It was a rolling start today, with a few errands to do before I could head out to finish the walk I began yesterday. With my ticket in hand for tomorrow's train ride to Kamakura and Miho, with whom we will now stay, and a nice lunch in me, I caught the subway back up to where I left off in the rain yesterday. The rain, incidentally, that had cleared up overnight and gave us a beautiful twenty-nine degree, cloud-free day.
I headed up to Maruyama Park, which was just north of the temples I'd visited yesterday. Both it and the Yasaka-jinja Shrine were a little underwhelming; the park was drier and more concreted than I'd expected and the shrine was not as impressive as the many others in surrounding areas. I hiked up the hill a bit further and enjoyed the shade for a while, before winding through to Chion-in Temple. Sadly, this was disappointing too, as the main hall was closed for renovation until 2019. That's not a typo. It was entirely covered in scaffolding and must have only recently commenced work, because, well, 2019?!
The final stop on this walking tour put up by hostel management was a smaller temple just beyond Chion-in, called Shoren-in. Now this was a find. It had a steeper than average entry fee and I hesitated after the failings of the previous few suggestions, but I decided to head in. Shoes off, I headed into an old traditional building with bamboo mat flooring, low ceilings and sliding doors. They opened up onto a wide garden outlook that was pretty stunning. I padded through the connected buildings in socks, admiring the artwork and views.
Being in these ancient buildings without shoes has a surprisingly large impact on the way you experience it. It makes it real, tactile. You feel a connection to history of the place, and the many generations of people that padded around the place before you, smoothing the wooden verandahs over time and buffing it to a shine. After admiring the architecture and view from afar, I returned to my shoes and then explored the garden, with its waterfall, koi pond and bamboo forest. Beautiful.
From there, with the afternoon wearing on, I headed up to the Heian-Jingu Shrine, which the hostel had listed as having free entry today, followed by the note "~16:30". Now, I took that to mean free entry from 4:30pm, but when I got there and discovered it was closed, I realised that was 'until'. I haven't seen that nomenclature used before, and would have thought there are easier ways to write 'until 4:30pm'. I recognised the huge orange archway on approach, and sadly because the gardens were closed I have twice missed out. Next next time, I promise.
I then hesitated. I had received an amazing set of tips and advice on Japan from an old work colleague, and one of the few things I hadn't ticked off his Kyoto list was something called the 'Philosopher's Path'. I had put it in Google Maps and it looked like it was pretty far away, and as it was five o'clock and the sun was edging lower, I wondered if a) I'd be able to get in, and b) it was worth the journey up there. I found Wi-Fi and was able to discover that what Google had found was the northern end, and that the southern start point was actually a lot closer to me than I'd thought.
I found my way up there through a residential area and was immediately pleased with the decision. The view over the city was pretty great, and with the sun setting the evening took on a brilliant orange and pink hue. I trod along a small canal, sadly too early in the season for the cherry trees to be in bloom, and admired the evening's beginnings over the city. I even stumbled onto a kitten party. Three people with twenty cats, frolicking in the grass. It's like it was meant to be.
The one place, besides the Heian Shrine, that I felt like I'd missed out on while here was the Imperial Palace. Sounds like a big one, I know, and it probably is. I was actually on the street that runs along the top already, and it was a little early for dinner, so I decided I'd cut through the park surrounding it en route to restaurants and/or the hostel. As the night set in I made it to the Palace, only to discover the place was walled with a moat and high trees. No northern entrance, then. Damn. I turned back and caught the subway back to the restaurant strip I'd eaten at last night.
There, standing on a street corner using Wi-Fi, my night took a sudden turn. An Australian guy saw me using my phone and asked if there was Wi-Fi here. I explained I was using a paid app, and while he hovered to check it out for himself, introduced himself as Steve from Melbourne. He asked if I'd eaten, and said he felt like company tonight. So we went out to have a bite to eat. Turns out he'd been travelling for two and a half years, and was working his way back towards Australia by, theoretically, November.
He was very energetic and enjoyably attention-challenged. He'd ask a question, cut you off, then ask a different question, point out something in a shop window, take me into a pachinko store, then move on. I was floated along in the wake of his irrepressible energy. He had to catch a train back to Osaka tonight, having only visited for the day, so we pushed off into a side street and found a tiny restaurant with no English anything to sit down in. He asked for rice and got it ramen-esque in a broth, while I literally spun a finger and landed on a menu item. The waiter said 'crab' as way of explanation but I have a sneaking suspicion the fried tubes may actually have been squid. It was great.
Next, he was desperate to find a geisha, and knew of a street which was supposedly the heart of expensive restaurants and home of those particular women. Trouble was, we didn't know where the street was, and my paper map (falling apart after yesterday's rain) omits many smaller streets. So he ducked into a phone store and used their PC, while I tried the Wi-Fi on my phone. Our target found, we retraced our steps and crossed back over the river. The street was impressively adorned with red lanterns and wooden building fronts. We saw a few women about the place, including some getting into cars with businessmen (not true geishas, it must be noted).
Then it was ice cream on the to-do list - not fresh or soft serve, as is commonplace here - but out of a package from a supermarket. The desired object? Vanilla ice cream coated in a marshmallowy layer of what is actually rice. It was fine, but a little bland for my dessert tastes. Still, not something you have every day. We had found a little bit of a seedier area - not seedy by any European standards of dodginess - and navigated back to the subway. Steve headed off towards Kyoto Station and then Osaka, while I walked home to the hostel.
It was an enjoyable left turn that made my last day in Kyoto all the more memorable. Sometimes life needs a burst of electricity like that to spice things up and push you out into new experiences you might have walked past. My map calculations suggest I walked twenty kilometres today, which is pretty crazy and explains my sore feet. Tomorrow we'll be bookending the trip with another visit to a friend, for which I had better get some sleep.