Friday 27th October 2017
For our first full day in Kyoto I had booked a cycling tour with a company called Noru. The tour started at 9am and so we had to be out at 7:45 to get on the subway and catch a bus to be there on time.
We arrived in plenty of time and met our guide, Ross, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for the last 10 years. Our tour group was meant to be 3 people but the other person never showed and so we had a wonderful private tour.
Our first stop was Kitano Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine which is popular with students praying for academic success. Ross showed us how to pray by ringing the bell, bowing twice, clapping twice and finally praying.
We also rubbed the head of two stone bulls that are said to help students in their exams, and while we didn't have any exams coming up it seemed prudent to do so just in case. Ben is hoping that the luck will hang around until we do.
Our next site was Rokuon-Ji, containing Kinkaku-Ji, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This complex was created as a retirement home for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The Golden Pavillion was burned down in 1950 by a young monk with mental health problems and was subsequently rebuilt in 1955.
The Golden Pavilion was beautiful, set in between lush green trees and overlooking the lake. The sun was shining today and made everything look spectacular. We really enjoyed viewing the area, and according to our guide it wasn't at all busy for this time of year. We were easily able to get prime photography positions immediately and walk around at our leisure.
At the exit we bought a temple stamp book and got it stamped by the staff. Each temple has their own stamp and calligraphy that they will put in your book for a fee and so we have now started a collection to go with the non-temple stamps we are collecting in our notebooks.
Some more cycling to a quieter area of Kyoto, the difference was very surreal suddenly going from the hustle and bustle to just the sounds of nature. This was the Daitokuji Temple Complex where we stopped off at Zuiho-In, a lovely temple with peaceful zen rock gardens and tatami mat rooms for tea ceremonies.
Then on to Imamiya Jinja where we stopped just outside for a snack of Aburi-mochi and green tea from Ichikawa, a shop that has been serving this traditional sweet since 1002! Each bamboo stick has been blessed at the shrine and is said to bring good health. Aburi-mochi is mochi rolled in soybean flour, a white miso-paste and grilled over a charcoal fire. It was quite tasty and very chewy, Ben was not a fan of the chewiness of mochi.
In Imamiya Jinja there is a large stone sitting on a small bed of pillows, if you rub the stone 3 times, pick it up, rub again 3 times whilst wishing before picking it up again. If the stone is lighter the second time then it means your wish will be granted.
We also had our shrine stamp book stamped at the counter - this time a double page design.
This was our final stop of the day so we rode back to the cycling shop down some hills that were quite fun and fast.
Ross had recommended us a restaurant on the ride back so we decided to try there for lunch. It was one of the more difficult lunch stops since the menu was entirely Japanese and even though there were pictures it was hard to figure out what was what. Ben and I both had udon noodles, and Ben had some tempura vegetables to go with his. It was nice but for some reason my hands really didn't like chopsticks today and wrestling the noodles out of the broth was frustrating.
After lunch we were headed back to the hotel but were stopped by a lovely lady who asked us if we had been to the palace yet. She told us it was really good and one of her favourite places to go for a walk and she recommended we catch a bus to get there. So we did, and we were very glad that she stopped by!
The outside of the palace is mostly wall, but inside is much nicer.
In contrast to Tokyo's Imperial Palace, Kyoto's Imperial Palace was a much nicer place to visit. It was more organised as a one-way round tour and you could actually see the buildings up close, there were trilingual signs on everything so you could learn about what you were seeing. We had a great afternoon admiring the architecture and the stunning gardens before the palace grounds shut at 4:30.
We finally got back to the hotel after our sightseeing detour and rested for a little bit while deciding where we should go next. In the end we took the subway into Kyoto Station which is actually a massive building with 13 floors of shops and restaurants above the trains.
Kyoto Station is a strange and huge place, the layout doesn't make sense, it's easy to get lost but it was very fun just wandering around.
There is a giant set of stairs, 7 floors high, that is covered in LEDs displaying animated patterns.
We saw creepy spiders bounce up and down it for Halloween.
We ate at Katsakura, a tonkatsu restaurant because we wanted to eat something slightly more familiar. One of the seasonings was sesame seeds, but they came in a mortar & pestle for you to grind yourself.
After dinner we explored around a bit and went over the walkway on the 12/13th floor that gives you a great view of Kyoto Tower at a viewing deck in the middle.
On our way back to the hotel again we stopped at a Lawsons for water and something sweet to eat on the train back.
And here we are, ready for more sightseeing tomorrow! Hopefully my feet won't be aching as much as they are now!