George Carter
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Japan ’08 – Day 9

| Friday 15th August, 2008

This was one of the worst, and then best days in Kyoto.

Today, we had a mission… to visit the Golden Temple, Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. We also decided to scrap our plans to go all the way to Fukuoka in a few days’ time. The original plan from Kyoto was spending eight hours on a train, for twenty-four hours in Fukuoka, followed by twelve hours on a train back to Tokyo. All for the sake of visiting another island.

Well, we decided that it’d be better to scrap the night in Fukuoka, book an extra night back in the lovely Sakura hotel in Tokyo, and share the time between a morning in Kyoto and an extra day-and-a-half in Tokyo. Phone calls were made and internets internetted and the plans were all made.

So… out to the Golden Temple. We used the aforementioned tube system to get us to the right latitude, then walked a couple of miles to the correct longitude. I still think it’s a strange tube system.

The Golden Temple is a temple. Unlike the Silver Temple which never received its leaf coating, the Golden Temple most certainly did…

On walking round the beautiful gardens, we found a money bowl. The theory is that if you manage to make the bowl ring by throwing a coin into it, you will receive good fortune. It seems to me that the temple receives quite a lot of good fortune from all the attempts to hit the bowl… It also strikes me, looking at the periphery of the area, that some people really can’t throw very well.

After the Golden Temple we walked miles and miles and miles to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Before Tokyo was the capital of Japan, the role was fulfilled by Kyoto – part of the reason there are so many historic buildings there. The imperial palace is probably an amazing place, and probably has lovely gardens. We didn’t find out because there are only a couple of days a year you can go within the perimeter wall, which is all we saw of it…

Our next destination was the other side of the palace, so we walked approximately seven hundred miles around the not-very-picturesque wall, being eyed suspiciously each time the police patrol came past and finally made it out of the park towards Nijo Castle.

Which was closed on Tuesdays.

By now, we’d walked down to the left branch of the tube network, and there was a McDonald’s next door to the tube station. We decided this was definitely a McDonald’s and tube moment. After our stuff that was laughingly called food (McDonald’s is exactly the same in Japan as the UK) we had the strength to formulate a plan.

I’d heard of this funny place down in the south east of the city called “Fushimi Shrine”. In fact, I hadn’t really heard of it, I’d just seen a picture in the guide book and thought it looked quite interesting. The picture had an avenue of red torii gates. So we took the tube eastwards, then changed line and took it southwards to reach the correct latitude, then once again walked for miles and miles and miles to the shrine. In fact, I’m sure we nearly died from exhaustion.

Well, what a fascinating place!

Fushimi is a shrine to fortune in business, and anyone who feels they have benefitted from its power donates a red torii gate. After entering the main gate, you are greeted immediately with an avenue of these – free-standing, individual gates creating an enclosed corridor.

After passing the main shrine, the site then winds its way up the Inari mountain. Still enclosed in a torii corridor. I know I maybe exaggerated a little about distances earlier, but the Inari shrine literally has miles of these corridors. I think our route around took about two hours, up and down steep slopes, past little waterfalls, all through these gates. There are thousands of them. Thousands.

Any part of the hill flat enough to be built on is built on. Occasionally a tea house, but mostly small shrines. The shrines which crop up everywhere have fox statues (messengers of the Inari spirit) and piles of model gates with prayers written on.

The Fushimi shrine was one of the highlights of our holiday for me, and had Nijo castle been open, we may have never visited. I’ve heard since that the shrine appears in the film adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha. If you’re in Kyoto at any time, pull on your walking legs and go for a visit.

On our way to the shrine, we discovered “Inari” station, a Japan Rail commuter station which meant we could then ride back into the main Kyoto station for free on our rail passes. We still had to walk miles to the hotel from there, though.

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