Thursday, 6 July 2017

Japan Tour (3-11 May 2017), Day 5 : Kyoto

At the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Each and every Torii Gates here are donated by businessmen!!!
In the morning, back at Himeji station
Himeji Castle as viewed from the train's platform
All the seats to ourselves!!!
Bernie's best friend.....300 Yen per day locker charge, Shin Osaka station!
Bicycle parking outside Kyoto station
At the junction to Yasaka Shrine
Traditional shops along the road to Yasaka Shrine
Modern shops along the road to Yasaka Shrine
Lots of narrow alleyways near Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine. On our side is the 100 year old sushi restaurant
Diagonal to the 100 year old restaurant is the Gyoza joint
Waking up the Heavenly Gods, Yasaka Shrine ???
Couples getting their marriage blessed at Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka No To Pagoda
Kiyomizu Dera Temple
Kiyomizu Dera Temple
 Kiyomizu Dera Temple
Parking our bikes, Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Go pro total fail when someone is too big!!! Thankfully, Suzie had a back up! At Fushimi Inari Taisha
Walking back to our bikes, Fushimi Inari Taisha
Right out from Saga Arashimaya station
The crowd builds up nearing the Arashimaya bamboo forest and Togetsukyo bridge
The side lane between the shops leads to the forest
Dabbing !!!
Leaving the forest
On the way to Seiryo-Ji temple
Seiryo-Ji temple
Ryokan Yamazaki, main hotel and restaurant by the main road
Ryokan Yamazaki's homestead, a few hundred meters behind the main building
Ryokan Yamazaki's beautiful Japanese garden
Ryokan Yamazaki's beautiful Japanese garden

This morning, we headed for Kyoto. Taking the bullet train from Himeji, it was surprisingly empty on a Sunday. As our JR tickets allowed us passage ONLY, seats subject to availability; we were thrilled to find ourselves some plush cushions to put our feet up! Transferring at Shin Osaka, Bernie again, utilized the lockers as he did in Himeji and Onomichi.

Once in Kyoto, the Kyoto Tower greeted us as soon as we exited the station. Riding along the Kamogawa River, we travelled along a shared bike and pedestrian path. The other side of the river was lined with riverside restaurants. 

Nearing Yasaka Shrine, beautiful girls in full kimono outfits started appearing on the streets. We found out much later that they were merely tourists!!! In fact many shops around the area capitalized on tourist money by renting out kimonos by the hour, throwing in a hair and makeup package as well!

Watching the cooks at work while we eat!
Fried rice, gyoza and noodles at affordable prices

As Bernie was feeling hungry, he started on a 100 year old traditional sushi restaurant located at the cross junction to Yasaka Shrine. Claudine who was not gamed for cold food decided on a gyoza outlet up the street. As the shop has yet to open for business, VT and herself made a slight detour to the Shrine.

Passing through the grand gates, a traditional fountain for cleansing, fully equipped with bamboo ladles lay on the left. Stepping further in, the ringing of bells beckoned them. Devotees were offering prayers to the dieties before finally pulling on the long rope to sound the giant bells, perhaps to alert the Heavenly Gods!

Next, we visited the Yasaka No To Pagoda, the centerpiece of the Hokanji temple. Tucked outside, at the corner was an interesting shop selling green tea ice cream with gold leaf toppings. The queue was not long but the wait for each ice cream to be prepared needs a .... lot .... of .... patience!


Going further uphill, the ancient part of Kyoto draws in the crowd. The narrow streets built with stone slabs were decked with shops steeped in Japanese architecture. Modern day Kyoto, the shops now thrives on tourist knick knacks.

While we were enjoying a green tea ice cream, a group of Japanese people clad in traditional clothing of white and beige were marching uphill. Some of them held poles with paper lanterns while some others were waving flag poles. They left in a hurry, half walking, half running, forbidding anyone from taking photos. There were no visible coffins with them but Suzie thought it was a funeral possession.

As we tread uphill, the crowd became intensely dense. We locked our bikes at a corner and went on foot to Kiyomizu Dera temple, a Buddhist temple listed as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto; a Unesco Heritage Site. It was also one of the 20 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World.


Leaving the temple, we made our way downhill at the same time, marveling the view of Kyoto city. Little did we realized, we had climbed up high to a good vantage point.

Soon, we found our way to yet another temple, Fushimi Inari Taisha. This Shinto shrine sits at the foot of Mount Inari, named after the Rice God. Since ancient Japan, Inari is known as a patron of business, hence merchants and manufacturers traditionally worshiped Him. All torii seen in this temple is donated by businessmen!!!

Seeing so many temples in a day was confusing us. While we could pick out a Shinto shrine from the tell tale Torii gates, the Buddhist rituals practiced here defers from home. Instead, we opted to escape to the tranquility of Arashimaya bamboo forest, hoping to find some zen time. Sadly we found ourselves clashing with yet another army of tourists!!!

The giant bamboos at Arashimaya belong to the largest member of the grass family. The trunks were amazingly thick. While they stood tall and grew close to each other, leaving very little sunlight to penetrate through to the ground, new shoots continue to spring out from the earth.

The forest is located next to a cemetery exuding an eerie atmosphere as evening approaches. Every now and then we heard a faint knocking in the forest as the bamboos swayed in the wind and hit each other. 
Workers sanitized their hands each time after handling money!
Most expensive tofu!
 Making our way to Ryokan Yamazaki, we made a short detour at Seiryo-Ji temple. A little down the road from the temple a long queue by a tofu shop caught our attention. Sagatofu Morika is a tofu factory that also sells tofu to individual buyers. We made a small purchase and were shocked by the prices. The tofu were cold, hard and the tastes...were not really there at all!

Fishing spot
Lover's paradise!
 Laughing at our own gullibility, we continued on, passing by Lake Hirosawa-Ike. This is a recreational spot flanked by the mountains on one side and farmlands on the other side. Row boats were seen bobbing in the lake, presumably on rentals.

Leaving the lake, we soon approached a forested area with hilly terrains. A hill grade of 12.1% on Strava, we struggled on our climb. Our resolves broke when we turned the corner and saw that the climb was to continue for another segment! One by one, we all came down our bikes to push.

At the top of the hill were homes, a driving range and a poolside by a cliff. Our ryokan stood on the other side of the hill, down below and not far away from the club. Being a hotel with a restaurant by the roadside, we were upgraded to the homestead a couple of hundred meters behind the hotel. Walking there requires passing by homes with luxury cars parked inside!

The rooms at the ryokan were big. Bernie got the honeymoon suite with a verandah that opens out to the Japanese garden. The toilets and bathrooms though are shared, making it a tad inconvenient.

That evening,Suzie and Claudine experienced their first communal washing by the stainless steel sink while the boys showered behind thin shower curtains that flapped as they moved about. When it was the ladies' turn, they locked the main door to the bathroom, preferring privacy. It was a peculiar experience chatting as they bathed and making friends with a fellow Japanese lady from Osaka who joined them in the bathroom!!!

Living area
As the ryokan was far from any restaurants or convenience stores, everyone dined in house. The food was a bit pricey but relatively good.
That night, we slept on futons, weighed down by kakebutons, while enjoying sweet dreams. What happened in the honeymoon suite stays behind the shoji! Our 3 French elders, though only returned in the wee hours of the night, spent and wasted!!!

This day marks the end of our JR pass

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