Arrived in Kyoto around 7am and it was already pretty warm at that time. We put our bags in a locker at the station and, after grabbing a nigiri for breakfast, headed off to the first temple (of many, and I mean many!). I don’t remember the first temples that well because I was so tired! Sadly one was undergoing renovations/restorations too so the main hall wasn’t actually viewable. Shame. On the upside there were hardly any crowds at that time so the temples were largely deserted.
Ended up getting ice cream at around 9am I think then was standing on a bridge for a long while, feeling very detached from reality. It was hard to make it across for fear of what was waiting on the other side. Ok, that sounds overly melodramatic :)
Rena had arranged to meet her friends Yuko and Kaori that morning – two Japanese girls who she had met in Valencia (such is the random life she leads). We moved the bags to another locker in a different station and then headed to a place called Arashiyama. Actually, it took rather longer to get there than anticipated because the girls were too busy talking to realise we’d sailed past our station and ended up on the edge of Osaka, lol. I’m sure everyone can empathise on my behalf for having to spend a day with three girls talking non-stop in a language I hardly understand, especially when everything is “eeeEEEEEEEEEEEE?!”, “suGOI!”, “kawai~iiiii!” or even, “suGOI KAWAIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!”, argh!!!!!! I actually think I lasted pretty well. I didn’t attempt to kill any of them until at least 8 in the evening.
Arashiyama was an amazing place. It’s a good distance out from the city, on the edge of the mountains and surrounded by forest. The walk from the station took us over a fantastic bridge crossing a pretty wide river. There were old style boats a little further up stream on what appeared to be a lake but might have just been a wide, slow-moving part of the water. I lingered a while to take in the panorama, definitely feeling like we were somewhere quite exotic. I guess that kind of scenery is what one might expect of Japan having watched films set there.
On the other side of the river there was a little more life. A row (or three) of shops facing the water and running alongside it. We had lunch in another soba restaurant, this time with tempura, except it was more of a traditional restaurant with low tables and tatami mats, so once again had to take shoes off and sit/kneel by the table. Cool! Even if it was only a novelty for me :p
The temple at Arashiyama was definitely the most impressive I’d seen thus far, especially for the grounds – the gardens were stunning and included a path which went a little way up the hill so you could see over the temple, bamboo forest and back to the town in the distance. I got a lovely picture by climbing onto the fence – Yuko thought I was nuts! She should see me normally..
Sitting on the surround of the temple was very tranquil. A stork was standing in the lake and we dangled our feet off the edge of the step. There were many tatami mats inside the temple (as one would expect!), which felt quite nice underfoot – guess another novelty for me. I rested for a while against the doorframe, taking in the gardens.
After that we walked up through some different gardens and out into a bamboo forest. It was pretty surreal and kind of eerie in an awe-inspiring way. In one place the trunks grew together to form a kind of archway. I later discovered this (as well as many other places I saw) in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha” (don’t bother watching it tho – stick to the book!).
I was feeling rather disgusting at this point because I’d been wearing the same clothes for 2 days and obviously it had been extremely hot and humid both days – when we were walking through the bamboo forest my shirt was absolutely soaked through!
When we finally left the temple we passed a shop selling lots of traditional Japanese shoes and things. The girls stopped here for absolutely AGES! I got a little bored and wandered off for a little while. I felt like they didn’t even notice :) I found some simple but beautiful chopsticks in a little shop further down, so bought them as a present for self. Probably for a lot less than I would pay to buy the same thing at home too.. Although during the visit I saw some quite expensive chopsticks depending on what variety of wood was used to craft them from.
Afterwards we went to a place selling shaved ice. Not really sure if there’s any better way of describing it! Basically it’s like slush puppy, except thinner bits, with syrup and condensed milk (if you want it) on top. It was quite nice, although the restaurant was a little sleepy and surreal. The shutters blocked off the top halves of the windows which I thought was a little strange.
After chilling out there for a while it was decided that we’d go to a foot onsen (lol). I thought it would be way too hot given that it was mid-afternoon and the water temperature is 42C, but it was actually surprisingly refreshing and my flip-flop cladden feet welcomed the break. They’re not exactly the most supportive of shoes…
From here we took a toy train. Well, it wasn’t really a toy train but it was just one carriage which ran to a station on the edge of the city! Funny. I very nearly fell asleep in the carriage but just as I was beginning to dream I was awoken as we’d reached our destination.
At this point Kaori went home (insisting that if I wanted to visit Nagoya she’d be happy to guide me around for a day!) and we spent a while trying to work out where exactly in the station we’d left our luggage in the lockers! We decided to take a taxi to the ryokan we were staying at as the bags were heavy and everyone was pretty tired. The house was amazing – down a little alleyway which was a relic of days gone by. Apparently the street, which featured five old-style houses, has been on TV quite a lot and is fairly famous. I must admit I’d had my reservations about staying there rather than in a traditional inn style place, but it was totally worthwhile. They even had a hand-pump for well water! Lots of the doors were paper screens too and, of course, we had to remove shoes before entering the house as the entirety was decked out with tatami mats.
The area was adjacent to Gion – the geisha district – and there were many interesting artefacts inside the house. There were samurai swords mounted in a case on the wall, a bow and arrows, a kimono, gramophone, traditional bathtub… (Some pics also on flickr) We were given bath salts by the very accommodating and friendly landlady but the instructions seemed way too complicated so I couldn’t be arsed!
After a little faffage we headed out to check out a temple which is lit up at night called ???? [have to dig out the name from my numerous admission tickets!!]. Apparently summertime is the time when ghosts come out and there was a rather creepy show going on with clarinet players and projections out over the raked sand of ghosts and ghouls. The night time views over the city were amazing and seeing everything lit up was beautiful.
By this time we were pretty hungry so went off in search of a restaurant. Apparently not just anywhere would do so we must have spent a good hour walking. I was fairly unimpressed by the time Yuko eventually settled for somewhere.. Hehe. To make matters worse I was entirely discluded from the ordering process – I guess she’s one of those ‘strong personality’ girls, lol. Anyways, all good. Food wasn’t that great (although the girls seemed to think it was awesome) but at least they had beer, which I’d been waiting for for a good while :p the view was pretty good too – we were on the second floor right next to the river and facing out over the river. There were even a few fireworks being let off outside.
When we eventually left I decided to navigate us home, figuring that the girls had drunk too much [rightly!]. I was absolutely shattered but nailed the route first time. Must be my native indian tracker blood…