Kyoto in the rain…and crashing a funeral?

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The first touches of color on leaves near the Choin-in Temple gate

Although Typhoon Malakas wasn’t a dangerous storm by the time it reached Kyoto, its effects lingered. For the first two days of our stay in Kyoto, it seemed we’d fallen into some bad travel mojo: Google let us down a couple of times, leaving us searching for bus stops it insisted were right under our feet… and always, just then, the skies would open up. So much for beautiful autumn in Kyoto! Not willing to quit, though, we kept on and discovered that one benefit of the rain was a decided lack of the crowds we’d been told to expect. I’m a sucker for a silver lining!

To start our day, and more or less on whim, we hopped the subway nearest our apartment and got off near the middle of a walk I’d seen recommended by Frommer. We ended up blowing off that itinerary, when we stumbled upon a “worship walk” through Chion-in Temple. The paved path wandered through temples and shrines and we were thrilled to find a full service in progress, seemingly open to the public. Inside, thick incense filled the large building (Honen Shonin Mido) while an older man in robe and headdress chanted before an elaborate altar, flanked by rows of younger monks, one beating a two-block “instrument.” Worshipers sat behind the monks in the main room. Along with other guests, we were met by smiling greeters and directed to seats removed from the main action, but with a clear view. The service was beautiful, and occasionally those seated in our immediate area would get up to either leave or pray at a side altar. Not until after we left and spotted a few signs regarding memorial and cremation services did I do a little research and realize we may have crashed a memorial service. Yikes. [Photography was forbidden inside or I’d share just how picturesque it was.] I actually highly recommend this visit since no one seemed to mind–in fact they were very friendly and welcoming even though we were clearly tourists–and it was a wonderful experience.

Our main target for the day was Ginkakuji, a famous Zen temple. Known as the Silver Pavilion, there’s nothing silver about it except for its original owner’s unfulfilled plans to cover it in silver leaf. Still, it is a beautiful place with a unique, stylized sand garden shaped to suggest waves and Mt. Fuji. It looked as if the weather had taken its toll on “Mt. Fuji,” and we arrived to find workmen putting the finishing touches on a big pile of sand shaped like a #4 coffee filter.

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Ginkakuji: The Silver Pavilion
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Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion): Men at work on stylized sand representation of Mt. Fuji

Even in the clouds and drizzle, a fair-sized crowd wandered the paths around the pavilion and up the hillside garden.

We took a beer pub break (I was with David, remember!) for lunch at  Tadg’s Gastro Pub which we really enjoyed and I’ll review separately. It didn’t rain throughout lunch, but five minutes after we set out for Heian Temple (a 20 min. walk) the skies opened up, sending us darting for cover under an awning until it lightened up enough for our umbrellas to do the job. The orange and green temple is immense and its gardens probably great (but too pricey on a rainy day at 600 yen).

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Heian Temple

We’d decided to head back home on the bus and hope for better weather later, when I noticed that the bus went past the Imperial Palace, a place we wanted to visit and not too far of a walk to our apartment. The rain had let up for the moment and it wasn’t like we were going to dissolve, so we decided to hop off at the palace. This turned out to be a great idea. We beat the last entry at 3:45pm by minutes so got to walk around the Imperial Palace (within the walls, but the buildings are not open to the public) with only a minimal crowd. The palace sprawls and the walking route lets you explore quite a bit. Although you can’t enter, you can view some painted screens in three of the receiving rooms through glassed-in sliding doors and certain temple buildings have porches open to the outside. The park surrounding the Imperial Palace is 1500 meters long by 700 meters wide.

The Imperial Palace used to require reservations and guided tours, but has just this summer switched to a free, no-reservation, self-guided policy. Excellent!

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The Imperial Palace, Kyoto
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Oikeniwa Garden in the Imperial Palace

 

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