Thursday, 18 December 2014

Kyoto IV: snow!

After some calculation, I leave the hostel early in the morning. Most things in Kyoto stop by 5pm, but many things open early - especially temples. Since there's very little to do in Kyoto other than look at temples, I might as well start early, go to bed early and minimise the slack time.

I realise immediately that: a) it has snowed; b) it is still snowing. That makes things a fracco trickier, but also prettier.

Heading east, I spot a red temple arch on a hillside and decide to divert up it to see what's there. This turns out to be 吉田山緑地公園 (possibly Machidayama Ryokuchi Park, but there are several pronunciation options there).

It's not hugely interesting, but I trek up to the hilltop and eat my "breakfast". There not being many choices, this consists of a croissant I bought along the way, plus some warabimochi (bracken jelly covered in soya dust) I got yesterday in, I think, Ryoanji. It's one of my weirder breakfasts, but stills the hunger for now at any rate.


The intended counterpart to yesterday's Kinkakuji, this silver pavilion never got the silver planned for it. It is, however, a fairly nice place, especially in the snow.

The arrangement of stones here is supposed to be represent the area, with the heap apparently standing in for Mount Fuji.

Not a bad little place, really. Probably very cold inside, though.


During this tour, I went on a bit of a berry binge.

The Path of Philosophy

Despite being somewhat allergic to philosophy, it made sense to follow the Path of Philosophy down from Ginkakuji past a few other temples, which would circle me back towards the middle of town ready for lunch and the afternoon.

It was, perhaps, more scenic when Nishida Kitaro strolled down it, with less tarmac and fewer cars. I can well believe that it's rather nice in spring when the cherry blossom is out, but when you get right down to it, it's a narrow bit of path (frequently severed by the road for considerable stretches) next to a thin stream that's indistinguishable from a drainage sewer, and most of the temples along the way are blocked off by at least one row of houses, often also by a few fences and some heavy construction plant. So, it's fine, but it's not a must-have.

What with not being able to get into most of the temples, and also being rather templed out, I finished the PoP fairly quickly and turned back into town, choosing not to enter the Zoological Gardens. I always like seeing animals, but I've also heard offputting things about Japanese zoos, which seem to bother most Western visitors. Also, it was snowing. And I'll soon be home, living half an hour away from a truly fantastic zoo.

Along the way, I spotted this. It took me a little while to appreciate what I was seeing, because this is a truly colossal arch. I don't know why.

Passing temples

While I can't be bothered visiting more temples specifically, I did have a quick glance at some little ones I passed on the way.

This seems to be myoudenji, a Buddhist temple. I was struck here by the sheer size of the snow that was falling. It seemed a potentially interesting place, but was apparently closed up at the time.

I have no idea what this interesting building is.

Also on my route was Misaki shrine, also known as Tosa Inari. It seems to be pretty obscure, though it does have a small Japanese website.

And then I stopped for tea and cake. My plan was quite simple: everywhere gets hideously busy around lunchtime, except for tiny places with hand-scrawled menus and an obvious regular clientele, which are terrifying. So having breakfasted rather early, I had some elevenses to stave off the pangs, planning to eat around 2.30 when everyone else had finished. This actually worked out.


This is apparently 仲源寺 (Chugenji), a small temple near Gion, which was my afternoon port of call.

Gion is a classic place to visit, especially if you're going to Kyoto for the historic aspects. It's an oldish part of town, and also where geishas can occasionally be found, being the historic entertainment district. There's still a large theatre nearby, and I hoped to see something there, but was disappointed. While normally you'd be able to go and see a show, at this season there's a special event called Kaomise - this was traditionally a sort of teaser, when new talent hired for the coming year would first appear. However, it's also five hours long! I was fully prepared to watch a couple of hours of kabuki (it's not like I have much else to do), but I'm not willing to commit to five hours when I don't expect to understand any of it. Moreover, the price is also suitably high, with even the cheap seats behind a pillar coming in at £30. I'll pass.

Minami-za theatre, where I didn't go

However, Gion provides a few minutes' entertainment.

It's just possible that this is an actual maiko (apprentice geisha), but I'm not educated enough to be sure. I did see her from the front, but I don't like pulling cameras on people from a foot away, and I'm sure they get pestered quite enough. It's very possibly she was a henshin maiko (tourist dressed up for a "maiko experience"). Thanks to H having written about this, I was on guard. That being said, her outfit was much less ornate and she was being very purposeful (and not pursued by any obvious photographing friends).

Atmospheric, is it not? I believe it's even more so by night, but also likely to be loud and crowded with people coming to the restaurants. So, not very good for photographs, especially with a camera that's not great at night.


Entirely by accident, I stumbled upon Kennin-ji. I noticed a gate which seemed to be advertising some kind of art exhibition, and thought I'd give it a look-in. In fact, maybe it was advertising for somewhere else, or maybe just showing a couple of the artworks inside the temple; in any case I found a very striking temple and went inside.

These racks of shoes were quite striking. And all very small. Mine came off constantly, since they only actually covered half my foot and therefore didn't grip well. This was a bit of a problem walking outside, what with the ground being wet and freezing cold.

The rest

After finishing my walk through Gion, I was a bit worn out - cold and tired, and getting hungry. I called into a department store and found an Italian restaurant, where I had my second carbonara in a week!

Pretty good stuff.

I didn't have any further plans, and it was already nearly 3pm when I finished, so an hour or so of daylight left. Sad to relate, I just squandered the rest of the day, because I couldn't think of anything else viable to do - it was just not practical to, say, take the train to Nara or somewhere nearby, as the guidebooks recommend. Everywhere would be dark, cold and closed by the time I arrived.

So instead, I moved between various cafes for a couple of hours, staying warm and dry, and alternating between having wireless internet (Starbucks), having power to charge my laptop (Doutor) or a quieter experience with nicer tea (um, Delifrance, I think?). And then I slunk back to my hotel, wrote blogposts, ate curry, and chatted to a new guest for an hour or so before bed.


  1. Well, stunning scenery as usual. I love the inside of the Kennin-Ji Temple (The paintings and the impression of deep peace of the place.

    "Despite being somewhat allergic to philosophy" Wonder why you are, after all those years in a certain library...

    Anyway, by now, you must be either in a plane or back home or nearly. Have a great Xmas with your family. V.

    1. It was a very nice temple, although a lot less peaceful than it looks - it's a very popular destination, so even in the snow there were lots of tourists to dodge.

      I am peacefully breakfasting with my family now and assuming uncle duties.