Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kyoto: philosophy, silver pavilions and is that an aqueduct?

On my third day in Kyoto I hired a bike. Most of the city is quite flat, and besides the excellent footpaths there are lots of small roads to cycle on, so traffic isn't an issue at all. I wasn't sure if my sore leg could cope with the cycling, but as long as I walked up any steep bits my leg didn't seize up too much.

I crossed the river and headed northeast, to Northern Higashiyama. I bypassed Southern Higashiyama, probably the most commonly visited area, and headed further north, till I turned right, past a strange statue to manual labourers with small heads and huge hands, and onwards to Nenzen-In temple.

The gardens here, and those of the nearby Tenjuan temple, were lovely, with ponds, waterfalls, small water features and well presented trees. Admittedly they lack the colours of spring blossoms or fall foliage, but it's still possible to appreciate the structure and vistas they create. And the zen stone gardens are just magnificent. I also loved the beautiful painted screens in the rooms. Please note all photos taken without flash so no damage done.

Quite surprisingly, in the middle of this temple complex is an aqueduct. Incongruous European architecture in the middle of a Japanese landscape. I even scrambled up to the top of it for a gander.

After wandering around the Nenzen-In temple complex I got back on the bike and headed further north. It was now lunchtime, and rather than try one of the local tofu restaurants I decided to stop for lunch in a small Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki are cabbage patties, with various other ingredients added, cooked on a hotplate at your table. They are sort of like a spanish omelette or a frittata. Lots of westerners really like them, and after having one today I suspect it's because they are actually pretty bland and not overly testing for the western palate. Stodgy really…

After my tasteless but good filling lunch for a cyclist I continued north along the Path of Philosophy which is a car free path along a canal. It's surrounded by greenery, and from the quality of the adjoining houses it's pretty upmarket too. I stopped to buy some bananas at a little fruit stall with an honesty box, checked out a woodblock print gallery, and got completely bemused by the cat shrine, or whatever it is, complete with fat happy felines for you to feed and pet should you be so inclined. Shudder…

Next stop Ginkaju Temple. This is also known for its Silver Pavilion, and has a lovely wooden pavilion with white screens by a pond, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and some interesting dry stone gardens as well. It was quite crowded, but the groups tend to move on quite quickly, so if you take your time and don't hurry, you can usually snatch a little quiet time to appreciate the scene. I'm really enjoying the gardens, even if they aren't at their best right now, whereas I think I'm over the actual temples. There's only so many massive wooden structures with tiled roofs you can absorb before they all blend into one. Whereas capturing the garden vistas, that's much more fun.

After Ginkaju I made my way to a small temple called Honen-In. This gets a smattering of visitors, yet has a lovely garden, including two small raised dry stone beds, one with cherry blossom motifs in it. Pretty cool!!

Then I cycled over to Heian Jingu Shrine, which looked remarkably like something from China, but the garden was closing soon so I didn't cough up for the entrance fee, and instead headed home, back to the hostel through the streets of Gion, hoping, but failing, to see a geisha.

I cycled past this monument on a grassy mound, maybe an ancient burial site?

Back at the hostel I joined the staff and a few other guests in a Korean meal cooked by my French Canadian roomie, then headed off to bed early. I was off to the market in the morning.

That's next!

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