Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Walking in Kyoto

Ah Kyoto. Woke up relatively early this morning and ended up on the 9:55 Shinkansen out of Himeji bound for Kyoto. The weather forecast had called for rain, but when I woke up and saw clearing skies, I opted for an earlier departure than I had planned.

Upon arriving in Kyoto, one cannot help but feel small when standing in\around the massive Kyoto Station. The 12 storey behemoth is where it all starts for most visitors, as it was for me.

My first order of business was finding my apparently notoriously difficult to find hotel, which is tucked away in an alley near the station. In the end, I don't know what the fuss was all about online when I checked reviews... I found the place within minutes just by following the map from the hotel's web page... bah! The hotel certainly isn't anything to write home about, especially after staying in the Royal Park Hotel in Tokyo last week... but the room is comfortable, the rate is cheap and it's about 200 meters from the station and thus the hub of the Kyoto bus system, what more can one ask for?

After dropping off my bags, I decided to take one of the walking tours in my trusty Lonely Planet Kyoto book, which zig zags around the Higashiyama area and hits up some of Kyoto's main sights. Some of these I'd already seen during our trip here in March of last year, but since we'd come during the illumination festival, we'd visited all these streets and temples at night... much different during the day when you can go inside and visit everything.

One of the first highlights of the walk is the Kiyomizudera temple complex. I'd been warned to expect school trips but I hadn't expected the swarms of uniformed kiddies running around all over the place!

One of the great things about this place is the greenery, which stands in stark contrast to the general ugliness of the city of Kyoto.

This is Kiyomizu itself, perched on the side of the mountain with its famous veranda, an engineering marvel for its time for sure.

Part of the walking tour mysteriously mentions that one should pay the 100 yen admittance to Tainai Meguri, and only briefly mentions darkness and keeping an arm out in front of you. Intrigued, I had a go at it and was directed down a staircase leading down into the dark. I won't spoil the experience for anyone, but it was certainly interesting, and highly recommended. The entrance to Tainai Meguri is not marked in English, but here is what it looks like, just off to the left of the pagoda. There is an English info sheet available to read before heading down.

After Kiyomizu, I headed on down the old streets which lead down from the temple.

Some of the streets are quite old and narrow and are lined with shops and high end Japanese inns and restaurants.

Along the way of course, one encounters countless temples and shrines, such as Kodai-ji below.

While taking a break in Maruyama Koen, I was luck enough to spot some Maiko (apprentice Geisha) out for a stroll.

Right near the park, I checked out Yasaka-jinga, an area we had only been to at night the last time around.

One of the highlights of this walk was Chion-in temple, with it's huge 2 storey gate.

The gate only serves as an introduction to the temple building itself, which is massive.

After this four hour walk, I was more than ready for a break and quickly made my way to the nearest bus stop and headed back to the hotel to check in. After getting settled in to my 6 tatami room and relaxing for a while, I headed on back out for dinner and ended back at the top of the station in time to catch the last of the sunset.

With some brisk winds pushing all the clouds away, tomorrow promises to be a great day. Over my dinner of Tonkatsu, I planned out my day for tomorrow. I'll be starting with the Bodo-san market at To-ji temple, which only occurs on the 21st of each month, so this is pretty good timing. Then I'll head out on another walking tour, through Northern Higashiyama this time before heading back for a break at the hotel. For dinner, I've scoped out an eel restaurant I want to try out before taking another walking tour of the Pontocho and Gion districts... should be a long day but a good one!


Blogger tornadoes28 said...

Are you sure those Maiko are not actually tourists who dressed up?

I know that there are places in Kyoto where tourists can go to be made as geisha and they can walk around pretending.

Either way, they look beautiful.

4:08 PM  

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