The day everyone decided to visit Kyoto.
Kyoto Travel Blog› entry 12 of 251 › view all entries
April 2nd, 2008 – by: cmgervais
The plan today: break free of Osaka and head to Kyoto to experience its traditional gardens and ancient temples.
Kyoto is northeast of Osaka, about 30 minutes by train. The city is something like 1200 years old, and brimming with ancient architecture... over 1800 temples and shrines. There are innumerable gardens (and the trees are in bloom!), and we were looking forward to a respite from the crowds and urbanism of Osaka.
We detrained in Kyoto's main station, not thrilled with the prospect of another municipal transportation system to figure out. Blech. The tourist office gave us a map of walking tours, but I already knew we wanted to check out eastern Kyoto, where some of the most interesting temples and gardens seem to be located. We decided to go to that area by bus, and bought a day pass for about $5. There was a huge line, and we were lucky the door closed right in front of us, so that we were the first ones on the next bus, which means we got seats. The bus proceeded to fill up well beyond its intended capacity, and off we went, bursting at the seams.
We had no idea how long the bus trip should take, nor could we find our position on the map, nor could we see the signage outside very well, plus it was so warm.
From there, it was a fairly easy walk to Ginkaku-ji, or "Temple of the Silver Pavilion." (The temple was not silver, nor had it ever been, but silver leaf was part of the original plan, so I guess the name stuck.
We explored the stunning gardens, which were brightened by moss coverings -- such a vivid shade of green! There was no debris, as fallen leaves are immediately swept up (that's where that steep entrance fee goes!). The effect is a pristine green carpet punctuated with trees and plantings. Gorgeous. There were also Zen gardens with raked sand, and a perfect pyramidal sand structure, which was being worked on while we were there. Unfortunately the experience itself was anything but Zen, however. We marched along the path, our pace being set by the conflux of people in front of and behind us.
From there we strolled down the Path of Philosophy, appropriately in deep thought...speculating where all these people could have come from. Everyone was out taking photos like mad, understandable as the cherry blossoms were absolutely breathtaking. The trees seemed much more ancient than those in Osaka. The trunks were black with age, which made a striking contrast to the white blossoms. More strolling (and picking our way through the crowds), and then a stop for a $4 thimbleful of coffee for Steve, tea for me (we were able to do the whole thing in Japanese!).
Then another cab ride to the next place on my list, Heian Jingu. With all the cab rides we were out of cash (again!) and hadn't enough for the entrance fee.
Built in 1894, Heian Jingu is actually kind of "new," but I really wanted to stroll in its three blossoming gardens. This was a good call, as there were not nearly so many people here and we could really pause to enjoy the views. Now I really love English gardens, and thoroughly enjoy the formality of French gardens as well, but Japanese gardens are in a category all their own. I think they are unparalleled in their beauty. The planning that goes into these spaces (light space, dark space, hidden space, open space, etc), and the upkeep that is required to maintain them (trimming, propping, sweeping) is just astounding. Steve has studied these principals to some degree, and gave me a little education (especially in the area of tree maintenance -- he has bonsai trees) as we went along.
It was getting late, and we didn't have enough daylight to give our next intended stop justice, so we decided to save it for another day. Instead, we headed to the Gion district, where the geisha live, hoping for a sighting. There were lines of shops selling parasols and various geisha accoutrements, all heavily populated by tourists. No geishas to be seen though. We stopped for dinner at a bizarre place, which served only one dish that we never identified but was kind of like an omelet. We were seated on tiny stools that were actually pieces of a tree trunk, next to a Japanese couple and two geisha mannequins. Weird.
From there we felt brave enough to catch the bus again to the station, thinking there would be less of a crowd in the evening.
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