Kyoto
Photo Album

IMG_3336 We’ve had a wonderful couple of days being regular tourists here in Kyoto–we saw quite a few temples and shrines, tried some new food, and made a few new friends. Our bodies feel a little more rested now, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the road and out of the more densely populated urban areas.

The first day in Kyoto, we went to the northwestern part of the city to see a couple of the more famous landmarks. We started with a nice ride on the city bus from the station–this was a great way to see the unique character of various areas of the city. We got off at a university near Ryoanji, and followed the masses of schoolchildren to the temple itself.

Ryoanji is most famous for its karesansui garden that according to various opinions is meant to represent a tiger and her cubs crossing a river, the islands of Japan, or chinese characters. It’s a little hard to discern any of this anymore, as the temple is extremely popular and flooded with tourists (like us!). Despite this, we still really enjoyed the visit–it’s fun to watch the children counting the stones in the garden (you can only see 14 of the 15 from any given viewpoint), and even with the chaos of all the visitors the garden still conveys a sense of calm and provokes reflection.

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Schoolchildren taking pictures at Ryoanji

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Vicky documenting the chaos at the world's most famous rock garden

From Ryoanji, we walked on to Kinkakuji (the “Golden Pavilion”), where we ran into a couple of people we had met in Hiroshima a few days earlier. Vicky had a great time taking pictures of the pavilion, and I spent a while talking with one of our acquaintances, who is thinking about living in Japan after finishing college.

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The Golden Pavilion

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More of the Golden Pavilion

Although the day was hot, I wanted Vicky to see the Zen temples at Daitoku-ji before we headed back to the hostel. Daitoku-ji is a complex of more than 20 small temples, although only a select few are open for public viewing. These temples are much less popular with tourists than others in the area, and Vicky and I were lucky to spend more than 45 minutes at Ryogen-in, which contains 5 beautiful small gardens surrounding a simple set of rooms.

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We were able to contemplate the meaning of this garden without the crowds

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I briefly came up with the meaning of life, but then lost it

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Adding our own design element.

We returned to our hostel and caught up on our sleep with a short nap, after which we did some work planning our route over the next week or so.

The next morning, we once again enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then finally headed out on bicycle to see some sights in the eastern part of Kyoto. We rode along the Kamogawa river for a couple of miles, and then turned east to the temple of Ginkakuji (often called the “Silver Pavilion” as a counterpoint to Kinkakuji in the west). I enjoyed this temple much more than the Golden Pavilion, even though it was almost as crowded. The architecture here is much more subdued, and fits in much better with the surroundings. In addition, the gardens are very pretty and provide a nice walk across small pools and up the surrounding hillside.

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The Silver Pavilion and moon viewing garden

After Ginkakuji, we rode back along the river to the Gion area, although we did not stay long there. We both found it to be extremely commercial and overly crowded, although I remember from past visits that it has some very scenic streets farther away from the main boulevard. Gion is best enjoyed in the evening, I think.

We had both been wanting to try some local Kyoto cuisine, so we went to a small restaurant named Asuka just north of Gion. It was a great meal, and we would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for a cheap(er) lunch with a local flavor. The place was run by several old women who kindly invited us in and served up a great set meal (oden for Vicky, and boiled tofu for me). The food was great, and we enjoyed watching the women chat with a constant stream of neighbors who dropped by to discuss the academic progress and love lives of various grandchildren. I was a little to eager to try my tofu, so I took one bite and then desperately tried not to spit it out while by tongue slowly burned and Vicky laughed…

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Enjoying my boiled tofu

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Is it ready yet?

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Vicky looks forward to trying oden for the first time

On the way back to the hostel, we walked our bikes through the narrow streets of Pontocho, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Even in the later afternoon, the character of the neighborhood was evident, and we had a great time eyeing up the menus (and wishing we had the money to pay for a meal!). Once back at the hostel, we did some needed maintenance on our bikes for a while, and then rode out to see the sunset from Kiyomizudera. Unfortunately (after riding up the steep hill the temple) we found that it was already closed!

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Kiyomizudera at sunset

We got a few pictures of the front gates before the sun set, and then headed back down the hill for dinner at Kyoto station. We had fun wandering around and admiring the station’s architecture, and then got some yakisoba and tako-yaki (fried octopus balls) (no, not those balls). Full, we staggered back to the hostel, got our gear all packed for tomorrow morning’s departure, and fell asleep.

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Kyoto station's roof