Just nature and beauty intertwined with a touch of native-run shops and cafes and pottery-making workshops. It was a hippie’s dream.
This is picking up right where we left off from our arrival to Kyoto and the lovely hostel type situation we had going on. Also, the backstory as to why seeing the Kinkaku-ji Temple was such a big moment for me.
The route I chose would first take us on the nearest subway (about an 11 minute walk). We find the station, descend the stairs which seemed to go on forever. Seriously how deep could they possibly dig these subway tunnels? We finally get to the bottom and buy a ticket sufficient enough to take us a few stops ahead. The next step was to get off the subway and back on high ground so we can catch a bus. Trains and subways we have gotten used to. The bus system, however, we haven’t had much time to get acquainted with. We know from research that Kyoto has a one day bus pass which will grant us unlimited bus rides for a full day—a great way to save money. We find the bus stop that is right outside the subway station we just arrived at. I have a bus number, 83, that I am pretty sure I read would get us where we need to go. We wait at the stop for a while till finally a bus with our number comes by. We hop on and find a seat, still unsure if Kinkaku-ji was actually our destination.
After a while, I check the map on the phone. We aren’t even close. In fact we have been heading in the opposite direction the entire time! We are actually heading to the Ginkaku-ji temple, also known as the SILVER temple and so happens so be the sister shrine of Kinkaku-ji. Time for an audible.
I was a little bummed that my dream of seeing the golden temple wasn’t going to happen but not to worry because we had yet another day in Kyoto. But for today, we needed to make sure we made the most of it. We look up Ginkaku-ji and the area it was in. Our spirits were lifted when we saw it was situated near several other places we wanted to see. We quickly put together a quick itinerary that included seeing the Silver Temple, strolling down the Philosopher’s Walk, seeing what the local town had to offer, and, well, we’ll just see where we end up after that.
Still on the bus, we see that the next stop is Ginkaku-ji. The temple is a straight shot down the road we got dropped off at. The sidewalk was lined with very traditional looking Japanese shops and restaurants. Not touristy, like they were putting up a front for outsiders to appear exotic or Asian-on-purpose; but it was a very real and cultural environment. At this time, it was still early afternoon. It feels like it should be much later with everything we’ve done today so far. We realized we were hungry so as we were walking down the street we were also looking for places to eat. The place we chose was called Daigin Shokudo. We walk in the small doorway as we were greeted by the server. I look around and admire the set up. There were a few tables, each enough for 4 people, spread out around the wall with one long community table in the middle. A couple of older gentlemen were sitting at the community table with some rice and a hot drink, watching the news on the small T.V. hanging from the ceiling. At one of the tables in the corner there was a younger couple, maybe around our age. The guy was Caucasian, most likely Australian (most of the Westerners we saw were Australian) and his mate was of Asian descent. As soon as we sit down the server promptly brings over mugs of hot tea. This is pretty standard in many places we ate at. We look at the menu and place our orders. The food was fairly cheap and large in portion. We were very pleased. Amelia enjoyed a bowl of rice with soup while I was drawn to noodles and egg battered pork, which also came over rice. I even tried some of their Sake, which I ordered hot, and it sat very well.
We finished up and started again towards the temple.
When you walk through the entrance to the temple grounds, it’s really more of an exit from Kyoto and, well, current times.
The best way to describe the atmosphere of this temple—and what many Japanese areas are like—is with the word Zen. Japanese Zen is an adaptation from a Chinese school of thought within Buddhism. It is a collection of teachings, beliefs, and perspectives; but it is also a style. This is what I love about Japanese culture—their styles aren’t just styles. The way they do architecture and designing has a very close relationship with their way of thinking. Zen gardens are methods of thought personified in a physical reality. Some key components of Japanese Zen are meditation, being at peace with yourself, finding your true nature, and liberation. These are just the basics, there is so much more when you begin looking at the depth. I am not a Buddhist, but I can appreciate those qualities. Zen gardens and architecture is how they can personify those beliefs and motives. That is why temples are often built in places that seem intertwined with nature or near landmarks such as mountains or lakes. It is about separating yourself from the burdens and temptations of this world and finding an inner peace.
Another fascinating concept connected to this temple is called Wabi-Sabi.
We just discovered this word not too long ago but Amelia has been living it her whole life. It’s like every bit of Japanese in her embodies Wabi-Sabi.
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese principal related to beauty and aesthetics that represents the Japanese world-view centered on acceptance of transience and imperfection. This principal embodies and appreciates a beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”
“Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” Basically, it appreciates the rawness and authenticity of not only people, but objects, structures, art, and pretty much anything you can find in this world. This is what I am talking about when I say there is a very close relationship what they believe in their minds and what they build with their hands. I wrote more in detail about wabi-sabi in a really cool article here.
We are walking around the grounds of the Ginkaku-ji temple and I am simply drifting away in the Zen gardens. They are incredible, and simple, but elegant and magical. The Ginkaku-ji is also known as the Silver Temple, but there is no silver in it. Shogun Yoshimasa began construction of the temple to mimic the Kinkaku-ji temple build by his grandfather (the golden temple, and the one I wanted to see). He intended to overlay the main villa in silver foil but due to war his plans were never realized. Therefore, the temple is technically “unfinished”. Wabi-sabi. Nevertheless, it is still a sight to see.
Once we left the temple, we headed back down to town and stopped at a café to refresh. Next we were wanting to walk down what is known as the Philosopher’s Path. Especially popular during cherry blossom season (April), I think the autumn colors painted the entire area into a masterpiece, beautiful enough for any who travel down the famous path.
The walk was amazing. The sun was beginning to go down and the air was a but chilly but we didn’t care, our spirits were high and the environment surrounding us in this part of Kyoto was energizing. The vibrant, historical atmosphere and the small-town, Japanese local feel were fueling our steps. The expresso earlier also might’ve had something to do with it. It was not overcrowded or really that touristy. No major marketplaces or attractions. Just nature and beauty intertwined with a touch of native-run shops and cafes and pottery-making workshops. It was a hippie’s dream. Amelia was especially happy. She was leading the way, and she kept leading even once it got dark—when we decided to go off the beaten path a bit. I’ll get to that later.
The Philosopher’s Path was fantastic along with the minor temples we stumbled on and the side streets and different local shops, I can go on and on. We eventually stumbled out back into the main part of town at the end, and at this point our plans were finished. But, we weren’t ready to be done with our first day in Kyoto yet. It was getting late in the evening and there was only a little bit of sunlight left.
I think we have time for one more adventure before the night is over…