Dan in Japan: Day 7

Temple day. I’m staying in the downtown area of Kyoto, so I haven’t really seen a lot of the famous temples yet. Although I know that the famous temples are a little bit out of the town, I am quite surprised at how big and busy the modern Kyoto is. It feels a lot more hectic and bustling than Tokyo, but then I have also read that this time of year is when the Japanese travel a lot, so it could be that the city is full of travelling Japanese people too.

I’ve saved several blogs and articles about Kyoto, and I’ve decided to tackle the eastern part of the city first. My number one destination is Fushimi Inari-taisha, but I’ve heard that it’s within the first three days of the new year that Japanese people should perform their new year rituals, and as it is the 3rd of January I decide to do that tomorrow when maybe it won’t be so busy.

I set the map to give me directions to head to Kiyomizudera temple. This large complex is set upon a hillside above the modern city and gives great views. I follow the map south of the hotel and then turn left and cross the river. It begins to rain a little, but I’ve got a hat and a scarf and it’s just a light rain, so I think I’m going to be okay.

I get to the street that winds up to the temple. It’s narrow and crowded now with tourists, and is thronged with shops restaurants and shop selling souvenirs. The rain comes again, and I see umbrellas for sale for 400 yen. I decide against it, as it seems to be brightening up. But as I get to a small intersection at the top of the hill the rain turns into snow, so I dodge into a small shop selling pottery and buy one of the umbrellas outside the shop for 500 yen. I spend some time attempting to capture it, but it’s a wet snow – more like sleet than snow – and it doesn’t come out well.

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I get to the entrance to the temple. Here are the crowds, who seem to have come up another street that runs parallel to the one I walked up; there is a car park near here with tour buses on it. Hundreds of people are standing outside the large torii gate trying to get photos and selfies. I slide by and go through to the other side where there is no one and get some photos there.

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Behind me is a pagoda, which can be seen from the hillside behind the temple in the famous view. The snow and rain has now stopped and seems to be sliding down the hillside I’ve just walked up. The sun bursts out behind the pagoda and the sky is blue. I regret getting that umbrella now.

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No matter. I enter the complex after buying my ticket and have a look around the inside of the temple. It’s dark and it’s under construction. There are people worshipping and tourists taking photos. I contemplate buying a good luck charm, but decide against it.

 

I slip out of the back and walk along the hillside to get some pictures of the famous view. It’s a lovely site, but I feel bad for not really knowing the history or the significance of the building. People here are lining up for photos and selfies. I quietly find a spot and try some photos in aperture priority, attempting to get a bokeh shot with a blurred background.

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I walk down through the grounds and out of the complex. I’m walking back down the street when I see a turning to the right. I had forgotten about this part. It is a famous street full of old buildings that winds up the hillside. I’m coming in from the top, so I get the view coming down. There are tons of people, and I thread my through and down along the street. Now the snow starts again, and I’m glad I do indeed have the umbrella.

 

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I set my directions to Nazenji temple, which is heralded as the most brightly coloured temple in all of Kyoto. Here it is crowded again. There is a performer on a stage and huge crowd of people is standing around watching her. Here are some more rituals, and I pay another 100 yen and decide to get my fortune told. I choose between a green and a red box and I must shake out a stick. On the end of the stick is a number. This I do, but I don’t know what I do next. I get red 8. In the end I work out that I have to take the colour and number to a person sitting in a building and then receive a paper correlating to that number. Once I receive the paper, however, it is all in Japanese. I sheepishly go back to the girl and ask if she is able to translate it. She tells me it means that my fortune for love is only so-so and that I should “pray to the god.”. That’s a hundred yen wasted on something I already knew, then.

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It’s approaching lunchtime now. I see a market to the side of the temple and I head down there. It is thronged. Seriously jammed with people. I shuffle along at the pace of the people, but then I spot some fried noodles. I decide to get some and shuffle along whilst shovelling them into my mouth with chopsticks.

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I am now out of the complex, and it has begun to snow again. The wind has picked up and the temperature has dropped. I had put my beanie into my bag this morning, so I decide to switch hats and use the beanie because my ears are getting cold. Sadly, I didn’t bring my gloves, so my hands are freezing due to following the map on my phone and carrying my umbrella.

 

 

I’m looking for another temple and the philospher’s path. By now I have walked about 8 km, but I’m not flagging just yet. I’m looking for Eikan-do temple, but I’m distracted by a huge red torii gate in the middle of a street as I’m walking there. It’s enormous, and I find it fascinating enough to stand in the middle of the street and risk the wrath of taxi drivers as I try to get a photo.

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Eikan-do is an interesting place. It’s much, much quieter, for one thing. It’s also a lot more sombre, as it doesn’t have the bright red colours of the other complexes. I pass through the enormous gate and walk through the beautifully kept grounds. It’s interesting that there is a large brick viaduct running through the back of the grounds, but I never find out what it was for.

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I trudge onwards towards the philospher’s path, which I have read about but don’t really know much about except that it runs for a couple of kilometres and is one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. By now I feel I am flagging; I remember a friend in Seoul saying that Kyoto is nice, but it becomes like a theme park. I start to feel this as I walk along the streets. I’m popping into temples to take a look around and try and get some nice photos, but I’m not learning much about the history or significance of these places, as there is not a lot of signage or information.

I don’t realise I have reached the philospher’s path until I am a few hundred metres along it. It’s a small gravel path that runs alongside a small brook. For some reason I had it in my head that it would be like the hillside street, but no. The snow is falling again now – thick, sticky flakes, not the wet, slushy ones that we had earlier, and it’s suddenly quite pretty.

 

As I am looking around I see a small pottery studio. Here you can have a go on the wheel and make a small souvenir for yourself. Last year I had a strong desire to try a pottery class, as I had never done it before and it seemed interesting after I watched a TV series about it. I searched for a long time for classes in Seoul but could never find one catered towards foreigners (i.e. in English). This was one of the smaller contributing factors in my decision to leave, as I got frustrated that some things I wanted to try and do could not be done. I look at the prices and I’m unsure – 1800 yen to make a bowl. I reckon I’ve got enough cash to last me until I leave in a couple of days, and I don’t want to have to get any more money out if I can avoid it.

 

I hover around, but I decide to give it a go. I step sheepishly inside. The potter speaks English well enough. I’m the only customer, as two have just let. He seems surprised to see me, as he was busying himself in the back room, but he is very welcoming. It’s nice and warm inside and I suddenly realise how cold I have been outside when my hands start to tingle in the warmth.

The potter sits me at a wheel and throws a small amount of clay. I’ve opted for a small bowl. He gives me instructions on what to do: first I put both thumbs into the middle so that I can make a hollow in the clay. Then I’m to use my forefinger and thumb to lightly pinch the outside to raise it and make it thinner. I’m giving it a go but my fingers are still warming up and I end up squeezing too hard and it collapses. Never mind. The potter throws the clay again and we go back to the start. This time I am more gentle, and I manage to successfully make a small bowl. It will take three weeks to dry and be fired, but then it will be shipped back to the UK for me.

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Happy with having had a small go at doing something I’m interested in, I make my way back towards the city. There are two small temples I’m interested in seeing, since they are nearby. I follow the map and enter the back of one of the complexes. This is a more Bhuddist-seeming temple, judging by the large statue of Bhudda outside. There are several graves in the grounds too, and I peep across. The complex backs onto another, and I make my way through there and out into the streets.

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Now I must find my way back to the city. I check my Apple Watch and see I have walked 15 km around the town. I look for directions on the map and I have to walk another 5 or 6 km to the hotel. There seems to be a bus stop nearby that could take me there, but I can’t find it on the right side of the road, so I give up and walk along the street until I get to the river. I decide to walk along the river front, as I remember that the coffee shop I was in last night (oh, alright, it was Starbucks) was on the river front. I feel the need for a sit down and a warm up, so I walk along the river. People are jogging and riding bicycles and the sun is tarting to go down in the late winter afternoon. Despite the cold it is very nice, and I enjoy the walk, but I enjoy the warm coffee even more.

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I don’t feel like doing much more after walking over 20 kilometres in the cold. I’ve got another day of temple walking tomorrow, and I’m going to the big one: Fushimi Inari-taisha. There is nothing much that I want to do in the town tonight, I grab some food from the bakery to take back to the hotel and research my route for tomorrow, and then I’m done for the day.

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