August 6-7, 2016: Weekend in Kyoto

Kyoto is a beautiful city. It is much more scenic than Tokyo but arguably more touristy. The whole weekend was very hot though. Some of these temples have no tree coverage, so out in the open especially you bake. Lucia is especially good company for traveling. She wants to do everything and she is very energetic so she actually gets to everything. Plus she’s a planner and navigator so I didn’t have to figure everything out.

We started early in the morning (though a little later than we were planning, naturally) by taking a bus to Ginkakuji, the silver temple, not to be confused with Kinkakuji, the golden temple. The temple is very pretty, of course, but the gardens are also gorgeous. It was a good starter temple because they only got more and more impressive as the weekend went on.

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We took the Philosopher’s Walk to get to our next destination. It’s basically a path alongside (and several feet above) a canal. In the spring it’s really pretty with the cherry blossoms but in the summer it was just a path. We passed by a man sitting on a bridge painting the scenery and a woman practicing her flute next to the river. It was very peaceful. The nature is supposed to inspire us to think deeply like a philosopher, think about our life missions, if you will. It happened to be our path to our next destination, but it otherwise is not worth a detour in the summer.

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We made our way to the Heian Temple which is next to a baseball field where there was a little league game going on. There was a surprisingly large amount of spectators and they were loud enough that you could hear them from across the street. Baseball is, of course, very popular in Japan. The Heian Temple was so open and so hot it was so tiring to be outside in the courtyard.  And it was so large that it was difficult to capture it in pictures using the portrait lens Austin gave me.

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We found a place for lunch on Higashiyama St. We had buckwheat soba for lunch. Like all Japanese restaurants, they have a pretty good set menu. I’m going to miss having set menus when I leave Japan. We sat on the floor even though there was a table with chairs available. I wasn’t particularly comfortable, but it was so hot I almost fell asleep sitting on the floor. Lucia actually did fall asleep. Higashiyama Street has a lot of souvenir shops so we spent about an hour browsing.

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We went to so many temples and you usually have to pay an entrance fee to get in. So when we got to Kodaiji, we decided it wasn’t worth going into the gardens. We googled a picture of it and didn’t feel bad skipping it. There was so much to see we just couldn’t see it all and didn’t want to pay for all of them. It really adds up, and sometimes they more or less look the same.

The next temple was Kiyomizudera, which is just massive. There is a really pretty orange pagoda on the exterior and then you go inside to the wooden temple built on stilts on the side of a hill. Though some of it was under renovation. We meant to go to Tainai Meguri right outside the temple but totally forgot and walked right by the entrance without knowing it. And by the time we realized it, it was closed. Melina told us it was really cool. It’s just really dark and it was difficult to explain but then something magical happens like a Buddha appears or something like that. We were a little bummed.

At Kiyomizudera is a pair of love stones, like the Justine Timberlake song “Lovestoned.” They are two rocks that are maybe 10 meters apart and you are supposed to walk between them with your eyes closed. If you reach the other rock unobstructed by anyone else (which is impossible with all the Chinese tourists) then you will supposedly find love.

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And then it started to rain hard. So we took shelter inside the temple but as the rain didn’t let up, we gave up and just braved the rain. The grounds of the temple are huge. So we had to get all the way to the pagoda on the other side so we could see the temple from afar and get the whole view. But since it was raining, I didn’t get a very good picture. We got all soaked, but we kind of welcomed the rain as a reprieve from the beating sun. Our shirts that were already soaked through with sweat were now wet with rain like we couldn’t tell the difference. And eventually it did stop and that’s when we decided to leave.

Last on the day’s agenda was Fushimi Inari shrine. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it there and Lucia had already gone with her host family the previous weekend. But I am really glad we went. It is the shrine with the orange gates that seemingly go on infinitely creating a tunnel. We got there pretty late in the afternoon. As the sun was already setting, we got some good pictures but it was too dark in some places.

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There was one point where we came to another path that supposedly led to a castle of some sort. It was a hike up a big hill through a bamboo forest and the sign said 50m, which we assumed meant meters. But we walked way more than 50 meters and came upon nothing but mosquitoes. It probably meant 50 minutes. But we got decently far and then decided to turn back before the sun totally set on us. And then Teddy went to do a little more research and he decided that he actually really wanted to see this castle. So he tripled back and went by himself to find this castle in the dark. Lucia and I, meanwhile, continued up the mountain between the gates. We never actually made it to the top, just perhaps a third of the way before it got too dark and I got too tired. Everything here is built on mountains and you have to suffer to get to the top. Lucia went all the way up the other day and she said it was underwhelming at the top so I didn’t feel too bad giving up. And we happened upon Teddy on our way back, who had also given up when he came across a graveyard in the dark by himself. Didn’t need to get possessed by a spirit today so he turned back.

Back near our Airbnb, we walked down Pontocho street, where there are supposedly a lot of geisha houses. We missed the sundown time when they all come out to the street though. We were always busy doing something at that time and never got to see all the geishas, though I was able to glimpse one through a window.

All of the food in Kyoto has been pretty expensive so I took everyone to Torikizoku, where I had eaten a good cheap meal with Nisha earlier in the program. And everyone enjoyed it. The five of us sat at this tiny little table in the corner of the restaurant where the air wasn’t circulating. And Lucia was falling asleep here too.

We didn’t get to sleep too much that night because we had another early day ahead. And then we started our day behind schedule, like good college students. We made our way to Kyoto station to drop off our things at a coin locker so we wouldn’t have to lug them around Kyoto. Once we finally found some lockers and figured out how to fit all of our stuff, we hopped on a train to the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. I had already been to a couple of bamboo “forests” but this one was just magical. It was such a serene place and it was so good for pictures.

Inside the forest, we went to Tenryuji Temple which is located right next to a large scenic pond. At this temple, you had to pay to get toilet paper at the bathroom. Lucia, being a good Samaritan, helped someone buy toilet paper. And then later she got chased down so she could be thanked.

We stumbled out of the forest and found a street with a bunch of restaurants. As you could imagine, there aren’t a whole lot of restaurants in the forest but we found that one street. And we walked into a hip looking café where I ordered desert waffles for brunch and it was glorious.

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There is a famous bridge in Kyoto amid the picturesque landscape of the mountains. And we walked across it. We had to cross it and obviously you can’t see the bridge while you’re on it. So we crossed and then hung out in the park next to it so we could get some pictures. We saw a group of local fishermen in the river casting their nets. And there was one man who literally just caught a fish with his bare hands.

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On the other side of the bridge was also the monkey park. We had to climb a mountain but it was totally worth it to see the monkeys who roam free up there. The instructions are do not look them in the eye and do not get too close and do not feed them out in the open. Instead you enter a little shed with a grated fence to protect you. And the monkeys reach through the fence to take food from your hand. There are peanuts, which the monkeys are evidently not big fans of. What they really want are the pieces of fruit. The monkeys just hang around waiting for more food, hanging on the fence until the next sucker with an Instagram comes along. I fed a monkey too and Cat took a cool picture of me. I actually really loved the monkeys. It was a lot of fun and I took a lot of pictures. They were just out in the open, unlike at the zoo. It’s actually like a reverse zoo because we’re put in the cage. And from atop the mountain you have a great view of Kyoto.

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I bought a box of yatsuhashi crepes, a local specialty. I missed out on the free sample, so I bought a whole box. I got chocolate flavor, which was a hunk of chocolate wrapped in a thin skin. It’s a chewy triangle. There are lots of Asian flavors like green tea, red bean, etc but I’m a basic American who likes chocolate. They expired much faster than I was expecting so I pretty much ate them all at once over the course of the next few days. After the monkeys, we split up unintentionally. We lost Cat and Alex. And Teddy headed back to the train station because he didn’t want to spend anymore money to see more temples. But he really missed out on Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple, completely plated in gold.

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We walked back to the train station and passed by a bizarre train and piano museum. It has both old train cars and historic pianos in the same building. For some reason, they go together. There was a cool big player piano that filled the hall with music.

Kinkakuji was super crowded. Everyone is standing in the same spots to take a picture with the beautiful golden temple. So naturally it is very difficult to get a good picture because everyone keeps getting in the way. I took tons of photos, but most of them are no good. It was also really hot and the sun reflects off the temple right into your eyes. But Kinkakuji is incredible. The temple is very regal looking. You get this gorgeous perfect reflection in the pond too. It’s probably even prettier in the winter with snow covering the gardens. It was well worth it and an excellent way to finish our temple tour.

We browsed the mall near Kyoto station a bit before meeting Teddy to retrieve our bags and send him on his way back to Osaka. Then we were left with our bags going to dinner. We went to the eleventh floor of the train station to find a restaurant. The ninth floor was for ramen and the eleventh floor for restaurants. We took a series of escalators exposed to the sky straight up in what was actually a very cool building. It doesn’t look like eleven floor, but there are these cool open spaces with lights and an infinite amount of stairs. I know my description isn’t doing it justice but I didn’t really have any time to snap any pictures because we were in such a rush to eat before our train left. Serves us right for taking our sweet time.   The restaurant had a great view but we didn’t sit by the window and didn’t even really go look. Just too much of a rush. We happened to walk into an Italian restaurant. They eat their pasta with chopsticks!

Lastly, we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The ride in the night was uneventful. There was nothing to look at out the window because it was too dark. Plus, I slept for the whole ride to Shinagawa station. I couldn’t even think about blogging on the train. I was too exhausted. I did notice an interesting quirk of the Tokyo train system. The staff bows to the car when exiting and entering the train car. The door would open and they would bow before entering. And then when exiting, they’d turn back around and bow before continuing on. A small but pleasantly appreciated formality.

I had a really good time in Kyoto. I’m glad we didn’t go to Miura beach instead like the rest of the group did. This was really our best chance to see Kyoto, right after the week in Osaka. And I discovered an excellent traveling buddy in Lucia. It pays to plan trips in advance.

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