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.

April 13: Shosei-en

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Shosei-en never appeared in any of the garden lists; I just happened to notice it on the map. It was great–another favorite.This is a stroll garden with several tea houses, a large pond and a waterfall. Originally constructed as a retreat for the chief priest of one of the two large temples in downtown Kyoto it was peaceful and wonderful and I loved it.

After I spent my time in the garden I went over to the museum where I had seen the wonderful show last Saturday when it rained. I wanted the catalog but didn’t want to carry it in the rain. I think it weighs more than 5 pounds and I didn’t think I could cope with it, the umbrella and the wind. In the bright sunshine I bought the catalog and got it back to the hotel with no trouble.

April 12: Sun, cold wind, sun, rain

I haven’t mentioned breakfast because I usually get something when I am foraging for the previous evening’s dinner. I did not do it on my way back from Osaka; never found anything I wanted. I had a cup of tea and, in bright sunshine, left the hotel to look for breakfast. The hotel has a breakfast buffet for 1200 yen, but it’s twice as much breakfast, and twice as much money, as I want. There is a McDonald’s and two Japanese fast food places on the corner where I get a bus or subway, but I didn’t want any of it. I got on the subway and went one stop to an area I had never explored. I must have walked two kilometers and never found anything except Starbucks, where I finally gave in and had a scone and coffee, that was not as good as the coffee I had from a Japanese cafe in the train station. I’m amazed at how good the coffee is here most of the time.

Walking back to the subway I came across a place called Gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts and Crafts. three floors of wonderful objects in a beautifully designed modern setting. In addition to  traditional objects there was a show of ceramic art that was enormously impressive: five artists, each of whose with work that  was completely different and all looked like it might have been made of something else, cloth, paper, feathers, flowers. Great stuff.

I finally got back on the subway and went to Nanzen-ji where I visited two gardens in the subtemples of Konchi-in and Ten Juan. I was there before, but each of these places was worth another visit even with the weather turning from sun to rain to wind to more sun and rain.

April 10: Mt. Koya

My hotel was already filled before I made my reservations, for the night of April 10, so I decided to go to Mt. Koya and stay in a temple overnight. I admit I did this without proper research. My primary concern had been for a western toilet; I can’t squat. I never thought about how cold it could be on top of a mountain, until earlier in the week.

Mt. Koya is a special place, one of the holiest mountains in Japan; filled with very old religious structures, temples and cedar trees. The temples are a business; the trees are what get to me. They seem to penetrate my very being. I came here in 2007 but didn’t stay overnight. This time I would make up for it.

My temple for the night

My temple for the night

I arrived in the afternoon and checked in to my temple. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do this. Everything seemed closed up and no one was around. Then one of the sliding panels opened. Three men were sitting on the floor at very low desks in a tiny room, lined with shelves and filled with papers and cartons of papers. As someone who lives with a perpetual mess I was delighted to see that even greater messes could be created by someone else. However, it sort of ruined my concept of Buddhism as filled with peace and order.


After getting my room and instructions about dinnertime I went for a walk in Okunoin, the cemetery with the amazing trees. This is the place on Mt. Koya that moved me the most and the only place I cared to revisit.


My room was lovely and orderly, as you can see and overlooked a garden that was probably wonderful in late spring and summer. Dinner was the special shojin ryori, Buddhist vegan cuisine, which is supposed to have five flavors, five cooking methods and five colors, a grilled dish, a deep fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish and a soup dish. I don’t remember what was grilled, if anything was, the deep fried dish was vegetable tempura, there were several kinds of pickles and at least three kinds of tofu: freeze-dried tofu, regular tofu, and the best one, tofu boiled with sesame seeds. I liked that so much, I might try to do it at home.

My room was warm, in fact I had to cool it down, but every place else in the temple was cold. I read for awhile then tried to go to sleep. Unlike the other times I have slept on futons, I did not have a good night. I added another futon and that helped, but I never felt comfortable. I was up before six and went to the morning service at 6:30. I enjoyed the chanting and the periodic ringing sound that went with it. There was also a sermon or lesson given at the same time by one of the priests.

After a not so interesting breakfast I gathered my few belongings but my plan to go for another walk in Okunoin was instantly scrapped by the snow and very cold wind. I decided the best thing was to leave.

April 9: Taizo-in and Sento Palace

I am trying to get caught up with these posts. I’ve been too tired in the evenings to write, so each was written the following morning until yesterday when I had 2 days worth to write. After I write this post and finish packing I am going on another short trip; just one night, but I have a feeling I’ll come back 2 days behind again. In any case, I’ll probably be absent for a day.

Getting back to yesterday, it was another beautiful day and I took myself off to revisit Taizo-in, another of my favorite gardens. I arrived to find traffic cops in front of the temple complex: not a good sign. Temples are usually quiet, sleepy places in no need of traffic direction. Taizo-in was having a special opening to show off its cherry blossoms and I arrived with what seemed like hundreds of Japanese all armed with cameras. I’m not about to tell you cameras are bad, but all these people needed to take pictures of their wives/girlfriends in front of the weeping cherry just as you enter. Made for quite a backup.

I wandered through, more than a little disappointed with the crowds and suddenly they abated and I was able to sit and enjoy most of the garden. The cherry blossoms focus attention to different viewpoints than did the red maple leaves.

Sento Palace is part of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Tours have to be arranged in advance, which I did on Monday. You don’t get to see inside the palace, which was created for retired emperors. The tour took us around the garden, not as great as the garden inside the Imperial Palace walls, but very nice, indeed. There were about 50 of us on the tour and we had a guide who spoke only in Japanese, so I was able to ignore her, and a keeper who remained at the back of the group to make sure no one stayed behind. At one point we had to cross a small stream by walking on rocks and I couldn’t do it. He saw my distress and motioned me to wait, then helped me get across. Very nice.

After all that I got on a bus and went to the main shopping area, to another of those covered arcades, Nishiki Market, filled with food shops. Most of it did not interest me: too much preserved, pickled and salty stuff. One place was selling salads and prepared foods. I thought I saw brussel sprouts and got very excited. I bought a small container and also a piece of eggplant. The eggplant was OK; more sauce on it than I like, but the brussel sprouts weren’t. I don’t know what they were, but they weren’t vegetables. Something made into small balls and covered with another unidentifiable green sauce. Sometimes I don’t see so well, or maybe it was because I wanted them to be vegetable.

The hotel offers free Japanese language lessons 2 evenings a week and I’ve been taking them. I am not learning many new words, but I’ve been able to ask questions about many of the mystery things. I found out, for instance, the green stuff I’ve been eating is not spinach, but a different green called komastuna, which has similar properties to spinach and can be eaten raw or cooked. Now I can look for it raw, which I would prefer.

I don’t have time to add pictures this morning. I have to get out of here, but I’ll get back to it later. Now I am off to Koyasan, a mountain filled with Buddhist temples, where I will sleep on the floor again and have two, entirely vegetarian meals.

April 8: One new garden and two I didn’t see

Beautiful sunshine and cool; just the way I like it. I still haven’t made a real plan for Kyoto, and maybe never will. Just doing whatever comes to mind. So I decided to go to Rengeji, a temple that’s almost into the mountains north of Kyoto. I took two buses and a train, then started walking. This was another one of these ‘on faith’ trips. A sign at the train station said it was 350 meters across the bridge. It never said which fork in the road. I asked five people about the temple before I found someone who knew it. Not a good sign.

I was going there because my artist friend, Jacqueline, told me about it and sent me a wonderful video with pictures of the garden. Frommer’s said it was small, but elegant. It was small and maybe I don’t understand what elegant means. I have to look at the video again. Maybe I was in the wrong place, or maybe pictures do lie.



Going to the train station I noticed a large temple with interesting trees showing above the walls. I decided to walk back that way when I returned. As I was walking I passed the Falafel Garden, a genuine Israeli restaurant here in Kyoto. Lunch was a wonderful, vegan experience. Then on to the temple, but I never found an entrance. However, they are supposed to have a crafts market next week. I’ll try again.

Back on the bus this time to Shokoku-ji. Visitors could go to their museum and three of their other buildings, but the garden with the wall around it was closed. Thoroughly disappointed I walked back to the Imperial Palace and sat and watched other people picnicing under the cherry blossoms. Then I arranged for a tour of the Sento Palace garden (next post).


After a nice rest back at the hotel I went foraging for dinner: inari sushi again and some salad.

April 7: More rain and cold

This Sunday is flea market day at Toji Temple and I wasn’t going to let a little rain or cold stop me. Second to gardens and art museums I love flea markets. Dressing in my heaviest clothing (whatever I hadn’t abandoned in Chicago) I set out but didn’t get far, at first.

The hotel has several small temples and/or shrines nearby. When the palace has its open house these temples are also publicly active. One has a bazaar. I stopped in during my last trip and had coffee and a sweet. This time I walked through and found something I had been looking for: a small bag I could put extra things in when I ran out of pockets. One of the tables had such bags, and I was told the vendor’s mother made the bags. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it was so beautifully made with a wonderful polished cotton fabric, I couldn’t resist. For 1500 yen I have a beautiful, handmade bag and a picture of the maker. Of course all of this ended in a great love fest of picture taking.

With the artist who made my new bag

With the artist who made my new bag

Next a long bus ride to Toji Temple where I immediately sought shelter from the rain and a cup of coffee, which turned out to be amazingly good. I certainly would not have gotten anything like it in similar circumstances at home. I walked all around the market and around several of the subtemples that had never been open on my previous visits. One of the buildings had an exhibit of indigo dyed textiles, some made into kimonos, some wall hangings. All were beautifully painted, not the usual tie-dyed technique. I wish I knew more about how it was done. Also wish I could afford a kimono. There were scarves for sale for 8000 yen; I didn’t ask the price of the kimonos.


One of the subtemples of Tofukuji

After that, a short bus ride to Tofukuji Temple. There seem to be no signs directing you from the bus stop. Another temple, near the stop, had a sign that said: this is not Tofukuji, no public entry, but didn’t tell where to go. From the map and from my previous visit I recalled a long walk down a small, unmarked street. That’s not unusual. One has to have faith here. I got to a fork in the road and didn’t know where to go. A lot of signs in Japanese pointed in one direction, but that could have been for the local souvenir shop.

He looks just like some of my wealthy relatives from when I was a child.

He looks just like some of my wealthy relatives from when I was a child.

I stopped a marvelously, well-dressed, older couple and asked directions. They were charming and, even without a common language, they insisted on accompanying me. After determining I was alone and from the US, we had no conversation. When we got to the temple they insisted on helping me up some very high steps to see the ceiling of one of the prayer halls where there was a dimly lit, difficult to see dragon. They also had to help me down. My knees are not functioning well, even though I keep scolding them.

Tofukuji is famous for this lawn.

Tofukuji is famous for this lawn.

I have already mentioned I like being alone on these visits. This time I was also desperate for a toilet and the wind had blown something into my left eye, which I could barely keep open, and when this happens, instead of producing lots of tears that would have removed the dirt, my nose runs. It wouldn’t stop, and I was running out of tissues.

The man walked ahead and bought 3 passes to enter the temple proper, even though I said no. He didn’t hear. I did not know how to get out of this. We finished the temple and she said: “My home.” At least I think that’s what she was saying. And they started walking out continuing to say “My home” and gesturing like she wanted me to follow. Was I being invited to their home, me, my runny nose, not very sharp looking clothing? I kept saying yes, but I didn’t know what I was saying yes to. Finally we stopped another couple, a Japanese man and a /Western woman. He was able to translate and told me they just wanted to go home and leave me at the temple. I was very grateful I felt like he saved my life. Finally I could go and find the toilet.


Happily spent more time alone in the garden musing over the kinds of craziness you can get into without a common language.

April 6: Rainy Saturday


It wasn’t raining when I started walking early in the morning, but I knew the rains would come. I went across the street to the Palace and started walking around the grounds in an area that was new to me. It’s so large I’ll never see all of it. I found two shrines with lovely gardens.


I intended to return to the inner garden of the palace after about 10 am, hoping the rains would keep people away. But the rain became serious before the time arrived so I boarded a bus and headed for the Kyoto National Museum.


The first thing I saw when I left the bus was a sign for Chisakuin, a temple with one of my favorite gardens. This is a garden you must view from the temple buildings; you do not walk into it, making it a perfect garden for viewing in the rain. My intention had been to return in sunshine, since I had seen it in rain previously, but never pass up an opportunity. Again, because of the rain very few people were around.


There is something about seeing these gardens in quiet that touches me in an important way. I would have liked to sit and just look for an extended time, but no chairs are provided and I can’t get down on the bare wood and sit. (I’m sure my cardiologist would have a lot to say about that.)


I stayed as long as my legs would allow then finally went to the museum where I saw an interesting exhibit of the work of two 17th century artists who bridged the transition from Kyoto as the capital, presided over by the emperor, and Edo (Tokyo) becoming the capital presided over by the Tokugawa shogunate. I enjoyed the exhibit almost as much as I enjoy the gardens, but not quite. I think more when I’m looking at art, whereas the gardens just seem to enter into me.

Finally I went on my daily quest (foraging) for dinner. Most of the prepared food places seem to carry the same things: fried stuff, as in tempura, fried stuff as in heavily breaded chicken or mystery cutlets, sushi, a small number of salads that look alike at each place and a few other things. However, I found that quality differs considerably. I won’t go back to Fresco, which is too bad; they are conveniently located. But I threw out at least half of what I bought because I could taste the can. I found a little place on the street near the bus stop that has much better quality but more limited choices. Oh well, I didn’t come here to eat.

April 5: Three lovely gardens and one mistake

On a day of warmth and sunshine I started out for three temples, all located at the foot of the mountains on the northern border of Kyoto. As none of these temples are well known or well publicized they were peaceful and wonderful with only a few other people visiting with me. At the first, Genko-an, I was welcomed with  lovely incense indoors and the fragrance of the blossoms outdoors. The temple is noted for its two windows, one square, the Window of Delusion, implying confusion, ignorance and immaturity; a life of human suffering; and one round, implying Zen maturity, completeness and enlightenment.

Koetsu-ji is a special temple built on land owned by the family of Hon-ami Koetsu, a famous calligrapher, who created an artist and craftsman’s village on surrounding land during the 17th century. Several tea houses are on the grounds along with monuments for the Hon-ami family. Another lovely, peaceful visit with the fragrance of the blossoms stirring my consciousness.

Josho-ji, connected to the Hom-ami family, was also welcoming with peace, quiet, lovely incense and fragrant blossoms and a large, beautiful garden.


Since it was early afternoon I got on the bus and went to Kinkakuji, the golden temple. It was a miserable experience when I was there in 2007 because of the hordes of people visiting with me. I had not intended to return, but I have been reading Yukio Mishima’s, 1959 book, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, I found in the library here in the hotel. I guess that was the motivation. It was another miserable experience; more people and I am five years older and tire and lose patience more easily. I should have known better.