Up at 6:30; I rolled over and remembered where I am: in Kyoto, with D, on a holiday! Wonderful awakening.
Breakfast was an egg, tomato sauce and devon cold English muffin from the Family Mart, eaten while we strolled. Then we caught the 204 bus up to Ginkaku-ji (230 yen, I think, each). The buses are odd – you pay when you disembark, instead of on boarding, and you need to convert note to make the exact change to pay in, too. It goes straight into a little slot, and the driver won’t change it for you. There is a notes converter on the apparatus, which spits out coins for you.
We walked up a beautiful little street lined with white-walled, black-tile-roofed houses and souvenir shops, before Ginkaku-ji opened, and so commenced by hiking up the track leading to the summit of Daimonji-yama (lit. Mount Daimonji, and surprisingly there are a few of them around Kyoto, which threw us a bit at first), where there had been a burning Obon effigy last night.
Steep! We made a 400m elevation gain in two hours. The summit area turned into a series of false peaks, so we are uncertain if we made the summer proper – got to a picnic area overlooking Kyoto (if it hadn’t been fogged out, unlike our cool, misty view from the Obon platform further down) just as it started to rain. Spotted some purple, metallic beetles on the body of a dead toad – no photos, because it made my stomach flip, but I’m curious as to what they were. Some form of carrion eaters?
The spiderwebs were psychedelic – constructed not on a single plane like most that you see (envision the stereotypical web, stretching between branches or two corners of a room), but three-dimensional in form. Enough bugs.
Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, was meant to be plated in silver to compare to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, but the fellow who built Ginkaku-ji ran out of cash after having the pavilion and grounds constructed. The sand gardens here are impressive, though sand is a misnomer – they’re made of fine white gravel, piled a foot thick, before the familiar wavy patterns commence. The large cone symbolises Mt. Fuji.
After strolling out through the moss gardens, we enjoyed a shaved ice (covered in shredded grapefruit, citrus jelly and lemon syrup for me), and a mochi ice-cream (for D), and eyeballed the souvenirs. Back up the hill to the gate of Ginkaku-ji, and then right, following the top road alone narrow, one-lane neighbourhood roads to Honen-in.
Honen-in was lovely and quiet, with cemetery and gardens, less trafficked by tourists than Ginkaku-ji. In the dark photo, the left-hand path leads to a cemetery, the right-hand steps to the city. I liked the (fairly obvious) symbolism, and the odd shape it made.
Downhill from Honen-in, and we joined the Philosopher’s Walk, a path which follows a long, meandering canal. It is planted about with cherry trees and maple, making Spring and Autumn the times of year when it throngs with people. In Summer, it is verdant and breezy. D shot some wonderful butterflies and sleek, black dragonflies with his zoom lens. We detoured from the Philosopher’s walk for many temples, including one with a pair of ridiculously grinning guardian lions.
When we reached the end, we walked back to the ryokan and showered before walking out and finding a 1,000 yen set lunch – French fusion at Cafe Pied de Chat. Cold chicken and fresh leek on noodles (slightly salty, but very tasty), cold potato cream soup (which was sweet and unbelievably delicious), ginger egg roll and (for D) cold vegetables in tomato sauce, and (for me) cold caviar noodles, which were regrettable – I managed one spoonful, through no fault of the dish. I just hated the flavour. It rained as we ate, then cleared.
After that we went to Blue Parrot II, an antique store, and the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre, which had lovely, delicated damascened sword guards, pendants and jewellery.
In the later part of the afternoon we walked to the Kyoto Municipal Museum…which is closed on Mondays. So instead, we paid the 600 yen per person fee to enter the Heian Shrine gardens. At first, we weren’t entirely impressed: it was jungleish, wild and overgrown, more like a botanical gardens growing rampant than a shrine garden. Then finally, we came to the lake.
A wide expanse of mirror-still water, hemmed by Japanese maples and dotted with small, vegetated islands. To the right, across the lake, a traditional Japanese building, the walls panelled in natural timber, the roof tiles the beautiful, ubiquitous bamboo style. And directly opposite us, at the further expanse, a covered bridge crossing the lake. It seemed too large a body of water to fit in the size of the gardens, the huge body of water bisected by a long, covered walkway.
We lingered there, taking photos… and then lingered even longer as the rain began pouring. A very serenity- and relaxation-inducing forced sit-in.
We made it back to the shrine gates in time for an even bigger downpour to commence. After temple staff started closing the shrine gates, we slipped out the tiger-side (West) entrance, and watched the the umbrella-toting tourists waddle out into the rain like a flock of ducklings, one after the other across the downpour-beaten gravel.
Eventually we gave up on waiting for the rain to cease, put on raincoats, dry-bagged our cameras and splashed back to the ryokan, wetting our shoes in the process.
Another shower, then dinner – the first place we tried was unwelcoming; we got told it was smoking only, which was a polite hint to get lost, and left. Ended up eating at a little restaurant close to the ryokan, and were given sheets of yatsuhashi wrapped around beanpaste for dessert – truly lovely, the combination and cinnamon and red bean. Apparently these are a Kyoto speciality sweet.
Went to the women’s onsen after dinner, wearing one of the ryokan yukatas. I had the place to myself- the key to getting into the steaming bath, it seems, is to sit under the hot shower for a while first, so that your skin warms up. The walls were cream and timber, little wooden stools and pails beneath individual flexible showerheads against the wall – you bathe sitting down, so they were suspended at waist height to a standing woman. The floors were dark, oddly-shaped black flagstones fitted together to create a seamlessly interlinked floor, which was angled slightly so that the water from cleaning preparatory to the bath drained away into a drain in one corner.
Our room in the ryokan: