Day 12: Konnichiwa Kyoto!

Before moving on to the city I was most excited about prior to visiting Japan, I had just enough time to see a bit more of Kurashiki. Sans downpour. In fact, 8am was a great time to see it without so many people around. Deserted temple areas may just be the most tranquil, serene settings I can think of.

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It wasn’t long before we sped onto the tour highlight: Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital city until the transfer of the imperial court to Tokyo in 1869 at the time of the Imperial Restoration. It was also left relatively unharmed by the bombing of WWII (as fr as I know this was because of Kyoto’s historical and cultural importance, but then the internet has also informed me it was because the US Secretary of War had his honeymoon there. I’ll read a book and come back to this.) Anyway, the result is Kyoto is the place in Japan to go for temples, culture, and general old ‘real’ Japanese things.

Lunch was pretty real. It was one of the few places I visited where I really noticed the smoking-inside-is-ok thing. I didn’t think it would bother me too much (I don’t mind the smell, and the smoky atmosphere makes me think I’m in an old film), however it was quite extreme when you’re trying to appreciate a fine platter of raw fish.

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We only had 2 days in Kyoto, which I would say isn’t even the minimum amount of time you want there. I think what I did see would be classed as some of Kyotos ‘must do’s’ but it’s still a grain of rice in Kyoto’s infinite sushi bowl… I’m still thinking about the lunch. Ahem. To start, the Path of Philosophy/Philosopher’s Walk (not to be confused with anything Harry Potter related) is a pleasant stroll alongside a cherry tree-lined canal. You can see some temples on route, and do some philosophising. I did both, and attempted to snap pictures of ladies in kimonos.

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At the end, we saw Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavilion, which is a little misleading as there isn’t much silverness about it. The grounds are quite lovely, another ¥500 to cough up.

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I got fairly frustrated whilst walking around despite the beautiful grounds, purely because it was the first time on the trip I found myself part of the cattle herd that is a group of tourists. I know, I know – it’s hanami, what did I expect – but tourism was the biggest downer of Kyoto. If I return, it will be in a quieter season, and for far longer. In general, I loved ‘quiet’ Japan. Parts that felt neglected and undiscovered made me feel most in awe of the country. After that particularly quiet wander I had around Kurashiki that morning, Kyoto felt just a little too… Disney World.

Enough booing, the joy of hanami is partly seeing all the Japanese people so happy and drunk, and we did find the perfect park to do so. For me, it wasn’t about cherry blossom viewing, more about pissed-salary-man viewing. The following snaps are from an afternoon in central Kyoto, near the popular Gion district, and the evening, where things get rather magical.

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I really wish I could have captured the evening better. We had been wandering far too long trying to find somewhere to eat. Kyoto is apparently great for food, but like in Paris, I struggled. You don’t want a tourist rip-off, you don’t want cheap mediocre grub, you certainly don’t want a ¥30,000 kaiseki spread (well, you do but you can’t)… anyway, I found it baffling and ended up in a convenience store. This is also when I discovered convenience store food is vastly better in Japan than in the UK, and you can still get better sushi there than in Yo! Sushi. Ok, so after much hungry distress, we accidentally stumbled upon a well lit pathway that led up to what appeared to be a temple with spotlights on it. Because we hadn’t seen nearly enough temples of sakura, or the hunger turned into delirium  we followed the path. And by Buddha was it worth it. We didn’t know this at the time, but we had found nirvana Kiyomizudera. It was spectacular, and we caught it at Hanatoro, a time in Kyoto when streets, temples and shrines are magically illuminated and open for viewing at night. This may have been the very best part of the trip.