We ended up spending quite a long time in Kyoto and seeing lots of stuff which is why I split the entry into two separate ones! So to continue…
In the morning we went to see the Magma museum as the weather wasn’t great and went to an upmarket western coffee shop for brekky. The weather had cleared up a little by the time we had finished our coffees and so we headed off to see Nijao Castle instead, which was quite impressive. It was the old Imperial Palace (a new one had been built elsewhere) and there were some amazing decorations inside. One feature of it was the nightingale floors, which chimed musically whenever you walked on them. This way it would be impossible to sneak around and thereby make it harder to assassinate the Emperor.
Then we headed off to the newer Imperial Palace but after walking up a ridiculously huge, wide entranceway discovered that it was closed and in fact only open by special permission. Surprisingly as well it was one of the only places we had been too where the grounds were not immaculate. Admittedly it was part of a huge park, but even so the verges had not been trimmed for ages. We were shocked!
Then we headed onto Kyoto tower, which at 100 meters high is not the tallest building I have ever been in, but still gave us excellent views over the city. It was only then that we could see how many temples and shrines there really were. They were literally everywhere! Annoyingly though we saw a statue of a huge Buddha that we must have walked past and yet somehow missed.
On the way back down there was a bizarre sight of a totally different nature. A person was dressed up in a cartoon outfit of the tower and was posing for photos. The outfit made it look as though the tower was either in a state of shock or was just on the verge of throwing up but in itself that was relatively normal. What was not normal was that most of the people who were posing with the spaced out looking tower character were actually middle aged Japanese men! Weird…
The rest of the day involved a couple more temples, getting slightly lost in the back streets of Kyoto, a meal at a curry restaurant and then back to our guesthouse, moving to a new guesthouse (as the old one was booked up) and then getting a couple of beers and watching the amusingly random Japanese telly. I vaguely remember one program where contestants had to swing themselves onto a small floating dock in the middle of the sea from a jetty, while wearing very dodgy outfits. Naturally most of them went into the water. Actually that kind of sounds like British tv as well!
The next day we carried on with the temple sightseeing and ended up seeing quite a few. It was also old person day, randomly, and so there were lots of Japanese families taking their old relatives out to temples, shrines and restaurants ect. It was a really nice concept and they probably should do something like that in the UK
It was also a day when we started to get into the Zen Buddhist temples. When people think of Zen Buddhism they generally think of neatly raked gravel beds with a couple of bonzi trees sticking up and to an extent that is correct. Bizarrely though it seems that every major zen related temple actually follows a slightly different version of zen Buddhism, which generally seem to express itself in different gardens. Some zen gardens have loads of greenery and some have none. Some have swirling patterns and some have straight lines. Some have heaps of small stones among the raked stones that vary enormously in size, quantity and decoration. All of this has something to do with the meaning of life and tranquillity, but to be honest I am still slightly confused about it all.
Anyway first off we went to Chion-in temple which we had failed to find the entrance for during a previous days sightseeing. The bell was impressive there as apparently it was one of the biggest in Japan. It also had the nightingale floors, the same as the Imperial Palace for some reason.
Then it was the Murin-an house, which had a good garden. Then Nanzenji Temple which was on the side of a hill and apparently had a waterfall at the back. After some climbing we found the waterfall to be quite empty of water, but it was still a nice walk. The zen garden was also quite good. The next place, Eikando Temple, had really got the zen thing going on with a large mound of stones in the garden.
After that I left Amanda to see another couple of temples, while I headed back to do the laundry. On the way I passed what is possibly the most innovative car park I have ever seen. It was in a large tall, thin building and a car would drive into a rotatable platform, the driver would get out and then the platforms would rotate around until another free space was shown! It was truly amazing.
The following day there was a festival on in Osaka, a town not too far from Kyoto. It was called “the running of the floats” and apparently a load of people ran alongside a load of floats down the street. I cant remember what the floats were meant to be for but it sounded good and so we had decided a few days previously to go to it. Unfortunately we completely forgot about it and on the morning of the festival got on the train to go to the Bamboo Forest instead. We only remembered when we arrived at the forest, by which point it was too late.
Anyway the Bamboo Forest was just the name that we gave it really as it was a suburb of Kyoto with more temples, shrines and ornate gardens, only this one had a bamboo forest in the grounds of one of the temples. The weather wasn’t great and we did manage to get slightly lost on one occasion, but soon found our bearings by matching the symbols on a stone signpost to those in our guidebook. The temples were ok and the gardens really nice, but most of them were small affairs compared to the main ones on the other side of town and after wandering round a few and buying some Japanese sweets we headed back into the city centre and to the Magma museum.
Magma is a Japanese cartoon art form that goes beyond cartoon books in Western society. It is normal to see grown men in suits reading cartoon books, however the subject matters are not as innocent as with regular Western cartoons and it is even possible to buy porn versions! Anyway we went to the museum as it was something interesting and different and because it gave us a break from seeing shrines and temples for a few hours.
Inside the museum though there were not many exhibits and it soon became apparent that the museum was in fact a large library of magma. There were rows and rows of magma books and loads of people of every age and gender sitting around reading them. There was even a small section in English. We managed to find a small exhibition though on the 2nd floor and after seeing that headed off to the neighbouring café, which had loads of magma drawn on the walls.
We were to leave Kyoto in the morning for more southerly cities but were due to return before heading back to Tokyo. The ancient temples and shrines in Kyoto had been truly fascinating and that was after I had seen quite a few temples in the rest of Asia as well! Amazingly though, despite seeing so much, there was still a lot more to see here. The amount of preserved history in the one city was truly staggering and when combined with the Japanese cleanliness and all of the attractive little restaurants and guesthouses, made an excellent choice of destination.