Temples in Kyoto (with more new friends)

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Kyōto,
Friday, February 12, 2010

Last night Andrew came back to the room and told me Marguerite and Gary and the two Dimitri's that we had met in a train station in Tokyo a week ago were in the common room. I went down to catch up with each other and found out what they had been doing and talked about doing something together during the day.

As we were leaving for our day out Mr Namakura called to ask if we wanted him to accompany us. We were so happy to hear from him, and agreed to meet in 20 minutes at our hostel. This gave Marguerite time to get the boys organised to come with us (especially as Gary was reluctant to come with us and needed talking around) and for us to purchase our day bus pass (for 500Y) from the hostel.

We headed to Kyoto Bus Terminal to catch the bus to Rokukon-Ji Temple (Golden Temple). Andrew had figured out the bus map very quickly and even had Mr Nakamura commenting on his map-reading skills.

The Golden Temple is one of the most well-known temples (sometimes called Kinkaku) in Kyoto (and Japan!) and was half an hour away by bus. It has a long history as a residence since the 1220s and is different to other temples as the 2nd and 3rd floors are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. The gardens were very beautiful and had hardly changed in hundreds of years. The temple is surrounded by a lovely pond (called Kyoko-chi or Mirror Pond) which was very popular with tourists taking pictures.

We were going to take the bus to Ninna-Ji Temple, but Mr Nakamura said if we walked we could see Ryoanji Temple on the way. So we decided to walk, but discovered Ryoanji was closed for reconstruction.

So we continued onto Ninna-Ji Temple which was the old Imperial Palace, as it served as a residence for the ex-emporer. This Temple (along with many other temples) had parts of it moved from other places and rebuilt. We thought that this Temple would have looked absolutely beautiful in Spring as it had heaps of cherry blossum trees. There were some plum blossum trees already in flower which were very pretty.

We headed towards Nijo Castle, but all decided we were hungry and should stop for lunch before we went to the castle. There was not much choice around the castle, except for a small noodle chain that we had seen across Japan. It was the type where you order from a machine (which has pictures of the meal and the price), it spits you out a ticket which you give to the hostess. Everyone else ordered the Beef Curry, and I ordered the Beef pieces which was served with a salad, rice and soup. They agreed the curry was pretty good, although a little spicy. Mine was very plain and therefore really yummy too.

During the afternoon, we visited Nijo Castle which was built in 1603. It was a really interesting property and had a great walking route around the Ninomaru Palace. There were a number of rooms that had been set up with dummies dressed in period costumes, like the First Grand Room, where the Shogun met visiting feudal lords. Another cool thing about this palace was the construction of the floors which squeaked when you walked on them - this was on-purpose as a sort of security mechanism to warn of unwelcome visitors. The property also had a large garden with a number of gardeners working, showing us the amount of time it must take to keep the gardens looking as beautiful as they do. The property had a lookout where we could see the whole temple - and a lot of Kyoto too.

We were about to catch bus to our next temple, when our Greek & Irish friends decided that they would leave us to check out the temples in the Gion area. We gave them directions and tips on Geisha spotting, said goodbye and went our separate ways.

So Andrew, Mr Nakamura and I headed towards the Path of Philosophy - a famous walk lined with temples in an area in the north-west of the city. It starts at the Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) which was about to close as we arrived. We had a look through the gates and decided not to go in, as we would have rushed through it, but continued along the path.

It was now 5pm and everything had closed, but Mr Nakamura knew how to get into his favourite shrine. We followed him up a path and found ourselves in a beautiful property that was high up in the forest, had beautiful gardens and was really peaceful. 

Mr Nakamura pointed out some interesting things along the way, which included a typical rich mans residence, the huge number of wild cats (which are everywhere in Japan!) and told us about some interesting temples and shrines that line the path. It was interesting that a couple of these temples only opened once or twice a year.

On the way back to the hostel, Andrew told Mr Nakamura all about Rugby League and his beloved Bunnies, talked about spit roasts and taught him some Aussie slang - and how we say "Oztraya". It was such a lovely afternoon with our new Kyoto friend, and it was sad to say goodbye and thanks for giving up his time to spend with us.

We had talked about sending my souvenirs home to clear some space in my bag, and found out that the Post Office was open until 9pm, and right next to the Kyoto Train Station. After negotiating the language barrier, we managed to get the 2kg box air mailed home for 5000Y (about $60) (later note - it arrived the following Wednesday).

We were buggered after our long day of walking, so we thought we would grab a quick dinner at Subway. It was relatively the same as at home except that you could also have soup. I again went for the chicken and corn chowder, which was really great.

We went back to the hostel and Andrew decided to get an early night. Rather than annoy him with my tapping away on the computer, I went downstairs to the common room.

Some fresh visitors to the hostel opened a map of Kyoto and draped it across the coffee table, and said to each other "Where do we start?". I chuckled as I looked at them and asked "Temple hopping?". They said that they had just arrived, and although one had been here before, he had not seen many temples, and only had two days to do it in.

I offered my assistance as each day, I understand how beneficial advice is when travelling. I showed them where we had been, told them which ones were closed, and which buses / trains to use to get there. They were really pleased and I was too that I could share my knowledge - and even showed them photos of things to look out for along the way.

This got me thinking as to the lists and forums I had read in preparation for our trip, and how underprepared I had been for Kyoto. There was just so much to see and I was keen to just "wing it". But obviously we could not do it all... although it sure felt like we gave it a good crack!

So here are my favourite Temples & Shrines in Kyoto:
1. Choin-in Temple - lovely quiet open rooms with tatami mats and beautiful gardens (Gion District)
2. Sanjusangendo - 120m long wooden building with 1000 Buddha statues (near JR station)
3. Kiyomizudera Temple - near the cemetery on the hill
4. Fushiminari Shrine - 1000 tori gates (added later - see blog for tomorrow)
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