After a decent nights sleep I woke up excited to be getting back on a bike. Caught the 207 bus towards Kyoto Train Station and 25 minutes later I was at the Cycle Kyoto office. I had chosen the ‘North Tour’ mainly because it covered more sights that the ‘South Tour’ rather than actually knowing what I was off to see.
Mayco, our guide (pronounced like the gorgeous super speedy Mako Shark) gave us a briefing, biked us up, and off we went. Cycling in Kyoto is incredibly easy, and most of the day we were riding flat, navigating between wide roads and cute small backstreets.
Our first stop was about 10 minutes away; Honganji Temple. It was the Founder’s memorial day so was exceptionally busy. It was kinda cool seeing the school kids dressed up in their uniforms exactly like in all the cartoons and anime I’d seen in my younger years. We were invited to join in the prayers, and drink free tea, but it was time to move on.
We headed further north to the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, passing Nijo-jo Castle on the way. I loved this shrine. Particially perhaps because it was incredibly quiet. Having learnt how to pray the day before I took out a ¥5 coin to throw in (at?) the shrine before saying a prayer/making a wish. The ¥5 is pronounced ‘go en’ which is the same expression as good luck/fortune/spirit, which is why it is the preferred prayer piece. We were told the hole was so you could see your fortune through it (I like this explanation) though the internet tells me it’s because it was harder to counterfeit and cheaper to make (meh.)
This shrine was full of cows, allegedly due to one of the following… the deity of the shrine being born in the year of the Ox… or was carried after his death by a cow. Whatever the real reason, the cows are super cute, and apparently bring good luck especially in regards to exam performance. We were also shown the yin and yang cows, the former helping to fix ailments, which I rubbed a little too enthusiastically thinking of all my minor injuries that just won’t go away (the cartwheel injury, the damn stress fracture…)
After this we headed to, perhaps the highlight of my day… lunch! (I’m probably joking here… I think.) I was told we were going for sushi, so expected to fill up on cucumber maki, no problem. Oh, but it was so much more than that. We went to a conveyor belt style sushi restaurant and were given a budget that allowed about 9 dishes each. Not only did they have English TV menu’s but about 6 vegan options (and more veggie too.) It’s the kind of place I would have wanted to go in, but thought I couldn’t due to my lack of Japanese and strict dietary requirements. Doh.
So, to order my food…? Press a few buttons on the screen, wait for it to announce it’s impending arrival and then watch it zoom towards me on a seperate conveyor belt, stopping immediately right next to me. Too. Much. Fun. When you finished your plates you put them into a little hole at the end of the table. After every five plates a game would play on the screen.. and you could win a prize! What a magical place. The food was also damn tasty. Oh, and the fresh wasabi? NOSE BURN ❤
Waddling out the restaurant we got back on our bikes and headed to Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion.) I personally thought it was Golden Pagoda was pretty… vulgar? The previous version had been burnt down in 1950 by a monk, and the next incarnation had a little more golf leaf on it.
To me, the obscene amount of gold made it looked fake and tacky. But I prefer a country village English Church to one of the extravagant churches in Rome any day. What I did love was the grounds. The pond, the little islands, the beautifully trained bonsai. I would have thought it being so busy, and full of people complaining about how touristy it was I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the beauty, but it still took me in fully.
We then cycled through the grounds of the Imperial Palace, and headed towards Gion before ending up back at the shop. The day was planned so well, a great mix of sites, and an absolutely fantastic guide, and I was lucky with really great company too.
I really wanted to see the Kusama art exhibition at the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art so I headed back to Gion on the subway, with 50 minutes to go before it shut. Paid my ¥1500, took off my shoes (as required) and went in. There was something quite wonderful about walking around an art exhibition in bare feet. The extra sensations you feel from walking without shoes, somehow just made me feel more grounded in the present moment, allowing myself to really just be.
I wished I had more time there; the garden was so beautiful I would have loved to have just sat for a while, but I had to clock watch (just a little, it was a small exhibition) to make sure I got through all the rooms. But I was so grateful to have stumbled across this at all! I couldn’t take pictures of my favourite pieces; the flowers, birds, the glitter; all so vibrant, electric, emotional. I know I say it every time I write about an art gallery, but it just amazes me how art invokes such powerful feelings. How just looking at a piece can utterly change your emotions and current mindset. What a beautiful gift.
I then walked down to the Kamo river again to just soak up the serenity, or perhaps just enjoy my own serenity) and work up an appetite whilst the sun went down. Kyoto is in a valley so all around you were beautiful hills; such a great people, and bird watching space.
I then headed back to Mimikou, this time for Vegan Tempura Donburi set. Oh my it was delicious.
On the way home that night I detoured via the Yasaka Shrine. After walking around a little, admiring the lights and lanterns I found a quiet spot and wrote in my journal a little.
Just as I decided to head back to the guesthouse, about 50 school kids started running and doing the worm (not joking) towards one the main shrines. They started ringing (smashing might be a better word) the prayer bells, hanging off the ropes, running from shrine to shrine and around the different tori’s playing catch. It was hysterical. The teachers seemed totally oblivious to the chaos that was ensuing. We would have gotten into so much crap for behaving that way on a school trip, so it amused me further thinking of the wider perception of very well behaved Japanese school children and the contrast of what I was currently watching, almost crying with tears of laughter. Perfect way to end a perfect day.