Friday, November 20, 2015

Kyoto Day 3-4 -- No More Temples... please!!

This is the next post of our Japan trip.  It took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

Today's schedule was another action packed one:

  1. Taxi to Ginkakuji (silver temple)
  2. Walk to Honen-In
  3. Follow philosopher's walk (30 mins)
  4. Nanzen-Ji (famous zen temple)
  5. Shoren-In
  6. Chion-In (last samurai)
  7. Walk through Maruyama-Kuen Park to Yasaka-Jinja Shrine
  8. Kodai-Ji (bamboo temple)
  9. Through Higashiyama
  10. Kiyomizu-Dera (view, wooden platform, spring water)
We hadn't managed the full slate on any day so far but today looked a real toughie as Cat's focus had been to hit all the main sites, many of which (quite possibly most actually) were shrines or temples... and I still hadn't really got the difference between the two as shrines in Japan aren't mausoleums, but places of worship rather like the temples.  But the Japanese are a subtle race and I suspect that the difference between the two like them is rather too subtle for a duffer like me to appreciate.

Somehow we only managed a slow start before catching the bus down the main drag in Gion through Higashiyama to Kiyomizu-Dera, number 10 on the above list (we'd taken a quick look at the map earlier and figured that a slightly different order would be more appropriate!) which you reached by wandering through some charming little side streets where there were endless shopping opportunities for crafts, tea and the immense love of the Japanese, namely sweets.  

Overall I think by a factor of 2 or 3 to 1, there are more sweet shops than any other food alternative shop in Japan.  Strange thing is to this gaijin is that the sweets themselves were pretty much the same -- a sort of gooey, spongey sweet mess covered with a variety of toppings ranging from savoury to much, much sweeter.  Like Chinese sweets, personally I don't much care for them but really you had to try.

Kiyomizu is another lovely wooden structure of course on top of a hill amid some lovely mature forest.  Sad to report though by this time and after quite a few temples/shrines already under our belts, quite what made this one special eludes me.  It was very pretty and had all the usual things in it: buddhas, indulgence stalls, incense, bells, crowds, gift shop.  But I think it was around about now that collectively we started thinking that a break from temples/shrines for a short while was called for.  Certainly I did.

The gardens really are real life willow pattern stuff.  Just beautiful.  I wish I knew how to do it for home but then expect it takes ages to do and keep up.
However the next temple, Kodai-Ji, was a little different in that it had all the usual stuff but also a natural spring which was meant to bring good luck, long life and health, love and happiness provided you drank from the stream.  Well of course after a build up like that you just had to partake, didn't you!

Kodai-Ji was in the Higashiyama (Geisha) district and was a real step back experience in that the streets and houses were built in a way that you would have thought they would have been hundreds of years ago.  Lots of small wooden houses crammed together.  

Sorry ladies, I hope I wasn't being rude taking this picture of you.  Looking lovely though!  Geishas these days are much in demand as there's so few remaining fully trained one.
It's a place where you can be a Geisha (OK I know, this is Kyoto so I should be saying Geiko but if I did nobody would know what I mean.  Geishas are from Tokyo) for a day (or longer if you want) as there are plenty of places who will help you do a makeover.  However you wouldn't be able to hide the fact that you'd not be a real Geisha because you wouldn't have your faces made up with very white cream.  This is a sign of a real Geisha apparently (trainee too or rather a Maiko) and came about because in the old days, there was no decent lighting other than candles so to see someone's face, they needed to be illuminated, hence the white cream and heavy make-up.

Indy walked around all day with his Go-Pro on a stick sticking out of his backpack!  He must have hours of people's heads recorded.
We were heading towards the Yasaka-Jinja shrine but came across another place, Ryozen-Kwan-On which was a modern shrine to the unknown soldier of WWII.  It didn't have much red or orange in it like the older temples/shrines and wasn't made out of wood so will likely last a while longer than the others...

It turned out to be our final temple/shrine of the day as we were feeling somewhat jaded (I hope it didn't come through too much in the last bit of writing.  I know I was a bit flippant about the non-wood and non-orange/redness of the last shrine but well... you know).  

Viv and I decided that lunch, retail therapy and a darned good cocktail would put the world back on even keel so we headed to a district called Ponto-Cho which essentially is the road by the river where there are around a billion different restaurants and bars.  

A few of the billion eateries and drinkeries in Ponto-Cho
It proved to be a great place to start and with something of a surprise we discovered that this side of the river (as opposed to the old bit that was Gion where we were staying) was downtown!  It had lots and lots of retail opportunities but the real target for us was a department store called Dimaru which Viv had known and loved from Hong Kong days, there being quite a few Japanese department stores there.

Dimaru equals Harrods.

Dumpling stand in Dimaru.  It was packed.
I'll stop there and just say that it was huge and happily had an immense food basement (just like Harrods) which was jam packed for the hours we spent pleasantly trolling around nibbling on this and that before we realised with a start that something was missing but we couldn't quite remember what it was.

So reviewing things from our hit list: 1) Lunch -- tick.  2) Retail therapy -- tick.  3) Cocktails -- ah, that was it.  Cocktails.

Fortunately there was a Ritz Carlton only a $7 cab fare away and we found that the cocktails there were very fine indeed!

Armed with knowledge of a good restaurant location and restored to vigor by the Ritz' finest, we rejoined the party in fine fettle and made it back to Ponto-Cho for a whisky bar, lamb chop shop... a slight digression here.  Every place in Japan seems to be a specialist eatery or drinkery.  There's none of that 'Japanese' restaurant stuff we have.  If you want whisky, you go there.  If its lamb chops, its there, etc.

But the final delight would be a traditional yakitori that Indy had been droning on about for ages.  We found the perfect spot late in the evening: hole in the wall, 6 seats by the counter, grilled everything and anything, beer and sake.  

I don't think the day could have ended any better than grilled gizzards and sake and happily I had my sake partner with me (Cat) to help finish the day off properly!

The final day's itinerary was studiously ignored in its entirety so Indy and I slid off for some ramen noodles and Gonzu dumplings for breakfast before we headed off to the station for our shinkansen trip to Hakone, our next stop in the Japanese Alps.

Thanks Kyoto.  Just fantastic!

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