Beware, dear reader, if you find yourself in Kyoto, in a hotel on the Shijo-dori and you feel like walking to a conveniently located cafe called Holly’s Cafe, it is a smoker’s cafe. Literally. It is very big and at least half of the tables (maybe more) are reserved for smokers. You notice it when you walk in, so alien has the concept become.
Which reminds me…there’s a huge push to delete smoking from the streets of Kyoto. Signs on the footpath, signs on posts, signs everywhere extolling the virtues of a smoke free Kyoto. And, to be fair, I’ve only seen one person smoking on the street and that was a westerner this afternoon.
There are numerous smoking spots throughout the city but they are tucked away so the people who go there can skulk about a bit.
Still, Holly’s was quite big so the foul smell did dissipate enough for us to just have a coffee before boarding the bus to our first temple of the day: Kiyomizu.
The walk up from the bus stop was just like the walk up to the summit of Mont St Michel with the street gradually narrowing and shops appearing, more crowded as you get higher. And the people increased as well (I don’t know how) tossling back and forth and all headed for the top.
Before entering the temple gate, there is a huge set of steps to negotiate with a big sign declaring that people must not take photos on them between the hours of somewhen and somewhen else. There’s even a couple of uniformed chaps to enforce the rule though it seemed to me they were more interested in keeping people from being run over from the vans which seemed to be constantly whizzing through the tourists.
Possibly one of my fondest memories of Kyoto will be the gardeners who, armed with a bessum broom, sweep lightly the leaves from the ground. It’s all very zen. Sadly one of the gardeners at Kiyomizu was given a leaf blower for Christmas which means an over-riding memory of today will always be the awful noise it made as we walked through the big temple gate.
As we reached the temple proper, our shoes had to come off (we’re getting used to this) so we could approach the inner sanctum. One chap I spotted (an elderly Japanese man) was carrying his shoes which appeared to be bowling shoes; the type you hire at the bowling alley.
The other thing that became apparent was the increase in people. It being a Saturday at the end of a holiday period cannot be good and, as the volume of people and noise grew we decided to head outside into the (relative) calm. And the views over Kyoto were magnificent.
We walked all the way to the Happy Pregnancy pavilion then, taking the steep downward track back, we stopped off at a small soba restaurant just beside a special place where the religious can wash their hands, just beneath the main temple building. It was while we were sitting here eating our delicious buckwheat noodles (zaru-soba) with a cold dipping sauce, that a young girl suddenly fell into the pool of water.
Everyone went a bit mad as she scrambled to safety, sopping wet and looking quite miserable. There were a lot of people queued up and I think she must have been climbing the small wall that separates the hand washing from the pool of water and just slipped in. It was a bit of a shock for her and some seriously good entertainment for the people in the queue.
We’ve never had soba before but I reckon we might have it again. Seriously simple yet seriously delicious. All cold, all for dipping. Brilliant idea. Mind you they could buy some smaller bottles of beer. Given the tiny glasses they give you, the 750ml bottle takes a while to drink when it’s just me drinking it.
Still it was a lovely way to stop and watch small children try and dive into a smaller pool of water.
We then headed back down the street of shops leading up to the temple. And, hard to believe but the crowds had increased to plague proportions. While Mirinda went into a shop she’d spotted on the way up that sold miniature Japanese dolls house furniture, I stood outside and ate a lovely macha and cherry blossom soft serve ice cream, amid the rush of happy temple visitors.
When we decided to come to Japan there were two things I really wanted to get. Firstly I wanted a yukata. This is the cotton (usually) gown worn by men. I really want to use it as a dressing gown. Well, I found one I really, really liked and bought it. Secondly I absolutely had to buy a kimmidoll for my office. Well I found the perfect one in the same shop. As I said to Mirinda, I could go home now.
When we left the shop and headed down towards our next tourist site, I spotted something that Nigel would love. I couldn’t get the sign off so he’ll have to make do with a photograph I’m afraid.
Our next stop was a rather Euro-centric cafe which, it appeared, had cornered the coffee market being the only one for miles around. The place is run by a lovely Japanese chap (he gets a lot of Australians in his cafe, he told us) who makes printed cards in his spare time then sells them from the front of his cafe. Mirinda bought ten of them. They really are exquisite little creations that he makes with different coloured inks and wood blocks. There are also mercifully small…just right for packing.
I also had a bit of a chat with him about wasabi. I’ve always found it too hot and rarely add it to my food and he agreed adding that it always gets up his nose. I agreed wholeheartedly. It’s probably excellent for a blocked nose but as a condiment it just leaves me cold…or hot actually.
It was about this time that the rain started. It had been spitting on and off but was now starting to make the umbrellas grow. We were on our way to the giant Buddha but managed to duck into a second cafe before getting too wet. The rain didn’t last long and had the added benefit of cutting back the number of tourists. Or maybe they melted. I don’t know but there were fewer of them around.
The Giant Buddha is part of a memorial for the WW2 Unknown Soldier. The whole complex is called Ryozen-kannon. As you enter and pay your fee, you are handed a big incense stick which you must put in the big brass brazier in front of the Buddha. That’s what Mirinda has just done in the photo below.
The complex was erected in 1955 and stands (or rather sits) amid the trees (and apparently wild monkeys) of the hills to the east of Kyoto. It’s a very peaceful spot, uninterrupted by leaf blowers or, in fact, hordes of noisy tourists. At least not today. We had a good walk around after dropping our incense off, popping our heads into all sorts of places. We even climbed the stairs at the back and entered the Buddha’s butt and walked around inside his knees. It was like a strange zen version of Fantastic Voyage.
Inside the Buddha there are the various animals of the years (horse, rabbit, goat, tiger, sheep, etc) and various little chapels for each of them. There are even handy year charts to show what animal you are from your year of birth. Mirinda is a snake while I have to be content with sheep. (Stupid herd mentality and insomniacs always counting me.)
We then crossed the car park and found ourselves in the grounds of the Kodai-ji Temple complex. This place was built in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro (or Nene to her friends who grew sick of typing her entire name) to honour her dead husband Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He is not buried there however. No, Nene obviously didn’t want to spend eternity with her dead husband so he was buried two kilometres away on top of a mountain. Nene, on the other hand, is buried at Kodai-ji.
Now call me suspicious but the fact that the guy who financed most of the temple complex and eventually became shogun is buried next to Nene does seem to be saying that something a bit naughty went on between them. Nene was awarded the highest rank of nobility by the Emperor in 1588 and wound up being called Kodai-in which is where the complex adopted its name. She lived (as a nun they reckon – yeah, right) until the age of 76, dying in 1624.
Upon leaving we decided to take the road rather than the stairs and almost fell over the most delightful tempura restaurant. It was called Omen and felt quite new and funky. The food was marvellous and very fresh. Again it was all about the dunking.
It was the perfect place for a late lunch. Then, having had enough of temples for the foreseeable future, we started heading back into town, hopping a couple of buses before reaching the hotel ready for a rest.
Before dinner we went down to Kyoto station to buy our tickets for the bullet train to Hiroshima tomorrow then back to the Gion district looking for a restaurant. We found a funny little place where you sit at a bar and watch the chef cook the food. Though not all the food. Quite a bit of it you have to cook yourself. Over a brick with a grill on top. Quite odd but tasty and adventurous at the same time. Though I wasn’t that keen on the rubbery snail things we had for an appetiser.
We accidentally walked home through the red light district though Mirinda thought the advertisements stating that people could have 50 minutes for 20,000 yen was for some new and odd form of restaurant where they charge by the minute rather than for the amount of food you consume. A few of the girls standing around on the street giving out business cards to prospective men, completely ignored me. That’s what happens when you go out to dinner with your wife.
Finally, today’s video is the view of Kyoto from a path between temples at Kiyomizu.