Kyoto is a big place you guys…
Our first full day in Kyoto began with a big Western breakfast. It felt good to not sleep on the floor for a night, but at least the bathroom still has “toilet slippers” so the Japanese charm isn’t completely lost. I can’t decide if putting on community shoes to go to the bathroom is more or less gross than what we do (standing in everyone’s missed urinal shots…talking about guys here…) but I’m leaning towards more…something about sharing shoes with someone gives me the willies.
Anyhow, we got ready for the day under the pretense that it would rain on us but it didn’t until later that evening. Needless to say carrying around an umbrella that isn’t needed is fairly annoying. We hopped in the 205 bus which ran through Kyoto station and up the Eastern border of the city to an area called Higashiyama, and got off at the Gojozaka stop.
Kyoto was the Imperial Capitol of Japan from the mid 800s until it was moved to Tokyo in the late 1700s. As a result there are shrines and castles and what not ALL OVER THE PLACE. I mean it, you can just walk down the street and stumble into one. Because if its origins as a capitol, Kyoto also attracted a large percentage of the religious and artistic population of the time. The former built great shrines/monuments for their particular sects (mostly Buddhism) up on the sides of the mountains that border the city to the north, east, and west. Due to their remote nature from the hustle and bustle, they have remained in place and mostly untouched upon by the sprawl of Kyoto.
- Kyoto Station
- Maruyama Park
- Yasube is somewhere around here…couldn’t tell you where though…damn…
The Higashiyama area, for us anyway, was highlighted by Kiyomizu temple. We walked uphill through a quaint little village and entered the massive complex. The shrines themselves were pretty standard, but the architecture is what stood out to me. The particular sect that this shrine was built for was based upon the idea that the land is the purest of all things (or something) and it constructed its main hall in such a way as to “borrow” the surrounded scenery and incorporate it into structure. The effect was awesome. Standing out on a cantilevered porch extended out over a mountain gorge was an pretty inspiring site. Across this gorge on top of the adjacent mountain ridge was a bright orange pagoda. We made our way over to it and then back down to the front.
We continued north through the winding streets, spotted a few fake Geishas (Feishas?…yep, I’m going with Feishas…actually I think they have a special name), and found our selves in Maruyama Park. There was some hype around this place but we pretty much breezed through…Kanazawa had ruined us for gardens.
The last stop on the outing was Chion-in Temple. This place featured a massive gate that was enhanced by the paved boulevard leading up from Higashioji-dori. Behind the gate was a stairway that led up the height of the gate itself and then opened up into the main shrine complex. There was a giant bell. I wanted to ring it. I wanted to ring it bad. Reeeeeeeaaaallllly bad. Unfortunately, the hammer was one of the only things in Japan that I can’t reach.
We made our way back down and caught the 206 bus from Gion back to Kyoto station. We were famished so we ate a serviceable bowl of noodles in the train station at something that I imagined to be akin to a Bob Evans. We also got a vanilla and green tea swirled ice cream cone that came with sweet bean paste (way more oishī than it sounds) and two…well…two…uh, balls…which is about all I can say about them.
We jumped on the JR Nara Line and took it two stops south to Inari.
Fushimi Inaru Shrine is the coolest place, in my opinion, that we have been to yet. Built into the side of Mt. Inari, the…complex?…is a maze of paths (there was a map, but we couldn’t read it, and it was totally not to scale) and shrines that wind from the base to summit. The trick however, and what gives the place all it’s charm, is that all the paths are enclosed by thousands of red-orange torii gates of varying sizes. In some places they are packed so tightly that it is like walking through a bright orange mine shaft.
To top it off, each gate has inscriptions written in it as they can be sponsored by businesses wishing for good fortune. This got me going a little bit, but ultimately the beauty of the place won me over. It really was an epic experience, and I do try to choose my superlatives carefully.
We traversed about 3 miles of trail, that included going up and down 70 flights of stairs, in a little over 2 hours and we took A LOT of pictures…I mean every twist and turn of the path was a spectacle (I played with the shutter speed on the camera quite a bit…arg, needed a tripod)…and left around dusk to head back to Kyoto station.
We hopped on the 208, got of at Nanajo-Omiya Kyotosuizokukan-mae (lol) and walked “the last mile” to the place.
Buses. Remember, I never said anything about buses. Only trains.
We were heading back over towards Gion for dinner, specifically an area called Pontocho on Nishikiyacho-dori. The bus system thus far had been easy enough to sort out…you look at the map, figure out the route number that goes where you want from where you are…walk to a stop…get on the correct side of the street, and get on when the bus that matches your number comes by. Paying is easy too. You drop ¥220 into the bowl when you get off, or you buy a ¥500 all day pass that you scan through each time. Easy.
There was one other piece of information that we (okay, I) wasn’t accounting for and that was the destination of the bus. It is clearly spelled out under the route number of oncoming buses, but since most buses just do loops it hadn’t been an issue. The 205 bus however has multiple destinations. Instead of getting on the route headed for Gion via Kyoto station, we got on the one headed for Tojo. Further, rather than making a loop, this bus simply ends in the middle of “Kyoto-Compton” (not really, it was just dark and we were lost…besides there is no such thing in Japan…there is like one police car and the officers carry smiles instead of weapons) and forces you to get off. We were approached by a nice young fella who helped us get on the correct bus (207 to the rescue!) and get back on track.
We arrived in Gion and cut north along the river. The Pontocho is this nice little tree covered street that has a canal running along side…it looks a lot like Park Ave in Winter Park actually…well, if Park Ave allowed “lady bars” on it, was double sided, and was 4x as long.
We tucked down a little alley way, then down another and settled on a place called Yasube for dinner. One of the cuisines we were supposed to try in Kyoto was Okonomiyaki; they had it and a menu in Janglish (right!) so we went in.
The only way I can describe Okonomiyaki is like making hashbrowns, and then topping it with an omelette, and then topping it with veggies and protein, and then grilling it all on a skillet. Another way to describe it is: Delicious drunk food. They were served on a hot plate built into your table (you could cook them yourself if you wanted) and were accompanied by sweet and spicy sauces that you brushed on. It was pretty good, but not the best thing we’ve had.
After dinner we walked through the alleys of Gion. 99% of streets in Kyoto are N-S or E-W (purposely done at its founding after the Chinese city Xi’an) so when you look down one, even back streets and alleys, they appear to go on forever. You wouldn’t be half wrong if you thought this either; you could explore a square mile for a life time and not see everything.
We passed some of the “seedier” areas…those highly populated with “lady bars” (with hilarious names like BooBs and Humps Place) and escort bars full of #business men out doing #business. From what I’ve been told the whole escort bar custom itself is not “seedy” (you should look it up), but I can’t help but think that there is a darker side to what is advertised lurking somewhere around here.
We took the 206 bus (and let the 205 go by) back towards the place but it was the last bus of the night (11pm) so we walked the rest of the way.
Kyoto is a big place you guys…
Edited 3/18/2017 for spelling, “grammar”, image rendering and Google Maps API v2.