Yet another early start on our Japanese road trip, this time we are off to the city of Kyoto. In my world Kyoto is famous for being the headquarters of the makers of the greatest videogames of all time, Nintendo. I’ve been before, but only on business and never made or indeed had the time to see the sights of this wonderful city.
This time I was determined to make up for lost time and get round as many of the famous sites as we could. We were certainly going to need our walking legs!!
It was a bright sunny day in Kanazawa, in total contrast to the day before and we felt excited. Kyoto has more shrines, temples and castles than any other city in Japan and we knew we would never be able to get round them all. So as usual, focus was required. Kirsty had done all the research and had a clear plan of attack.
A quick scoot via the Kyoto railway system and we found our hotel which was brilliant, again. We dropped our bags and headed straight out.
We walked to the Nino-Jo castle which dates from 1679. Pictures inside the castle were forbidden and shoes-off was the order of the day. Absolutely no smoking was allowed given that the inners of the castle were all wood and all on one level. The wall paintings were exquisite. Kirsty and I both remarked on the differences between this architecture and interior design versus European castles and country houses come chateaux. Once again the simplicity and minimalism won the day. No clutter, no over the top garish decoration, no artefacts just room to move, breathe and above all think. The castle was enormous and the gardens serene and magnificent.
In case you get too hot, there are external water mist sprayers called Uchimizu everywhere in Japan which help you to cool down. It has to be said that the humidity in Japan has certainly been a factor. Something the rugby players have noticed, often to their cost, reducing the ball to a bar of slippery soap!
We popped back to our hotel as it was 3pm and we could get into our room. A quick turn around and a bite to eat from the 7Eleven and we were all set for some temple and shrine visiting. We had to take the bus to Kiyomizu Dera which is a big temple in the east of the city. It’s a Buddhist temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 778 with the present buildings being built from 1633 and is a short yomp up the hill along with hundreds of other tourists. There were plenty of fellow hikers in traditional Japanese dress and so many people you had to wonder if the place could cope. It does make me laugh to see so many people posing for their Instagram and Facebook pictures all of which are taken as if the subjects are the only people around. We are as guilty as the rest of course, but it’s like a massive film set with the actors doing their selfies only for the rest of the world to be the other side of the camera.
Instagram won’t show these crowds
One of many shrines here
As usual there was no rubbish or litter anywhere and very few litter bins. This never ceases to amaze and inspire me, given the litter epidemic we have back home in the UK. And there is never any graffiti, unless it’s an art installation!
We saw the sun go down over Kyoto, walked around the whole site and then decided to find the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Thousands of people leaving the Temple at sundown
Using Apple and Google Maps, we navigated what promised to be a 45 minute walk reasonably well. At one stage we were very much off piste in a residential area at dusk. In any other country in the world, one would have felt a little bit anxious. But this is Japan and aside from a few people out walking their dogs, we saw and heard no one.
Eventually we reached our destination and enjoyed another massive site which dates from 816, but the main construction dates from 1499. The site is enormous and we couldn’t get to it all given it was now dark. Thousands of iconic Torii, the orange uprights, line the route uphill from the lower gate to the inner shrine. Above that are thousands of mounds (tsuka) for private worship, much like a graveyard. There are statues of little foxes with red neckerchiefs (kitsune) all around the mounds and these are apparently symbolic of the messengers. The mix of natural darkness and bright light by the mounds and these fox statues reminded m of the scene in the graveyard in The Omen. It was pretty spooky and a little unnerving if truth be told.
We walked back to the station, pretty exhausted and if I am completely honest, slightly fractious. We eventually worked out which station and line would get us to the Gion district which was the traditional Geisha area and had a late dinner in a small, but excellent restaurant upstairs somewhere before walking back to our hotel in Shijo Street. We got in around midnight completely knackered but pleased to have seen so much of Kyoto on foot.