Chaos and Tranquility In Kyoto

Beautiful, isn’t she?

The world famous Kinkaku-ji better known as the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. She is the symbol of cultural Japan, the epitome of nature and beauty united.

The truth is we have been very fortunate with our timing so far. Arriving in quiet Osaka, driving around in the beautiful and mostly secluded Shikoku mountains. Being here in the off-season has cost us a few cold days but given us so much peace and serenity in return.

But Kyoto doesn’t have an off-season. And in reality when you get to Kinkaku-ji on a Thursday morning at opening time on a grey and somewhat rainy March day, 3 weeks before the cherry blossom has even begun to consider waking from hibernation it looks more like this:

And for much of our Kyoto trip I looked more like this:

Sartre said:
Sartre said: “Hell is other people”. I think he and I would get along. Which I realize is in itself a contradiction, but you get the point.

The worst place we went though was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Our first day in town we rented bicycles and when we got there we found the place was flooded with visitors. At one point we had to stand in line to walk up the mountain. This too was on a weekday morning.

I am not saying this to appear superior – I realize that like everyone else we are tourists in this place and it’s not like I didn’t know these sites would be popular. However I was surprised at just how many people there were and I must admit that for me at least it ruined some of the experience.

It took a lot of patience and good timing to get this shot.
It took a lot of patience and good timing to get this shot.

That being said many of these people arrive in big tour buses and merely walk to the first gate to take a picture (avec selfie stick of course) and then move on. So by embarking on the one-hour hike to the top we thought we might leave the majority behind. And we were right.

A side trip into the forest proved that when you leave the beaten, tori-patched path behind you can have it all to yourself.
A side trip into the forest proved that when you leave the beaten, tori-patched path behind you can have it all to yourself.

The temple is open 24h as far as I could tell so if you are not afraid of the dark and the Japanese forests – which I think can be kind of eerie with the scattered temple grounds all around – you might escape the masses if you go for a midnight stroll here.

From Fushimi Inari we moved on to Ginkaku-ji – the Silver Temple and sister temple of Kinkaku-ji. I can’t tell you much about it simply because we didn’t go in. Disheartened by the amount of tourists and sore-butt’ed from the cycling we opted instead for ice cream and a leisurely stroll along the the well-known but less visited Philosopher’s Path. It was beautiful even pre-cherry blossom and probably my favourite memory from Kyoto.

The next day was our month-a-versary (and yes we still celebrate this after 5.5 years together because cheesy as it may sound it is also a great excuse for eating good food and drinking expensive drinks)

The weather wasn’t great so much of they day was spent indoors enjoying the fact that our hostel had a very well equipped and clean kitchen and cooking our own food for what was essentially the first time since we left home.

Everyone told us that Kyoto should be at the top of our list of places to go in Japan. And maybe they are right, but it wasn’t our favourite so far.

As you might have guessed we didn’t see that many temples when we were in town and we found that our best experiences were had wandering smaller streets and stumbling upon hidden gardens. In Gion we were even fortunate enough to see a real Maiko (Gaisha in training) in a back alley. We stood fixated, spellbound with her beauty and other-worldly (or should I say other-timely) appearance as she click-clacked her way past us on her getas. Afterwards I wasn’t even sure if it really happened or if I had just imagined it all.

And I think this must be what people mean when they say you should go to Kyoto to experience the real Japan. It certainly can’t be all those touristy temples. But it might be these little pockets of beauty that transcends the normal and takes you back to a time of Shoguns and Samurai. They are out there, hidden, and with a little luck and a closer look you might just happen to stumble upon one of them.

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