So a trend that has continued throughout my journey in the land of the rising sun is that I always enjoy myself more at attractions that aren’t the supposed ‘must see’ highlights of an area. From the exploration of temples, parks, shopping attractions, markets and natural landmarks time and time again I come to find a quieter, cleaner, and prettier version of what is toted to be the best thing around. I’m not at all mad about this, in fact I love it, and it’s become a bit of a quest each day I leave the hostel to find these places and make the most of them.
This occurred again on my 14th day of my trip when my American friend Jessica made an impromptu appearance back in Kyoto and we went exploring. The goal was to see the Ginkaku-Ji temple, walk the Philosopher’s path and then buy some gifts for her family as she was leaving the country the next day.
The bus to Ginkaku-Ji is easy to find there’s a big sign at the Kyoto station terminal that says “GINKAKU-JI” so you tend to know you’re headed in the right direction. After ruining some poor guys NFL week by spoiling the results he hadn’t seen yet (oooops) we hopped off at our first destination the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-Ji). This place is stunning and a world heritage listed site and it doesn’t take you long to see why! The moment you step through the gate you’re met with scenic gardens and an eye full of green. The raked sand garden beds are artistic and add a slightly unique feel to this garden temple than to others I’ve been to so far. The walk is peaceful (When Australian’s and Americans aren’t laughing hysterically) and beautifully designed. A bonus is that it isn’t too crowded in the mornings of a weekday so if you’d like to appreciate it fully now that we’re not there causing a scene then please aim to do so before lunch.
It’s not a huge adventure but I’d definitely say the scenery makes it worth it. Truth be told you’re so captivated by the foliage around you the temple kind of becomes secondary and almost forgotten.
Afterwards we took to the Philosopher’s path which is a 2 kilometre walk starting (or finishing) at the Silver Pavilion and weaving its way along the canal towards the Gion district. It’s famous for it’s cherry blossoms but as has been the case this trip we were a few weeks late, but it’s still an enjoyable stroll.
The entire day we had a strange encounter with another western traveller who both followed us where we went and hated us with every fibre of her being. We aren’t sure why, but there was even a stage where she sprinted past us on the Philosopher’s path just to get ahead and away from us. Naturally from then on I referred to her as ‘Sprinty’ and actively sought her out wherever she was.
Upon our walk we stumbled into one of the prettiest shrines I’ve seen here in Japan.I believe it was the Honen-in Temple and it quickly became somewhere that I wanted to stay, and Jessica even exclaimed that this would be a great place to be buried – morbid but true. A temple totally shadowed by the woods and gardens growing wildly around it, I mean what more can I ask for? It was stunning, untouched and so peaceful. We were even lucky enough to encounter a few monkeys above us which everyone else (including Sprinty) missed out on. Truly a wonderful place to visit! Also keeping to the theme of places that amaze me that lack crowds this place was just us and one other family of four (Plus eventually Sprinty) so it definitely felt like it was all ours.
After taking it all in at Honen-in we continued on the path towards Gion as there were two more temples I had saved as places I wanted to see while in Kyoto. The first of which was called Eikan-do Temple and it was short lived. We saw there was an entry fee to go into it and after just seeing one of the more beautiful places in Kyoto for free we couldn’t justify paying the 500 yen. This turned out to be a great decision as 1) Jessica was running out of time before needing to be back to Kyoto Station and 2) the next temple would prove to be spectacular in it’s own right.
So we arrived at our next destination – Nanzen-ji temple and this time it was free entry. What a splendid place to visit. It’s a little more busy than the Honen-in Temple, but not by much and certainly not anywhere near the big sites so it definitely feels sacred. At first it’s just a temple, and we took the side entrance so it was pretty unassuming but on our way out we saw the main gate and it’s anything but…
The grounds are nice…
And then you see the aqueduct and the whole experience changes…
If you follow it up the hill and then take the temple path towards the woods you enter into this other realm where the city disappears and some sort of fantasy world envelops you. It was made even lovelier as it had rained the previous night so everything was vivid and alive and there were little streams running everywhere.
And just like everything else I’ve truly loved here in Japan…there was no one else around to interfere with the tranquillity of the place.
You can of course keep going up the mountain once you reach the first shrine, but we were short on time so we descended and rejoined the world. The lunch we had in Gion was a disappointment for Jessica, but I kind of liked mine – the Nishin Soba, which is meant to be a Kyoto speciality…it was pretty decent, although 25 minutes later as we reached Kyoto station I was hungry again.
We said our final goodbyes at the station and made our separate ways in life. It’s been a great last few days hanging with Denver, and I wish her the best of luck!!! (Unless it’s Denver v Patriots).
By now I was exhausted (again) and headed home to rest and recuperate. My night was spent meeting Olga a Fin in the common room and going on late night Onigiri adventures from the local 7/11. All in all I can’t complain about day 14…Kyoto delivers again.