Day 13

This day began similarly to the previous few.  We had a strong desire to get up early but we were doing an awful lot during each day and I hadn’t been sleeping well.  We got up anyway and made the best of it, grabbing a fairly quick breakfast and getting out of the hotel for around 9am.  We hopped on the subway nearby to then change onto the a main JR line to take us to Arashiyama, an area in the western hills of the city.

We had a bit of a walk from the station to the start of our walking tour but soon enough we got to Tenryu-ji temple.  We only saw the gardens here and though we found a very pretty pond next to the main building, the rest of the garden wasn’t quite as good as some of the excellent ones we had already seen.  The reason to start here though was that the exit of the garden went straight into Arashiyama’s bamboo grove and you get to walk right through the middle of it.  I’ve walked though plenty of forests but there is something pretty damn cool about going through bamboo because it just has such striking lines.

We strolled north through Arashiyama afterwards past a few smaller temples.  We eventually stopped in Gio-ji which is a small but very atmospheric little temple on the hill with a dark,mossy garden full of trees and bamboo and very few tourists.  There were spiders hanging between the bamboo everywhere here and while Claire saved me from walking into one of them, I don’t think the couple behind us were so observant.

We then continued up the hill for some distance through some very traditional small houses and shops to a large orange/red tori gate.  We walked a bit too far beyond this and ended up at the foot of another shrine, along way from a taxi rank to get us over to north-west Kyoto.  Luckily for us as we walked back down to the tori gate we were approached by an empty taxi!  Not only this, he was the lovely kind of taxi driver who stops at a picturesque lake on the way to take a photo of you and then uses highlighter on a map (whilst he’s driving) to show you where you’ve just come from and the route between the main temples in the area.

We hopped out, now in the last major temple sight-seeing district of Kyoto to see Ninna-ji, the first of 3 temples we were looking for.  We were treated to a quite extensive building complex which was originally built as a retirement home for one of the emperors and converted by his son into a Buddhist temple.  We had lovely views out over the pond to a nearby pagoda and got to walk up to the emperor’s own room, surrounded by a nightingale floor.  This was on a par with any of the other temples we’d seen and there were far fewer people at it which made it an excellent experience.

Afterwards we took a quick look at the pagoda in the grounds, grabbed a short drinks break and then headed outside to find some lunch.  I didn’t like the first option and we were worried there wouldn’t be too many more so we dived into the second as we saw they did yaki soba (soba noodles cooked with meat and veg on a teppanyaki hotplate).  We sat at the counter as the tables were hosting a small school trip of only 7 kids who had traveled up for a few days from Tokyo.  It was really fun to watch them cook my yaki soba and Claire’s pork steak.  We also saw them cooking okonomiyaki for the kids which is like a thick filled omelette.  I chatted a little to the school teacher and made my exit in style by smacking my head on the wood above the counter.  We weren’t expecting much of this place but the food was great and they were very friendly.

We walked along the road to Ryoan-ji, a temple famous for having a very nice zen garden.  Unfortunately there were a lot of people in the temple and it wasn’t a terribly large zen garden either so it didn’t make much of an impression.  With the heat and tiredness we also found our own moods heading south so we decided we needed a proper break to get the most out of the last temple on the list.  We talked about 25 minutes up the road and found a cafe just outside where we ended up with some coke and ice cream and I half collapsed on the table for a while.

Japan is a very clean place as a whole but there’s one convention that shocked us, and in this cafe it was even worse!  In almost all of the toilets we had come across so far in public, there was no soap or drying facility, just a tap.  In this cafe there wasn’t even a tap or a sink in the toilet.  Given that most of the toilets have space-age controls on them to control water pressure and multiple bidet sprays it just doesn’t make a lot of sense that they don’t much go in for soap outside of the hotel facilities.

After the break we headed up to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavillion.  On our first full day in Kyoto we started with Ginkaku-ji (the silver pavillion) and this would complete the pair.  We paid the small entrance fee and joined the throngs of tourists to go look at a building covered in gold leaf.  Photos had made it look yellow to me and I wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement for this one before the trip but once the sun came out and we rounded the corner to see it then I understood why there were so many tourists.  It reflects beautifully in the pond that it sits next to and they give you several good vantage points to try and snap a picture.  Sadly for us there was a small wind and the reflections weren’t going to win me any photo competition prizes.  We toured round the gardens afterwards and then hopped into a taxi to make our way back to the hotel and we were both very happy to see the bed for a late afternoon nap.

We kept our options open for dinner and headed out to get a look at a Tonkatsu restaurant (fried pork).  I have always had a thing for chicken katsu as I mentioned before but Japan seems to almost always offer pork instead and I’ve always thought that outside of bacon that I wasn’t too interested.  The place looked good and had fantastic reviews so we went down a little tunnel from the mall and felt like we had entered a different world.  We had to pick which quality of pork we wanted and how much of it.  We then had it as part of a set with rice, miso soup and shredded cabbage.  They had a variety of different sauces to try on the pork and they also brought us some sesame seeds to grind ourselves (we weren’t sure quite what to put them on afterwards so a bit went everywhere).  I had 120g of their best tenderloin and it tasted so good that I wished I’d had just a bit more.  The spicy sauce was really good too.  To top things off I finally found Uemeshu available here which is a plum brandy.  It was one of only 2 things Sarah was really familiar with from Japan outside of the obvious stuff and I had made it a mission to track some down.  Luckily for me it was really rather tasty and I didn’t have to head home having failed my quest with my tail between my legs.

After dinner it was time to get packed up ahead of going back to Tokyo for the final day.  One final strange thing we’ve seen here so much has been selfie sticks.  People attach their phones and cameras onto the end of a stick and use it to take better selfies.  These things are apparently all the rage in Asia and I guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of them around Bath soon.  The Japanese love taking selfies and half of them seem armed with these new toys.  I can’t say that i’m tempted, but I have for once tried to take some photos of us on this trip and having a camera where the back screen could flip up and be used for a selfie has come in very handy!  Hopefully a couple of them aren’t rubbish.