Monday, 28 December 2015

A city of gold and bamboo

Date: Monday 28th December 2015

Weather: Once again it was quite cold in Kyoto however, the sun was shining brightly.

MP3 track of the day: Gold - Spandau Ballet


The walls in my B+B are so thin that I spent most of the night worrying that my alarm would wake everyone else up as well as me. I need not have worried as I managed to wake up, by myself, ten minutes before my alarm was due to explode. I quickly got ready and went in search of the nearest underground station. Due to last nights problems with finding somewhere to eat, I got off Kyoto's pre-historic underground system one stop before the one I actually wanted. The stop I wanted was at the north end of Kyoto's palace grounds, which I hadn't visited before. The stop I was at was located at the south of Kyoto's palace grounds and I had visited this area before therefore, I knew that there was a McDonald's where I could get some breakfast. After that I walked up to the north end of Kyoto's palace before turning west. Today I would be visiting the North-western parts of Kyoto which included two famous temples – and lots of others, a museum and then a suburb called Arashiyama. My plan was simple; have a wonder around the temples within Kyoto's north-western area before taking the train to Arashiyama. First however, a good forty minute walk was needed to actually get to my starting point; Daitoku-ji.

More like a complex of temples rather than a single temple, Daitoku-ji is one of Kyoto's largest 'Zen' foundations … or so my guidebook told me. There was a beautiful stone pathway which zig-zagged through smaller temple sites, each one separated from the others with it's own stone wall. Throughout the site, trees grew offering an air of tranquillity. A sign stated that you could walk through the complex for free however, if you wanted to visit any of the temples then you had to pay at the individual temple gates. This was great for me as I knew that I had other temples which I wanted to see today therefore, I sneaked my way along the path and, using my 'foreigner height', I took a peak at some of the temple's gardens.

As you can imagine, this didn't take long. I was on the road again and still heading west. I had been on my feet for almost two hours now and they were starting to hurt. I don't think it was the distance as much as the surface of the ground. Tar-mac can be torture for your feet. Finally I hobbled into view of my first real attraction of the day; Kinkaku-ji. 'Kin' means gold therefore, this was the famous golden temple I'd missed during my last visit to Kyoto. From the photos I'd seen of it, it basically consisted of a small two-storey golden temple stuck in the middle of some beautiful gardens. I had never seen a golden temple before so I eagerly paid the entrance fee and went in.

I would have to agree with my guidebook when it states that “even the crowds can't diminish the impact of seeing the temple for the first time”. When I saw the top of the temple through the trees for the first time, I raced around the corner and saw the full thing surrounded by a beautiful garden and a well kept pond. A security guard told me that I had to go a certain way and, this was a good thing as he led me to the perfect spot to photograph the temple to death. Sadly, hundreds of other tourists had been guided this way too, therefore I had to fight for every inch of space against ugly people who insisted on having their 'far from perfect' faces in the middle of what could have been a perfectly good photo. I continued to photograph the golden temple from many different angles capturing it and different parts of it's surrounding gardens. You couldn't go in the temple; instead the route all visitors had to follow snaked around three sides of the temple offering many different photo opportunities. The gardens too were wonderful and again I was starting to feel quite relaxed. Once I'd finished taking my photos, I left the temple the way I'd come in and continued west.

Next up was supposed to be the 'Kyoto Museum of World Peace' or, to give it a title which actually means something, 'A history museum dedicated to Japan's militarisation'. According to my guidebook, this was one of very few museums in Japan which 'held no punches' when it came to telling the Japanese people the truth about their countries military past. It also had a model describing what would have happened if the US had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city instead of Nagasaki. Sadly though, this museum was also closed for the winter. I therefore walked to the closest convenience store where I bought a drink and a cake before sitting down and consuming both. By now my feet were really hurting; all they had to do was to get me to one more temple before I would take a twenty minute train ride to Arashiyama. Begrudgingly my feet responded to my pleas; once I'd promised them a rest whilst on the train. I therefore got up, put my rubbish in the bin and proceeded onto my next temple; Ryoan-ji.

Ryoan-ji has become Japan's most famous temple due to it's rock garden. Fifteen rocks are strategically positioned within a sea of raked gravel so that all rocks cannot be seen from the same viewing point; or so my guidebook told me. I'm not sure if things have been moved or, if moving your head is cheating or if my elevated position makes my forthcoming comment void but, from a couple of locations I could see all fifteen rocks. Once all rocks had been identified I moved on, hoping that this twenty-four meter rock garden wasn't all that there was to see.

It was. I'm not sure if yet more attractions are closed for the holidays however, the map of this temple's grounds was huge and yet, a lot of it seemed to be 'out of bounds'. I therefore returned to the rock garden wanting to make more use of my 500 Yen entry ticket by getting 'Zen'ed up'.

I sat looking at the rocks for a couple of minutes not sure if my 'zen level' had reached maximum or not. Other people seemed to be enjoying the view whereas I, just felt bored. I mean; how entertaining can fifteen rocks actually be? With other things to see I finally left the temple happy that I'd seen something a lot of Japanese people talk about, but unhappy as it wasn't really that good. Sure the grounds had been peaceful with their tree-lined paths and use of water however, all of that I've seen before; it was the rock garden I, and everyone else, had come to see. Once out of the gate I proceeded directly south towards the closest train station. Now, I am use to the Japanese Shinkasen trains, their hybrid electrical trains and their modern daily commuter trains however, I wasn't quite prepared for the 1930's on rails … coming down the track looking at me. The best way I can describe the train – if that's what it was – which I was about to board would be like a San Francisco tram, just on rails. Once inside I checked out the lighting, which seemed to match lights used on the Titanic and seats which were probably installed by one of the retired chaps using the train today. This may sound as though I wasn't that impressed however, on the contrary, the train shone with character and, along with it's very strange route - which almost went through peoples back gardens - it was an experience in itself … oh and very cheap.

Once in Arashiyama I sat down to read my guidebooks entry on the place. Apart from another 400 temples – which I didn't really fancy going around – the best thing to do was to just wander around and get lost within Arashiyama's maze of small streets. Arashiyama was originally a place for the emperor and local lords to leave the worries of the city behind and to relax, write poetry or to go on a hunt. These days, the place is full with day trippers, looking for a bit of peace from the 'hustle and bustle' of Kyoto – which obviously didn't happen as the place was as crowded as a shop having a 'closing down sale'. With no real aim, I put my guidebook away and looked at the local tourist map. It showed a 'bamboo walk', which sounded like fun, and so off I went.

My dad likes bamboo. Why, I'm not too sure however, he would have loved this place. A wide'ish' path left the town of Arashiyama and headed 'up hill' to a forest made out of the tallest bamboo trees I have ever seen. It would appear that bamboo trees grow quite close together therefore, most of the daylight was blocked out by the sheer number of them. I took a lot of photos trying to focus either on the close proximity of the trees, or where their leaves met the sky. I don't know much about bamboo however, I was very surprised at how smooth and strong a bamboo tree is. I really enjoyed walking along this pathway, stopping whenever I felt like it and trying to bring across the area, in which I found myself in, through my photos.

Once out, I decided to circle back into town via a new route. This meant that I occasionally got lost down some of Arashiyama's famous small streets however, no matter how small the street was, there was still a group of tourists speaking all languages under the sun. Once I'd made my way back into town I realised just how tired I was. I had been on my feet for over seven hours. Due to my early departure the time was only 2:30pm therefore, there was still plenty of daylight left however, I didn't really have the will to carry on. I therefore decided to have a look in all of the souvenir shops for potential ideas for when I do my 'big shop' at the end of my holiday. I also took a couple of photos of Arashiyama's bridge which crosses the Katsura-gawa river before I decided to call it a day and head back to the train station. The 1930's once again arrived on time to take me back to Kyoto's city centre. Wishing to head back to my B+B, I stayed on the train as we past the stop I'd boarded from earlier, and rode the train all the way to the last stop.

Once back in Kyoto my day wasn't over just yet. The last stop still left me a good thirty minute walk away from the train station and my B+B. What's more, I hadn't eaten since breakfast therefore I was famished. Once back at the station I went into the electrical shop I visited yesterday and went up to the sixth floor. I walked past the steak restaurant and into a very nice looking tempura restaurant. The great thing about my choice of eating times – breakfast at 8am, followed by snacks until 4/5pm where I would have lunch / dinner – was that, not only did I not need to queue for a table, I could choose any table within the restaurant. For a long part of my meal, I was the only paying customer. Being very hungry, I ordered one of the largest tempura 'meal sets' which came with six pieces of tempura sitting on top of a bowl of rice. I also got a miso soup thrown in and I ordered a glass of Pepsi. All-in-all I was a very happy chappy as tempura is my favourite Japanese food – and this was delicious; I watched the guy cook it in front of me – and I had lots of room to relax.

I had consumed so much that I left dessert and waddled out of the shop. I was planning on buying a small dessert from my B+B's local convenience store however, once there, I just waddled past and into my accommodation. The way I was feeling, I wasn't sure if I could eat anything else for the rest of this year.

So tonight I shall rest my feet and probably watch some TV. Once again I could go out and watch the new Star Wars film however, after all of the walking I've done to day, I need to give my feet a rest in preparation for tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, I'll be heading south to visit two more temples.

Toodle Pip!

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