Wednesday 12th October 2016
An early morning rise approached us as we woke up at 7am eager to start our final full day in Kyoto with optimism. We soon got ready and had breakfast joining Arlene’s son who was actually doing his homework. As much as I would have liked to help him with his homework, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t know the answers to his Kanji writings. Besides, Craig and I were creating a plan of the day making sure the whole day was filled with something to do. A short time passed until we eventually left the apartment back onto our wonderful bikes eager to start pedalling. With help from Craig’s offline map, we were making our way straight to our first not to miss location; the Gion district. The Gion district is home to Kyoto’s famous entertainment and Geisha district and to get to it, we both had to cycle through quite a lot of congested traffic and people.
It was worth it though as we came upon a large area of maze like traditional wooden houses with Japanese symbols on fabric. It truly felt as though we stepped back in time especially when most of the locals and even some tourists would wear the traditional colourful kimono clothing. Once again as we cycled slowly through the narrow streets, we were constantly being watched by the locals, which I became used to by now; besides, I was focused more on the views. The trouble now was actually finding a specific area of the geisha district because the place we were at was not the correct one according to Craig. Therefore, for the next 15 minutes or so we would cycle aimlessly trying to find the exact destination of the old geisha district.
Time went on and we eventually decided to give up and head to another location. Just as we were leaving, there it was, the old geisha district. What an incredible sight it was and I could sense happiness in Craig as he remembered this area during his last trip here. We could tell we were in the right place due to the fact it was over populated by tourists and there was no way we could pedal up because of this; plus, it was up on a hill too. Therefore, off our bikes we went and pushed our way through the ever-growing crowd trying to find a good place to park our bikes for the next hour or so. Eventually we found one and soon joined with the crowd taking a very slow walk through the very narrow cobbled pathways coming to terms that we were in this marvellous place.
Hundreds of traditional shops and stalls spread across the area selling all sorts of Japanese trinkets, sweets and food. To be honest I was enjoying the atmosphere of the people in the area whether they were talking, laughing sharing the same feeling as everybody else flowing through the streets. Today was a very hot day too so once more, ice creams called to us both and we showed no hesitation in purchasing them. It truly felt like a hot summer’s day despite it being the middle of autumn. I felt sorry for the dogs in the area, which were panting away at the heat. We made sure we seen everything we could in this area before even thinking about leaving it and luckily, I caught sight of something I thought symbolised a small part of Japan; geishas. As we came upon a very small temple area, coming straight out of the entrance were two geishas with the full Japanese kimono clothing, white faces and black decorative hairstyles; it was truly a moment of pure magic at the sight of them. This seemed to be the end of our time in the geisha district due to the fact there was so much more to see in Kyoto. Therefore, we reluctantly made our way back to our bikes and pushed them through the crowd once more until we were able to get on them and start pedalling.
We didn’t seem to pedal far though as we soon came upon a most beautiful sight of a pond area which was home to a most elegant heron which everyone caught sight of. It stood balanced on one leg unstirred by anything around it; it truly felt at peace. All of a sudden, an old man came towards Craig and I, curious about where we came from and thanks to Craig’s knowledge in Japanese language, he managed to make quite a conversation with him. The old man must have thought it was brilliant at the fact Craig was speaking the language but then the old man decided to amaze us with his origami skills. He produced us a dragonfly origami piece and it was truly fascinating to watch him create them. He made the process look very easy but it was extremely complex.
We thanked him and eventually took our leave from the Gion district heading for our next location; Kiyomizudera temple. This temple was close by so it didn’t take much cycling to head towards this famous temple. However, we soon noticed we were heading along the wrong route because we somehow ended up at the grandest of gravesites I had ever witnessed. It stretched far and wide upon the hillside and the deeper we cycled into it, the more difficult it was to try and move on further. We could practically see the temple to our left further up the hillside but we soon realised where we had gone wrong. Therefore, we turned around and raced back down the hill only to go up another incline. Unfortunately, we were heading straight back into the busy crowds and there was no way we could push our bikes up. Therefore, we parked them once more and climbed the very steep hill following everybody else to the temple.
It was crazy to see so many people heading to one place and somehow, we made it to the top to witness some Japanese architecture of temples. The main aspect I loved about Japanese buildings was the exquisitely designed rooftops pointing out from each corner. The view at the top was incredible and so we spent a good amount of time at this area. However, we wouldn’t go any further in to see more of the main temple area due to the fact we didn’t really want to pay the admission fee. We were even tempted to try and sneak past the very old ticket collector but I had a feeling we would have underestimated his capabilities. Craig found it hilarious when I had an idea of trying to blend in with a school trip in which were using a different entrance to everyone else. The children were wearing what appeared to look like yellow rain hats; I asked him if I would be able to get away with borrowing one of the children’s hats, crouch down to their level and make my way to the other side with them. However, we turned around and made our way down the steep hill and back to our bikes.
As we still had a lot of time to kill, we began cycling to another interesting area, which was home to Sho-ren Temple. It was a very short trip to get to this place and we soon realised that there were less people here, which was great for us. It seemed to be quite isolated too, hidden well by beautiful trees and plants. Once more, we parked our bikes and entered into the temple grounds already amazed by the fascinating gardens and small-scattered wooden buildings.
Off went the shoes as we walked into the temple yet again amazed by its ancient history and culture as we creaked our way through each room admiring the ambience of the place, which was surrounded by beautiful art and designs. The true beauty I had found was the Japanese garden at the back end of the temple. The sun was out shining vibrant colours across the garden and so Craig and I decided to sit down on the wooden floors and relax enjoying the sun; to be honest we were happier sun bathing here than on a beach.
Then something astonishing happened to me, out of nowhere, a small red dragonfly graced us with its presence. Its final landing spot just so happened to be on my big toe and it stayed there for a good long while as though it was sun bathing on my foot. It soon flew off and so did we heading back to our bikes once more to another location.
Our next location was quite a cycle away but we were determined to witness this magnificent place of the Chionin temple. What hit us first was the grandest entrance I ever witnessed. The large gateway was very intimidating especially with huge evil looking statues. It didn’t stop us though as we parked our bikes and headed through and in to the Chionin grounds. Not only was the gateway magnificent but the grounds were astonishingly huge as well. It felt as though we would need all day to discover this place but we took our time with the time we had and wandered around the grounds feeling at peace with our surroundings. This place had to be grand because this was the headquarters of the school of Buddhism. To be honest it should have been a hive of activity but it seemed as though Craig and I were the only people there. Each encounter of temples and shrines we came across, the more we fell in love with this peaceful place.
Time went on and we somehow managed to see everything we wanted to and so with hesitation, we headed back to our bikes to our final and most important landmark in Kyoto; no it wasn’t Mister Donuts, but the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. This would be the most intriguing and elaborate shrine we would ever come across but first, we had to find it. Craig with his offline map was finding it quite difficult resulting in us cycling through very narrow alleys and streets. Once again we were about to give up but we eventually caught sight of several dozen red torii (Japanese arches). We were happy to get off our bikes and walk towards the crowds of people who were in two minds whether to take the 4km walk to the very top of the shrine up. We didn’t want to disappoint ourselves so we decided to join the crowd that did.
There really wasn’t any point in counting how many red torii there were as there was too many to count with fingers and toes. Due to the crowd we were walking as though there was a funeral happening. It did mean we could admire the detail that was on each red torii. Each one decorated with thick black kanji writing and it truly brought it home that we were in Japan. We were walking through a forest area too which added to the tranquillity. A long while had passed until we noticed the crowd was thinning out the higher we were climbing. This gave us more breathing room to explore which was good, as we needed our breath to climb this steep hill. Finally, an opening from the forest revealed a rough rocky terrain with handfuls of people admiring the breathtaking view of Kyoto below the mountainous area. We didn’t stop to join the admiration as we pushed on further up the hill as we wanted to reach the top.
Time and again, we would come across very quiet areas home to marvellous Japanese sculptures all decorated with red silk and smaller red torii. Once again, the amount of people had dropped until it seemed as though it was only Craig and I. Countless steps with sweat pouring from our heads brought us to the very top or so we thought. There was nothing at the top to indicate it was the top but we noticed at the opposite side was dropping back down the hill. So, satisfied with what we did we headed back down the steps with the odd person passing by. We thought it would be great to run down as nobody was in our way and so we did. We had a thrill doing this but the amount of steps and red torii were playing on my mind making me disorientated.
Luckily, when we stopped, we arrived at the rough terrain area and just in time to witness the most beautiful sight of the whole day. A most fascinating sunset over Kyoto; I was lost for words as was everybody else. What added to this was the sight of Japanese red torii just reaching above the forest line below with an orange glow of the sun disappearing behind the mountains to the west. We eventually made our way back down the long stairway right to the bottom and arrived back to our glorious bikes.
The day was over and so we took the long cycle home through Kyoto’s quiet streets. However, we thought it would be better to cycle along the Kamo River covering 7km along the way with the night sky lingering on. Once night came to us, I had trouble with my bike light so I had to rely on Craig’s light to arrive at the other side safely. There were times I would be blinded too by oncoming cyclists, which didn’t really help my situation out. Time went on until we approached Arlene’s apartment where reluctantly we returned the bikes one final time. We definitely made the most of our last day in Kyoto but it wouldn’t be over for us. We were straight back out in search for food and we didn’t have to go far for it as we headed for the automated food service restaurant once more. Craig decided to order the same as the previous night whereas I chose to have beef slices and rice, which honestly tasted quite delicious despite the fact it looked raw.
For the first time, it seemed as though we could relax watching on at everybody staring at us as though we were from a different planet. Time went on as we took a wander down the quiet dark streets of Kyoto picking up snacks for tomorrows journey to Kanazawa. It didn’t take long for us to return back to Arlene’s where we spent the evening packing our bags ready for an early departure.