Kyoto diary

16 sushi pink Three nights in the same

         hotel, how will we cope with

         such wardrobe choice?

Good morning Kyoto. A little later than intended after completing the three day blog, going to Yodobashi – an incredible nine floors of electronics, electrical, camera and computer gear with some stationery thrown in – to buy a bigger USB drive to store all the photographs we’ve been taking. Yes they are on the cloud but it’s always reassuring to have a physical backup for us oldies. Our late night activities were accompanied by a little whisky which may have accounted for a good night’s sleep.

There’s some admin to do today too. We need to exchange our JR pass vouchers for the real thing and reserve our week after next overnight train to Hakodate. Fortunately the hotel is right across from Kyoto Station so we don’t have far to go.  JR passes were easy, the sleeper reservation not so easy as the train I had selected from Hyperdia online is no longer in service so we’ll have to go from Osaka to Tokyo and get an overnight from there to Hakodate. It’s booked and we’ll just rejig things a bit.

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Kyoto station is stunning. A glass and steel facade with amazing angles, lines and reflections and an interior to challenge Grand Central for the classical railway station images of the future. And like the St Pancras redevelopment in London it’s making stations not just places from which to travel but places to be. It has a stage and stepped terrace for music gigs, more restaurants and shops than you can imagine and a green garden on the roof with some very clever eco planting that helps reduce heat transfer into the building – lots of summer days are over 35 degrees – 19 last year alone and it will probably rise.  From the roof there was a great view of the Kyoto Tower and our acceptable but undistinguished hotel (the one with the white T up the front). And that’s where we headed next.

Having set out in jeans and jumpers we quickly found temperatures soaring to 25 and up. We didn’t pack shorts but fortunately did have some light walking trousers and sandals which were more appropriate attire for the day – thank goodness for the three day unpacking stay. We set off with Katie’s “dorky” maps to explore some small parts of this huge city. Mastering the simple two-line subway, we went first the Shinjo-dori the main shopping street to see if we could buy a Japan road atlas in English to help with our next stages of rentacar travel. We found a big bookshop with new Murakami book posters everywhere but no road atlas. Off the main street, which is the universal, global big city shopping area, are arcades crammed with little shops which are much more interesting. Then we came to another of Katie’s suggestions, Pontocho, which is a narrow street lined with bars and restaurants overlooking the Tama River. It was so warm that we just had to go into one to enjoy the air conditioning for a bit and of course a beer. We had a great view of a team who had dammed up part of the river to build a platform out over it which apparently many of them do for the summer season. We could imagine the delights of a glass of wine out on the terrace.

Refreshed we strode off to the Nanzen-ji Temple where we enjoyed the beautiful spring garden – the shimmering colours of acers in spring are almost a match for their autumn glory and of course so much fresher. Here we also obtained, as advised, our hon (pr. hone) a folding book on which temples stamp their insignia with a hanko (handwritten kanji combined with a special rubber stamp). They are beautiful and will give us a great souvenir of our trip.

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We then set off on the ‘Philosopher’s Walk’ a canal-side stroll through eastern suburbs with stretches of complete calm and peace conducive to higher thought – I certainly needed that – and small craft shops selling locally produced goods. By the time we reached the end we were well away from train lines and subway but Dee had cleverly picked up a bus map and the next one to round a corner was the 100 bound for Kyoto Station. It was very crowded at shop and shrine closing time and we stood for most of the journey which was a shame as it passed several landmarks of which we could only see the bottom half.

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The philosopher?  …   in pursuit of gesiha on the walk?       … this is what Dee wanted by the end of it.   

As we got back to the station, we decided to see if the Kyoto Tower had an observation gallery.  It does, we went up. Dusk falling visibility hazy after the heat of the day but a fun visit nonetheless.

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Shinkansen passing on the approach to Kyoto   The Tower reflected in Kyoto Station

After a freshen up and a couple of much needed beers following a hot day on our feet we decided to head out to find dinner locally. I don’t know if you have the same problem but we are very indecisive when confronted with a street with five restaurants all of which look interesting. We walk up, we walk back, we look at menu pictures outside and then we decide we really are hungry and are going to have to plump for one of them. We did and it turned out to be a hibachi grill place. We were shown, shoes off of course,  to a private screened booth with a footwell under our table and were served fresh vegetables and akta mackerel which we cook ourselves over a brazier with three red hot charcoal logs. Great fun and very tasty and we had chosen some excellent sashimi as a starter. We enquired of our server how she spoke such good English and it turned out that Mikita was coming to Brighton in June to study English and had been practising ahead of the trip. We have been struck by amazing meetings with people with existing and possible connections throughout the trip – there really are only six degrees of separation.

We left the restaurant and walked back towards the hotel and spied a rather lively and bright yellow-coloured bar (apologies to our Hornet friends that it is yellow AND green)  – standing only and it had a great name. So given the deprivation of yellow as we are missing so much Watford football, we thought a sake night cap was in order.  It proved a great people-watching place as late nighters popped in for a quick one on the way home and two ladies of a certain age stood consuming beer to our left until closing time – when we too were asked to drink up and depart – extremely politely. Busy, busy, Kyoto.

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Masoho restaurant entrance                                 The last orders bar

Friday dawned fresh, bright and breezy and it was back to jeans and sweaters big time. How can the temperature change by 15 degrees overnight?  Well it did and we took the subway south to visit Higashi Inari Shrine. Sadly we missread the map and finish up at a station which is s forty-five minute walk from the shrine rather than the railway station that’s right in front of it. So a taxi was hailed and delivered us to the Fox Shrine which apart from amazing main buildings has a walkway of shrine gates or torii which stretch up to the main shrine on the mountain and involve 10 000 vermillion gates – awesome. We only walked the first three thousand as other sites called but a stroll to the top and back would make a great half day outing given more time. We were approached by a uniformed guard and were worried that we’d been photographing in the wrong place but he was a retired firefighter who had spent time in Sheffield and Liverpool on job exchanges and welcomed the opportunity to speak English. We next took a short train ride to Tofukuji Temple where the buildings are stupendous but the main attraction was a beautiful zen garden on all four sides of the main hall. A wonderful oasis of peace and contemplative strolling in the midst of busy, busy Kyoto. On our way back to the station we called into a small temple  Doju-in where the attendant most beautifully calligraphed and then stamped our hon. 

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We then used our JR Passes for the second time on a train to Kiyazumi which is an amazing complex with superb views over the whole spread of Kyoto and then walked through quaint streets with fabulous little shops dotted about until we reached the Yasaka Pagoda and turned in to the Maruyama Park a popular open space with ponds and shady pathways – and a few ups and downs as we’re in the mountain foothills. After an increasingly chilly walk around the park as the wind got up we descended to the Chion-in Temple just in time to find it close. This is fortunately a short downhill walk from Gion the ancient geisha district which we wanted to explore. It’s lovely, weird and wonderful. We saw women buying kimonos and accessories, having their hair done and one of my favourite shops was a koto, shimasen and shakuhachi  shop.

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Yasaka pagoda         Maruyama Park                                                          Old and new Kyoto meet in Gion    

Some difficulties next after boarding a train at the first station we came to, Kawaramachi, where we showed our passes only to be told at the exit ticket barrier that it was a private railway and we’d need to pay. Kyoto – maybe Japan trains = However we got back safely and did a load of laundry in the coin-op in the hotel, conveniently on our floor. Then repacking ready for the road tomorrow and what felt like a wimpy dinner in the restaurant beneath the hotel which was actually rather good – beef and potato stew for me and fried beef and rice for Dee occasioning slight food envy. She had made the right choice.

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