After a wonderful morning exploring the thousands of red gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, it was time to head to Gion District to down some Japanese tucker, spot some Geisha impersonators and wander the streets.
Gion is known for being the one of the last Geisha districts remaining in Japan. In this area, several hundred Geiko or Maiko live and work at upmarket restaurants and teahouses. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one as she runs between engagements. However, what you are more likely to see is the many tourists dressing up in the traditional attire for a day – go ahead and ask to take a picture with them – it will make their day!
What I loved about Gion – and about Kyoto as a whole – was how naturally Old Japan blended with influences from the modern world. Power lines and neon signs live harmoniously alongside traditional sliding doors and lanterns. It never felt forced or unnatural – it just felt seamless.
After a decent chunk of time spent exploring, I had thoroughly worked up an appetite for food and the desire for an icy cold drink. Stay tuned for the upcoming Ellen Eats: Japan edition for more details about this delicious runny egg and rice dish.
After I had satisfied my appetite, it was time to head on to one of Kyoto’s most famous sites.
Ginkaku-Ji. Also known as the Silver Pavillion, this is one of the most beautiful temple sites in Kyoto and possibly even in all of Japan. The temple itself is rather unassuming, but it is surrounded by incredible forestry and plant life, which gives it a more magical feeling than it would have otherwise.
However, I am jumping the gun a little bit here. Let’s start at the beginning.
Ginkaku-Ji was constructed in the 1480’s by the reigning Shogun of that time. A Shogun was the term used for around 700 years for the country’s heredity military dictator. The Shogun was the often the de-facto ruler of the country and may also have held the position of Emperor. It is believed that this temple was intended to become a home for this particular Shogun to retire in. Plans for the construction of Ginkaku-Ji were for the temple to be coated in silver leaf – however this was not to be. Historical scholars believe that this particular Shogun ran out of money before such construction could be completed.
The Shogun died several years later and Ginkaku-Ji was converted into the wonderfully zen temple that lives on today.
Entrance to Ginkaku-Ji will set you back around ¥500 ($6.50) and it is well worth the money. The temple can be reached by taking bus number 5, 17 or 100 from Kyoto Station to Ginkaku-Ji Michi bus stop. Bus ticket prices vary depending on the distance travelled, but expect to pay anywhere from ¥120 to ¥500 per ticket. It also pays to have the correct coinage, as bus ticketing machines often will not give change.
Once you arrive and have paid the entrance fee, it is time to explore the beauty of the temple and its surrounds. There is an easily follow-able marked path which takes you from the base of the temple right up to get some beautiful views from above.
There is a small pond in which visitors were throwing coins – much like one would expect to see at Fontana di Trevi in Rome! I have done a little research into this pond and have found that this is no ancient tradition – these coins are purely the result of tourists who love throwing their loose change into pretty bodies of water. Kinda hilarious when you think about it!
Prior to arriving in Japan (in September) I had expected typical Autumn weather – a not too cold, not too hot kinda deal – but this was not what I encountered. September in Japan is bloody boiling and humid to boot; which made time spent exploring in shady spots even more welcome. In addition to preventing sunburn, this dense plant life was also utterly lovely. The moss growing on these rocks reminds me of my time spent hiking on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
After a short walk up a few sets of stairs, this was the glorious view waiting for me. A zen temple popping up out of a forest with modern day Kyoto sprawling out across the background – pretty amazing stuff.
Up close, the temple is not overly impressive, but it has a subtle and understated elegance. The nearby Golden Pavillion (stay tuned to future posts) is far more ‘in your face’ pretty; but there is something special about a place that doesn’t need to be ostentatious or conspicuously good-looking.
Once I had had my fill of Ginkaku-ji it was time to head back to Kyoto for a good days rest before another big day of exploring.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Kyoto: Though Kansai airport is the closest airport to Kyoto, it is often cheaper to fly into Shin-Osaka airport and catch a short 30 minute train to Kyoto
Getting to Gion: From Kyoto Station, catch the Nara line towards Nara and get off at Tofukuji station, transfer to the Keihan line towards Demachiyanagi and get off at Gion-Shijo station
Getting to Ginkaku-Ji: From Kyoto station, catch bus number 5, 17 or 100 to Ginkaku-Ji Michi
Ginkaku-Ji Temple: Entrance to the temple is ¥500 for adults
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens
Remember: To bring change for the bus ticket machines!
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