Can you make scrambled eggs in a cup? Not one of life’s most interesting questions. Not one I thought I would find myself pondering in 2018 in modern-era Japan.
The answer is – yes, yes you can! As long as you stir the sh1t out of them with a plastic fork.
About 5 days into our holidays and we had encountered a bit of a problem. Dinner and lunch in Japan is amazing, so many different dishes to try and cool places to go. Breakfast is only so-so. Combined with the fact that finding a good breakfast place takes time and you almost always have to queue we decided to “rough it” a bit in Kyoto to maximise morning sightseeing time and minimise breakfast disappointment.
Our first mission this morning would be to explore the bamboo forest/grove of Arashiyama. Located in the North East suburb of Arashiyama this would involve a 45 min meandering train trip on the Sagano (Purple) line followed by a 15 minute stroll through the suburb.
It has been designated a Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese Government due to the mountains in the background and the fields of bamboo trees in the foreground, and the Hozu River floating through it. Aristocrats have been flocking here since the 8th century to check out the changing colours of the seasons and go boating. Today the crowds are more varied with instagram influencers competing for room with tour buses to get that “killer photo”.
There is one main pathway, called “bamboo alley” that rises to meet you but the whole scene is one of tranquility (if you can ignore the crowds).
And if the camera pans down…
If you are very lucky you can spot a panda! Cannot believe we got a photo of it…
From Arahiyama we headed back on the train a few stops and then north to our next location – The Kinkakuji Temple. Another Zen Temple but this one has a twist. It’s top two floors are entirely covered in gold leaf.
Its no surprise that its other name is the Golden Pavillion.
Set in amazing gardens and with it’s mirror image shimmering on the large pond next to it there is a feeling that this is more of a palace or retreat than a working temple. In fact on research it turns out that this was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. In his will the villa would be converted into a Zen Temple and so it was in 1408 it became the Kinkakuji Temple.
As with most temples and heritage buildings that old the structure standing today is actually not the original. It has burned down a number of times, including in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatical monk. The current and latest incarnation was re-built in 1955.
At the top of the pavillion is a golden phoenix built in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall. Shogun Yoshimitsu created some of the first embassies between feudal Japan and China and one of his last acts was to sign a Sino-Japanese Trade Pact that lasted for the next century.
After taking the Pavillion in we walked through the rest of the complex – the gardens and other temple buildings. We also noticed that the calm pond was full of koi carp just under the surface.
On the way out we had our first taste of matcha ice-cream. It was not bad!.
Stroll around town
We had not anticipated getting back from the Golden Pavillion. There was no real sense of how to get out of the district and in the end just jumped on any old bus to get us back to the center. The bus we jumped on brought us near the Imperial Palace so we jumped off.
Of course knowing our luck we arrived on the only day the Palace was closed to visitors but our consolation prize was a nice stroll through the national gardens (Kyoto-gyoen) that surround it. The Palace was the home of the Japanese Emperor until the Meiji Resoration in 1869 when the throne moved to Tokyo.
Stand out moments for me were the Sakaimachi-Gomon Gate on the south of the park and sightings of the majestic grey heron.
Walking further on we made our way back to the Gion area and another temple, Kennin-Ji. The oldest zen temple , constructed in 1212, in Kyoto it also had an amazing buddhist rock garden that we wanted to check out.
The Temple was founded by Eisai, a Buddhist monk who introduced Zen Buddhism and tea-making to Japan (from China) and had some of the best artwork we had seen so far on our trip. Especially impressive is the gilded sliding doors containing famous images of the wind and thunder gods, created by Sôtatsu Tawaraya.
But some of the best features were in the gardens, moss covered rocks and gravel paths. To the south of the Hojo (Main Hall) was a great example of a ‘dry garden’ – rock and white gravel shaped into the symbols of swirling clouds.
The standout piece was commissioned in 2002 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the temple. Located on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall is the visually striking image of a pair of dragons painted by Japanese artist Junsaku Koizumi. Its a large piece, covering some 175 square meters and reminded me of the frescos you would see in Italy. Not merely a pretty painting but a dramatic diorama come to live above – rampaging dragons in the Dharma Hall.
Night Time Falls On Manhattan
We decided to walk down to Kyoto Central Station. With dusk fast approaching we wanted to get a vantage point to see the Kyoto skyline. Along the way down we walked past the Higashi-Honganji Temple (‘Eastern Temple of First Vow’) of the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism. We stopped and took photos of the Founders Hall Gate – ‘Goei-do-mon’
A further 10 mins south was the Kyoto Central Station. The architecture of yesteryear giving away to concrete and neon which at night lended an almost cyberpunk feel to the area. The Kyoto Station Building interior looks like it has been lifted from the fictional San Angeles (Demolition Man film). Opened in 1997 to commemorate Kyoto’s 1200th Birthday (that’s a lot of candles), its 15 floors recieves over 50 million tourists each year.
We quickly made it to level 15 and the SKy Garden – an open air platform with some stunning views back into the interior of the station and the city of Kyoto beyond. Our nearest neighbour the Kyoto Tower can be seen up close and personal from here.
And that was it for sightseeing. We packed it in for the night starting with a pre-dinner cocktail at the Annie Hall Whiskey Bar. Another American style long bar joint. Over an amaretto sour and manhattan we found out the story of how back in the 1980s a Japanese man went to Scotland to study Whiskey making to bring the techniques and styles back to Kyoto. Afterwards we found a one room sushi restaurant which was awesome and washed down with some ice-coll Asahi. #LoveJapan
On the way home we could not pass up an opportunity to go back into Fushimi Inari and take some twilight photos. Although we were wary not to upset the Kitsune standing sentinel in the temple.
Another big day done in Kyoto. Tomorrow we would take a break from the tranquility and peace capital and travel west on a day trip!