April 20: Hokongo-in, Daikakuji, and Matsuno’o Shrine

Another cold, warm day; less wind, but less sun. Late day rain was predicted; I got back to the hotel just as it began. I had a bad night, first time since I arrived. Pain in my legs woke me up and kept me awake. Decided not to do so much walking today. Hokongo-in was just off the bus stop. Good for my legs, but traffic noise never left the garden. This temple is famous for its lotus flowers, which won’t grow until later in the year. The roots were soaking in pots of water in several places in the garden.

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And the waterfall stopped flowing right after I took the picture. I almost had the feeling it started flowing just because I walked toward it.

I got back on the bus and went to Daikaku-ji, another of the large temples near the mountains west of Kyoto. It was not a great garden and I’m not sure how it got on my list.

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Then a different bus and south to Matsuno’o Shrine, famous for its clear spring water used for making sake. I particularly liked the tortoise sculpture in the garden and the little girl feeding the fish.

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April 19: Three more gardens and an unexpected lunch

As hot as it was yesterday, today had sunshine and a bitter cold wind. No wind, you were hot, wind or shade, very cold. I always feel like I have dressed the wrong way; today there was no right way.

i bought a book about Kyoto gardens that lists them by area, making it easy to figure out where to go. First on my list for this morning was Ryoan-ji, a famous zen dry garden. Although I saw it years ago, and I don’t especially like dry gardens, I decided it would be good to see again. Never know when you can learn something new. I arrived to find mobs of school tours and immediately decided to leave.

The next place on my list was Tojiin. I looked for a bus stop and found a sign for a train that stops at Tojiin. I never found the train but finally found a large sign with directions and continued walking. Tojiin was a wonderful garden. No surprises but the usual beautiful, peaceful scene.

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I had no clue about where to go when I left Tojiin. I started walking, looking for a bus stop again. I have a good bus map, so given a stop, which always has lots of info, I could figure out where and how. I continued walking, finally finding a busy street as opposed to the lovely residential neighborhood of Tojiij. The wind was blowing very hard and I was tired, cold and needed to sit down.

I walked into a small restaurant, where no one spoke English except for one customer. He helped me order and get lunch and then sat with me and talked. He is a part-time lecturer at a local university but his primary interest is photography. He is using an old Rollei, shooting 120 film and doing his own darkroom work. He gave me a copy of a beautifully printed brochure showing his work. It was probably done for a show. Nice work, very subtle. After lunch he walked me to Keishun-in the next garden I wanted to visit. I’m sure I never would have found it without him. I almost never found my way to the bus stop afterward.

Keishun-in is one of about 50 sub-temples of Myoshin-ji, which also includes the more famous Taizoin-en I visited earlier in this trip. Kaishun-in is the only other sub-temple open to the public on a year round basis. The garden was pleasant but doesn’t come close to the spectacular Taizoin-en.

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My lunch companion gave me casual directions to Taizoin-en, which would have made leaving easy, but I was not able to follow them and spent an enormous amount of time trying to leave the temple complex. Finally got to the bus and decided to visit one more garden: Shinsen-en, a small urban garden connected to a shrine, with entertainment provided by fish and ducks competing for food thrown by visitors.

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April 18: Shopping and Anrakuji

I planned to go to three other gardens, but couldn’t find them. As I walked sort of aimlessly, trying to figure out where to go next, I passed a shop that sold some lovely scarves, aprons, which I don’t normally wear but these looked so nice, and yukatas. I bought  2 scarves, 2 aprons and a yukata for myself. Most of the other stuff will be for presents. At that point I returned to the hotel, not too far away, to get rid of my heavy package.

It was a very warm, sunny day, not the kind of weather I thrive in, so I hung out at the hotel for a couple of hours figuring out where to go next. Finally got back on the bus and went to Anrakuji, one of the few gardens I never visited on the eastern edge of Kyoto.

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This temple is actually at the foot of the mountains, requiring a walk from the bus stop. The temple looked closed and I was disappointed until I saw some other people open a door in the gate and walk in. So, I followed. I don’t know if any of us were supposed to be there, but we weren’t thrown out, and I was able to walk around as long as I wanted.

I am writing this on Friday evening, morning in the US, and just heard, on NPR, there was an earthquake near northern Japan. I never felt anything and don’t expect any consequences in this area, so don’t worry about me.

April 17: Samboin, Kaju-ji and Zuishin-in

This was a gray, warm, muggy day when I needed lots of help and everyone I met was wonderful to me. I just missed the bus as I got out of the subway. The next one was scheduled for 40 minutes later. I decided to walk; probably less than a kilometer. The trouble with walking is figuring out the starting point. I stopped a young couple and asked for directions, which they gave me with some difficulty, but enough information for me to start walking. I knew it would be a straight shot once I had the correct road. After I had gone about 200 meters a car stopped and the young man offered me a ride. Since the road was beginning to climb (most temples are on or near mountains) I happily accepted. Help #1.

Entry courtyard, Samboin

Entry courtyard, Samboin

I paid my 500 yen admission and was told no photographs. At that point I was wondering why I had come. Then I had to go into a building, first removing my shoes. The two steps leading into the building were extremely high and, as usual, there were no railings. Help #2 arrived in the shape of one of the men who worked for the temple. After the steps I was summarily urged toward the garden and  continued to wonder why I had come.

Samboin is absolutely the most fascinating garden I have visited and they don’t allow photographs. I could cry. There seems to be only a few images on the internet. Three guards are posted to make sure you don’t take photos. I could understand if they were selling good photos, but they aren’t. I bought two postcards with lousy pictures.

Diagram of the garden

Diagram of the garden

It is a pond garden with a mountain as backdrop and all of the usual elements, islands, lanterns, pine trees. It’s the details that count and there are amazing details. Two islands, covered with pine trees, and representing tortoise and crane, are the unusual part of the garden. One has a pine tree purported to be 600 years old. This is a small tree, almost a Bonsai, with a huge, thick trunk, and represents the quietness of a tortoise. The other island has a stone bridge on its left side that represents the neck of the crane.

I stood and looked, trying to memorize the scene, as long as my legs allowed. Again, no place to sit except the floor. When I finally left the same old man helped me down the stairs, after having a considerable conversation with me. Help #3 and he was cute.

I walked back to the subway; much easier going downhill and went one stop to visit two other temples. I tried to follow the map in the subway and went off in the wrong direction. My intention was to visit Zuishin-in first. I asked several people and got directions in Japanese that were meaningless. Finally asked another man who indicated he would take me there. We stopped at the first temple where we each rang the bell and prayed. I don’t know what he prayed for: I just asked to find Zuishin-in. He probably thought I was a follower because I am wearing a good luck bracelet that was put on me at the temple on Koyasan.

We finally came to a large temple with no signage, he assured me was Zuishin-in and help #4 left. The sign at the entrance indicated it would cost 400 yen. I paid and found out I was at Kaiju-ji. The lady at the window showed me a diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in and I walked into a wonderful garden at Kaiju-ji and was enormously pleased I had made this mistake.

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When I finally left the garden I thanked the woman and indicated how much I enjoyed it. She gave me this hand drawn diagram of how to get to Zuishin-in. Help #6.

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The only trouble with these kinds of directions is where do they really begin. Do I turn right immediately after I leave the temple of is there another right and a left first? I finally figured it out and got to Zuishin-in, which turned out not to be nearly as wonderful as Kaiju-ji. Also needed a hand getting up and down their railingless steps; not a boost this time, just a hand for balance.That was help #7 and #8.

Finally it was time to return to the subway that was a long way underground. I knew I had come up in an elevator but couldn’t remember where it was. Help #9 guided me across the street and into the elevator. And I was able to buy cooked broccoli for dinner, making it a great day.

April 16: Two more gardens and an adventure

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I couldn’t resist: a trip down the Hozu River with, as the brochure says, “raging torrents and breathtaking ravines, at times dousing you with water, at others passing in calmness.” It wasn’t quite like that. There were rapids and we did get splashed occasionally, but the adjectives didn’t quite match the reality. It was fun, squeezed in with 24 Japanese who were out for a good time. I went for the great scenery that was not easy to photograph. Several women next to me spoke English so I got some translations. And they were very nice and helpful. I couldn’t get in or out of that boat without help. The hard part was sitting for two hours.

The boats took us to Arashiyama, an area filled with temples. The first one I passed, Hogonin Temple, had a lovely garden and the stillness to enjoy it, which I did.

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Hogonin is a sub-temple of Tenryuji, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a lovely, unfortunately crowded, garden. Visiting here on a previous trip I walked quickly past the pond and climbed away from the temple where there were fewer people. This time wasn’t as bad. I got to see the pond and was mostly alone when I climbed.

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April 15: Shopping

Well not exactly shopping. I went to a huge crafts fair held at Chion-ji Temple. I was there all morning and people never stopped coming. I arrived early along with several hundred others and it was almost impossible to enter. I wanted to see the entire show, which I might have done, but I can’t say for certain. I walked down each aisle trying to get to all of them. There was jewelry, traditional crafts like dolls, several displays of buttons, some fabrics, knitted or crocheted apparel, bags, lots of bags,  food, both traditional pickle kinds of stuff and cakes and other noshes.

As I got to the end of the first aisle I found a little old lady, actually little and old, who had a tiny display, and on this she had little books: handmade cloth books. Of course, that was my first purchase. I’m sorry I didn’t buy several. And while I think the lady was pleased to make the sale it was not the celebration I had when I bought that bag. No picture taking.

The book is about 4 inches square and closes with a button.

The book is about 4 inches square and closes with a button.

Each pocket has a treasure inside: a card of thread, a bandaid, Q-tips

Each pocket has a treasure inside: a card of thread, a bandaid, Q-tips

The buttons and the cloth were tempting, but I was able to walk away. One of the larger displays was l’Ami du Pain, real French bread. They had a walnut bread. Lovely. Now I have to find out where they are located so I can get another one before I leave here.

Most of the bread here is fluffy, or spongy, depending on where you get it; not something I want to eat. Sometimes I have the feeling there is one huge bakery that makes the same stuff for every shop. I know that isn’t true, because I’ve seen and smelled  baking being done in most places. But they still all sell the same stuff. Now I found the outlier.

I didn’t eat any of the nosh at the show and went to a second incarnation of Falafel Garden for lunch. Then I went to Uniqlo and bought 2 T-shirts. I hope my grandchildren will think they are cool.

Finally I managed to get move vegetarian stuff for dinner and came back to the hotel.

April 14

Began this beautiful, sunny day going to a crafts market that wasn’t very interesting, but was in an area I had never visited: Gion Corner. It’s very touristy with lots of women, supposedly geisha in training called maiko, walking around.

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Proceeding to Yasaka Shrine, another first-time visit, and saw a wedding ceremony and lots of things for sale, food, souvenirs, amulets and more food. Next to the shrine Maruyama Park was filled with family picnics and pigeons.

Not having had lunch, and by now hungry, I went back to Nishiki Market determined to try some street food. I wanted something on a stick but found most of it to be meat. I stopped to watch Takoyaki being made and a Japanese man who spoke perfect English told me about it and encouraged me to try it, so I did. There is a video about making it here. I was fascinated by the movements used to create a round ball.

Walking around the market I found spinach salad with sesame seeds, cooked green soybeans, cooked pumpkin and more of the inari sushi, rice wrapped in tofu skin. Then I added tomatoes, bananas and strawberries from the supermarket and had a vegan dinner and enough left over for breakfast.