It’s been a while since the last post… I could blame it on the 5th largest earthquake in the world and the consequent tsunami that swept Japan just a few hundred km north of where we were based but I would be lying…Yes, the craziness that ensued from those devastatingly spectacular events did lead to us changing our plans slightly but the truth is we were too busy to write the post because we were loving every bit of this trip.
We arrived in Kyoto in the evening to our fabulous hostel based just off the main shopping area in the city centre. We had booked a twin room as it was cheaper (aren’t we being good backpackers?) thinking it would be two beds next to each other… It wasn’t.. We had a closet for a room with bunk beds.. Still we were happy. The hostel has a big but cosy kitchen/ lounge area which we literally had to drag ourselves from to go sightseeing every morning and the shared bathrooms and heated toilet seats were super clean too! That evening, we had our first taste of Japanese food at a little alley way vegetarian restaurant which I’m sure was breaking several health and safety rules all at once, but it was totally worth it!
Our first full day in Kyoto we visited Nijo castle and the temples in North-east Kyoto including the famous Golden temple (Kinkakuji temple)… All the sights were beautiful with each temple having its own personality and reason for deserving a visit. Our favourite temple on this day had to be Ryoanji with its zen garden..
You actually felt this amazing serenity as you walked into the garden and sat and stared at the 15 purposely placed rocks. The gardens there were also really lovely and we can only imagine how gorgeous the place would look with the cherry blossoms in full bloom!
The highlight for Day 1 however without a doubt was the bamboo forest in the cute little town Arashiyama.. Check out the pic!
Ok, Rishi is looking at me as I write this and saying, “don’t you mean it was the cake roll or the best mango ice-cream” (with real mango bits in it!!)? And he is probably right, my snacking throughout Kyoto MAY have taken more importance than the sights!! But how can you help it when there is a new random dessert concotion at the entrance to every new temple?! It’s rude not to try the local treats!
Anywho, thinking we’d seen some very cool temples, day 2 we set out to follow the Lonely Planet Southern Higashiyama walking tour… The first temple, perched on top of a hill was cool (Kiyomizu). There was a ‘game’ there where you walk with your eyes closed from one stone to another and if you make it to the second stone and touch it, it means you will have find love with ease… Did we reach the other side? Did I touch the stone? Did Rishi touch the stone?… I’ll leave you guessing! 😉
The walking tour is good mainly because of the village streets you walk past and the opportunity to Geisha spot (I’m pretty sure our Geisha’s were dressed up tourists, but we got some pictures which is all that really matters, right?!)
Overall though, we wouldn’t say the walk is a MUST do… It was made more appealing though because we chanced upon a ‘snackerie’ (my name for it) which had hot buns with ice-cream inside them. This served well as my snack for the day.. Well until our next snack of pizza crepes (see snacking pics above)!! Yuummy…
As it was an early end to the day, we went back to our hostel thinking we would do our laundry but instead spent the afternoon chatting to other travellers and anihilating a full pack of biscuits with tea in the space of minutes!! CooookiiiIiieeee muuuuunsstttaaa… Nnnnom nnnnooom nnnoooom!!! I think it’s the times when you sit around doing hardly anything except meeting and talking to random people from across the world that actually makes journies like ours that extra bit special .. And fun! 🙂
Templed out by now? Don’t be silly, Day 3 was Philosopher’s Walk.. Again, what else can I say except it really is so beautiful. You walk along a cherry blossom lined canal and along the way there are tea houses and some temples.
The first temple (Ginkakuji) housed Rishi’s favourite gardens. We also enjoyed exploring Nanzenji where we wandered into a factory behind the temple and also found a mini temple on top of the mountain…
Little did we know but at this time, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale had shocked the peace in north-eastern Japan and triggered a tsunami roaring on to its shores… It was only after we reached Fushimi shrine, a very different type of temple most famous for the hundreds of red tori-gates lining a path up into the mountains, did we realise what had happened as we bumped into a lady from our hostel who told us the news…
This may sound odd, but from around 3 o clock through to our time at this creepy temple, which has growling dog statutes and crows in its gardens, we felt this peculiar, restless feeling… Whether that has any meaning I don’t know but it is certainly coincidental.. I’ll keep that open..
Thank you to all those who messaged us to check we were ok! …To be honest, we thought it was just another earthquake. There had been a smaller one (7.7 on the scale) in Tokyo a week earlier but you wouldn’t have known as everyone carried on life as if nothing had happened. We assumed this would be the same… However, watching the devastation and destruction on the news (as I’m sure everyone saw around the World) you could only be mesmerised by the sheer power of the seas and be thankful that you were not at its mercy in this situation. Despite being in Japan you felt helpless, there was nothing we could do to aid those suffering from the onslaught of the seas, so we sat with the others and just watched!
[Will try to add video of tsunami coverage]
We were still in Kyoto the next day and it did take us some time to psyche ourselves up for exploring given what we were hearing about the number of missing in the north and the constant aftershocks taunting Tokyo. However, we eventually got ourselves out and visited Sanjyu sangendo, which Rishi had been ooon about the whole time.. It is a totally different temple. It’s in the city centre so the gardens are basic to say the least but inside the temple there are hundreds of gold statues, many of them with sanskrit names as they are apparently taken from Indian culture!! The Bhudda here is most likely the nicest one we have seen (as yet)…
Spurred on by the beauty of this temple we decided to leg it to Nara (a nearby city), armed with our lonely planet and a sumptuous chocolate doughnut. (Mouth watering).. This is a popular day trip destination because it has the largest Bhuddha statue in Japan. It really is huge.. And also most of the historical grounds are set in a deer park.. The deer wander freely with you… So Rishi fed them biscuits, one by one…awww… My attempt was slightly less elegant than Rish’s, in that I screamed, ran away and threw the biscuits to the floor.. Still counts as feeding, they ate them!! (see videos!!)
Right, anywho, while we were in Nara there was a massive festival happening to bring good luck to the new year ahead. (Spring marking the start of the year).. So we stood for 3 hours, out in the cold so that we could watch a monk light a humongous broom stick (that’s what it looked like to me!) And run with this broom across the top balcony of the temple spraying the firey bits onto us watchers… Hmm… Ok quick positive perception of the 3 hour agony.. Uh, we will take from this the appreciation of the Japanese culture?! … Lol 🙂
Unfortunately, our time in Kyoto was up and the next day we were heading down to Mount Koyasan…
Reading back on the above post, there is still so much to add, like the rice balls we ate from the street stalls and the disney world style monorail through the city plus the indian thali restaurant not to mention the toast and tea breakfasts we made by ourselves in our hostel!! I knoooo!! Hmm, does seem to be very food related… But my point is that I don’t think I can fully summarise the little things that we did or saw that made this part of the trip so much fun… The vibe is so phenomenal here and throughout Japan that you can’t but have a great time…