• 28 . 07 . 05
  • My second visit to Kyoto, this time with Mum, taking in the Golden Temple and Gion.

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Kyoto Revisited

After the hectic pace of Tokyo, today’s day trip was a nice relaxing contrast. This was my second time here and I again felt very relaxed here. That is, apart from being responsible for handling all the travel arrangements and ticket purchases. None of them were particularly difficult task, but when the success or failure of a trip is down to you, even the smallest challenge is made to seem complicated. After our tiring Tokyo trip and journey back yesterday, we decided to have a late sleep in and not rush things. Rushing to relax in Kyoto would’ve been pretty ironic anyway, I think.

Our first destination was the Golden Temple, which is obviously one of the most famous parts of Kyoto. Actually, now I’ve been to both, I prefer the Silver Temple, which seems to have more character. The Golden Pavilion really is beautiful and really is covered in gold, but it kind of felt like you were on a conveyor belt of tourists. Not that there weren’t lots of people at the Silver Temple, or that there were any time pressures, but still, it felt like you were just ‘ticking the box’. Even so, we took the classic postcard photographs and spent some time in the gardens, and there’s certainly nothing like this in England, so I’m glad I’ve seen it.

Due to our afternoon arrival and lazy pace, we found that the other place we wanted to visit, Nijou Castle, would’ve been closed by the time we got there. Instead, we headed for the Imperial Palace and wandered round the huge paths and gardens there. Like the palace in Tokyo, the sheer amount of open space was remarkable for Japan. Unfortunately, just as in Tokyo, we were also unable to enter the main complex, but that didn’t really matter.

Although the Kiyomizu Temple is one of the major highlights of the city, we decided to skip it as it would have involved a long walk to the top, after lots of walking already. In any case, it was pretty hazy and muggy, so the view wouldn’t have been as spectacular as it could’ve been. Instead, we went into Gion, the maiko and geisha district and wandered through the back streets by the coffee shops and local food restaurants. We were lucky to have timed this just right, as the maiko were leaving for their evening appointments and managed to see 4 or 5 shuffling off down the streets and into taxis. The fact that there were Japanese tourists congregating and excitedly photographing them made me feel a little less conspicuous doing the same thing, but it still felt weird blatantly going up to someone and taking a photo of them without asking. What was even weirder, though, was a group of 7 or 8 random Japanese who wanted photographs taking with me. My protestations of being merely an average person seemed to fall on deaf ears as they took turns being shot with me. Whenever it is that I end up leaving Japan, it’s going to be strangely pleasing to be an anonymous face in the crowd once more.

Before leaving we decided to have a bite to eat in Gion and found a simple restaurant on the main road opposite the theatre. For a reasonable price, we got a good sized meal and, as a bonus, a view of the comings and goings of the traffic! Much to our surprise, the traffic was actually halted later on to allow a procession to pass through. It must have been a festival of some description, because hundreds of men clad in traditional white garb marched up and down the road with a mikoshi, preceded by two men carrying burning logs. I’m not sure what the meaning of carrying treetrunks that have been set on fire on your shoulders is, but everybody was enjoying themself and most were drunk. What was most impressive was that one of the busiest intersections in Kyoto was almost fully closed for over an hour, so the festival must have some weight to it. In any case, it made a nice end to the day to see some traditional Japanese event, especially as we didn’t know it was going to happen. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Expo, so it’s going to be another long day!

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