The Joys of travel, the Art of Travel, It’s all part of the journey. After only 4 days since leaving home we have experienced all of these. The journey to get to Japan was a long winded one, a flight to Cairns that was delayed due to earlier storms and a night stopover in Cairns and then a late arrival into Osaka , we were greeted by queues, too many to count at the Immigration, and they were not moving!! We estimated it might take a bit over an hour but we were way off, it took 2 hours to crawl along the queue. Fortunately most people were in good spirits and there were no screaming babies so we got to chat to people along the way and to a young Swedish lad ahead of us who was moving to Kyoto for 12 month to study Japanese.
It’s all part of the journey they say but we were so ready to get to a comfortable bed. We were not lucky on the comfort side of the bed, they were twin beds and rock hard and could feel the springs in the mattress, so an adaption of putting the donna under the bottom sheet and cushions for John’s hips we were able to get some sleep but it wasn’t what we were expecting for the Nikko Airport Hotel especially for a superior room. It wasn’t too bad but we realised how used to the comforts of home we get and how important a good night’s sleep is too.
Our train ride to Kyoto the next day was smooth sailing and we were excited to see a few cherry Blossoms along the way, we knew they would be even better in Kyoto. We arrived to rain in Kyoto so we booked into a Shiatsu massage to try and fix some of our aches and pains from the plane trip and uncomfortable bed. Fortunately the weather cleared later so we walked up towards the river and we got our first taste of the cherry blossoms in Kyoto in the evening near Gion and saw the blossoms along the canals and the atmosphere was fantastic with cameras clicking everywhere and young and old enjoying the sights of the blossoms in full bloom.
A walk along the canal and then along a back street to get away from the tourist mayhem lead us to a fantastic little restaurant where we sat at the counter and watched the chef prepare and cook our meal.
With a little English from one of the waiters and we muddled our way along and ate some fantastic Japanese food and enjoyed a Sapporo beer too . The simplicity of the kitchen and utensils created such delicate flavours and food , the Art & Joys of travel were certainly created.
We woke to a sunny day so we had heard that rain was predicted for the next 5 days or so, so we made a plan to see as much in the sunshine today. The Philosopher’s Walk was first on the agenda. We had walked this walk along a canal, 8 years ago in the heat and loved it and the beautiful greenery. The nice cool temp was perfect for walking and the blossoms were mind blowing, they just kept on and on as far as the eye could see along the canal. The cameras were clicking continuously and it was so beautiful, and everyone around us was just as much in awe of the beauty as we were.
A few detours off the walk enabled us to see some hidden gems like the Honen-in Monastery and Anraku-Ji Nunnery and when we returned to the walk it was so crowded, we were pleased that we started it early and were able to finish it before it was impossible to stop and enjoy the blossoms.
A taxi ride later took us to Hirano Shrine where the grounds are set up for the Sakura festival. It was such a great atmosphere with the beautiful blossoms, food stalls everywhere and benches packed with people out enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, blossoms and food. We had some chicken sticks and pancake style meal, as we were hungry after our morning of walking. We then walked to the Shrine and our cameras were off clicking again.
After our eventful day we were in need of a rest for the feet in particular, so back to the MyStays Hotel and our legs up the wall and a breather.
Having enjoyed the Nijo-jo Castle 8 years ago, we were keen to see the gardens in bloom, we looked up the opening times before we left and realised we had to hurry if we wanted to get there before the gates closed. It was an easy 5-minute taxi ride so we got there in time but decided it was all to hurried and as there was a night light opening for the Sakura we thought this was best to wait for. They would not sell us a ticket for the night viewing, we were told to come back in a few hours, so to fill in the time we enjoyed walked up to the Imperial Palace Gardens and watched the locals enjoying their great outdoors. There were some blossoms in bloom but most of them were finishing up
It was very pleasant to sit on a bench and just be a spectator for a while. We then wandered the back streets back to the castle and were still early for the tickets to start selling but thought it would be good to get there early. There were many more people who thought the same as us, the queue was right down the street and with still a while before the box office was opened we decided we did not want to stand still in a queue.
A very fortunate choice of restaurant that was across the road from the castle was a great winner. they gave us the table that looked out to the gorgeous Japanese garden and the set menu had seafood and beef in it, each part of the meal was a delight.
We saw the queue was still long after we finished our meal but thought it was worth seeing how long it went and it started moving quickly so within 15 mins we were in and the light show was amazing. The trees were like a permanent fireworks display and it just kept going all around the castle gardens, very glad we made the effort.
Kyoto Taxis where would we be without you ? The metro doesn’t really work getting to temples and shrines and by the time we get to the station and then get off at the other end and get to the destination we have lost hours ,so Kyoto Taxis are always there around every corner waiting for you. Yes, it’s costly but not so in the scheme of things when you consider what a hotel costs at Sakura time let alone the cost of tours and we think its a winner.
We had read a lot about Marayama Park where the locals gather at Sakura time and lay their Tatami mats out to eat, drink and be merry all night long, it is just adjacent to the Yasaka shrine and Kodaiji Temple and has some amazing trees including the most revered Cherry blossom tree in Kyoto.
We walked along the main canal that runs through the Gion district and saw some beautiful white blossoms lining the banks on the way to The Heian Jingu Shrine with its massive gate structure, the biggest we have seen leading us to The Okazaki Canal and park where the Sakura are at their peak almost dropping into the water along the stretch of the canal
The Heian Jingu Shrine was a great find with all the requisite red and green shrine style and with Kyoto’s oldest Prunus blossom tree and the most spectacular gardens we have seen hidden behind the Shrine buildings. The pink blossoms were at their peak unlike other areas that were past their prime and the combinations of tones mixed with white and greenery were delightful. The ponds, lakes, Pagodas and landscaping were simply perfect in their Zen settings. With the rain setting in we took another taxi to Kyoto station and found an awesome reflexology centre and had a well earned foot and shoulder massage that put us in floaty land for a while before wandering the CUBE and Porto shopping malls under the station and then heading up to the top of the CUBE for a big lunch that really topped us up.
After our afternoon nap we had another wander around the streets and canals that run off Sanjo Dori to see more night time Sakura and a drink and a light bite at a bar , our huge walking day caught up with us , so an early night was had.
The decision to grab a taxi or the train to Arashiyama on the outer rim of Kyoto was decided when we looked at the map and saw that we could take the scenic route along the river and the accompanying Sakura that was sure to be there, and yes it was in abundance. We were heading to the Tenryuji Temple and Bamboo grove and discovered to our delight another stunning set of gardens with the temple that gave us tours of both.
The gardens climbed up the side of the hill on a gentle incline and had late blooming azaleas of various types as well as some spectacular white and pinks blossoms amongst the Zen gardens and path.
The Bamboo grove was the big tourist attraction here and it was packed but manageable with massive aka Crouching tiger etc style trunks and height. People were jostling there way through making a lot of fuss but there were bamboo groves everywhere in the hills but this walk must have had some significance.
Ann spotted another set of gardens at the end of the track and in we went to find a private house and gardens of the late screen actor, Oh-khochi Denjiro .Tekisui Estate also had a Tea Room, where we enjoyed sitting and taking in the peaceful environment, The whole estate was a truly peaceful place with lovely views to the Sakura covered hills and valley with river below on one side and Kyoto on the other, every nook and cranny was full of surprises. We have been so fortunate with the gardens we have either found or stumbled across on this journey.
After a lovely lunch at a local restaurant where we had a brilliant tempura and udon noodle set we were off to the Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine for some more cultural dosing where there were mainly people queuing for the blessings whilst the monks were doing their ritual chanting inside. This temple had the most amazing roof lines curving and flowing in both tile and thatched covers as well as intricate coloured decorations.
While we were in the Temple mood, we thought why not see a few more so it was back into a taxi and down to two of the big ones right in downtown Kyoto, first the massive enclave of four temples at Kosho-ji and Nishi Honganji which are from the same sect of Buddhism. The scale was massive and the interiors were both serene and awe inspiring in a similar way to the Mosques of Istanbul. The way the structures link and the sheer magnitude of the design, engineering and craftsmanship is worth the visit… just so much to take in that it can be overwhelming for a Architecture nut like John. And so to the Higashi Honganji Temple one of the largest wooden structures in the world and it was partly under restoration but the interior was vast and the altar region was intricate and serene in it’s beauty.
Our last day in Kyoto and it was off to another early start to avoid the rain as well as grabbing breakfast at the Hyatt which was a nice refuge from the cold and wet before we visited the Museum of Kyoto. It was then off to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine and it’s tunnel of orange gates that meanders up the hillside for 5 km , a continuous snake of orange that plays tricks on you as it winds along every corner providing a vision all its own. We have come across many wedding couples both in traditional Kimono gear and western outfits and as this is Sakura and wedding season all in one they were taking advantage of it all at the shrine.
We grabbed some lunch back near Mayarama Park before heading back for a rest and a massage before our special dinner out at The terrace restaurant in the Gion district which proved to be a great choice. The evening was completed with a lovely stroll trough the Shinbashi Dori streets in Gion along the famous canal with it’s Sakura lit up perfectly in the drizzle