11 days away
15 km / 9 miles since last post
10,430 km / 6,481 miles total
Today we went to the Golden Pavillion - Rokuon-ji Temple (popularly called Kinkaku). It's a couple of miles or so from our hotel, so we decided to get a taxi there, with the intention of walking back. This is an elegant temple, perfectly covered in fine gold leaf with a Chinese phoenix settled on the roof top. It's obviously something special and easy to understand why its a World Cultural Heritage site. When it was built in the thirteenth century it was designed to be a breathtaking site and it achieves this successfully.
The temple is surrounded by the Kyoko-chi pond (Mirror pond) which contains many islands, and further along is a smaller pond called An-min-taku which contains a small stone padoga on an island called Hakuja-no-tsuka (the mound in memory of the white snake). Also around the grounds of the temple is an ancient garden, remaining as it was from many hundreds of years ago.
As we wandered around the temple, we noticed a young Japanese couple just in front of us. The guy got down on one knee and proposed to her! I assume from the smiles and cuddles that she said yes - it was very sweet!
After leaving the temple we followed most of the recommended route which would take us back to the train station. Along the way we passed more temples. The main ones we stopped at were the Ryoanji Temple and the Taizo-in Temple.
The Ryoanji Temple is surrounded by the Kyoyochi pond (though this seems big enough to be a lake) and was made in the late twelfth century. The main attraction of this temple however appears to be the rock garden. This internationally famous (so says the leaflet) rock garden was said to have been created around the end of the fifteenth century by a respected Zen monk by the name of Tokuho Zenketsu. It is a simple garden of only twenty-five by ten metres, and made up of just fifteen rocks and white gravel, neatly raked around the rocks and in perfect lines. It contains no trees, and is left up to the visitor to decide what it signifies. This rock garden surrounded by low walls is regarded as the quintessence of Zen art and a masterpiece of Japanese culture. Although, I'm not entirely sure why this garden is so highly regarded, but perhaps that means that I don't quite understand it properly - nice though it was. (Stu note: I have decided that the garden signifies a questionable spending of ¥1000.)
Around the other side of the temple was a stone wash-basin with the unique inscription "I learn only to be contented". The explanation of this is that 'he who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy'. (Or as Stu translated, "Just get your learn on, innit.') This is apparently an important Zen philosophy.
After walking on from this temple we passed a Japanese man who stopped us for a chat. He asked us where we were from and where we were headed on our travels. He told us that he had been to London once many years ago, and said that since leaving his English has got a lot worse (though it sounded great to us!) He told us how funny it is that the British like to queue everywhere! He didn't want to keep us for long, and so he wished us well and we carried on our way.
We came across the Taizo-in Temple, which had huge grounds and some amazing buildings. I can't quite work out why some temples will charge for access and others are free. The Taizo-in Temple seemed just as nice as the Ryoanji Temple, yet this was free and the other cost ¥500 each.
Once we arrived at the JR station we popped into a mart to grab a bite to eat for a very late lunch - sandwich and a rice snack. On the walk back to the hotel from the station we decided to pop into a cafe a grab an ice cream cone. Stu went up to the counter and did, what I can only assume he thought was the international sign for an ice cream cone. Basically making a fist with one hand, and indicating the swirly top with a finger on his other hand. To which the Japanese lady at the counter asked "ice cream?". Oh, it made me laugh all the way back to the hotel!
We are feeling the effects of walking around Kyoto, and are quite tired this afternoon. We decided to watch a couple of episodes of Prison Break back at the hotel (which Stu conveniently brought on his laptop from the UK) and grabbed a quick snooze before Stu nipped out to bring something back to us for dinner.
We leave our hotel in Kyoto tomorrow and will be getting the Shinkansen bullet train to Hiroshima - we have already booked ourselves a hotel there for tomorrow night.