Today I was to have a tour guide from 9am to 5pm, similar to what I did on my second day in Tokyo. I thought it would be good to have someone who knows Kyoto and can show me the interesting things away from the tourist spots, as well as the must see places. To be honest I really had no idea where to begin. Nijo castle was the only things I definitely wanted to see.
Breakfast in my hotel was buffet style again and I had mostly an assortment of Japanese foods but also some yogurt and bread. Plus the coffee, always the coffee.
I was ready in plenty of time for the arrival of my guide, Mr Tadashi ‘Tada’ Ichimaru so I went downstairs to the hotel reception area to wait for him. He was actually there already waiting for me so after a brief introduction we were on our way.
It was a lovely day outside, not a cloud in the sky, so I was glad I'd decided to wear shorts – happy they hadn't come all the way to Japan with me only to return home unworn, as well. Tada was both pleased and disappointed that I'd already been to Nijo Castle – pleased because he appreciated that I liked that part of Kyoto's history but disappointed because he wanted to tell me all about it! However, there was plenty of time in the day for history lessons. We decided to go to the Fushimi Inari shrine first of all, to see the 5,000+ torii gates. It was somewhere I had heard about but hadn't looked into where exactly it was – in fact it wasn't even on my map of central Kyoto! We took the subway to Kyoto Central Station then took one of the JR lines (using my JR pass) just two stops.
Whilst we were waiting for the JR train, Tada gave me a short history lesson on William Adams – the first Englishman to visit Japan AND become samurai. He showed me a picture of the Shogun DVD cover. ‘This was out before you were born’ he said. ‘Yes, but I've seen it! It is based on one of my favourite books.’ He also talked about Thomas Blake Glover a Scottish man and Jules Brunet a French man who was the real last samurai – not Tom Cruise! I didn't even realise that story was loosely based on anything true. Then, he showed me a timeline for the basic history of Kyoto and pointed out when the samurai period began and ended. It ended in 1867 when the 15th Tokugawa Shogun surrendered to the emperor.
So anyway, the Fushimi Inari shrine was wonderful. There were kitsune (foxes) everywhere – Tada explained that the kitsune is a messenger.
Here's Tada, the tour guide, appearing in my photograph – I decided not to crop him out!
These colourful ribbons were in fact all made out of paper and origami cranes at that.
There were indeed thousands of torii gates. We only saw a mere fraction of them as they go all the way up into the mountains. We walked through a small section of them.
Tada was keen to take photos of me on my camera as and when, so I got quite a few photos on this day of me standing in various Japanese places. Always nice when I had mostly been travelling alone so no one to take my photo. Generally I'm more interested in photographing the things around me anyway!
Here I am lifting a rock. You're supposed to imagine how heavy the rock is going to be, then make a wish as you pick it up. If the rock is lighter than you imagined it to be then your wish will come true. It was pretty heavy though…
After Fushimi Inari we hopped back on the same JR line and went back to previous stop. Here we visited the grounds of an old zen Buddhist temple, Tofuku-ji.
Tada explained something that I had been wondering the whole time I was in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism (two entirely different religions) work together in most Japanese people's lives. So although this was a Buddhist shrine, there were still Shinto torii gates alongside. He said Shinto is for happy or positive prayers and Buddhism is, for example, if a family member has died or something.
So we wandered around Tofuku-ji and some of it's sub-temples, which I photographed along with some nice looking trees. Japan does have some great trees.
Waiting for our next train, we got talking about the English language and differences between British and American English. I mentioned that designing ELT books is what I do for a job, and that I'm a graphic designer. He told me his son is also a graphic designer! So that was pretty cool.
From Tofuku-ji, we went ever so briefly to the outer grounds of the Imperial Palace but as I wasn't interested in going inside (and you have to pre-book anyway) we didn't hang around. There were also some more great trees here!
Tada found an amazing vegetarian café-restaurant that used tofu in place of meat in all of it's dishes. The food looked great but there was going to be a half hour wait – popular place! So we took a walk through the 400m stretch of Nishiki market and shops, before turning around and winding our way back to the restaurant.
The food was amazing and even Tada said it was great. He thanked me because he had previously assumed vegetarian food to be bland and uninteresting but he was proved wrong. Veggie win!
Feeling full and well rested, we walked from the Teramachi shopping area, where the café was, to the Gion area, crossing the Kamo river on the way.
Quite pleased that I was finally able to capture a fairly decent photograph of one of these mystery birds of prey.
The Gion area was very busy with tourists and general Japanese folk alike. It is the area associated with Geisha, or as they are correctly known, Geiko. We didn't see any Geiko or Meiko (apprentice Geiko) as they would be shut away in their boarding houses until nighttime. But there were plenty of ‘normal’ people dressed up in kimonos anyway.
Tada showed me the main Geiko streets where they live and entertain as well as some theatres where they perform. I have to say I wasn't really all that interested. Some of the streets were pretty and there was one area in particular where Tada said Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed, and I do like that film (and book). But in general, I found the whole idea of Geisha, or Geiko, and people's infatuation with them to be a bit unnerving. I found myself thinking that I'd much rather return to samurai history and all that kind of boy stuff!
Tada soon realised that what I was most interested in was all the old temples, shrines and that kind of thing. He had been planning to take me to a ‘culture house’ after Gion – where they sell all kind of craft things. It might have been nice to see but I wouldn't have bought anything. Instead I asked if we could visit the Golden Pavilion, cliché and touristy as that was. But it isn't referred to as Kyoto's, and even Japan's, most famous temple for no good reason! I'm really glad we made the effort to get there.
Kyoto's subway only runs north–south and easy–west through the middle, so we had to combine the subway with a bus. This wasn't too difficult though, especially with an expert, and my two day pass was valid on buses, as well as the subway, anyway.
The signs at bus stop in Kyoto use GPS to show when each bus is 5 or 2 minutes away, as well as when it is approaching. Clever!
It was nearing 4pm when we arrived at Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Golden Pavilion, but this was actually a good thing as it meant the temple wasn't quite flooded with as many people as it could have been. There was still the odd tour group around but we got into the temple grounds fairly quickly and were soon gazing upon the temple.
It was absolutely beautiful. I think the fact the sun was shining helped as it made the gold of the temple shine even more brightly, plus it reflected wonderfully into the pond it was sitting in. As well as the temple, the pond had several other islands with picturesque almost bonsai-like trees. I felt these framed the temple wonderfully, rather than it simply being the temple on its own.
We finished our sightseeing for the day here and got a bus to where we could catch the subway to Kyoto main station. Here Tada left me to catch his own train home, and I wandered the train station shopping mall for a little while. I considered getting a coffee or some food but everywhere seemed busy and I didn't want much.
So I headed back to my hotel, stopping off in the convenience store next door first to buy something for tea – a nori wrapped rice triangle and a green tea topped pastry/cake. I also tried a macha latte, which was pretty good. I was definitely getting addicted to green tea flavoured things by this point.
I spent the rest of my evening planning the next day – how I'd get to the tea house, where I had a tour and tea ceremony demonstration booked, and how to get around in Osaka. As I was planning on briefly visiting Osaka using my JR pass in the afternoon, mostly just to see the castle.