Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Round The World 2006-07

Getting to know Kyoto

I knew the instant I opened my eyes that whatever had been bothering me the previous evening had completely vanished - I was raring to go! I had breakfast in the hotel's Aquablu restaurant, got myself organised and set out. First stop was the nearby Keage subway station, so that I could arm myself with a bus and subway pass, but then it was back outside again, because I wanted to start with some sights that were close at hand. I was encouraged when I realised that I had found things worth photographing within minutes. I had a quick look at the Nanzenji Temple - it hadn't even been an objective, but the hordes of tourist buses indicated that it must be worth a look. I then managed to find the so-called Path of Philosophy - an attractive canal-side walk to one of the major tourist sites, the Ginkakuji Temple.

I paid my entrance fee and had a look around the grounds. I had been slightly dismayed at first to note that there were several very large school groups on-site. We all know what that would mean at home : disinterested, why-are-we-here faces, a cacophonous racket, lots of bad behaviour and teachers struggling to maintain some semblance of order. Except that these kids were immaculately turned out in their school uniforms and were quiet, smiling, well-behaved, attentive and polite. Yes, all of them - every last one! I cannot describe the pleasure of being in a society that seems to be making such a sterling job of raising its next generation of citizens

I had an interesting and unexpected conversation with two boys, which reinforced the views I've just given, but which also had an amusing side to it. The pair came over to me, a little shyly, and one said "Excuse me, may we ... ?" There was a quick consultation in Japanese involving the words 'talk' and 'speak', but the matter was quickly settled : "Excuse me, may we talk to you?" We proceeded to have a little chat about my name, where I came from (this caused much aaah-ing and seemed like a minor triumph for them!), where they came from ("left of Tokyo" - fine, I understood perfectly), whether I liked Kyoto, etc. I was asked to sign both their books and add a little message. At that point, one of the boys had a rummage in his bag and handed me a little pad of what looked like coloured memo notes, albeit on thick, rough-textured paper. He said "For writing, also for toilet" - this accompanied by fairly discreet little squatting movements! I said : "Sorry?" "Also use for toilet" - more squatting movements - "... present for you!" I suppressed a giggle and thanked them very much! Only later did I recall some advice I'd read that, when travelling in Japan, you should always carry a couple of those little packets of paper tissues, just in case!

Having seen all there was to see at this site, I decided to move on to the similar-sounding Kinkakuji Temple, with its iconic Golden Pavilion - but this was on the other side of town. The time had come to brave the bus system. I had thought this might be a disaster for a foreigner, but in reality it was remarkably straightforward. Just board by the rear door, listen for the stops being announced - the more useful ones for tourists are announced in English - and leave by the front door, either dropping your fare in the farebox or inserting your pass into the reader, as appropriate. Easy! By the time I arrived at the nearest stop to the temple, I was starting to feel hungry. I spotted a little tearoom / coffee shop with signs in English and decided to give it a try. It was a most unassuming little place, but the owner warmly welcomed me and did a great job of making me a perfect cup of Earl Grey and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I was really starting to like this city

Unfortunately, by the time I had finished, the weather had temporarily broken. In the rain, the 11 Celsius temperature that had felt cool but comfortable in the morning, now felt downright cold and miserable. My visit to Kinkakuji was made under these conditions, but the rain soon eased off and, barely an hour later, the sun was starting to shine. Another bus ride, a subway ride and a bit of a walk later, I was at my final sightseeing objective for the day : Nijo Castle. Like all the well-known tourist sights, it turned out to be most impressive, in this case aided by the improving weather and some colourful displays of cherry blossom.

After all that, I was delighted to find that I could get directly back to the hotel with a single subway ride. Here was another aspect of life in Kyoto that seemed starkly at odds with life in the West. The entire system was spotless and utterly devoid of unsavoury or objectionable characters. Back at the hotel, I made a start on sifting through over 100 photographs that I'd taken, pausing for dinner at the Aquablu restaurant. After all my walking, I had no trouble at all falling into a deep and restful sleep, noting before I did so that the weather was showing hopeful signs of continuing improvement. 

Nanzenji Temple and Path of Philosophy

Ginkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Nijo Castle

Friday 21 Apr

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