I was supposed to meet a couchsurfing friend in Gion, but miscommunication kept us from meeting that day (we finally managed to touch base the next day to visit Nijo-jo Castle!) and I was left to wander the area on my own.

I knew Gion was famous for geisha but I wasn’t interested in harassing them or making an inordinate amount of effort to see them at all. But I would’ve loved to see Hanami-koji, the street with all their teahouses! My friend later told me that there are free walking tours of the area and that the time to go was night. I did not do either of these things. It’s hilarious, in retrospect, because I always found myself wondering what there was to do after 5pm when all the temples and shrines closed.

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(This is actually a back street of Higashiyama. Which is close to Gion. ^^)

Yasaka Shrine

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Getting dropped off at the Gion bus stop, you are immediately struck by the impressive vermilion gates of Yasaka, the main shrine in Gion. It’s big and it’s beautiful and it leads directly into Maruyama Park.

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(People would toss money into the shrine, ring the big bell and clap their hands together while praying.)

I can’t really think of a way to distinguish it from all the other shrines I visited.

Maruyama Park

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Again, with the cherry blossom trees, you get the hint that Maruyama Park must be absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous when spring arrives in full force. At the beginning of spring, it still has the winter dead look that was keeping a few of the other sites down.

A little Chinese boy was playing with these pigeons, when I arrived. He threw them crackers under the watchful gaze of his father. Every now and then, an eagle would swoop down and cause the pigeons to scatter. Ravens would pop by too, but the pigeons always clocked that it was just a raven pretty quickly and kept eating.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

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Kiyomizu-dera came highly recommended, but I can’t help but think it suffered from the most from the fact that spring was not quite there. People were hard at work getting it prepared for prime cherry blossom viewing season, it looked under construction and for all the very real construction going on, it felt like “under construction” was its perpetual look. It looked so bare bones and naked.

The grounds of Kiyomizu-dera is also home to several other things, besides this monster platform. There was the pagoda (below) in the distance and a lover’s walk. People were encouraged to walk from a stone to the other side of the area with their eyes closed; if they made it across, that meant their love would last. (I think the person’s SO is encouraged to give them directions.) The Lover’s Walk area is naturally swarmed by love charm sellers.

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There’s the waterfall that gives Kiyomizu-dera it’s name. Many tourists lined up underneath it to catch the water in a scoop and… drink it? Splash it on the shrines behind them? The line was long enough that I didn’t bother trying to find out.

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According to a friend, there’s a wheel at Kiyomizu-dera that never stops spinning. I didn’t get the chance to see this. That may have been closed to repairs.

Higashiyama District

I had a bit of trouble finding Kiyomizu-dera. The Higashiyama District is supposed to lead you up to Kiyomizu-dera and instead, it was my exit.

It’s a traditional-sized Japanese street (which is to say that it was narrow), lined by every souvenir shop in Japan. Or so it felt like. Just one after another.

You could also rent kimonos in this area. There were a number of tourists parading in them here.

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(They spoke Chinese.)

The best, however, were the purveyors of Kyoto’s specialty omiyage, yatsuhashi. They are dollops of bean paste, folded into a square of flavored mochi. The mochi came in green tea, cinnamon, and other flavors. The stores at Higashiyama had the most samples of any, and I spent quite a bit of time just stuffing my face at one of them. The yatsuhashi tasted good enough to keep my mouth watering for days on end, but I couldn’t find a small version of the four-flavored box and so didn’t buy one.

Ginkakuji Temple

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(A view of Kyoto from my walk around Ginkakuji)

With some extra time before the official end of all things temple-related in Kyoto (ie, 5pm), I hopped on a bus and traveled north to the Ginkakuji Temple. This place is known as the Silver Pavilion (to go along with Kinkakuji, or Golden Pavilion) but doesn’t actually have any silver. Curious.

(The book about Buddhist temples in Kyoto that I’ve been reading lately also notes that the Kinkakuji was built by the grandfather of the guy who built Ginkakuji. However, the original Kinkakuji burnt down and the current structure is a replica built in 1955. So which is really the older structure?)

I have to say, Ginkakuji is one of my favorite places in Kyoto, especially over the ostentation of Kinkakuji. I could easily imagine an old man living here, contemplating how to make the grounds more descriptive of nature’s harmony. Or something else fancy and philosophical. It featured a variety of natural scenery: sand brushed into designs, a pond, trees, moss, a waterfall, and a piece of the mountain.

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I felt so at peace, I wish I could live there.

[This post was originally published on March 13, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]

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