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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon

Viewing blogs tagged Kyoto

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kyoto, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 20/04/2015 23:20:08

Kyoto is beautiful. When deciding on targets for the atomic bomb, apparently Kyoto was left off the list because Henry L. Stimson spent his honeymoon there and didn't want to destroy all that beauty. After learning I was going to Japan everyone wanted to know if I was going to Kyoto, before telling me how picturesque it is.

Kyoto was probably the worst city we visited while in Japan.

Now, I've phrased that statement for maximum impact - even though it is true. We found Kyoto beautiful, and there were many enjoyable activities we shared while there - but on the whole I'd have to rank it lowest of the place we went. Everywhere we've been has been so much fun that just a few annoyances or average experiences necessitate a worst. city. ever. ranking.

For a start, it had been a long three weeks up to this point - and we just completed two pretty aggressively busy days. Travelling is draining at the best of times, and our energy levels were certainly getting low by this point (even with the assistance of my new favourite energy drink).

The first night started quite well, we were staying somewhere 45 minutes away by train from the city (couldn't find a single place in Kyoto when we were ready to start booking) and it had a feel of a genuine Japanese suburb (i.e. tourists weren't everywhere). We went for a walk and checked out the local shopping mall, stopping for some dinner when some of the local schoolgirls seemed quite excited to talk to us in English - which was fun. We also stopped into the local Sega World (games arcade) and had more fun in our short time playing Mario Kart than the whole day in Akihabara.

The first day was actually great - we hired bicycles and were pleased that it was a fine sunny day. We took off to 400 year-old Nijo castle looking forward to walking through the squeaking floors, designed to alert guards as to the approach of assassins. When we arrived we enjoyed causing the floor to squeak (with our freezing shoe-less feet) - but that was pretty much it. Each room had a sign with a brief description of what would have been there back in the day along with the occasional creepy mannequin. Funnily enough there were plenty of "no photo" signs along with "no drawings" - are the empty rooms really that important that someone may stop to sketch them for later monetary gain?

The castle looking pretty spiffy for 400 years..

No Touching
... presumably because it has been protected from the gaze of cameras

We continued on to Ginkakujicho Temple (with some nice sand sculptures and a great garden) and through to the Philosopher's Walk with yet more cherry blossoms and a quaint footpath that we rode down (causing many philosophical musings such as why are there nostrils and buttholes instead of noseholes and buttsrils?). This took us to Nanzen-ji temple which was nice (with a pretty good view from the top of the huge gate) but not too dissimilar to the many temples we had already visited. A quick stop at the Maruyama Park was fun before we headed to the Higashiyama District for traditional-looking streets (which certainly were traditional-looking). This all lead to the Fushimi Inari Shrine which I was looking forward to.

Even though we were pretty blossomed out by this point - the Philosopher's walk was a peaceful journey

The Maruyama Park area looked like it has been superintended to quite fastidiously

Many, many offers of a genuine tea ceremony experience - if there's anything tea needs, it's pomp and regulations

The Fushimi Inari Shrine purports to have thousands of vermilion torii gates going up through the forest of Mount Inari - and it was a pretty cool experience. Also, at this point we were both very tired and getting a little silly - which definitely added to the fun. After what seemed like endless walking we finally reached a point with a nice view and sign, assuming we'd reached the top. A quick read of the sign instead informed us that we were only halfway up - convincing Pao to keep going from this point wasn't the easiest - but eventually we made it.

Gate One
The start of our journey we were full of hope...

More Than One
... until we saw the amount of people we would need to shoulder through on the path

You Are Kidding
We can't be halfway! Surely someone just placed the "you are here" dot there as a humorous jape

The density of the gates was quite impressive in points...

... and disappointing in others (unless you were part of the crew installing them)

Unfortunately no vending machine to reward our journey's end - just more torii gates

For dinner we perused the Pontocho area along the river which was supposed to provide excellent meal options. I can't speak for the rest of the restaurants, but we found a tempura place by chance and it was some incredible fare. Afterwards we headed out to the Kiyomizu-dera temple for some night illumination - very ... enlightening.

It must be high-class dining, we saw a few geishas scurrying along the lane way (as gracefully as possible with their strange footwear)

The tempura was great - but I would never purposefully select tempura if kushikatsu is also on offer

The lights certainly added a nice novelty to the same ol' looking temples

Day two in Kyoto is when things started to go downhill. Both even more tired than usual in the morning, we only just missed a train and then had a lot of walking to do in the rain. Trying to make the most of our time we decided to cut a 15 minute walk short via taxi - jumped in and asked to go to the (very close by) temple. He did warn us that he was a new driver - but he spent probably 5 full minutes (interspersed with frequent breaks of me trying to convince him how close our destination actually was) going through the GPS until we finally took off. Once we arrived at the "famous" Zen rock garden at the Ryoan-ji temple we couldn't help but laugh.

Not Amused
Our general feeling once finally making it to Ryoan-ji temple

It was rubbish. I know Zen gardens are supposed to be about the essence of nature and all that - but the rock garden we saw was the definition of ordinary. I'm almost certainly displaying my ignorance here - but how did this rock garden gain fame? And why was it so hard to move around in the great crowd that had amassed to view it? Our next stop at the Golden Pavillion of Kinkaku-ji temple was equally lame with even more people crammed in to see it. It was a gold coloured pavilion. I was really beginning to question everyone's generous review of Kyoto at this point.

Thats Handy
They even have a small model in-case the whole garden is too exciting for you to gaze upon

No Arches
I like gold

In the afternoon the day was redeemed firstly with a visit to Nenbutsuji Temple decorated with 1,200 buddha each with a different facial expression. It didn't take too long to go through them all, but it was a fun time (trying to decide which one looked most like me) and before long we continued to the Arashiyama area where the highlight of Kyoto was discovered.

I thought I had found a buddha with a premonition of future technology (by holding a walkman). I later found out that the buddhas were actually designed in the 80s - so this was no future man

The Arashiyama area is home to the best attraction in the whole of Kyoto - a monkey park. A whole bunch of Japanese macaque monkeys are cared for at the top of Mt Arashiyama, and make for an awesome spectacle. They are taught how to be gentle around humans, so I had a few eating nuts and apples from my hands - a very enjoyable experience. After quite a while just watching the monkey interacting, we continued back to our hotel (via a pretty sweet-looking bamboo path) and called it a day.

This pensive monkey welcomes our arrival at the monkey park

I think they should teach the monkeys how to hold an umbrella for protection from the rain - how cool would that look?

They both liked the apple better - but wouldn't turn aside a nut

Again - it wasn't a horrible time in Kyoto - I would have thoroughly enjoyed it even if it was our only destination - but I sure am glad that it was not. Something else that probably added to the experience was that Kyoto was the time that we started to encounter many more international tourists - whom are less enjoyable to be around than domestic Japanese tourists.

This is the 17th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015

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