Three ticks, many points and thousands of steps (Day 200)
Day 200 was supposed to be a relaxing day, but three ticks, many points and thousands of steps later - wow what an epic day in Kyoto.
Our plans changed. The planned gentle free walking tour wasn’t on Sunday so we swapped Monday’s plans and headed off to Kyoto.
Realising on the way that one of our trains had been cancelled, we quickly jumped off, walked for 10 minutes to an alternative line. Hey, we’re getting good at this travelling in Japan now! We arrived at Arashiyama and sat down to get our bearings. Oh no! I can’t find my sunglasses. I looked in the three pockets of my trusted rucksack – nope. Then Tim asked if they were under my hat. Doh!
We walked the 1.5km to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove amongst throngs of tourists. A few young ladies were wearing beautifully coloured Kimonos, either their Sunday best, or they have hired them for the day. Their costumes looked wonderful, however, it did prevent them from being able to walk at a reasonable pace.
We arrived at the Bamboo Grove. Now, you may have gathered that Tim and I follow the Lonely Planet’s ultimate guide for the top 500 places in the world and we have a fantastic spreadsheet that Ruth and Paul, who we met in Sri Lanka (Day 53) emailed over to us. The Bamboo Grove is rated at number 75, so you can imagine that this was a definite to see. It is a “tranquil walkway lined with Bamboo”. Maybe it is at midnight or in the depths of winter, not on a hot Sunday with swarms of tourists. Yes, you might be putting us in this bracket – may I remind you we are #GrownUpTravellers – not tourists.
There is one path leading us through the bamboo forest, screened off so that you can’t walk amongst them. They are impressive, yet for us, do not deserve the whopping 426 points on our spreadsheet. We have seen many sites around the world far more impressive which are lower down on the ranking that the Lonely Planet's global community of travel experts have given. It is all subjective.
We did meet a lovely mother and daughter along the way and stopped to chat for a while. The lady originates from Puerto Rica and now lives 13km from where we used to live; small world. We mentioned it was day 200 of our travels and chatted more about this. Tim mentioned the loss of my Mum and she commented that Japan is a great place to be mindful. My neurons fired up. How mindful am I being? How fully present am I? I sense that we need to slow down, in fact, my body is screaming this to me. What’s the rush?
We found an off beaten track outside of the busy grove and sat down. The hum of people now in the distance with birdsong in the foreground and a whiff of burning wood. We stopped. I just wanted to be silent for a while…
Time for lunch and Tim found a very nice café after we wandered around some peaceful streets with the customary manicured trees. We had to queue up outside the café, then we were called in to find another queue and gradually moved to a third. Sounds worse than it was, only 10 minutes wait. The café specialises in a limited selection of traditional Japanese desserts which they do very well. I had a Kyoto Kuro roll cake, similar to a Black Arctic roll and Tim had small dumplings on sticks that he cooked on a fire and dipped in honey. These looked just like marshmallows, however a very different texture – doughy.
Onto our next place to tick off our list. A train, bus and short walk later we had arrived. Definitely getting this travelling sussed! We walked through the grand entrance, Wow! What a sight! A stunningly impressive Kinjaju-ji, otherwise known as the Golden Pavilion and formally known as Rokuon-ji, is a Zen temple with the top two floors covered in gold leaf. It gleamed at us in the afternoon sunlight, reflecting in the surrounding lake. It was formally a retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who in 1408 left this pavilion in his will as a Zen temple. This wonderful structure is not the original through. It’s been rebuilt a number of times, the latest in 1955 after a fanatic monk set it on fire. Now, this place rightly deserves its 175th place with 326 points. Within the gardens were lovely walks and along the way was a stone altar that people threw coins in. Tim got a bull’s eye, mine pinged back and landed 2 feet away on the grass. I thought this was funny so took a picture. When some young girls realised my inaccuracy, they laughed and gave me another coin. I hit the bowl. The people here really are so kind.
We caught a couple of buses to the Gion District (147th place with 354 points). We may have sorted the transport out (for now) however we are very confused when we can use our JR Passes on buses. We could use it up to Kinjaju-ji on the no. 205 bus, but not the return journey. Any ideas?
While we were on the bus I found a discount voucher for Kyoto Traditional Musical Art show at Gion Corner. Sounds interesting. We got to the area and asked 2 delightful young ladies in their Kimonos where Gion Corner was. They took us there, taking tiny steps along the way. How kind of them. We thanked them profusely and got to the Theatre just in time for the 6 pm show. A fabulous time we had.
First, an elderly lady demonstrated the traditional way of making tea. Did you know that Zen Buddhist priests brought tea over to Japan in the 12th century to use to prevent them sleeping during their long meditations? Two women played the Koto, a 13-stringed instrument whilst another lady did a flower arrangement (Kado). The curtains closed, ready for our next performance.
A man in an ornate orange costume and weird mask ‘danced’ a classical art form with musicians playing Gagaku, court music dating back to the Tang dynasty (nothing to do with Lady Gaga). I think that era’s hearing was very different to ours. To me, it sounded like a group of people picking up the musical instruments for the first time!
The next performance was hilarious. Three men acting out Kyogen, an ancient comic play where the Lord is going off for the day and concerned that his two servants were going to steal and drink his sake. He tricks them both, tying them up. Off he goes. They manage to steal the saki, get drunk, dance and sing and the master returns. They see his face in the bowl and think this is an illusion and ridicules him. He gets angry and beats them as they run off the stage. A young Japanese girl next to us was totally engrossed and was in fits of giggles by the end.
Two serene and beautiful Geisha women dance next. So elegant in their beautiful costumes and gentle movements. The finale was a very strange puppet show called Bunraku. Three men in black held a near life-size puppet of a young lady. They enact a famous love story, however, at one point a little girl in the row in front of us got spooked by the feet banging and burst out crying and had to leave the room. I wished I could have joined her. This part of the show did go on a bit… I wasn’t being very mindful. I hope she was ok and realised it wasn’t real.
The show was over, more walking around the Gion District where we turned off the main road into a maze of alleyways with tiny restaurants in neat wooden buildings. We were hoping to see more Geisha ladies – no such luck. Dinner time, over the Kamo River with its amazing large cobbled base to a sushi bar, where we queued and chatted to a couple of young lads on a backpacking tour. They thought I was either from Australia or New Zealand! I think it’s my slow Essex drawl that does it. 14 plates of delicious and excellent value food later between us both, we walked around the corner to see two Geisha ladies with an elderly lady and man. What a lovely ending to our long and delightful day with three ticks, 1,106 points and 18,000 steps.