Temple fever in Kyoto
Kyoto Travel Blog› entry 3 of 5 › view all entries
Sunday: Northwest Kyoto
I had three more days in Kyoto after my night out to try and see some of what the place had to offer. Despite getting in at 5am I awoke at 8.30am because my room hadn't shut the blinds before going to bed the night before so light was streaming in - I didn't feel so bad so I thought "what the heck" let's go sightseeing. This day I had decided to travel to Northwest Kyoto to have a look at two very different temples in Kinkaku-Ji and Ryoan-Ji. Then I was hoping to finish off the day with a visit to Nijo castle, built for the first Shogun so they could "look after" the emperor.
I had read that one way of visiting the temples in the northwest was to catch the metro to Kitaoji and walking to them from there as they were broadly on the same road.
It was worth the walk. Like most temples in Kyoto you have to pay an entrance fee but the temple was beautiful. It's covered in gold so must be an incredibly impressive sight in the sunlight! Even on the overcast day I visited it the temple seemed to still shine bright. The garden it lies within is beautifully kept as well. There are a couple of zen pebble gardens and a lot of waterfalls - it seems that waterfalls are important as the noise they make if they aren't too big can be very soothing and condusive to meditation.
On leaving the Golden Temple I took a wrong turn and only realised about half an hour later... to make things worse it had started to rain! I slowly made my way back to the right road, and walked into Ryoan-Ji. The most famous thing about this temple is the zen garden they have. This is within the main temple complex which you have to take your shoes off to get to and consists of impeccably raked pebbles with 15 rocks placed around the garden. It is known as the dry landscape style and supposedly no one knows who designed it. You really can just sit there and stare at the garden and ponder it - again I expect it's a very useful meditation tool.
I had decided to make Nijo castle my final destination that day, indeed because of all the unnecessary detours I had made earlier in the day I didn't have time to see anything else after this anyway. It was now I made the first use of the excellent Kyoto bus network which was very easy to use. The have screens at the front of the bus telling you the name of the next stop in both kanji and western latin characters. I jumped off the bus at the usefully named Nijo-Jo stop and paid my entrance fee to get in. That day they were offering free English tours and so I was taken around the impressive castle.
That evening was spent watching "The Last King of Scotland" with some people I met at the hostel - very good film I recommend it!
Monday: Northern Higashiyama
I had decided to tackle the northern part of Higashiyama on Monday.
The walk was great - really quiet shrouded by tall trees and it unearthed a gem of a shrine nestled away in the hills.
I then made my way along the famous Path of Philosophy. This winding path runs alongside a canal and is nestled between a back street in Kyoto and the hills towering up. It makes for a very contemplative walk, but is probably at its best in the cherry-blossom season, as when I went along it it did feel rather drab. I took a brief detour near the northern end to go to Omen, a noodle shop specialising in thick, white noodles of the same name served in a tasty broth.
The final spot on my itinerary for the day was Ginkaku-Ji, supposedly a must for all trips to Kyoto. By this point I must surmise I was suffering from a bit of "temple-fatigue" as I couldn't bring myself to find the site particularly impressive or different, especially considering what I had already seen. The garden was beautiful as always, with interesting shapes of white sand juxstaposed with the water-centric gardens so reminiscent of the Japanese past. But there was nothing particularly different, not the beautiful simplicity of the famous Zen garden in Ryoan-Ji, nor the opulent extravagence of the Golden Temple (interestingly the name Ginkaku-Ji literally translates as "silver temple" but the temple was never covered in silver as designed - perhaps a pity considering my impressions of the place!)
With this view weighing heavily on my mind I called it a day for sightseeing, and made my way back to the hostel where I spent a relaxing evening watching DVDs with other travellers. Sometimes everyone needs some time off!
Tuesday: Southern Higashiyama and Fushimi-Inari Taisha
My final full day in Kyoto and I planned to visit some of the areas fairly close to me in Higashiyama that I hadn't visited on my first day in the city, which mainly consisted of Kiyomizu-Dera, another ancient temple nestled into the hillside towards the south-east of the city and Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a wonderfully different temple complex to finish off my visit of this ancient capital of Japan.
Kiyomizu-Dera was one of the busiest sites I visited during my time in Kyoto. It seemed to be mostly made of wood and had the by now familiar construction with a decked veranda sporting open sliding doors that gave you a glimpse of the colourful shrines inside. There was a spring that seemed very popular with the visitors - part of the buddhist ritual involves cleansing your body using these natural springs I believe and at the time a lot of people were taking part. I only watched from afar, as I felt it would be somewhat rude of me to do the same actions not understanding the spiritual reasons for it.
That afternoon I took the "Keihan Main Line" (one of the sort-of metro lines that Kyoto has) to see Fushimi-Inari Taisha. As I walked from the station my senses were assaulted by the sights and smells of the bustling street, where many street vendors were offering snack foods and drink - I was very tempted to try some of what I assumed were dumplings but sadly I didn't feel hungry at all! Reaching the temple complex I pretty much skipped the actual temple itself as my main reason for visiting this particular shrine was to walk through the many Torii, orange pillars, that lined the paths that snaked up and around the small mountain. The walk seemed to go on forever, but the views at the top of the mountain were breathtaking as you could see all of Kyoto below. It was also somewhat sad, as the urban sprawl so typical of Japanese cities hides what once would have been a stunningly beautiful view. It is not too difficult to imagine, in your mind's eye, what Edo-era Kyoto would have looked like and what a sight that would have been from this high vantage point. Continuing on, I managed to get thoroughly lost walking through the maze-like passageways. It was an eerie experience as the mountain was incredibly quiet with hardly any other people walking around (at this time of year at least) - at one point as I walked up the upteenth slope I found myself thinking how good a place this would be to run; you'd certainly get very fit, and then over the brow of the hill came a runner! Obviously I wasn't the only person with that view!