Day 9: October 30th 2008 Thursday
Kyoto, Kinkaku-Ji, Nijo-jo
The Golden Temple
As I read, the Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Temple, would be really really crowded daytime, so I chose to be there as early as possible for me. I reached the gates just slightly after 9AM. That's early.
On the bus, next to me sat two Swedish women, who were hiking around Japan mountains. I recognized them speaking in Scandinavian language, but I wasn't sure if it was Sweden or not. Other woman was from Malmö, so that might have made her dialect a bit different than the Swedish I've learn in school. I chatted with them for a while while waiting the bus reach the temple area.
The temple and the garden was really nice and beautiful. Definitely one of the must to see places in Kyoto, if you happen to visit. At the temple grounds, I happened to overhear some Finnish, so I went to say hi to group of Finnish tourists.
From there, I took a bus to Nijou-castle, which had been used as shogun residence in Kyoto. The gardens were nice, and at one spot, there was small house, where they served tea somewhat traditionally. I stopped for tea, and young woman in kimono served tea and mochi, a Japanese sweet.
As I was just about to leave the castle grounds, young boy came to me and asked me in English, if he could speak with me for a moment. I agreed, and he started to read questions from a paper, like what is my name, where I come from etc. I responded in Japanese, and he seemed to be surprised about that. As I took a glimpse of the paper he had, I noticed he had the questions written both in English, and also with Japanese phonetic characters, in order to help him spell it out properly. This was quite interesting encounter, and after few minutes and some 5-6 questions, he handed me some brochures about his home town, and wished me welcome to visit there.
From there, I took a bus towards the Gion-district, which is one of the places to go if you want to see geishas or maikos, the apprentices. I stepped out from the bus close to Gion. My plan was to walk to Kiyomizudera, which was said to be a beautiful temple area. I walked around a bit, and I noticed another shrine, so I decided to walk through that one also. Inside the shrine, there was a wedding just about to begin. It seemed to be Japanese style, maybe Shinto, wedding, even though the groom looked western. Coming out from the area, I continue south towards the Kiyomizudera. On the way, there was really nice old style district with narrow streets and wood buildings. I briefly stopped at a cafe, and then continued walking. This point I saw 2 maikos walking, who ended up to be the only maikos I saw during whole trip.
Getting closer to the temple, I stumbled upon a tourist area. There were few pedestrian streets lined with shops selling all kind of souvenirs. I spent some time there, and proceeded towards the temple. In distance I saw few buildings that might have been from the temple area, but as I already visited some temples, I begun to think I might skip this one. So I turned back, walked for a while, and visited a big Buddha temple instead. But then I read from the Lonely Planet guide that the Kiyomizudera is really worth visiting, so I changed my mind again and headed back to that area.
Finally as I reached the temple, I noticed it was actually quite huge area with lot of old buildings. I bought the ticket to get in, and I was so happy I decided to come after all. It was really nice place, the old wooden building standing on a cliff, overseeing the region. Absolutely beautiful. If you have to visit one place in Kyoto, I'm not sure which one you should pick, Kinkaku-ji or Kiyomizudera. Both were just stunning.
As I got out from there, I was feeling hungry, and decided to go to Gion for restaurant. To save time, instead of walking few kilometers, I took taxi there. I walked the main street, but to my disappointment, there were next to none geishas or maikos. I went to a restaurant for udon. I guess the area was bit more expensive than other regions, as the food was about double the price compared to other udon places I visited in Japan. After food, again I walked around the area. As it started to get late, I took train back to Ishida.