Last weekend, I wanted to do something a bit different. I’ve been busy preparing for the upcoming JLPT exams next month (level 4 here I come!) and I’ve also had quite a bit to do at work, whilst also hosting some visiting friends. All in, I’ve not had much time to myself lately.
So, it was a great relief when one of my best Japanese friends, who like me is often all too busy these days, said “Do you fancy hanging out in Kyoto this weekend?”
Unsurprisingly, I jumped at the opportunity to get away from Osaka, even if just for a day.
“So, where do you want to go?” she asked me.
“Well,” I said, “how about Kinkakuji? I haven’t been there for quite some time.” Then I realized, it was actually coming up for 9 years since I last went there.
I have of course been to Kyoto dozens of times during my time here in Japan, and yet I had never returned to Kinkakuji since my very first time in the city, back in 2006, a mere 2 months after I first came to live in Japan.
My friend was equally thrilled at the prospect: “Oh, it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve been there too,” she told me.
“We can also visit some of the other temples nearby if you like,” she added, “There are a few really good ones around that area.”
And so it was settled, last Sunday I headed through to Kyoto and met up with my friend.
Despite actually hailing from Hyogo, my companion for the day has lived in Kyoto since her university days and knows a great deal about the city. Most importantly, she knew which bus to take to Kinkakuji, from the plethora of vehicles that alighted at the bus stop in Kawaramachi where we met up.
Within about 30 mins we arrived at the entrance to the temple complex, bought our tickets and headed in.
As to be expected, it was quite busy, though not as busy as I had remembered from before. Certainly Asia’s current economic climate was manifest in the make-up of the tourists, with the vast majority of them hailing from China and Taiwan. Conversely, I remember there being no more than a few dozen such visitors back in 2006.
The Golden temple itself was as magnificent as I remembered, perhaps even more so. Somehow it seemed smaller than before, but perhaps time has done that. My friend also said it seemed smaller than she remembered but then I reminded her that she was just a teenager the last time she came here and everything probably seemed bigger in those days!
Of course no visit to Kinkakuji is complete without taking the time to enjoy the delicious green tea, prepared using the pure waters of the springs dotted around the temple itself. To the rear of the golden temple, if you follow the pathway, you will come to the teahouse. Thankfully, the rather clement weather meant we could enjoy our tea and accompanying Okashi (Japanese sugary sweet) outside in the adjacent garden.
I smiled as the immaculately presented staff brought us our tea, her smile as warm and bright as the delicious, nourishing tea itself.
Suddenly I noticed a wry smile coming to my friend’s face. She laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s the kimonos here have changed. They are much more colourful now than they were when I worked here.”
Funnily enough my friend had neglected to mention that she had a part-time job serving tea in this very same place during her university days. I wasn’t just me who was enjoying a trip down memory lane.
Fans of flora and fauna will also enjoy the beautiful forested areas that surround Kinkakuji, adorned with streams and waterfalls. This fine balance of nature and culture is, for me, what makes Kyoto such a beautiful and relaxing place to visit.
With Kinkakuji done, it was time to seek a little bit of peace and tranquility, and what better place to do that than at the nearby, Ryoan-Ji.
The “Temple of the Peaceful Dragon”, to give its name an approximate English translation, is as stunning as it is beautiful. Less than 15 minutes’ walk from Kinkakuji, this marvellous location is all too often overlooked by tourists in favour of the more popular sites like Kiyomizu, Kinkakuji and Fushimi-Inari.
Whilst it may not have the splendor of Kinkakuji, or the scope of Kiyomizu, Ryoan-ji was my favourite of all the sites in visited in that very first trip to Kyoto all those years ago. To my eternal discredit, I hadn’t been back in 9 years, because, I couldn’t remember the name of the place!
What was unforgettable however was the Zen garden which forms the centrepiece of the temple complex. This garden is adorned not with conventional grass or flowers, but instead a series of specially chosen and crafted boulders, numbering 15 in total.
The boulders are set out in such a way, that no matter where one chooses to sit in or around the garden, it is impossible to see more than 14 of the stones at any given time.
According to the teachings of the temples historians, it is only through achieving enlightenment that the final boulder would become visible.
I guess I still have a long way to go before I can call myself enlightened!
Nevertheless, it was great to finally find my way back to this garden after so many years. All in, my trip down memory lane, into some of Kyoto’s finest sites was a great day out, both for me and my friend. Here’s hoping I don’t have to wait another 9 years to do it again!