Keeling over in Kyoto

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Chita Guest Inn
What I did

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wow it was hot, hot, HOT! Over 40░C some days! With so many amazing temples and shrines in Kyoto, each unique and special, it was difficult not to catch 'temple fever' that grips many visitors. But, because of the temperature we took it easy during our week visiting a few temples and castles, taking time to relax in tranquil Japanese gardens and wandering the shopping streets, whilst fellow travellers from our guest house were tearing around the city bagging three or four temples a day! I was impressed with their stamina and amazed that they weren't keeling over from the heat like us. Kyoto's thousands of drink vending machines and the fans being handed out by shops were getting a lot of use, and ice-cream was essential for survival we decided. 

On arrival we were a little disappointed by Kyoto with its grid pattern streets, modern build and plain fašades, austere walls, jumbles of overhead cables and little greenery. But as with all new places it just takes time to get behind the fašade and very quickly we discovered a Kyoto full of character, with absolute gems tucked away down the blandest looking streets or behind high walls, beautiful green, mountain surrounds, kindly and gracious people. 

Our highlights were the Ginkakuji Temple, a Zen temple with beautiful garden nestled into the mountainside; the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine for its many stone kitsune and pathways of orange torii winding up a wooded mountainside; Nijo-Jo for its beautiful nightingale floor and wall paintings; Sanjusangen-do Temple for the sight of 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity in cypress and gold; and the peaceful Shinsen-en Garden just north of our guest house.

One especially hot day I crazily had us marching up a steep mountainside to the east of Kyoto to visit the giant Daimonji (大) at Daimonji-Yama/Higashi-Yama, Nyoigatake. This is one of five giant fire beacons on Kyoto's mountains lit during the O-Bon festival in August when the spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit this world during O-Bon, return to the spirit world. The views were incredible but it was tough in the heat and I did pay for it, coming down with a short, sharp cold for a few days. 

At the Kinkakuji Temple we decided to see what the future held for us courtesy of a Written Oracle, omikuji (literally 'sacred lottery'), vending machine. If the omikuji predicts bad luck the paper slip is tied onto a tree or fence in the shrine grounds in the hope that the prediction will not come true. The fence opposite the vending machine was covered in omikuji, but we had nothing to worry about. Ours were blessings rather than curses and in fact they were strangely apt. Phil's read, 'Thanks to the breeze, young grass has begun to put forth its shoots' and mine, 'How happily the birds are playing around after getting free out of their cage! They are singing merrily in the spring field.' Wooaah! How true is that?!!

Chita Guest Inn, run by the lovely Kaori, made the perfect base. We saw a high turn-over of guests during our week there and we met some great people - notably Jason from Vancouver, Canada and Ellen from Ghent, Belgium. Our simple, spotless room had rattan flooring and futon mattresses and a view across to the dramatic entrance way of the Higashi-Honganji Temple over the road. The central lounge-dining room was a fun place to sit and chat in the evenings to fellow travellers of various nationalities and ages. To keep costs down we stocked up on food and drink from the many corner stores and utilised Chita's well kitted out kitchen, and we snacked on rice-cakes and sushi rolls during the day. Talking of corner stores we never tired of the enthusiastic 'ohayou-gozaimasu' that greeted us as we walked through the door, or 'arigatou-gozaimasu' as we left
With so much to see in Kyoto it would have been easy to fill two, three weeks. Things we'd like to have done but ran out of time - visit some of the many rural temples hidden away amongst the hills and mountains around Kyoto, and wander Gion, the old quarter, during the day time. We'll just have to visit again one day! 
Here are some photos of our fantastic week in Kyoto. Hope you like them.

Best wishes
Nickie & Phil

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