From the current capital to the once capital. Kyoto is the historical heart of Japan with more temples than you can shake an incense stick at. We arrived late in the afternoon and had just enough time to have a quick look round a temple near the hostel as it was closing.
The first proper visit was to the Arashiama bamboo grove on the outskirts of the city. As grass goes, it’s fairly impressive. The bamboo has an almost blue hue to it when it’s that dense and is really thick at the base and most of the way up too. The walk want quite as long as we thought it would be so we decided to go into the gardens of an apparently famous film star from years gone by. I don’t think I know any of his films but the garden and tea house of his are stunning. Set on a hillside with zen gardens, winding paths and a view over the city I can imagine he spent a lot of time here.
We followed this with a stroll through a temple garden with a different feel. A bit more open and less of a retreat and more of a place for contemplation and reflection. No less beautiful yet beautiful in a different way that is hard to describe.
After we returned to the city we caught the subway up to an area composed mainly of… you guessed it, temples. These were mostly small comparison to some we’ve seen but still worth the visit. The one we went inside before everywhere closed was small but was by far the most peaceful place we’ve been in the past few months. The small zen garden was, well, very zen. A good way to wrap up the day really.
Our next day centred on a walk through the southern Higashiyama district. Visiting more temples. There’s rather a lot of them. Possibly more by area than anywhere else I’d guess. First on the list had a very intriguing description in the guide book that recommended going but deliberately wouldn’t say why. That all made sense when we went for a “look”. If you’re thinking of visiting Kyoto in the near future, just skip over the next little bit. The Tainai-meguri is a very unusual bit of temple and apparently represents entering the womb of a female bodhisattva. You descend a series of stairs into pitch black with a thick rope to guide you and nothing else. At least as far as you could see. For anyone who hasn’t been caving or done something similar it is a surprisingly rare thing to experience absolute dark and taking your hand away from the rope can be a very unnerving experience leaving you out of contact with everything except for the sense of up and down. Fortunately for most people I expect the experience is only short and takes you to a solitary stone lit up in the darkness where you can make a wish before the stairs eventually appear into the gloom and you ascend back into daylight.
The main temple at the site was sadly contained in a large shed undergoing renovations so we couldn’t really see much of it. We walked past more temples and down some old winding streets with shops offering tastes of various local treats. Chion-in is an impressive with its huge gate at the entrance but again it’s main building was also hidden in a big shed undergoing renovations. All templed out we wandered back to town and stopped at a recommended noodle joint which even had a queue to get in. I can see why. It served probably the best noodle soup either of us have ever had and at a reasonable price too.
Our last day in Kyoto took us to the outskirts again to see the Fushimi-Inari Taisha. This is a huge Shinto Shrine complex that winds its way up the side of a hill through thousands of Torii gates. It’s a surreal place at times an entirely different spiritual experience in comparison to visiting one of the many Buddhist temples or a church or mosque for example. It was a hot walk up to the top but I would definitely put this unique place at the top of the list for things to see in Kyoto.
Temples and shrines thoroughly covered for the trip our next stop is Himeji to see white egret castle.