Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The old versus the young

Date: Tuesday 29th December 2015

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

MP3 track of the day: A small measure of peace – The last Samurai

Today, I did indeed need my alarm to wake me up. As soon as it started ringing I was up like a flash to turn it off. I then paused a second; it sounded as though I hadn't woken anyone else up in the process. Still, not that I cared; last night the couple to my left were talking until 11pm.

I got ready and left my accommodation at around 7:30am. Fortunately, my first temple of the day stood facing me and - though handy it is still quite crazy - it opened at 6:20am. I was therefore able to wander inside the temple grounds getting a few 'people free' photos with all of the other 'early bird' photographers. The temple was called 'Higashi-Hongan-ji' and it looked just like a lot of other temples I have already seen. I made a brief stop at it's brother – 'Nishi-Hongan-ji' - and took a couple of photos there too. Out of the two, Nishi was the prettiest only because Higashi was under intense reconstruction. After this I stopped in another McDonald's to eat breakfast.

It was still pretty early therefore, instead of getting the train to my third stop, I decided to walk. Looking at my map, the temple was less than a half an hour walk away and I quite fancied a stroll within a part of the city I haven't seen before. In order to get there though, I had to cross one man-made structure, and one natural one. First up were Kyoto's many train lines. Fortunately a road bridge – with a tiny pedestrian footpath on either side – took me safely across all of them. Next up, another road bridge took me across the 'Kamo' river. Once again a minuscule footpath was presented to me and so I kept walking, with my coat almost scratching the bridge's dirty wall. Of course, due to the time of day, pedestrian traffic was light. A cyclist came up behind me however, before trying to get around me, she dismounted and walked past me as I hugged the wall. Two minutes later and, in the distance, I could see something closing in fast. It wasn't a pedestrian … or a cyclist. My eyes widened. It was my nemesis, the thing a hate the most; an old lady riding a mobility scooter. I'm not sure what speed she was doing but, a part from going faster than the cars on the road, her speed was totally inappropriate for the walkway we found ourselves on. Naturally, I am sure she was expecting me to jump out of the way as she was old. I did not. With only feet between us she hadn't slowed and neither had she moved up as close to the bridge wall as she could. By a cats whisker we missed each other however, my camera bag hit her mobility scooter. I proceeded a little further onwards and took a few photos to make sure that all was fine. She had also stopped and was beckoning me to come back. I did not. I knew it wasn't to check if I was okay. Instead she reversed – and hit the bridge's wall in the process … karma - and started to have a go at me for hitting her mobility scooter. I lost it. I told her exactly what I thought of her mobility scooter, the speed in which she was travelling and 'her' in a mix of English and Japanese. Fortunately I remembered the word for 'idiot' in Japanese and I used it as if I may never have a valid reason to use it again.

I pretended that incident hadn't upset me … but it had. I don't like confrontation, and especially when I was being accused of 'being in the wrong' when I wasn't (Just to note that I wasn't in the right either; I could have moved out of the way and waited, but then again so could she). It was as I was walking to my third temple for the day that I once again thought of my brilliant 'workhouse' idea for children. Wouldn't it be great if every nation in the world had an island for old people where they had to go as soon as they had become a misery to society. It could be like a drivers licence; they would get points for every incident - like the one I'd just encountered - and then, after say three incidents, off they went to the island of their countries choice (Isle of White for us I think).

I'd just put the finishing touches to the 'Rehousing of senior citizens act' when I came across my first proper site for the day. Tofuku-ji is another Buddhist temple complex located within the south-east of Kyoto. It comprises of many different areas with many different buildings however, only two areas were open to the public and both needed a separate ticket. Though I paid to enter both areas I was a little reluctant to do so. I do not believe that, just because these are places of 'god', that everyone should be allowed to wander around for free however, I also do not believe that places like this should be allowed to fleece you of all of your money. I felt somewhat aggrieved in having to pay for two tickets to what was essentially the same temple however, just like every other tourist, I did so for fear of missing out on something excellent.

The first ticket allowed me to enter some gardens with a long wooden bridge. Though these were very pleasant indeed, being winter most of the trees were without flower therefore, I could not help thinking that it would be nicer in the spring or autumn. The pathways crossed a small stream and meandered through a flowerless garden until I reached another temple area. This had a rock / moss garden and was very pretty. The garden was split into two, with the moss on the right of a walkway leading to the main temple, and the rock garden on the left. Water was flowing through and over the moss. On the other side the gravel around the rocks had been raked in to perfect 'meter squared' squares making it look a little like a patchwork quilt. It looked so undisturbed that I was very eager to disturb it by stepping on it.

The other ticket took me to another rock garden. By now I have paid £2.40, on three separate occasions, to see what is effectively raked gravel around some stones though, I have to say, that I liked this garden more than the others. The reason for this was because of the art of 'borrowed scenery'. As you looked at the garden, in the background were the sides and roofs of the other temples making this garden feel very Japanese. I topped up on the 'zen' I'd lost in my confrontation with 'mobility grandma' before I left the site. In order to really get back on track with my 'wing and wang', I also very kindly got out of the way for an old person who wanted to take a photograph. After he'd finished I retraced my steps and went back to what I was looking at before. Did I get a thank you … no! Off to the Isle of White with you sir!

With Tofuku-ji's raked gravel seen I was ready to leave. I headed towards the train station to continue my journey south towards the next temple - Fushimi-Inari. On my way to the train station I saw a sign which read that the train station was only an eight minute walk away to the north. I was just about to walk off when I saw another sign which said that the Fushimi-Inari shrine was only a fifteen minute walk to the south. After doing some quick maths I realised that it would, probably, be quicker to just walk there instead of faffing around with trains. Though my feet were a little disheartened, they understood the logic and led me onwards.

Though my guidebooks review of Fushimi-Inari put it in an exciting light, it was hidden in between all of Kyoto's other sites and temples. What's more, the temple isn't actually mentioned on the guidebook's map of Kyoto therefore, I was expecting something quite small and unheard of. What I got was a bustling festival scene with every approach to the temple site manned by shops and stalls getting ready for the new year. The actual temple of Fushimi-Inari was nice; with it's beautiful bright red beams and white walls however, this wasn't Fushimi's main attraction. This was once again a temple site however, the other temples lay all over a mountain which the temple backed onto. Along the four kilometres of connecting path, were over 10,000 tori gates. Yes! 10,000 or so red Japanese tori gates. Each one has been donated by some Japanese business as an offering to gain luck in business. In some places, the tori are so close together that they almost formed a tunnel; blocking out all sunlight. To call this place beautiful would be an understatement (I urge you to click onto my Flickr account and checkout the photos). 10,000 traditional bright red gates located on a mountain Buddhist temple site is something to marvel at. Due to being the holidays – and the fact that there was no admission charge – the crowds were enormous to began with however, as the climb up the mountain got more tiresome, the crowds started to thin. With so many people, getting shots of the tori without anyone present was going to be impossible. I had however, tried to get out of the way of anyone wishing to take a photo and do you know what; a lot of the young people I moved out of the way for said 'thank you'. A Japanese couple said thank you to me and, when I replied in Japanese, we actually had a short conversation. They were a lovely couple and were on their holidays. The guy's sister is currently studying in England however, where, he can't remember. It was during this conversation that I tried to slip my lens cap back onto my camera. I wasn't really paying attention. As I was talking the lens cap popped off my camera and rolled away into the undergrowth never to be seen again. The Japanese couple seemed concerned however, knowing that a new one would only cost a couple of pounds, I was more annoyed with the fact that I had, unintentionally, littered within this beautiful place. Also, I have had that lens cap since I purchased my camera; it has been with me around the world therefore I was a little sad. I therefore decided to think of it as an 'offering', for the protection of all photographers all over the world. I then got on with photographing the rest of the mountain.

When the climb got tough, I said goodbye to the Japanese couple and continued onwards. The Japanese red tori were still all around me however, they were more spread out. I couldn't believe just how far up this path went and I was very grateful that I had decided to come to Kyoto in the winter and not during the summer. By now, a few beautiful views of the city of Kyoto opened up below me. Each time the city came into view, I would take a few photos before going back into the trees to follow the path forever upwards. Finally I made it to the top where I wasted no time at all in coming back down. I choose a different route down which, sadly, meant that I missed most of the tori I had already seen however, it also meant that I missed the crowds too. Once at the bottom I was exhausted; I grabbed a drink and proceeded to the train station where I could have a sit down as I made my way to my final attraction for the day – Byodo-in. The time was around 12:30pm. Fushimi-Inari had taken about two hours which I hadn't expected. I hoped that Byodo-in wouldn't take more than three hours to visit.

Byodo-in is actually not in Kyoto at all; it is located within the small town of Uji. I was under the impression that Uji would be about a thirty minute train ride from Kyoto however, after fifteen minutes or so, I found myself alighting at Uji's train station. Once again the fare had been incredibly cheap and so I happily walked towards the UNESCO World Heritage site – which the Kyoto area seems to be full of.

Byodo-in was actually a villa for the emperor's chief adviser, Fujiwara Michinaga. It was his son who worked on the grounds of the villa, making it the envy of the Japanese court. Today the grounds are gone however, that doesn't really spoil the villa itself. Byodo-in is a beautiful symmetrical building surrounded by a moat of water. It's symmetry, red beams and white walls make it perfect for photography. Within a very short space of time I had taken over thirty photos always looking for the best angle and for when there weren't too many people in front of it. Just like at Kinkaku-ji, a path led you around the villa presenting every possible angle. The sun was behaving, allowing for some great photos. To the left of the villa was a small museum dedicated to the villa and, in particular, it's Phoenix Hall. This villa is now dedicated to Buddhism and it's central hall – called the Phoenix Hall – houses a very large Buddha statue with small Buddha's encircling it on clouds floating up to paradise. I knew all this not by viewing the hall itself, but by entering the modern - and well laid out - museum which was in the mountain to the side of the villa and was included within my entry ticket. Once again, to get into the Phoenix Hall itself I would have to purchase a separate ticket which I was reluctant to do. With most of the items on show only labelled in Japanese, I didn't spend too long looking at any particular exhibition in the museum, a part from the two original Phoenix statues which would have been on the top of the main hall's roof. I circled the glass case in which they now found themselves in, looking as the craftsmanship. It was very good.

With it only being 2:30pm I was stunned that I'd actually completed my last site for the day. Five temples seen in seven hours … not bad. Due to having time free I contemplated purchasing the extra ticket to go into the Phoenix Hall itself however, all tickets had been sold for the next three viewings. The next available viewing time was in ninety minutes. I declined therefore I took one last look at the temple before I left and headed back to the train station. Once outside the train station, I re-read my guidebook's entry for 'Uji' to make sure that there wasn't anything else of interest. There wasn't. I therefore boarded the 2:55pm 'rapid' service back to Kyoto.

Whilst on the train, I gazed out into the world and thought. Today had been fantastic! Fushimi and Byodo-in had been unbelievably beautiful and the weather had been stunning. I wish I'd done this mornings rock gardens last of all, as they would have made a lovely relaxing end to the day. Never mind.

Once back in Kyoto, I went to my usual multi-storey department store for lunch / tea, which had a camera shop on the ground floor. I purchased a new lens cap before heading to the 6th floor and into a 'tonkatsu' restaurant. The meal was lovely however, it didn't fill me up as much as the tempura did yesterday therefore, once outside, I went to the local convenience store to buy a dessert.

So now I am back in my hotel room wondering where on earth the last week has gone. Yes, that's right … I've been travelling for a week. Even though it's gone very quickly, I have managed to fit a lot in. Tonight I shall pack and plan my route for tomorrow as I will be hiring another car. Tomorrow I will hit Kansai's northern coastline. Directly above Kyoto is Amanohashidate; one of the three most beautiful sites in Japan (I have been to the other two). Once I've visited Amanohashidate I shall continue driving around a lake called 'Biwa-ko' and back to Kyoto. Just like in Kobe, I hope to hand my car back sooner than my allotted time.

Toodle Pip!

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