This was my third day in Kyoto and my last full day here and in Japan. I had been in the northern region the day before, on this day I was heading over to the Southern Higashiyama area which has the most famous (and popular) temple walking tour. This was to see the temple that friends who had been here in February told me was their favorite (Kōdai-ji) and also as the Lonely Planet had said this walk was pretty much must see. It was again a bus ride over but looking at the map I realized that I had walked further then the distance there the evening before when I went to the nightlife area. So I decided to walk.
For the third day I walked past this walled structure about eight blocks from my hotel and this time I decided to figure out what it was. This was fortuitous as it turned out to be this stunning garden practically right down town. I ended up spending several hours there and as it was about lunch time now, I ended up walking back to my hotel afterward and getting lunch at a conveyor belt sushi place (Kaiten-zushi) that was near Kyoto Station.
Covered bridge in Shosei-en
Southern Higashiyama Walk
After lunch I headed back out and onto my original plan. I did have less time now, but I knew I could only really do a couple of temple anyway before I wore down. Once again I took a pretty long trek, but once again this proved so rewarding. Even in Kyoto which is packed with sightseeing areas, everybody takes public transit so in between you see no tourists and you are in places where the residents live and shop. I was mostly walking along a fairly busy road but I got to see plenty of the “real” Kyoto. As I approached the temple filled edge of the valley the shops all became pottery, lacquer-ware and masonry. I had arrived at Teapot Lane.
The above gallery contains pictures taken while walking in between various temples in Higashiyama. The first couple are leading up to Teapot Lane and then the lane itself. Teapot Lane was up hlll and the final climb up to Kiyomizu-dera was up stairs with an orange pagoda visible above the trees. Kiyomizu-dera was packed with tourists and Japanese students. Once again I was used for English practice this time it was kids from Hiroshima who asked me to write them a message of peace. The temple had a big gate and an open area with the pagoda and a shrine and this interesting shrine where you walked through a passage underground in total (and I mean total) darkness till you got to a room with a Buddha in it. There a tiny hole let a shaft of light fall on top of the Buddha. This was super cool I have to say. From this area you paid and went through a second gate to the primary temple area at Kiyomizu-dera.
One of the little halls at Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizu-dera was crowded but I had a great experience here. It was just outside the secondary gate that an elder showed me how to perform the purification ritual (which I knew by now but was sweet I thought). Inside I encountered Maiko (Geisha in training) who were doing some tourism of their own (and featuring in plenty of photos from the other tourists) and I witnessed another elder demonstrating to interested kids another ritual. This is clearly a big and wealthy temple but it was as usual packed with neat grottoes, beautiful wooded areas and so on.
Southern Higashiyama Walk (from the Orange pagoda on)
The day was winding down and I wanted to get to Kōdai-ji with enough time to do it justice so I headed out. Following my walking tour I went down a much more crowded and even more scenic street which was fully lined with shops and packed with students in their yellow rain hats. Following the route I went down stairs and around corners in ever increasingly traditional and kick ass narrow streets. Eventually ending up at the “most scenic street in Japan”. From there it was up a stairway to a parking lot for several temples. You could see a gigantic (as in probably 6 stories) Buddha peeking above the wall of one of these temples. Perpendicular from this was Kōdai-ji which I headed to forthwith.
The grounds and a little building at KÅdai-ji
Kōdai-ji was another Zen temple (Rinzai) which were definitely the most appealing to me. This one was tucked into a corner of the valley and was a beautifully integrated into it’s surrounding bamboo forest. It had a dry rock garden which had mounds of raked gravel instead of rocks as at Ryōan-ji. It also had curved edges on two sides instead of the rectangular area at Ryōan-ji. This gave it a very natural, organic feel as if it was the edges of a pond (which is sort of the metaphor of these rock gardens).
I stayed at Kōdai-ji pretty much until closing time which was signaled by the booming rings of the temple bell.
Dry Garden at Kōdai-ji
I headed out from the temple area and walked around the narrow streets a bit more. I knew my temple touring was over (which was okay as I’d spent many hours in these two) but I intended to do the rest of the Higasiyamai walk, which would go past a couple more temples. This would take me north and then I’d head across the river and I’d end up at Pontochō where I had decided to get dinner. It was evening now and as I followed the walk I ended up at Maruyama-koen park. On the edge of that is Yasaka Shrine which was now all lit up. This was incredibly stunning and something I had not seen before.
From here I walked along and through the park, past a massive Pure Land temple and then through normal Kyoto streets ‘tll I hit the crossroads and headed over to Pontochō, I’d seen a Thai place there the night before and that sounded really good tonight. Alas they were closed but I ended up going to a traditional Japanese place which for my final dinner in Japan was probably for the best. I got my last taste of the amazing fresh tofu there on a balcony that overlooked the Kamo River. I walked through Pontochō and then the covered shopping area and finally the downtown shopping district before completely worn out I caught a cab to my hotel.
The last gallery above was pictures taken from all over Kyoto. Beginning at the fantastic train station and including pictures from all of the walks I did. It ends with a couple of (poor) pictures of the Shinkansen (bullet train) as I caught it back to Tokyo station the next day. And that pretty much wraps up my trip to Japan.