When the climb finally leveled out, we made out a small structure in the distance. Amelia was ecstatic! She loves finding hidden treasures off the main path. I was a little unnerved to be completely honest. I’m not so sure this was meant to be a “tourist” spot up here so deep in the mountain.
This story picks up right where we left off in Kyoto part 2: Unplanned Route and the Philosopher’s Path. Read about it here!
It was getting late in the evening and there was only a little bit of sunlight left.
We decided to keep walking. The old road was warped to the mountain, almost like it was part of the ground itself. It curved around the hilly terrain of Kyoto and we followed it through the town. The shops and little restaurants hugged the road tightly until it opened up and revealed a park to our left. It was difficult to see what was there partly due to the density of trees and partly due to the sunlight disappearing. We decided to take one of the many paths entering the park. There were a decent number of people still wandering around but not many. Almost instantly we came up on the first structure. A mighty entrance gate. A sanmon gate, which is the most important gate in a Zen Buddhist temple. This gate was enormous, and it had a gloomy aura about it. Almost a little spooky. Maybe it’s just because night was settling in, but still my hairs stood up a little when we first saw it. I am really impressed with my phone’s camera in the dark. The pictures make it seem like it was earlier in the day when it was actually quite darker when I took them.
We continued walking and found ourselves among the rest of the Nanzen-ji Temple. The grounds were magnificent even in the dark. The path lights began to light up to keep the dark from completely taking over. The temperature was dropping, which wasn’t great, but it was bearable and we were staying warm from the hike. We explored the temple a bit and found a way to continue deeper into the park.
Beyond the temple following a path that started upward, we came upon another massive structure—this time an aqueduct. This was a unique find because it was a Western-style structure built in the late 1800s during the modernization of Japan, unlike the Nanzen-ji Temple we just passed that was erected just at the turn of the 13th century. At this point the lighting was scarce and so were the people. A few were trying to take pictures with the aqueduct serving as a backdrop but other than that, there was no one. I took a few snaps of the scene hoping I could brighten them later. I actually was able to use my editing program (Instagram) to create a pretty cool shot from it.
We admire the structure for a bit longer. The sun was almost completely hidden and I knew that it would be getting really cold soon. The day was spent and we had a pretty good one.
Where is Amelia?
I turned around and looked and she was off—not back the way we came but heading further up the mountain. “Hey Amelia, I think this is it. The end of the road, the few people that have ventured with us this far are leaving.”
She didn’t hear me. At least she didn’t want to hear me. So, onward we go. Our day isn’t over yet.
We climb a little way and are now level with the top of the aqueduct. There is still water running through it. Amelia’s adventurous spirit is turned up so high right now. She edges herself closer to the structure to get a better look, but she turns around a little too quickly. Her foot falls into one of the hollowed-out places of the waterway, and her leg catches. Her knee gets twisted and she hits the ground. So many things crossed my mind in such a short time.
I run towards her, but she manages to get up on her own. She’s fine. We had to take a minute and let the pain dissipate, but no kind of injury occurred. That could’ve been a whole lot worse. People have torn ACL’s and twisted ankles for a whole lot less than that. Thankfully, nothing serious.
It was a good day. We explored a lot, even went off the beaten path a bit—and Amelia will have a bruise to show for it.
Where is Amelia? I turned around and looked and she was off—not back the way we came but in the direction heading further up the mountain. “Hey Amelia, I think this is it. The end of the road…”
She wasn’t finished. We’ve had two days’ worth of stuff packed in today, we were in another city this morning, we got lost in public transit, we’ve walked for hours, it was dark and cold, her knee was now bruised, and currently there wasn’t a soul around us.
She wasn’t finished. She’s amazing this woman.
I quickly catch up. At this point the rocky, dirt path begins to take an upward slope. Thanks to the oddly bright moon our surrounding reveals itself slightly. As we are walking, we begin to see a structure take form. A wall lines the parameter which makes it hard to see exactly what’s inside; but up ahead we see an open gate so naturally we head up on through it, Amelia taking point. The venue looks like a temple-turned-house. It had the familiar alters and bells (known as bonsho), but at a much smaller scale. The small courtyard looked as if someone had posted up a residence there. We explored around (possible trespassed), then headed back to the gate from which we came. We got back on the main path and continued further upward.
We soon came upon a graveyard. This is common in Japan, but the headstones were all extremely close to each other. Amelia is fascinated by graveyards. Put her in a cemetery at night and where most people would be frightened, she would just be enamored. We slowed down to get a good look of it but after a short time we kept moving upward.
At this point I had my phone out with the flash light shining just enough to see a few feet in front of us. The moon was bright, but the trees were tall. We have been climbing up this mountain a while and the air was getting colder and colder as we were getting higher. The only reminder that we were still in Kyoto was the small glimpse of the city skyline you got by peeking through the dense forest every now and then—and at this height the city was just a collection of tiny, speckled lights.
Finally, we see something ahead. We come up on a crossroads. The path forwards goes up a steep slope and then levels out up ahead. The second went up an incline as well but in the opposite direction. We went up the first. When it leveled out, we made out a small shrine in the distance. Amelia was ecstatic! She loves finding hidden treasures off the main path. I was a little unnerved to be completely honest. I’m not so sure this is a “tourist” shrine up here deep in the mountain. The movie Blair Witch Project flashed through my mind. I was moving my light around trying to put together all the curves and dimensions and details of the shrine and area around us. There were statues and incense sticks still burning. We soak up the moment a little more then head back to the crossroads and on to the other path. Same thing. The path ended right at the foot of a similar shrine, all with the same features. At this point there is no where else to go.
We head back down the mountain, pass the graveyard, pass the gated courtyard, under the old, western style aqueduct, through the Nanzen-ji Temple and back to the main road. We catch a bus back to Hennka 9 and our first day in Kyoto was a wrap.