The next day I attacked west Northern & Western Kyoto.. While the main sights are all concentrated in Higashiyama, there’s still a few very nice temples and sights that are distributed all over the city. The first temple I visited was the golden pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) whose real name is Rokuonji. This led to a short moment of confusion on my part, as I had failed to realise that “golden pavilion” obviously not the name of a temple, but just a popular way to describe it.
The golden pavilion, contrary to the silver pavilion is actually covered in thin gold foil and mirrors beautifully in the lake surrounding it. Nowadays the two upper levels are covered in gold after a mad monk burnt the pavilion down in 1950 and it was decided for the reconstruction that the two upper levels would now be covered in gold, not just the upper most. It is hard to make two steps without wanting to contemplate the new perspective onto the lake & the pavilion. However, it is also hard to take two consecutive steps due to the masses stampede through the lower part of the temple. Actually, traffic must be so bad at peak times that all paths are one way streets and you’re lead on a big loop through the gardens from which you can not deviate. Luckily for me, I arrived in the somewhat early morning and while the main spot for viewing the temple was quite busy, the path itself was in no way packed (but also no way empty). The none-emptiness was of benefit to me as I would’ve been unable to identify the carp trying to swim up a waterfall in the gardens (pictured on the side) if there hadn’t been a guide conveniently standing next to it, explaining his tourists what it was. From Rokuonji I continued on to Ryoanji. There I was surprised that this temple is actually called Ryoanji as well, there’s no method to the naming at all! It is famous for its gardens, as are many of the temples in Kyoto. It is also very old, the first temple dating back to the Heian period about 1000 years ago.
Most temples have two typical styles of gardens: One being what we traditional expect of a garden, gras, trees and landscaping designed in a way that the garden incorporates seamlessly the mountains in the distance. You can’t see the temple walls and get the impression of a vast garden, even if it may just be a few square meters. Ryoanji doesn’t just have a few square meters. It has 120 acres and a giant pond in the front where the autumn colours where in full blow. The second type of garden you will typically see in a Japanese temple is the rock garden. Where a number of large boulders are placed into sand, expressing something deeper that eluded me. The sand or gravel is then raked into forms depending on the mood and day. I must admit that the traditional zen gardens did not really impress me much. I guess the deeper meaning mostly eluded me and I appreciated the ‘modern’ interpretations a lot more than the traditional ones. Another thing that was particular about Ryoanji was that one was actually allowed to take pictures of the paper walls inside the temple. Something that is forbidden in most temples or more or less impossible due to poor lighting.
From there I went to Arashiyama, where I would visit Tenryu-ji Temple, the bamboo gardens and the walk through the woods and a small village to the next bus stop.Luckily my foot was mostly recovered by then. The temple offered a lovely garden, incorporating the mountains in the background as scenery for the turquoise pond which featured some huge, hungry kois. Towards the back of the garden, grew the bamboo forest. I must admit that I was never a big fan of the bamboo forest, already when I saw it at other temples. I had been ready to skip it, in case I didn’t feel well, but I went ahead and walked through it. It was a good decision, the bamboo itself isn’t particularly spectacular, but it gives you a good idea of your own smallness, when you consider just how much this gras outgrew you. The path leading from the forest to toriimoto was also very pretty. Something that is no secret and so I was accompanied by many people along the way and, apparently, even Japanese try to take advantage of their tourists. Roughly at the half way point, I came across a sign telling us, that solicitation is illegal and waiting around until someone shows up that can be solicited as well.. I had barely passed the sign, I saw the first people waiting at a corner, trying to convince people to grab a tea in their ‘garden lounge’.
The path ended in a lovely little village consisting almost entirely of wooden houses, many of which had since turned into shops. I stopped at one and bought some chop sticks. While calculating the price the shop owner shorted himself by almost 1000 yen (roughly $10), so I pointed out that the price is wrong. The emotions displayed on his face where quite scary: First came the disbelief that I would be so rude as to point this out, then the shame at others thinking he’ would abuse a tourist, then the worry about what to do if he hadn’t been mistaken and I was going to start an argument over the price and finally the demure somewhat submissive attitude, that you find a lot in Japan. I felt quite bad to put him through such a range of emotions over a mistake that would’ve benefited me. He recalculated the price on his calculator, showing me every step and I could feel how eager he was for me to agree with everything. When he saw that the final price was higher than the original one, he gave me a broad smile and I firmly believe that the original scare was quickly forgotten.
He thanked me profoundly for pointing out the mistake (or so I assume as I don’t speak Japanese) and I left his shop to continued my shopping. This I did in Kyoto’s large central market, the historic center today still sells food in form and consistency that leave me without the slightest idea what it might have been originally. I walked past with fascination and looked at all the marinated and breaded items that I couldn’t quite identify.. I did, however, not dare to try them. Mostly because I could not make out whether the food could be eaten as it was or still needed to be cooked.