We leave Tokyo for Kyoto the next morning. The Shinkansen trains are really something else, with the JR pass you don’t get to go on the absolutely most modern ones, but the ones you get to go on are plenty! They are incredibly efficient in everything they do, when the train stops at the station, the cleaning crew sometimes has as little time as four minutes to clean the entire train set before it goes out again. This is not on every station though, where we board, in Shinagawa, they only stop for one minute. Plenty of time to unload people and let a new batch on.
Anders and I discuss how they can be so incredibly efficient and theorize that it has a lot to do with the fact that the train comes in to the platform with the door exactly level to the platform. This means that exiting is very easy, even if you’re handicapped or you have bulky luggage. There is also plenty of legroom for all seats, which means that there is no problem to have your luggage at your seat, leading to further time savings when exiting. Another thing that probably helps is that the train stops at exactly the same spot every time, so you can figure out beforehand where you’re supposed to be queuing up. Which is another thing; there is none of that trying to enter the train before everyone’s exited bullshit, everyone politely waits at the designated line until everyone has gotten out.
Arriving in Kyoto we make our way to the hostel we’ve booked and find that the trains in this town leave something to be desired, leaving us to walk a couple of kilometers. Being late afternoon already, we dump our bags at the room and catch a taxi to the only temple that’s still open; Tenryū-ji temple. It’s rather nice though and we stroll around until closing time. Next to the temple is the Arashiyama bamboo garden – something I was quite looking forward to seeing. We find it rather disappointing though, it’s not very large and consists of a few paved walkways and a couple of fenced in bamboo groves. Nothing special at all actually, my tip is to go to Kita-Kamakura to see the same thing. Feeling that we’re about done with this place we head back, problem is that the hitherto light drizzle now turns into full on canine and feline proportions. Not that that’s uncommon in Japan, it has island climate after all, but none of us have picked up umbrellas yet. So we decide to seek shelter in a nearby café.
This turns into a lucky break, since for a ridiculous amount, something like 700 jpy, we get access to a dessert of our choice and access to a cookie, coffee and tea buffét. And the desserts are something else! We are able to watch as actual chefs are lovingly preparing them in the back. The interior is really nice too, it feels like you’re at a really fancy hotel and we feel a bit out of place in our comfy travelling clothes. We have one thing left on our list before bedtime though, and that is the Inari Torii gates. A fair amount of walking (Kyoto is annoyingly hard to get around, you more or less have to take a taxi or invest some time into understanding the bus system, because the trains are scarce. We do however make it there and seeing as it’s still raining quite heavily we invest in the classic Japanese see-through umbrellas before heading up to the temple area. There are a bunch of temples to navigate before you reach the Toriis, unfortunately some kind of unsightly, very modern-looking, paper lanterns have been set up together with electrical wiring throughout the path. That’s kindof a bummer, which means you have to get creative with picture angles and so on, but it is nonetheless undoubtedly the highlight of the day. The Toriis all bear the names of the donors who paid for them and are really tightly spaced, it’s a magnificent sight to behold! The entire trail is supposedly 2-3 hours if you trek all the way up to the shrine on the hill, but after a while you realize that there isn’t much variation to be had and one place is as good as the next for photos. It’s also starting to get rather late and dark, so after an hour or so we head back to the hostel. Our room there is actually really nice in traditional Japanese style with roll out beds on the floor, a low table, sliding door closets and rice mats on the floor. The excellent ending with the awesome Torii gates has put me in a good mood and I go to bed with a smile on my lips.