Sunday December 4th
Bright and early we checked out and headed back to Tokyo station. Our 7:30am Shinkansen arrived with Japanese precision and in no time at all we were travelling at several hundred kilometres an hour southwards.
As we travelled Kate pointed out the opposite window. “Is that Mt Fuji?” Pointing at a gloriously clear view of a snow peaked mountain. “Um, it can’t be can it? It just doesn’t look that big, and its super clear… I have never been able to see it from the train”. Turns out, yep, it was my friend Mt Fuji alright.
At around 10am we arrived in beautiful Kyoto. I used my spider-senses to wander to our home for the next few days, K’s House hostel, which I had stayed at a couple times in the past. A good spot and they had always been lovely meant it was a good place to visit again. They were happy to see us after our big delay and looked after us straight away. But it was no time for mucking around… drop the bag off and go go go!
In many respects a bit of the trip is about filling gaps for Kate. I have had the good fortune to visit a couple of times in the past but Kate had done one shorter visit in the past, so it was about finding the things that she had missed when she had visited previously. First destination, Arashiyama.
Arashiyama is a short 15min train ride from the station. Being a Sunday, a relatively fine day, and a gorgeous locale, things were quite busy. We jumped off the train and strolled into the centre of the action. The Arashiyama area is nestled into the side of the woods, and so you get the blend from city into a more rural feeling place. While a little touristy, it is not hugely so as you wander the main street with its shops and food stalls. Mmmmm food stalls. More on that later.
We started by wandering the bamboo groves as most do. They are just stunning as you wander through the swaying greenery with the sun peeking through. It is quintessentially Japanese as you stroll the bamboo, coming across shrines and temples.
We did this for a bit and then decided it was time to grab some food. Damn you food stalls! How were we to decide? Bah, just buy bits of everything. We started with yakatori style nibbles before going for sweets. First we bought a mochi like treat with strawberry on top. How could you not when they looked this good?
Kate was intrigued by the tofu ice cream so we got one of those, with a scoop of soda flavoured gelato as well. Yum! The tofu ice cream was pretty good, but the soda gelato was delicious, a cross between lemonade icy pole and ramu soda. I opted to buy a sweet filled fish, Kate suggesting the sweet potato filling. Delicious! Kate especially was loving it. We chose well.
With food in our bellies,we wandered back into the bamboo, popping into shrines as we strolled about. At the end of the path we came across a private garden called Okochi Sanso, originally the residence of actor Okochi Denjiro. We decided to head in a stroll which was lovely, as it looked out over the Arashiyama area toward Kyoto.
It is about now I should mention that we had arrived at the tail end of autumn, meaning that while many trees had lost their leaves, many were stunning shades of red, had gorgeous views wherever we looked. Gardens, temples… you name it there was blazing red all around.
This garden was no exception and it was great to sit and relax and soak it up with some matcha green tea and cake. Mmm.
The sun was starting to go down so we jumped on a train back to central Kyoto. At the hostel we saw things up on the wall highlighting that a number of temples were being illuminated at night… with many having their last night tonight. No rest for the wicked then I guess! A little rest and it was back out into the now slightly raining evening.
The main temples that were lit up were those on the main temple walk, starting at Kiyomizu-dera temple. This is one that is quintessentially Kyoto… huge and stuck in the side of a mountain. The rain was obviously keeping some people away, but not many, as we joined the throngs making their way into the temple complex. The red leaves and the lighting made it amazingly beautiful, something photos would never do justice. In the temple complex we made our way around the buildings and through the trees. We weren’t really able to wander the whole temple complex due to the huge crowds inside, but it was OK. We soaked up the colour and stunning views as we made our way around and back out.
We were probably rushing it a little more than normal, as we only had an hour or so to visit another lit up temple or two before all was done for the evening. We wandered through the nearby narrow shop lined streets, seeing lights in the temples and flaming foliage. We eventually arrived at Chion-in, a large temple complex closer to Gion. This was much quieter, as it was more out of the way and also partly closed, but we ventured in. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as Kiyomizu-dera but the main draw was being about to venture up into the top of the main huge wooded gate, to look out over Kyoto. Aahhh.
Things were beginning to close up for the evening, and we had had a big day so decided to head back to the hostel, relax and call it a day. What a day… starting a little frustrated in Tokyo from our huge delays, and ending up calm in temples in Kyoto. Life is OK.