Kyoto and Fuji

Hikone and NagahamaKyotoNaraMount Fuji

We had booked a one-bedroom apartment in Kyoto, since we were staying there for a week (over the Golden Week holiday period). Everything worked out just fine. We had directions from the information office at the station and walked to Gion. Right from the start we could see that the path along the river would give us a good walking trail from the central city to Gion. The apartment was set up as described. We settled in, found the large supermarket and bought food for dinner, and had a real night in preparing our own food and watching TV! Got up late to a wet morning; by the time we were ready to go out the rain had stopped, although the sky was still very grey and the day was cool.

We had arranged for Kaye's sister, Carmel, to stop over in Kyoto on her way to China; she was to be there for the last three days of our stay, so we planned to see some of the outlying places first, starting with the towns up the lake.

Caught the local train to Hikone and visited the castle and garden. Good castle - old, with fantastic timbers, stables, outbuildings etc. We had been told to see the original old castles rather than reconstructed ones, and Hikone castle certainly proved the point. The gardens were small but very beautiful - all greenery, few flowers, but lots of water and bridges.

Went to Nagahama by train - had to rapidly change cars because the car we were in was decoupled. Things were closing down in Nagahama, but we did see some glasswork taking place and visited several shops selling glass. We were looking for a giant kaleidescope said to be in the town, but failed to find it.

Back in Kyoto we had a couple of days to see bits of the city that Carmel probably wouldn't want to walk around. As we left the apartment and walked out to the main road we saw a shinto ceremony being carried out at businesses along the street. They had minor stops along the way, then performed a more major blessing on one business premises, then quickly packed up and walked briskly off down the street. We caught the local tourist bus up to Ginkakuji Temple - lots of people, and the usual sellers along the road before the temple. The temple itself was very zen - lots of raked stones - but also a really nice area of garden.

We planned to walk back to Gion, so set off along part of the Philosopher's walk - saw three teddy bears fishing in the canal. Went up to Honan-in temple, then left the canal and cut across to Shinnyodo Temple, with its graveyard, then worked our way south to Heian Temple, with the fantastic vermillion gate and the huge vermillion tori down the road. Inside the temple grounds there was a quite beautiful garden, where we saw two girls dressed in rather amazing traditional dress. From Heian we went to Chion-in then Yasaka, which was just shutting down, so we couldn't go inside. Made our way accurately back to our apartment from the north - not bad going. It is amazing how quickly you go from being in a strange city to feeling quite at home in your own little bit.

The next day gave us more time for local exploration. Walked out to Kiyomizudera Temple, through the peace of an immense graveyard, to find hordes of people thronging to the temple. It was a great place anyway, with a section dedicated to granting wishes, particularly for people in love. We walked through the gardens to a beautiful vermillion pagoda, then back to where three springs provided water that also "granted wishes" for good health. Pushed back through the throngs and cut down Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka Slopes, where we saw our first geisha. Went to see the big buddha at Ryozen Kannon then wandered up into Kyoto centre and bought some plates to replace the one I accidentally broke on the first night in the apartment.

We picked up bento boxes and went to the Imperial Park to sit and eat a picnic lunch, then walked through a bit of the park, found yet another shrine, and walked back through town to Gion. Walked along Pontocho, where geishas posed for photos. Crossed back on one of the smaller bridges, where despite all the traffic and noisy rush, herons stood in the water below. Managed to find the supermarket without having to find the apartment first - we were really learning our way around.

Carmel was due to arrive sometime after lunch, so we went to temples in the local area, south of the apartment, then extended a bit to the other side of the river before getting back in time for lunch. Waited for Carmel to arrive, then persuaded her to go to Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine immediately, because there was a ceremony going on that afternoon. Took the private train at the end of the road to the shrine, walked around the hill-top through thousands of vermillion tori, then came back down the hill through non-tori paths, arriving at the temple just in time for the ceremony. It was really interesting, if slightly obscure for us non-Japanese speakers.

Carmel particularly wanted to see the Golden Pavilion, so in the morning we took the bus to Kinkakuji, then walked to Ryoanji Temple, and finally took a bus to Arashiyama. Walked around a few temples and shrines and through the bamboo grove, then caught a bus back into town and walked back through Gion, so that Carmel could see Pontocho and the other smaller streets.

Train to Nara, and spent all day walking around the temples and shrines and gardens:

just to mention a selection of places. What can I say - Nara is just fantastic! Mind you, we avoided the map-eating bambis in the deer park.

Stopped for a beer on the way home, then got the train back to Kyoto.

The next day all three of us were off to see Mount Fuji - Carmel still had two more days to travel with until she had to fly to China. We managed to get a fairly early train to Mishima, stopping all stations - saw a beautiful little castle along the way. Well before Mishima we could already see Fuji, cloudless in the haze. The bus ride into Kawaguchi was a scenic tour of the mountain, going around two sides before depositing us at a station that had Fuji looming over it.

We had pre-booked into Koe Hotel on the net - not the best! Squat loo upstairs and we couldn't find a shower. Also the manager had messed up our reservation - wrong number of rooms and nights. It all got sorted, apparently, but a couple of days later I was asked by the booking agent if we were a non-show; the owner of the hotel had reported back that we didn't turn up at all. Not happy. To cap it all off, once we did finally find the bathroom showers were restricted to night time between certain hours for men and women, and the place was noisy - not recommended.

We had some daylight left, so we walked down to the lake. Geoff mistakenly imagined you could get view across the lake to Mount Fuji, but not from Kawaguchi town - we would have had to walk more kilometres than any of us wanted to just to a glimpse of the mountain from lake level. Looking for a better view we took the cable-car up to the viewing platform, then Geoff and I went for a walk further up the hill to get better views still. By now clouds gathered around the top, and it was hazy into the sun. Once back at the lake we walked back up to the railway station, near our hotel, where the view of the mountain was clearer.

At night we went looking for a place to eat, only to find that every place within reasonable walking distance was shut. We did find an open restaurant attached to the Station Inn, but they were just closing. We asked where there was somewhere to eat, and the woman told us about a barbeque restaurant over the other side of the railway lines. She even rang to make sure they were open. We set off with her directions, but were lost almost immediately, having not found the path to the railway crossing - it was well after dark and nothing was well lit. As we walked back along the road a car swung in across us, and a young woman asked us it we were looking for a restaurant! It was her mother who had given us directions, but now she worried that we wouldn't find the restaurant and sent her daughter (and baby) out to find us and drive us there. So, with the kindness of strangers, Carmel managed to get an okonomiyaki dinner. We did manage to walk back to our hotel without getting lost.

Our last day gave us a fabulous morning, clear skies, wonderful view of Fuji. Geoff and I climbed a nearby hill to get a clear view across the town. Then it was back to the hotel for a quick breakfast, and we had to go. We took the bus back to Mishima then train to Takayama, leaving Carmel waiting for her train back to Tokyo and Narita.


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