Saturday, 20 November 2010

Beautiful Kyoto

Saturday 20th November 2010

MP3 track of the day: Red Warrior - The Last Samurai

Weather: really good; excellent blue skies with fluffy clouds

Unfortunately I didn't awake to the sound of birds singing ... I awoke to the sound of that annoying child next door, yet again, crying (and it wasn't even a proper cry, it was one of those half-hearted cries seeking attention). I rolled over, picked up my watch, and found out that the time was 7am. I decided to try to go back to sleep as the family next door was up (about six of them) and there was only one bathroom. I eventually got up around 8am when I herd the family tuck into breakfast. Surprisingly I awoke quite refreshed considering that I had just spent the night on the floor. I had noticed that the Japanese guy, who I shared my dorm with, had set out his bed in a different way to me last night and so I quickly altered my setup to match. This didn't actually matter because, in a Ryokan, you pack your bedding away each night (though I did make a careful mental note for tonight).

Before leaving for the day I asked the person on the reception which bus would be best to get to the east side of the city and where could I purchase a karate suite from. The first question was answered without problem, the second came after a few minutes of pondering; Kyoto has a huge market on the 21st of every month and, he said, I might be able to find a suit there. As the market is setup near the bus station this works well for my plans for tomorrow.

The bus ride to the east side of the city was uneventful but long, taking around an hour. I arrived in the area of 'Gion' and immediately I saw a beautiful temple across the road. I purchased some breakfast and then went into Yaska-jinja, this orange temple complex in front of me. Just like in Hiroshima there were quite a few young girls in kimonos; however there were also quite a few ladies in kimonos as well, and so I took a few secret photos. The complex was beautiful, with big orange outer-gates guarding a center temple. I stayed around for a bit and it was quite lucky that did because, out of one of the temples, stepped a beautiful Japanese woman all dressed in white with a man on her right and a lady holding her hand, with a ring on it, on the other side. I reckon that a wedding was talking place and so I took a few photos of her before leaving.

I headed south towards Kiyomizu-dera, a 'must see' temple in Kyoto, my guidebook said. The temple was located at the top of a hill; to get there I had to walk up this narrow street with shops on either side and hundreds, upon hundreds of people … it took quite a while. Whilst at my Ryokan I had found out that November is Kyoto's busy period due to the fact that the autumn colors were out on the leaves making all the temples that much prettier. Added to that the market tomorrow, and it's a national holiday on Monday, meant that Kyoto was packed. Once at the temple I was just about to take a photo of the front gate when I herd the familiar “... excuse me, do you speak English?...” statement coming from a youngish sounding voice behind me. I turned around in anticipation of being asked my views about the unfair allocation of Frisbee's in the world, however this time it was different. The two university students (a boy and girl) in front of me asked if they could take me on a free (at least I think they said free) guided tour of the temple. As I was going to go in anyway I thought why not, and it was free.

I paid 300 yen to actually enter the temple; they then told me all about the different areas of the temple. As we were walking from attraction to attraction I found out that this was a project for the guys to practice their English. All went well with the tour, the temple was okay but it was really enhanced by the autumn colors of the leaves. After about thirty minutes we had gone around the temple grounds and I said goodbye to my guides as they went to look for someone else to show around. I was surprised that they hadn't asked me any questions at the end like 'how was the tour?', 'how was my level of English?', 'Where you able to understand me?' etc etc. However none of that mattered as right then, in front of me, there was a huge group of young women in Kimonos in front of the temple gate. As I delved into my bag to find my camera I herd the dreaded words yet again “... excuse me, do you speak English?...”. I was just about to explain to them that I had already had a guided tour when they produced a questionnaire about what I thought about Japan. I answered their questions but missed the photo opportunity.

I decided to leave sharpish, back down the street of a million people. I had a look at the shops as I walked down the hill and I purchased an old fashioned Japanese fan for 3,000 yen (£23). Once back on the main street I headed back north towards the first temple that I had visited. I had another brief look around to see that the wedding was still in full flow and that there were still quite a few ladies in kimonos.

I didn't stay long as it was dinner time and so I went along the main high street to find something to eat. Whilst hunting around I found another model shop selling Japanese 'transformer' model kits and so, as fate had decided, I purchased one. This was quite good as I had now a pair of chopsticks and a fan to represent old Japan and a pornographic comic book and a transformer model to represent new Japan. As everything is so different here you could buy tones of stuff, however I have now decided that this is my souvenir shopping over … apart from a karate suite and some old style Japanese embroidery artwork … what?

After lunch I headed to Heian-jingu, another temple. Yet again this one was in Orange, however it had a huuuggge gate in front of it and the complex was altogether more grand with a huge forecourt. Again I took a few secret photos of ladies in kimonos before paying 600 yen (£4.50) to visit the Japanese gardens. The amount asked to visit the gardens was quite a lot, however I wanted to see a Japanese garden before I left Japan and time was running out.

I wasn't impressed with the gardens until I visited the last one; a beautiful old Japanese style bridge lay over a small lake in the middle of the garden. In the water were carefully placed rocks and little islands with bonsai trees. Yet again the autumn colors of the tress, with their red and yellow leaves, made the whole place magical, I took a few photos before leaving.

It was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to set; I had little time to see the last attraction that I wanted to finish the today with, the Ginkaku-ji temple. To get there I had to follow the 'philosopher's path' which the respected philosopher, Nishida Kitarso (1870-1945) took his constitutional strolls. I could see why Nishida choose this path; with a flowing stream to one side, trees over hanging in all directions - with their fiery colored leaves - and the hills in the background it was a very pleasant stroll.

Once at the temple I once again found myself battling the crowds up a narrow street with shops on either side. Once at the temple there was a huge queue which I joined; this meant two things. Firstly I had to pay to enter and secondly it should be good. I handed over 500 yen and entered; I was a little surprised to find out that the star attraction weren't the temples themselves but this huge garden where I had to follow a set path, along with thousands of Japanese, to have a look around. Two gardens in one day; again I felt as if I'd been done like a kipper as, if I had known, I wouldn't have bothered with the first gardens and I would have just come here as a) these were more impressive and 2) they were cheaper. Just as before the autumn colors in the leaves turned the gardens into a magical wonderland of color and peace. To soon I found myself carried out of the gardens, down the hill and past the shops, by the huge crowds.

As I walked back down the philosopher's path the street lights were starting to come on, the day was turning cold and this was my queue to catch the bus. The bus was packed and I thought I wouldn't be able to get off at my stop due to the sheer volume of people. Luckily I had a Japanese guy who wanted to get off at the same stop as I and he made a path for me to follow, through the crowded bus. I bought some tea before retiring to my Ryokan. The evening was spent eating said tea and packing my souvenirs, which luckily all fit into the box the model I purchased came in, ready for finding a post office tomorrow.

Well the plan for tomorrow is to find a post office, check out of here and put my stuff in a locker at the train station, have a look around the market for a karate suit, have a look around the city center before catching my night bus to Tokyo. As I will be out all day tomorrow there will probably be no blog until I reach Toyko … which will be my final day in Japan ... sob. I so want to extend my stay here however without a rail pass (which I can only apply for whilst I'm out of the country) there really isn't any point in staying (purchasing individual rail journeys is a no, no as they are sooo expensive), however if I don't like South East Asia then I'm getting a flight straight back to the land of the rising sun.


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