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Kyoto: I am a man of perfect simplicity

Osaka Travel Blog

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Random Observation/Comment #: Refrain from falling asleep on the train and missing your stop. Good thing it wasn’t close to midnight or else I’d have the third capsule hotel experience earlier than expected.
Minoh is beautiful, but it does not mix culture with nature as Kyoto has accomplished so elegantly. As with all of my weekends, I let the morning decide which path to take: Should I do Nara or Kyoto? I took into account all of the variables that planned my weekend, like an overnight stay, the weather for walking, time efficiency, and (of course) the shoes I was wearing. Once again, let’s try to stuff as much sight-seeing into my trip as possible while taking every emotion felt during these moments back within my memory (card). My plans always start out vague, and then it somehow works out when I follow the people with expensive looking cameras. It has worked very well so far – these tourists have led me to some of the most beautiful secret landscapes. The scenery was not camera shy, and I was not reluctant to take every perspective that screamed creativity. Taking 450 pictures in 5 hours is a very productive day. The only reason I didn’t stay overnight was because I had run low on memory and battery.
The Kyoto map and Guide obtained from the train station is sufficient for wandering. Always keep in mind that one block on the map has the equivalent distance of 2 or 3 avenues in the city (I learned this the hard way). Luckily, every other block there was something unique to see. If it wasn’t another shrine or temple, there were zoos, parks, and riverbeds to follow. If you don’t mind walking, I suggest you follow the path that I walked.
Saturday is a work day, so I woke up early (7:15AM) to morning human traffic congestion. A Hankyu line ticket from Umeda to Kawaramachi is only 280 yen, so I would suggest this route over the JR line. Take the express train on Track 1 and you can just fall asleep on that slightly thinner looking LIRR train. When you get to Kawaramachi station, ask for a map and then go out exit 9. Make a left and head towards the Kawaramachi-dori main road intersection. If you take a look at the back of the sight-seeing map, you can see where to take the bus to your desired temple location. I chose bus 17 to Ginkakuji at stop 8 of the Shijo Kawaramchi bus area. The ride is 220 yen and takes about 15 minutes.
Since it was my first time anywhere in Kyoto, I looked around the bus for couples (old and young) with umbrellas to pick out the fellow sight-see (-ers?) –ing people. I thought that old people would take the shortest path because they have replacement hips or bad knees, but instead, these senior citizens were really power-walking their way around. It was the romantic younger couples that walked slowly and decided to abandon the long paths by mid-day. Without someone holding my hand or making casual conversation, I decided to follow the old people.
The first temple was Ginkakuji which is just a straight line walk following the river and then further passed the tourist shops. The entrance fee is 500 yen, but the beauty of the well groomed sand and bamboo paths made me glad I wasn’t frugal. The main temple was under renovation, but the short path up the mountain side still has a breath-taking view. Be sure to take notice of how all the different shades of green create this glowing aura around every object. It’s as if every green piece of artwork contrasts and at the same time compliments all of the other pieces.
Next, I headed back towards the fork in the road and walked South down the Path of Philosophy. It’s quite the long walk and there are many side paths to other shrines and temples (Honen-in Temple, Anrakuji Temple, Reikanji Temple, etc), but I would suggest skipping some of these because they tend to repeat. I only made the left up the intersecting paths if it looked like the temple was not a far walk away from the entrance. I suggest taking some chances and go exploring around this area.
Once you reach the end of the Philosopher’s path, make a right and then a left at the main road. Down this path are a few more shrines and temples, but I highly suggest Nanzen-ji and Suirokaku. These temples are gi-normous, but I was lucky enough to get some pictures without a hoard of people standing in the way. If you’re wearing the right footwear, try walking East in one of the beaten paths to The Burial Site of Niijima Jo. I didn’t reach there after 20 minutes of walking so I turned around (to save my Diesel shoes from any more pain).
By this time, I had already walked from 10AM to 3PM, and I was ready to head back to Osaka. My pace had slowed and I think I had about one more temple left in me. Walking West towards Kawaramachi station seemed like a good idea, so I kept this route while passing by the Kyoto Zoo and following the river area. Walking about 15 minutes lead me to this giant red shrine symbol that was built across a 4 lane street with each support about the size of a kiosk. You can’t miss it (if you do, you’re not observant enough – I would fear for your life while crossing streets). If you follow the road with this large red symbol, you’ll reach Heian-Jingu. This shrine was my favorite purely because of its large open space and simplicity. The gray sea of small pebbles looked like perfect concrete. This is the second place I threw in money to make a wish.
I was unfamiliar with the custom until I had seen a few people perform it. The shrines have these open wooden boxes that looks like a barbeque with its little grill stripes. First you throw in 100 yen into this box, and then you ring the large rope that has a bell attached to it (or it’s a mallet that you swing to hit a bell structure) three times. After you’ve made the offering and called upon the spirits, you clap your hands twice. With your palms together and fingertips to your forehead, make your wish. If you still need more luck, you can buy these slips of paper with incantations or poems or whatever written on them, and you tie them onto the wishing trees. These are just more random superstitions for luck on exams or good health for close friends and family. It’s nice making wishes for someone besides yourself.
Another confusing tradition at these shrines is the hand and face washing at the pools of water. You’re supposed to use these long wooden ladles and wash your left and right hands (similar to the routine right before meals – except you are able to speak before eating bread). Some people go as far as drinking this water, but to me it’s even pushing it for washing hands. It looks like a cesspool of germs and mosquito larvae, even if it is very cold water and looks so pure and clear, and tastes delicious after a long day of walking (what? I was tempted and thristy).
I spent the last two hours walking around unfamiliar streets towards the Kamogawa River and then taking off my shoes and wading in the water. There were families catching some fish and tadpoles, and they all gave me a funny look when I walked in with my backpack and terribly placed tan lines. The sun’s rays were very intense, but there was a nice breeze so my body was confused – no complaints. I was warned that August will be the worst for heat, and Kyoto is most beautiful in autumn when the foliage matches the roofs of the temples.
There are a lot of gardens throughout the walk that required 300 or 400 yen to enter. I only paid for one of these, and it was actually well worth the peace and quiet (since everyone in Japan is also cheap). If you want to take the frugal path, there are plenty of free and beautiful places to see.
I only walked a very small portion of Kyoto and I was already dead tired. It would take weeks to see all of the shrines, but I feel like this would get repetitive. I’ve asked around, and it has been suggested to go to the major temples: Ginkakuji, Kiyoizudera, and Kinkakuji. These are all in separate sides of the city so you can build your travel days around these temples. Good luck and happy travels =).
~See Lemons Shrining/Templing it up
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photo by: yasuyo