Sat 2 Jul 2005 33 °C
Certainly the most enjoyable city on our visit, Kyoto is all it is made up to be! A beautiful city with all the culture a visitor could possibly want to experience. We arrived, dripping with sweat due to the hot, humid weather, at the Palace Side Hotel. Not a bad place to stay, though the room, in particular the bathroom, was quite cramped. The reasonable price made up for it though and the service was excellent.
The abundance of things to do in Kyoto is almost overwhelming. We started with a visit to the Nishijin Textile Center. There are weaving demonstrations, people dressing up in kimonos, a large shop and perhaps most importantly, a kimono fashion parade (!) once an hour. And if you're really keen, you can hire a kimono for a day and walk around town in it. Naturally, we did not hire kimonos.
But we did walk around Kyoto, minus the kimonos. The Gion area is particularly good to just walk around. There are beautiful old streets lined with eateries, pottery shops and various intriguing shops that are only signposted in Japanese. We entered one shop so tightly packed with pottery that the old man in the shop had to get up from his chair in the walkway to allow us in.
One drizzly day was spent walking the Philosopher's Walk, one of the most popular attractions in the city. And for good reason. The meandering 1.5 km cobbled canalside walk passes temple after temple, with a few souvenir shops dotted in between. The beautiful Ginkaku-ji temple, also known as the Silver Pavilion, has some incredible landscaped gardens to wander through. One of the things that Kyoto gardens are supposedly known for is their use of 'borrowed landscape', using the nearby mountains as part of their overall design and this is done to great effect at Ginkaku-ji. Another feature of their garden is the sand, carefully raked in lovely patterns with a nice little mound in the middle. And people take their moss very serious here.
Towards the end of the walk, the Eikan-do complex of temples are another great attraction. After taking our shoes off at the start, we followed the corridors snaking up the hill to the various temples. Of course, there are some lovely landscaped gardens to complete the picture and various golden statues, trinkets and chanting monks.
A little further down again, the Nanzen-ji grounds include an aquaduct from 1890 - a strange sight in Japan, but an interesting one nonetheless.
But the temples aren't the only World Heritage listed site in Kyoto either. Back nearer our hotel, Nijo Castle is a beautiful old structure. This castle is nothing like the Osaka or Himeji Castles, with far less grand fortifications. It is also missing the donjon, the large central building that can be seen at Osaka and Himeji, due to a lightning strike in 1750. The highlight though, is the Honmaru Palace, decorated splendidly inside with gold leaf paintings. And a little protection never goes astray; the Nightingale floors serve that purpose. The what floors you ask? Indeed, one of the first things you notice entering the building is the squeeking floors underneath. It's not the usual annoying squeek, more a gentle tweet, specially created to warn of intruders. Nice touch.
Various other shrines were visited while in Kyoto - too much to remember really. It seems they have some shrine for every occasion, like one that seemed to be dedicated to football. It's a great city to spend time in and if you're planning a trip, I would certainly join the chorus in recommending Kyoto as a focal point.
On our last day we decided to make a trip to nearby Nara, mainly for its giant bronze buddha, the largest bronze buddha in the world, housed in the largest wooden building in the world. But the buddha shares the limelight with 1000 wild deer and indeed they almost seem the more popular attraction. We certainly enjoyed watching them eating maps out of people's hands. Well, the buddha didn't disappoint either, it truly is gigantic. The statues to either side would even be considered large, if they weren't next to the largest bronze buddha in the world. Nara park includes more than deer and buddha though, indeed the whole park is quite enjoyable to walk around. There's a smaller temple near the giant one, a shinto shrine, a pagoda and even a pond full of turtles right on the outskirt!