander” on Friday in northern Higashiyama were Komachi-in and Nanzenji-ji. We began our walk relatively early in the day so at Komachi-in we were actually wandering around alone and it was heavenly! All the gardens we visited on our trip brought us closer to trees, bamboo, moss, lichen, flowers, birds, carp, and cranes. That day we even saw one very determined tortoise traverse a large gravel garden at a plodding but regular pace and one snake! We never did see any of the monkeys all the signs kept warning us about.
Saturday we decided
to “rest” and apart from going to have a good look at the truly amazing architecture of the Kyoto station, that meant shopping for me and a craft brewery for Mark. Dinner was a great experience. I had chanced upon a little place called “Daijo” very close to our hotel. There was a sign in English explaining how the owner, (chef, waiter and only person running the eight seat establishment) cooks a fusion style of Japanese cuisine and likes to source his herbs fresh every morning while walking his dog. The food was excellent and we bonded over it and pleasant conversation with the six other people present using a mixture of English, Japanese and google translate.
On Sunday we caught the train to Nara and visited one of the world’s largest bronze Buddha statues housed in the largest wooden building in the world, the Daibutsu-den (Great Buddha Hall). It was impressive! There were hundreds of sacred deer roaming around the park which were very insistent and cute. Nara has many temples to visit and lots of shops and eateries. It is also very crowded.
I don’t know why we saved the best walk of the Kyoto stay until last,
En route to the Botanical Gardens
Along the river bank of the Kamo-gawa.
but we did. Arashiyama, a beautiful word and beautiful place. Of course, when we set out for this much anticipated walk through bamboo forests and temples, how were we to know that hundreds of others would have the same idea?
Our first stop, the temple called Tenryū-ji, was bustling with school groups and other large bus groups, so there wasn’t much in the way of quiet contemplation in “one of the most attractive gardens in all Kyoto”. It was beautiful nevertheless.
Walking through the bamboo grove was suitably awe inspiring and photos cannot capture the sense of being inside a kind of natural cathedral made of diffused green light.
But my number one, all time favourite garden in Japan so far has to be the Ōkōchi Sansō villa. Named after Ōkōchi Denjirō, a 1920s silent movie actor, it is a joy! The garden makes use of shakkei (borrowed scenery) to create a space completely removed from the world. We were lucky enough to be there practically alone which only added to the magic of the moment. Do not miss this place. Your ticket also gains you a tea and sweet in the tea house. It was absolutely worth the entrance
There were two more gems on our Lonely Planet “ambling through bamboo groves and temples” walk. Rakushisha was a poet’s hut and garden, charming and quiet. Giō-ji on the other hand was a small moss garden, fairy like in its wooded lushness. These were much smaller gardens than what we have been used to visiting but very lovely spaces in their own way.
On Tuesday, the second to last day of our stay, we ambled down Shijo Dori, “our” main road. The two department stores we visited, Daimaru and Takashimaya, are a step back into a bygone era when gentility and customer service were the norm.
Having spent some time perusing shops great and small, I must say I have never, ever seen such an array of high quality merchandise in my travels. I am absolutely in awe of what the makers, artists and artisans of Japan create.
I have loved visiting this country very much and there are quite a few things I will miss about Japan.
I will miss the way people go about their lives with a sense of dignity and inner peace and their polite acceptance of us into their midst.
I will miss the
ubiquitous vending machines that appear whenever I am longing for a cooling drink.
I will miss the little beeps and tunes at street crossings and the wonderful “shower toilets”.
I will miss the peaceful gardens and the sublime food and I will miss the ceramics, lacquerware, paper products and fabrics all of which cause me to gasp because they are so exquisite.
I will miss the traditional buildings with their wooden and paper screens and the way a tatami mat feels under your socked feet.
I will miss the beauty and elegance in the offering of a bowl of matcha tea.
I will miss the ritual of taking shoes off before entering a traditional building with wooden floors and tatami mats.
I will miss the trains because they are so efficient and easy to use and our many long walks through the safe streets.
I will miss you Japan!
Mata itsu ka.
またいつか。(see you later but I do not know when)
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