Hein (fub) wrote,

Kyoto nights and days

After we dropped off our clean laundry back at the Ryokan, we went back to the station area to seek some dinner. We went into the Porta shopping mall below the centre, and from the restaurant directory we selected 'KYK', a tonkatsu restaurant. We went there and ordered -- did you know that octopus tentacle is considered a seasonal vegetable in Kyoto? I sure didn't... The meals came with "all you can eat" shredded cabbage, miso soup and rice. The lady who sat on the table next to us had several refills of hers. At one moment, she called the waitress over to tell her that she should tell us that we could have refills of those three things, but the waitress was too shy to do so. So the lady told us herself. Not that we needed a refill, because it was more than enough!

In the evening, as we were chilling in the room, we spotted a tick. One review of the ryokan had mentioned ticks that crawled out of the tatami at night... We were pretty displeased with this discovery. All in all, we found (and dispatched) three more ticks before going to sleep. Everything felt itchy and all, but in the end no tick has disturbed our sleep. Still, I really dislike ticks, but we chose not to make a point of it with the owner and her son -- he is nervous as it is, and it would make our interactions the remaining days awkward, and I don't think the issue would be resolved during our stay. And it's not that bad that we will move to another hotel for -- too much hassle. But this will be the last time that we book a stay in Yuhara.

Today, we took the bus from the ryokan to the Silver Pavillion, which isn't silver at all, but a Zen Buddhist temple. Complete with man-high pile of sand in the zen garden, lots of moss (various gardeners were busy sweeping the falling leaves off the moss), a koi pond with huge koi who wanted to be fed, and lots of quick-streaming waterways. Unfortunately, the Silver Pavillion itself is being renovated, and thus it was mostly shrouded in building plastic. In 2011, when the renovations are finished, it will once again provide a spectacular view.
Just outside the temple gate was a place that sold cream puffs: the puffs themselves were made from brown rice, and the cream came in vanilla, green tea and chestnut flavour. We had a chestnut creampuff and a cup of hot tea on a bench there.
One of the things that is really noticable about Japan is how things are only limited available, depending on the season. Right now it's chestnut season, and so you can get all sorts of chestnut cakes and chestnut cream puffs and whatnot. Suddenly, everything has to use chestnuts... And in a few weeks the chestnut season is over, and all those delicacies will vanish off the menus, only to reappear next year.

We walked down the "Philosopher's Path", a path next to a small river, towards a set of other shrines and temples. We veered off the path towards the Honen-in Temple, which had some nice views as well, and didn't charge an entrance fee... We walked past the Anrakuji and Reikanji temples, but both were closed. Further up the mountain would be the Enjuji temple, but the owner of a coffee shop where we stopped (and who had been in the Netherlands once -- the plate under my walnut cake was Delftware, featuring three windmills...) told us that it was a 'modern' temple, not an old one like the others. So we gave up on that one and continued our walk along the river.

We saw a few more shrines and temples, but in the end they all start to blur together. Lots of nice views and old buildings that had been made with a lot of attention to detail. What surprised me was that most shrines had been dedicated by the emperor or a shogun or been rebuilt by an important member of the court -- and yet they were little "hole-in-the-wall" places that attracted little attention and seemed mostly abandoned. The one exception was the shrine for the guardian deities of the neighbourhood -- they even had their own ema, featuring the two mice whose statuettes were in front of a shrine there.

Eikan-do was a nice visit, because unlike most temples, they allow you inside the temple, allowing you to see the old ways of the temple up close, and the objects they use in their worship. Impressive, and it's a nice building too. But we had to take off our shoes and carry them with us because we needed them to climb up to the two-story pagoda, which offered a nice view of Kyoto below. Which was a bit of a hassle with our walking shoes -- luckily the friendly ladies who came up on behind us urged us to take our time taking off our shoes again...

We had lunch in a local cafe, and the owners were delighted when they heard we were from the Netherlands. They remarked that the Dutch were so tall. Yes, the chairs and tables were quite low, but we guessed they had been put there in the fifties and never changed. And yes, I was taller than any person in attendance at that time, but there are Japanese who are about as tall as I am -- some are even taller. I guess the height distribution in Japan is wider than in the Netherlands.
After that, they started drawing triangles abover their heads and saying something in Japanese that I couldn't understand. I still don't know what that was all about -- apparently something about the Dutch... klik thought they were talking about Sinterklaas. Could be.. but unlikely.

When we came to the subway station, it was already around 16:00 -- and the route we had walked was described in the walking guide booklet as a half-day course. Good for them, we just took our time! They have you force-march down the Philosopher's Path in half an hour, which doesn't allow you any time to make a side-trip to a small shrine or an "unimportant" temple... We took the subway to the city centre, managed to find an ATM that actually accepted my bank card (in a 7-11, no less), and chilled for a bit in the square in front of the city hall. We had dinner at the top floor of a department store, and then took the subway back to the ryokan.

Eating in Japan is a bit of an adventure, but not overly much so. So far, I haven't had to use the restaurant listings I got from bento.com -- there is enough out there that isn't on their lists, and yet offers good value. Sure, if you go for expensive court cuisine, you'll be paying quite a bit. But a bowl of "flying noodles" or a tonkatsu dish doesn't break the bank and it's still tasty! Most restaurants show wax replicas of their menu in a display case outside, so you know the type of food they serve. Some have menus in English and advertise that fact outside (such as the local cafe where we had lunch). But even if all that is unavailable, you can play the dumb foreigner and smile at the serving staff and ask for "something with noodles". They'll explain the menu for you (if they dare), and everything is fine again. I'm making it a bit of a sport to select the tiniest, most unassuming places to eat, which was easier in Tokyo than in Kyoto. Still, we're not starving yet -- quite the opposite!

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