After the pulsing life in Tokyo it took me a few days to truly calm down and get the mood (of some) of the zen temples. The first one where I really felt relaxed was, ironically, not just a buddhist temple but also a shinto one. Unfortunately it was also my second to last day in Kyoto. I think a part of it was also that I felt like I had to hurry to see it all and this day was more of “let’s check what’s left on the map and go look at” that day. Unfortunately it was also the only day where it was really raining, so I found out the hard way that neither my (winter) shoes nor my (rain) jacket are actually water proof. Luckily, it wasn’t very cold, so being soaked wasn’t a life threatening or even health threatening problem.
In actuality the day started of quite poorly. I had organised to meet a friend in front of Fushimi Inari Taisha, the large shinto shrine on a hill in southern Kyoto. Unfortunately my internet access was sketchy and I didn’t get his email from 2am that he wouldn’t make it by 9, let’s meet at 9:30. Quite the contrary, I was up early and arrived 15min ahead of time at the train station. After waiting for 45min, I decided that he wouldn’t be coming and made my way from the train station to the temple. Effectively missing him by 1 or 2 minutes. The wait did pay off in so far as I could, once again, watch the temple workers leave their prayer hall and walk through the rain to their buildings. Sheltered by pretty bamboo umbrellas. The shrine itself is very similar to other shinto shrines you may have seen, and as all these places in Japan, it’s bustling with life (and tourists) even when it’s raining. After having taking a tour around the buildings, I attacked the climb on top of the hill. This is the true attraction of Fushimi Inari Taisha. The path up the hill takes roughly 40min and leads to thousands of Tori gates. Smaller and larger ones and several occasions the paths split up. As the path is uphill, it is a bit tiresome to walk it. This means that the further you go the fewer people you see. The further up you go, the better the view onto Kyoto is as well and so it came that I was standing on a step looking out over Kyoto and, surprisingly, my friend who had correctly figured that if he walked up the hill fast enough he would eventually catch up to me!
We walked up the remainder of the stairs together and inspected every shrine and cemetery on the way in detail, though I only figured out on the way back down that the cemeteries were actually cemeteries when my friend pointed this out to me. I was just looking at them as mystical places which gained their beauty from the contrasting bright red of the gates and the dark green of the wet moss. They needed no more reason to exist.
We spent the entire morning in the areal of the temple and took way too many photos.
Afterwards we had to decide what to do.. I had had my mind set on visiting an Ontsen, relaxing in the hot water, doing nothing. But there’s little fun in going to an Ontsen together, if you’re not allowed to actually be in the same bathtub afterwards. So we looked around. There was one temple close by, that was being recommended as “not so overrun, but very pretty”. The Tofuku-ji . We decided to stop by and it was a real treat. The vast complexed offered several large buildings and three beautiful raked gardens. Some of the prettiest that I had seen in Kyoto, possibly because they were actually quite new and modern, only a hundred years old. They were quite modern in a certain sense, incorporating some stone steles and a check pattern in moss and gravelstones. Possibly, however, it was also due to the somewhat more creative raking in the gardens. I don’t know if this was due to the rain or just coincidence, but most of the gardens showed the concentric circles overlaid on top of the straight lines. For me this clearly symbolised rain and I thought it a very nice touch. The last thing in the temple compound we visited was a long, covered bridge, from which you could look down onto a tiny streamlet of water and the autumn foliage turning red. After spending many hours in temple relaxing and gettnig in touch with our inner self, we decided that the next thing to do was some more shopping. Our street ended in the small streets of the food-quarter of Kyoto, where we took a look at the nice lanterns and then walked 20min straight away from it, to leave this high-class foot quarter and find something that we could actually afford. In the end we found a small, very lovely restaurant that made it their task to have us try local specialities recommending us the seasonal items, such as ginko nuts that I’ve never seen on a menu for and likely won’t see again either.