Waking up today I felt pretty tired from a lot of walking yesterday around Nara, but with the sun shining it would have been a shame to waste the day around the house. So I decided to head out and decide where to explore on the way.
I headed into central Kyoto and assessed the mental map of the area that I had stored in my head, I knew I had explored most of central Kyoto, I’d headed directly west to Arashiyama, and I’d explored a substantial chunk of southern Kyoto. This mostly left me with a massive amount of sights to see on the eastern side, some sights in the north west, and the mountains out of the city to the north.
To Kinkaku-Ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)
I ruled out the mountains as I didn’t feel like hiking up them today, and with so much on the eastern side I decided to save that for a day when my energy levels were higher. This left me weighing up the option of Toei Studio Park, where you can explore period film sets and immerse yourself in feudal Japan, or heading to Kinkaku-Ji one of the highest rated places to see in the city.
With the opening hours for Toei Studio Park being a bit sketchy for this time of year I opted for Kinkaku-Ji. With Kinkaku-Ji about a 7km walk away I decided to try out the local bus system. A quick study of the timetable at the local bus stop and I worked out which bus I needed, my timing was great as I only had another 3 minutes before I arrived.
I knew as much to board the bus through the rear doors and that I needed to pay on exit, but hadn’t a clue how much it was going to be. A quick scan around the bus and it looked like it would be just 240 yen, a flat rate for any stop. Thankfully I had this in exact change, as the buses do not carry change. I felt good using the local bus, as there are sightseeing and tourist buses doing routes to key areas, but I’ve been enjoying living like a local while here. Also there were no other foreigners on this bus which made me feel more immersed in Japan.
The local bus stop was just a brief 3 minute walk from the temple, on the way I found a street vendor selling ‘Kyoto style pizza’, probably designed for tourists but feeling hungry I wasn’t going to turn the option down. I went with a lotus root and cod roe slice, it came wrapped in nice envelope, the pizza itself was fairly thin, and really delicious!
After scoffing down the pizza and stopping at a coffee vending machine I headed into Kinkaku-Ji temple, entry was around 500 yen (the seemingly standard entry fee price for most things), in exchange I was given a really awesome looking ticket.
Almost immediately after entering the main gates, which were much smaller and more low key than the more grand structures I’ve seen at a lot of temples, I set my eyes on the famous golden pavilion and reflecting pond.
The sight was amazing, seeing the golden building shine in the sun and reflect in the water was incredible! There were a lot of people around, certainly the most I’ve seen at any place I’ve been to so far (maybe with the exception of the festival at Nara). This was also really the first place I’d been to in Kyoto where I’d seen more than 2 westerners kicking around.
Moving round I got a closer view of the building, it was actually a rather simple structure, but still elegant in it’s design. I continued around the grounds, stopping to throw a bit of change into a pot in front of a small Buddah for luck. The walk around the grounds back to the gate was quite short, consisting of small pebble paths passing scenic trees and water features. The exit was full of stalls selling food, gifts and sweets, I tried some samples and made some notes of what to pick up later on.
The holy grail of vending machines!!
After leaving Kinkaku-Ji I headed along the roads to the west, having seen a map earlier I was fairly certain this would lead me to another temple. As I walked down the road I noticed a shiny golden rectangle glimmering in the sun, as I approached the mysterious golden block I realised I had stumbled upon the holy grail of vending machines!
The magical vending machine I had discovered was a Kirin machine, the most impressive looking machine by far, covered in a two tone shiny gold checkered pattern. A closer look inside revealed a wealth of my favorite machine coffee selection, the Fire coffee range!!! Until now I had only seen the Fire coffee in the gold can, the silver Speed Break and the Fire Special Roast, this had the full range of lots of new choices! This ranks as one of the coolest moments in Japan so far for me! I brought the Fire Great Bean and Fire black and white then headed off, noting the location of this sacred machine for future returns!
Ryoan-Ji Temple & zen garden
On a new coffee high I decided to head further along the road on my journey to the next temple. I was surprised that given how many people were at Kinkaku-Ji none of them were heading along to the next temple, instead they had all headed back to their tourist busses.
About 5 minutes and I had reached Ryoan-Ji temple, which it turns out is the one with one of the most famous zen gardens in Japan. It seemed that there were only a handful of people here, and no western tourists had ventured here, back to immersion in Japan it was.
I entered through the superb gardens, passing a massive pond with nice red trees around the perimeter. The pond had a few ducks happily chilling out at the edge. Entry to the temple was once again shoes off time, inside were some huge rooms with amazing wall panel paintings and tatami mats. Out on the side of the building was a beautiful zen garden.
The zen garden was relatively small, with lots of people sitting at the side contemplating life and taking in the surroundings, it was very peaceful and tranquil. The raked patterns of the pebbles paired with the small standing rocks on small islands in the middle was a great sight. Sadly the Sakura trees around the edge hadn’t yet bloomed here, I can imagine it being a much more impressive sight when they have. Though there were a lot of people around everyone was respecting the noise level and it was fairly quiet.
I sat at the side for about 20 minutes thinking over a few things and enjoying the warm sun before moving on. I followed the paths and headed through the temple grounds, passing by some moss covered floors full of impressive tress and many plum trees.
About halfway around there was a smaller shrine building, with a blooming plum tree, the sight of these never gets old.
Eventually I emerged from the other side of the pond and back to the entrance. From here I decided to continue further west as from memory of the map this would lead me to another large temple area.
I soon found the large wall of the temple area, however not being sure which way around the complex the entrance was I asked a Japanese man who was passing by, he responded saying he was headed there now and that I could go with him, this felt exactly like Shenmue!!
A couple of minutes later we arrived at the temple, he was headed to a different section so I thanked him and parted ways. I brought my entrance ticket and headed down the wide gravel path toward the first section of the temple, on the way in I passed by another finely rake section of pebbles, a real work of art!
After admiring the exterior I headed into the main temple building, I handed my ticket to gain entry and was told that pictures were ok of the inside, a nice surprise as generally they aren’t in most temples.
The interior was fantastic, all the rooms had been opened up and were lined with stunning wall art and ornaments placed in rows on at the front. The temple walkways were made of smooth natural wooden planks which felt great to walk on in just socks.
The rooms were really nicely done, a lot of rooms face the outside of the building, allowing lots of natural light in.
Walking around the wooden pathways listening to the sound of the trees and creak of the planks below was great. The walkways sported some great wooden finishing touches with small pieces of metalwork at the joints. The walkways had all been warmed by the sun which made them great to walk on.
They were also covered with a wooden rooftop covering all of the walkways, which again were really impressive.
The temple overlooked some amazing gardens and had massive areas of raked patterns on the ground, I’m going to say that this is probably the best temple area I have seen in Kyoto!! It didn’t have any crowds of people, and had the best combined interior and exterior experience so far, with photos allowed inside. I would make this a must see in Kyoto!!!
The grounds also contained a large pond in front of more relaxing zen gardens, again sitting on the raised wooden walkways overlooking these was fantastic.
This temple was certainly well kept, in some of the rooms the tatami you walked on was incredible, the weave of them is again a work of art you don’t see anywhere else.
After being blown away by the whirlwind of amazing things I’d just seen I headed out into the next area of the temple grounds, this was marked up as a collection of national treasure buildings. There were about four small shrine and temple buildings, a lot looked to be under renovation. They looked cool but didn’t compare to what I’d just seen.
The temple grounds also had some really nice woodland areas which led to a pagoda.
There were also some really great flowers around the grounds, a small rest area with some drinks and ice cream vending machines (yes, you can get Haagen-Dazs ice cream from them!).
Journey to the east
After exiting the temple grounds I decided to once again bring up the virtual map of Kyoto I had stored in my mind and decided heading directly east should lead me to a famous shrine, I knew given how far I’d traveled it was likely to be a 3-4km trek across the city.
With a couple of hours daylight left I started to walk, I passed by a small rail system that would have got me there sooner, but being a sunny day I was happy to walk and see what else I ran into on my journey across the north-western part of the city.
My decision to avoid the train and continue on foot proved a good one just a few minutes later when I saw some signs pointing to a temple through a really interesting old style part of the city. It wasn’t where I was headed, but it seemed like a fun adventure to head in and do some random exploration again. At the time I didn’t know what the name of the place was, I now know that it was Myoshin-Ji temple.
The area was strange as it seemed to be a massive compound that was surrounded by walls, however within the walls seemed to be a mix of smaller temples and older style houses. I’m fairly certain some places I went down were peoples driveways!
A map seemed to show the layout of the area, a maze of really cool paths and walls, with sections of buildings throughout the area. I spent a lot of time wandering around, heading south through the complex, discovering some really massive wooden halls and buildings.
I then finally exited through the southern gates. It was a great detour, however this now meant I had covered quiet a bit of distance out of my way.
Journey to the east (resumed!)
Because of the trip through the temple grounds I estimated I was now around 2-3 city blocks further south from the area I was aiming for. However as I still had quite a distance to travel east before I reached my target shrine I decided to just try and gradually weave my way north east as I continued the journey, which in theory should have then brought me out where I needed to be.
I passed by some really small shops selling a variety of unique crafted items, some small bars and plenty of vending machines where I stocked up on a refreshing cold drink, it had a cool race car picture on it which was enough to make me pick it out form the rest. Far as I could tell it was a fizzy cocktail of different fruit flavours and had lots of sugar, it certainly did well to cool me from the sun and walk.
After pushing on further through the side streets, I ended up emerging at a main road heading from north to south, I knew this meant I was very close to the last shrine of the day.
Kitano Tenman-Gu shrine
I ended up reaching my location of Kitano Tenman-Gu shrine just after they closed the main gardens which was a shame, but I can always come back another day, and it was due to me making detours on route.
Despite being late in the day and the main gardens being closed, this temple was still packed, as I progressed down the main pathway I passed through a large stone torii gate and some impressive looking copper / stone bulls, I’m assuming maybe the spirt anima represented at this shrine?
Heading into the main courtyards I could see why there were so many people here, the place is filled with variations of plum trees and sakura, even though not in full bloom there was plenty of colour and the grounds were beautiful!
Everyone was swarming around getting photos of the flowers, I wish the camera on my phone had a better macro as the auto focus kept focusing on the background, making it hard to get good close ups. (By I wish it had better settings, it might actually have I just haven’t looked properly)
The main shrine was full of people planning incense and ringing the prayer bells. Around the outside were more trees blooming and lots of lanterns hanging around the place.
In the far north east corner for the shrine there was a set of red gates, (torii) similar to those of Fushimi Inari.
The overall place was fantastic, another must see in Kyoto! I’ve actually since learnt that this is one of the best and most popular places for Sakura viewing, I will be making a trip back during the week they first bloom! This will also allow me to see the gardens.
The sword exhibits
To top off my amazing trip to this shrine, there was also a sword collection being exhibited at the shrine! This is only on for a couple of weeks and not something that’s normally here, so it was great to stumble upon this.
There were a lot of ancient blades on display, all exquisite pieces! The blades had been removed from the hilt and displayed separately above so you could see the inscriptions and writing on the ends that normally are normally not visible. The detail on them was like nothing I’d seen before. I have previously owned great Paul Chen katanas, but seeing these was like seeing legendary weapons! I spent a lot of time staring at the detail on all of the swords on show.
There were so many pieces I didn’t want to miss anything, more information was written below each piece, but only in Japanese. The Shinsengumi were famously based in Kyoto and I hope that a local museum may have some of their swords and artifacts.
As well as swords there were also some sets of samurai armour on display. The detail here was again incredible and it was certainly a visual which left a lasting impact.
After finally exiting the exhibit I made a final tour of the grounds collecting more pictures of the trees and flowers.
I left the shrine and decided to start the 7km walk back to the main station where I could jump on a train home. I could technically have used a bus or subway to get there, but a walk through Kyoto as the sun was setting was something that felt like a good idea. Passing through the city with a warm orange glow in the sky was a fantastic walk, and I even stumbled across a car that gave a nod back to Sega Rally, a Celica in full Castrol livery!
I ended up passing Nijo Castle, which looked great with the sun going down behind it. Shortly after I jumped on the subway to head home.
Back at the house
Upon arriving back I ended up grabbing dinner, things then went downhill a little as I saw some potentially bad news, I then ended up knocking back a substantial amount of vodka before getting some sleep. A strange end to the day, as I write this now things are still a bit confusing with my mind on other matters. Hopefully things sort themselves out.