I spent around 7 days in Kyoto – the ancient capital of Japan because Chizuru was studying there at Kyoto University. Interestingly, Kyoto is the old capital but not the oldest capital of Japan. Before Kyoto, the capital was Nara and very few foreigners know about this. Kyoto is quite a unique city because it has so many temples (~ 2000 according to Google) which nicely blend in with the other buildings. Consequently, it is quite fun to look for the temples because they don’t exactly stand out the way you expect them to be. According to Chizuru, the road network of Kyoto city mimicked that of Xi’an during the Tang Dynasty. Personally, I really like the road network in Kyoto because not only is it a grid system, the main roads also have easy names from 1st street until the 10th street. I am also quite a fan of the Kyoto city bus because it makes all the announcements in Japanese but it conveniently makes English announcements when the stop ahead is close to tourist attractions. As mentioned before, the one-day pass (500 yen) which allows you to take unlimited bus ride on the same day is really helpful for a budget traveller.
By the time I got from the Kansai International Airport to Kyoto using the airport limousine service, it was already 11+ pm local time. I didn’t really have the time to plan what I wanted to do on the next day. I guess I could plan but I thought it was a good idea to sort of wander aimlessly around the city just for the fun of it. Anyway, I had so many days there.
Chizuru told me that Ginkakuji was near to Kyoto University (she stays near to the university) so I thought I could begin my day at Ginkakuji. My plan was to visit Ginkakuji and later follow (well, stalk) some tourists who seem to know where they are going and go to the next tourist attraction from there. Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, was built by a shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482 and it was a model of the “Golden Pavilion” which was built by his grandfather some years ago. Both two pavilions are registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What I really like about Japanese temples is that they are not merely places where people worship deities and pray. Instead, Japanese temples are essentially a compound for visitors to slow down their footsteps, calm their minds and relax. Particularly, a typical characteristic of Japanese temples is “borrowed scenery” where the neighbouring mountains and trees which are not within the temple compound serve to further enhance the beauty of the temple. In Japanese temples, visitors commonly sit in a line on the sides of the temple to admire the garden. It took me a while for me to appreciate the art and beauty of staring at the garden but once I got the hang of it, I always look forward to this activity in every temple that I visit. It is quite a shame that Ginkakuji was the first temple that I visited because at that time, I did not know how to admire its beauty and I thought it looked pretty boring as I was anticipating that the sight would take my breath away. How I wish I had the time to visit Ginkakuji again.
Once I got out of Ginkakuji, I decided to follow a pair of women who had earlier asked me to take a photo of them at Ginkakuji. Funnily, it turned out that they were following a group of students with a teacher and in the end, it turned out that the students were headed for the car park. Good thing it turned out that they had an idea of where they wanted to go next so we asked the students for the direction to the Philosopher’s Path. The two women turn out to be Australian Korean who live in Melbourne so we had a good chat as we made our way onto the Philosopher’s Path. The Philosopher’s Path spanned 2 km and it felt really long probably because it was one straight road. The path is lined with many cherry trees and it must be quite a sight in spring. Apparently, the path got its name because one of Japan’s famous philosophers practised meditation as he walked along this path to Kyoto University on his daily commute. Wow, that is quite a long walk.
There are a few other temples which are a short walk from the Path but I decided to head for Nanzenji since that was where the two ladies wanted to go to. Nanzenji is a huge temple compound and I can safely say that it is one of the few temples that do not have those “please only walk this way” signs. I guess they didn’t put those signs because Nanzenji is strangely not on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a result, it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed at Nanzenji. According to Chizuru, now Nanzenji is most famous for its aqueduct as many shows/ wedding shots are filmed there. The aqueduct was built to transport water and goods between Lake Biwa and Kyoto. Well, I guess it is popular because it looks quite unique.
I also visited my first Zen rock garden at Nanzenji. I learnt later on that the rocks represent water and the rock pattern represents ripples on the water. Quite imaginative I must say. Personally, I think this is my favourite rock garden in Japan because there was hardly anyone there. I sat on the ledge of the building, stared blankly at the garden and thoughts came in and gushed out of my mind rhythmically just like water. Furthermore, I thought the rock pattern was just beautiful.
I remember I ate at a Indian restaurant with Chizuru and her friends. It was quite cool, I knew Chizuru in Hong Kong, I knew Yukito in Singapore, Chizuru knew Ben in Birmingham, Ben knew Karin in Kyoto and Karin knew Loy in China. It is incredible, the world works in mysterious ways and at that time, I thought that it is really a small world..