Day 8 – Kyoto
We got up early and went straight to Ginkakuji – the silver pavilion. Ginkakuji was built by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, whose grandfather had build Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion. It was originally built as his retirement villa, then turned into a Zen temple after his death. It’s beautiful, and because we were there early (around 9 am), there were few people around.
The buildings are surrounded by a sand garden, meticulously raked. The most striking feature is a massive cone of sand, which I later learned is called the “moon viewing platform”. I have no idea how they get sand to stay in this shape.
Gardeners were sweeping the fallen leaves to make it look pristine. Ginkakuji had more gardeners than anyplace else we visited.
As a result of all this, Ginkakuji has some of the most beautiful grounds of any temple or shrine we visited. Just look at this:
We then followed the Philosopher’s walk through the dappled sunshine along a little stream. It’s name arose because Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro is thought to have used it for daily meditative walks. When we first started on the Walk, I wasn’t that impressed. It’s a rather narrow stone and dirt path, surrounded early on by trinket stores and shaved ice eateries. But as we got to the second half, the touristy stores fell away, and the Walk asserted some of its magic. In particular, we came upon a woman playing a recorder – not for money, just for the pleasure of playing outdoors. The music was beautiful.
After the walk, we took a tea break at a restaurant written up in our Frommer’s called Kodaiji Rakusho Tearoom – the only way we knew it was the right one, was by comparing the symbols in the book to the one’s on the sign. No romanji name was visible, although they did have an English menu. The only other people there were another pair of tourists –also carrying the same book. The book write-up lauded the small beautiful garden. It was lovely. We sat inside at a table and looked at out this flowing creek with rather large, beautiful carp. We were able to go out a sliding door and explore the garden.
Next, we wandered by the Kodai-ji temple. We almost walked right by it, thinking that it was getting late in the day for all we had planned to do. This temple is between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizudera. It was founded in 1605 by the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as Nene, to honor her husband and make sure that his spirit was at rest. It is a lovely garden and a wonderful garden stroll. Ann had remembered her Pilgrim Book and took it to be signed. The woman doing the stamp/sign explained carefully each of the calligraphy elements. She was curious as to how Ann had gotten to know about the Pilgrim Books, and Ann explained that she had learned about them on her previous trip, as part of a Fullbright program to bring U.S. teachers over to Japan.
We finally picked up a 100 bus to take us near Kiyomizu dera. We found a wonderful restaurant for lunch – Onen. Ann ordered a bento box and I ordered Soba noodles with pork.
Next, we entered the wonderful chaos that is Kiyomizudera and wandered about. It was fairly hot and we were both sweaty. Ann bought a sunbrella, which Jim declined to share (mostly) so that he could keep his eye out for new photo opportunities.
Kiyomizudera was founded in 780 at the site of a waterfall, and it is one of the largest and most important Japanese Buddhist shrines. Certainly, it was the most crowded, which also meant it was great for people watching (and people photography).
Note the three streams of the “waterfall” above. According to Japan-guide.com, “visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.”
On our way down the hill from Kiyomizudera to catch the subway home, we passed a number of shops. While waiting outside one of those shops, I caught this picture of a real geisha headed out for an evenings work.
We got back and identified a nearby restaurant from one of our guidebooks. We asked the concierge who said it did exist and pointed to a place on the map, Menami – serving family style Kyoto food. We walked up and down the street looking for it. Came back to the hotel asked a different young man – who printed up a photo for us, and found it on google maps, etc. We did find it – booked up! But we could come back in an hour. So we did. It was so delightful! We again sat at the counter – no English menu, but the hostess spoke some English. We just pointed to the things on the counter that we wanted and they brought them. The men sitting next to us, shared some of their corn tempura with us, we shared some duck with them. We sort of communicated with the chefs who were interested if we liked the food. We watched a young chef skewer live small fish and prepare them to be grilled – oh my! It was a wonderful experience. Well worth the effort to find.