Kyoto West and North

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The labyrinthine Kyoto train station is confusing at the best of times.  After no or little sleep, it is a chaotic people-filled circus of movement and color.   But we all make it to our first hotel, located very near the train station, and are glad for our clean beds.  I have arrived from Tokyo with my friend Priti who will be spending the first few days with us in Kyoto.   The other 5, Bill, Geri and Rich, and Marilyn and Paula, meet up with us at breakfast the following morning, tired but excited, as we begin our exploration of Kyoto where we will be staying for the next 6 days.  Our buffet breakfast is a reflection of what lies ahead, a large array of new textures, smells and tastes, visually enticing and waiting to be sampled.

Although it might seen like a long time in one city, the reality is that we could spend a month here visiting different sites every day and not see everything that is historically and culturally worthwhile.  But we will do our best and I have put together a very rigorous schedule so we can experience as much as possible during our stay.

Our Sunday tour leader Mike introduces us to the Kyoto subway and bus system as we stand close together in the crowded Subway, eerily quiet as talking is highly discouraged on public transportation.  We try not to appear as the ugly Americans but we can’t quite keep from talking with each other with slightly raised voices.

We find ourselves after a short taxi ride at the remarkable Otagi- Nenbutsu-ji Temple, with hilly forested grounds containing about 1200 carved stone statues expressing the full range of human emotions, 20th century creations which have aged over time and now stand cool and mossy, with frogs loudly croaking in wet spots around them. 

We walk down the road from the temple through the remarkably preserved one road village and eventually find ourselves at the Gio-Ji Temple, in a cool wooded area, with a well-known moss garden.  

From an area of quiet and solitude we walk into the renowned Arashiyama bamboo forest, with a warm sun upon us, and large crowds of people, enjoying their Sunday holiday.  The contrast is great from the quiet woods to the many people, and languages, we find around us. We duck out into the Tenryu-ji temple, a large temple complex which hosts a daily Shojin Ryoji (traditional Buddhist Vegetarian) lunch for guests.  I reserved places quite a while ago for the 8 of us and we are taken into a tatami room with a few other foreign visitors. Sitting on law stools, we are served a tray with a brilliant landscape of assorted foods.  The Yuba skin is my favorite part.  Delicious.

Back out into the real world and a trip across town by bus. We are now of an age when the polite Japanese give up their seats to us, helpful on the long bus ride but sobering. We reach the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji.  Here are the largest crowds we have seen and although the views are splendid, with the spring iris and azalea in full bloom, the rustling people competing for selfie-spots dull a bit of my pleasure. 

We must hurry by taxi to Ryoan-ji as closing time draws near. We are now in quiet and find ourselves sitting on tatami mats around an open courtyard looking at the 15 rocks that comprise this famous magic sea of time and space through the character and placement of the stones and in the carefully tended gravel beds.

A late dinner in the train station and finally, finally an attempt to sleep and dream of golden temples and simmered tofu.