So I awoke with a renewed vigour given to me by this refreshing little city. After a less than impressive experience in Osaka, and an instantaneous attraction to Kyoto I felt good about today’s chances of producing quality memories. That began in the morning as I ran into Jessica the previous night’s Colorado adventurer and we set off to have breakfast (coffee, the breakfast of champions). This then lead to a little sightseeing around Kyoto before our next lot of plans were meant to get underway – She had to be on a train to Nara and I was meant to meet Chris at 10.30am to see the Golden Pavilion. I finally got to see Nishihongwanji-Temple as this time it was open when we arrived, success!
After that I made it to Kyoto Station and took the wrong bus before deciding it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t meant to meet up with Chris today – sorry bro! Instead I made my way back to the hostel and recharged everything in the common room while planning my next adventure. This involved realising a lot of walking was to come (surprise, surprise).
I set out aiming to eventually make my way to the Fushimi Inari shrine and that meant several detours to other temples and scenic views along the way. The first stop was a stunning temple which on my map is called Sennyu-ji but I promise you when I was there the monk told me the real name was something ridiculously long and I no longer can find it. It’s extremely close to the Tofuku-Ji Shrine so taking a train to get at least a little closer would be wise. It is WELL worth the trip too. The entire thing is zen, from the moment you walk up the hill and leave the suburbs behind you. The garden is green from start to finish, and the climb is easy enough, but when you look up and see the giant red and gold pagoda you are stopped in your tracks.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my afternoon than this serene and peaceful temple.
I was meant to go to Tofuku-Ji after this one but I felt that I would never make it through the day and my feet would hate me if I did so I marched right past and towards Fushimi Inari. A kindly middle aged Japanese man stopped me after I’d walked below the train tracks and beckoned me over to his tea shop. Normally I’d cite stranger danger but it’s Japan…what could go wrong? Evidently nothing as he welcomed me in (I seriously had to bend forward to avoid smashing my head the entire visit) to his little shop and plied me with all sorts of fantastic natural Japanese teas. He was so proud of his product being chemical free and unlike anything I would find at any shops elsewhere. He was proud to the point that I managed to get 5 free cups of authentic and delicious tea out of him before I had to take my leave! He even took my sushi rubbish because bins in Japan are rarer than the Ninja.
A belly full of tea and renewed energy helped sweep me down to Fushimi Inari and the first realisation was “Sigh, I’ve gone to another major attraction on a Sunday”. This time last week I was peeved as I visited Senso-Ji and swarmed by crowds, and now here I was in another crowd. The only advantage I had this time was…it was on a mountain and my plan was to out pace these slow moving tourists until it became quieter up the hill. Something like that did happen.
It’s kind of a major attraction so if you do decide to go please use common sense, unlike myself who just sort of bumbled my way into this mess. I started the regular walk up the mountain through all the gates which make this place so special, and it is beautiful, if it weren’t for the people stopping for selfies every 12 seconds. I sped up the mountain past them all until I got to the main pond shrine.
I discovered a side track off to the right and thought it looked inviting to avoid the crowds, which was correct. It took me on this mountain side stroll through these beautiful woods and suddenly I couldn’t hear anyone or see anyone and the mountain felt like my own.
The further I went the more alone I became and I just kept taking the road literally less travelled. The scenery when you to wherever I was is mind blowing. On your left hand side there is a heavily wooded forest and the right hand side is a very heavy bamboo forest and both tower over you into the canopy. This peaceful hike was exactly what I wanted out of a temple of this calibre until I saw that the peak could be reached if I went further bush…So I did. This was where things got a little dicey but truly wondrous.
The further I ventured the steeper this leaf littered track got until I was actually climbing the mountain using hands and feet and completely out of breath. This path is not for anyone who is unfit, wearing low grip shoes, or under the age of 15 (mainly because I want it to remain peaceful). Climbing up was taxing but with about a hundred metres to go I had a seat and took in what I’d done and where I was. It was the most peaceful I’ve felt here in Japan. All I could hear was the wind in the trees and all I could see was the sun filtering through the forest and although I was sweaty and gross and out of breath I felt amazing. That is until I finished my hike, and my sense of achievement went plummeting to earth as I come to the summit to find a stair case and old Japanese ladies at the peak who looked like they’d just woken up…Screw you guys.
Annoyed and tired and now only wearing a T shirt (some serious looks from the Japanese locals at the crazy white guy not wearing a jumper) I descended the way they came through the gates. This time it was almost all mine and I was able to take plenty of photos that didn’t involve the back of people’s heads.
Reaching the bottom was relieving and I trained it home to get some well deserved rest. This lasted a few hours and while in the common room I met two ladies who helped me fill the space with French conversation and discussion on everything travel. Ines could speak four languages (Arabic, French, English and Spanish) and Audrey could speak 3 (French, English and German) and I always get jealous when I meet multi-lingual people because my poor excuse for English never really qualifies.
After a few hours of chit chat it was time to put my boots back on and head to the Arashiyama Bamboo shrine to take it in by night. The train ride is easy and it’s really accessible from Kyoto station. The scenery is lovely, but again would be better if there weren’t 10,000 people there. Lucky I’m tall and I can take photos over the top of them all.
I’d had enough after seeing the bridge and made my way home. Nothing really happened other than having to punch a dog to get it off my arm as it tried to rip into me…You know, the usual.