As instructed, we aimed to meet up with our tour group at the Sunrise Tours Desk inside Avanti Shopping Centre, over the road from Kyoto Station’s Hachijo exit. It was a two-train journey again, and involved a fair amount of walking.
Our guide’s name was Yuki: this means ‘snow’: she was born during Winter.
Our bus had a ninja design, which was unique to Kyoto, and possible unique within Japan. It certainly made it easy for us to find our bus after every quick visit to a shrine or a temple.
The first stop was Nijo Castle, or Nijo-jo Castle, a World Heritage Site. No cameras are allowed inside, but we enjoyed walking on the nightingale floors. Much more musical than plain, ordinary squeaky floorboards: the sound they make when you walk on them acts as a warning to people further inside. An early warning of a possible intrusion, in the same way as gravel forecourts would give you away if you were trying to approach quietly.
The Golden Pavilion is very opulent for a Buddhist place of worship, but it wasn’t always a Temple. It is now a World Cultural Heritage site but it was initally built as a villa for a statesman. Rokuon-ji Temple takes its name from Rokuon-in-den, the name the statesman, Yoshimitsu, was given after his death.
Nowadays, only monks are allowed to enter the Temple, but we enjoyed a walk around the surrounding gardens, just the same.
The Imperial Palace is more accessible than the one in Tokyo, and apparently, there are still some people who think the capital of Japan should come back to Kyoto. The Emperor and Empress make use of the palace on odd occasions.
We had a quick walk around the outside, many of the buildings are of course closed to the public.
We used the entrance once used by the Shogun. The last Shogun gave up his power to the Emperor of Japan in the mid-19th century, here in Kyoto Palace.
Not far from the palace was the restaurant where we had a fantastic buffet lunch. I needn’t have worried that I would come away hungry. We chatted with Sue, from Melbourne, who’s in Japan for work but is making the most of her time here. We looked around the shopping centre too, but we didn’t buy anything. We could have, there were some beautiful artefacts and interesting objects, but we’re trying very hard not to acquire more stuff that needs carrying around. Very disciplined. So far.
A post-lunch nap wasn’t on the cards, obviously. We joined the afternoon tour for three more interesting places.
In the afternoon, our guide was Miyuki. Mi means beauty and Yuki means happiness. So Yuki means ‘snow’ and ‘happiness’. Good job English is more straightforward, not having words with more than one meaning, eh!
Heian Shrine was interesting. It’s Saturday, and some 3-, 5- and 7-year old girls were dressed up for their special day, receiving prayers for a good life.
Sanjusangen-do Temple is the longest wooden structure in the world. It is a National treasure. There are 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity simply known as Kannon. Each has 40 arms, each of which represents 25 arms. That’s over a million arms altogether, I believe. Again, no photos, but halfway along the line, I did light a candle for those who have moved on from this world to a better one. The Thunder God and the Wind God at either end of the Temple hall are a little bit scary.
On the ride to our final Temple of the day, we passed through some woods where the trees had taken quite a battering from two recent typhoons.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is at the top of a long, narrow, uphill road, and most people kept to the left. A nice mix of vistors such as ourselves and local people, dressed in gorgeous, colourful kimonos.
The Sun was low in the sky when we reached the Temple. We followed the one-way path: with so many visitors, it had to be organised this way. There’s a balcony at the top from which you can leap to the ground, 30 metres below. If you survive, you’re in for a good fortune. We didn’t try it.
Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by mountains. There is also a law preventing new buildings from being too tall, unlike in Tokyo. This means that when you’re high up, you really do get a good view.
As the Sun was setting, the colour of the Temple really came to life.
We walked back down the road to the bus, picking up a coffee on the way. Man, we was tired. We thought we’d be home soonish, but there was a traffic hold-up in Kyoto so we didn’t get back to the railway station for a very long time! Tired and a little bit fed-up now, not helped by queues in the cafés and restaurants just not moving forward. Tired, fed-up and increasingly hungry.
This was the second and final of the two tours arranged for us by our friend Yoshi in Anchorage. But it has confirmed what we’ve both always felt: that we shouldn’t try to cram so much into one day. We’d rather spend a long time at one venue than whizz through several places in one day.
Over three days, we’ve spent time in Osaka, Nara and Kyoto so we deliberately chose to take it easy the following day. We have a brochure advertising a tour of all three cities in just one day: that’s definitely not for us!