Well, this is better! Today it was still cold, but it was sunny and the sky was clear -it was a pleasure to walk all over Kyoto today, and I did!
I started my day with a healthy Kyoto-style breakfast, which includes three different types of tofu (a Kyoto specialty, Liza explained), fish, an assortment of pickles, and rice and miso soup, of course. Seeing all the little cups and dishes arranged so beautifully can be deceiving -I ended up so full!
My first stop was Kiyomizu-dera, an impressive temple notable for its wooden deck suspended above a hill; it was assembled, without nails. It has an amazing view of the forest as well as the city of Kyoto itself. After being in the flat, dense urban jungle that is Tokyo for a week, it’s refreshing to see hills and mountains. They provide a visual limit to the space you inhabit, and the uneven terrain offers great sightseeing opportunities.
Apart from overlooking the forest, there are a number of things to do at Kiyomizu. One is a pitch-black underground passage (symbolically the womb of Kannon, I believe); you have to guide yourself by a cord of beads across a completely dark corridor, until you reach a single lit rock that you are supposed to turn while you make a wish. I managed to make it out without smashing my face against a wall, I think to the surprise of the man at the gate.
There’s also the fountain of Otowa, a spring that you’re supposed to drink from for good fortune.
While I was in the queue, I heard the middle-aged couple behind me talk in Spanish. They were discussing something and then went silent. I guessed where this was going, and indeed, I soon heard her ask the back of my head: “So where are you from?”. When I turned and answered in Spanish, she recovered quickly from the shock to say: “Well, you look great in that coat!”. Now that’s a nice way to start a conversation! As it turns out, they were well ahead of me in their own trip, as they had visited Tokyo and already were wrapping up in Kyoto. We exchanged impressions on how few Western tourists there are at this time, and how great that is re: crowds and prices. We drank from the spring and, now with our fortunes refilled, wished each other a good end of the trip.
After exiting Kiyomizu, I took the chance of leaving via Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, two winding streets of traditional Japanese houses. The shops are almost all standard touristy fare (I didn’t walk into any of them), but the streets themselves are nice to walk along.
My idea was to then take two buses to get to the Philosopher’s Path, but apparently some buses must have diluted with yesterday’s rain, in true Versailles fashion, because I could only get the one. I eventually admitted that I was in the risk of spending more energy looking for buses than walking the rest of the way and just kept going. I got lost about twice or thrice, as is my wont, but as Liza had told me before, Kyoto is a city where you don’t mind getting lost so much -when you make a wrong turn, it’s often into a new, interesting traditional side street, or perhaps a shrine you didn’t know about. It lessens the annoyance of having to get the map out again.
Wandering in this fashion I ran into Yasaka-jinja and Heian-jingu, two landmarks that I wasn’t really planning on seeing but that I superficially checked out anyway.
I eventually, finally, found the beginning of the Philosopher’s Path, a defined walk along the banks of a canal in Higashiyama, so called because a philosopher used to take that route for his walks. It’s supposed to be amazing in sakura season, but I enjoyed it immensely today anyway. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, there were few people around, and everything was wonderfully quiet. Getting there, it looked to me like a very residential area, so it was all very calm, but there were just enough highlights across the way to have something to look at without being disturbed: a turn of the road with a great view here, a minuscule café there, a small waterfall over yonder…
Oddly enough, around the beginning of the walk there was this decorative cart that no less than half a dozen cats were sleeping in. I don’t know if even traditional Kyoto has its own neko cafés, or whether all the cats of Japan decided to step outside of their cardboard boxes today, or what, but there were plenty of them lazily dozing off in the warm sunshine. I knew my trip to Japan couldn’t be complete without cute pictures of cats, but I wasn’t expecting to take them in the Philosopher’s Walk.
Although the walk was a bit of a pain to get to, for me at least, it ends at a location that couldn’t be better connected: Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion (unlike its counterpart, Kinkakuji, here the “Silver” epithet isn’t literal). It’s one of the most famous sites in Kyoto, and for good reason: the garden is breathtaking.
In a moment of folly I thought I may be able to squeeze in a visit to Fushimi Inari, but it was five o’clock and I was exhausted, so I just made my way back to the hotel. When my bus stop came, I found myself at the back of a bus chock-full of Kyotoites, none of whom were getting off at the stop. I had only advanced a few meters when the drivers closed the doors and started driving away. Shôganai, I thought, resigned, but then one girl yelled at the top of her lungs “SOMEBODY’S TRYING TO GET OFF!”. The bus stopped immediately, and the crowd parted like I was a tourist incarnation of Moses. Then I had to walk all the way to the driver to get off the bus, mumbling “Sumimasen, sumimasen” to everybody, and show my bus pass to the driver, who couldn’t care less and just wanted me to get off his damn bus. I was mortified, but, hey, I got off at my stop. Thanks, girl who yelled!
After a good rest at the hotel, watching House of Cards, we went out for dinner at the Zest, this underground mall right next to Hotel Sugicho. When we got down, there were all these little kids doing exercise to music -it was the cutest thing ever. It looked like that one chapter in Yotsuba when she wants to join in!