Known as The City of 10,000 Shrines, Ky­oto is the per­fect des­ti­na­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence a kalei­do­scope of au­tumn col­ors

Oi Vietnam - - Contents - Text and Im­ages by David Muller

Ky­oto is the per­fect des­ti­na­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence a kalei­do­scope of col­ors

TO CELEBRATE MY WIFE’S BIRTH­DAY, I booked a sur­prise trip to Ja­pan to ex­pe­ri­ence the ma­jes­tic sights and sounds of Ky­oto. Pleas­ant, cool days prove won­der­ful for walks through tem­ples, gar­dens and bam­boo forests. It makes for a ro­man­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, where a cou­ple can find se­cluded hide­aways along the gar­den path to hold hands and cre­ate beau­ti­ful mo­ments.

Af­ter a long day, the per­fect way to re­ju­ve­nate the mus­cles is to soak in an

on­sen, or Ja­panese hot spring. Many ho­tels and bath­houses tap the vol­canic spring wa­ters as they bub­ble up through the ground. An im­por­tant, if not un­usual note, is that many es­tab­lish­ments refuse en­try to bathers adorned with tat­toos.

This rather ar­cane cus­tom orig­i­nated with pre­vent­ing Yakuza, Ja­panese or­ga­nized crime mem­bers, from en­ter­ing and caus­ing trou­ble. Un­for­tu­nately, many for­eign­ers also run afoul of this rule. To spare any in­con­ve­nience or em­bar­rass­ment, it’s best to check with the bath­house by phone or email first, es­pe­cially if you’re trav­el­ing to some of the larger on­sen lo­cated on the far­ther out­skirts of the city.

Trans­lated as ‘pure wa­ter,’ Kiy­omizud­era tem­ple founded in 780 AD, takes its name from the moun­tain stream that runs through the tem­ple grounds. The Otowa Wa­ter­fall at the base of Kiy­omizud­era's tem­ple splits into three sep­a­rate streams. Drink­ing the wa­ters from each stream may be­stow upon the pilgrim the ben­e­fits of suc­cess at school, longevity or a happy love life. Alas, the search for good for­tune comes with a warn­ing. Drink­ing from all three streams is to tempt the gods. They view those drink­ing from all three as be­ing self­ish and greedy. Those who do in­vite ill-for­tune. Suf­fice it to say I’m too old for suc­cess at school, there­fore I drank to my heart’s con­tent from only two streams.

Shops, restau­rants and tea­houses dot the area lead­ing to the tem­ple. It’s a wel­com­ing area to meander through at your leisure on your way up or down from the tem­ple. The path leads to Maruyama park where women don­ning ki­monos vie for the per­fect spot to take a photo with a back­drop of au­tumn leaves. Shops around Ky­oto spe­cial­ize in rent­ing ki­monos for the day to those who came un­pre­pared.

Tourists the world over pose in for­mal dress for the per­fect shot through­out the tem­ples and gar­dens and make for an amus­ing sight when caught be­hind more mod­ern cityscapes.

Kinkakuji tem­ple, also called the ‘Golden Pavil­ion,’ is one of the most fa­mous struc­tures in Ky­oto. Its his­tory is pocked by fires that de­stroyed it on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. The cur­rent rein­car­na­tion of this struc­ture was com­pleted in 1955 af­ter a crazed novice monk set the old tem­ple ablaze. The golden pavil­ion’s façade and in­te­rior is dec­o­rated in gold leaf, al­low­ing it to glimmer in the sun­shine, its re­flec­tion in the ad­ja­cent pond a spec­tac­u­lar sight to be­hold.

Eikan-do Zen­rin-ji Tem­ple draws a huge crowd at night when the tem­ple’s gar­dens are lit up with an in­tri­cate ar­ray of lights. The lights of the gar­den mix with the shim­mer­ing stars to cast an eerie glow above the gar­dens’ cen­tral pool.

To­fukuji tem­ple is an op­por­tune spot to ex­pe­ri­ence the breath­tak­ing ex­plo­sion of au­tumn leaves. A cov­ered bridge al­lows peo­ple to feel like they are float­ing above the canopy, star­ing out across a sea of red and gold adorned maple trees to the val­ley be­low.

Due to the large vol­ume of tourists cross­ing the bridge, tak­ing pho­tos while on the bridge is banned. Se­cu­rity guards in im­mac­u­late at­tire are posted on ei­ther end des­per­ately try­ing to en­force the rule. I wasn’t go­ing to miss the per­fect shot and snapped a pro­hib­ited and beau­ti­ful photo of my wife star­ing out across the end­less au­tumn ex­panse.

Arashiyama, mean­ing ‘Storm

Moun­tain,’ is an area on the out­skirts of Ky­oto that can be reached by a vin­tage train. It winds through the moun­tain passes to reach a plateau. The moun­tain slopes are a blaze of color in au­tumn con­trasted by the green­ery of Arashiyama bam­boo grove with its turquoise green bam­boo shoots tow­er­ing up into the sky. The grove had an eerie calm de­spite the canopy of leaves which rus­tled over­head in the wind. It prod­ded my imag­i­na­tion to con­jure up the leg­endary samu­rai who once in­hab­ited the area dur­ing Ja­pan’s now by­gone feu­dal era and al­most see them prowl­ing the groves.

Gio Tem­ple is lo­cated on a hill near the Arashiyama area; the tem­ple is abun­dant with thick mosses en­tan­gling the an­cient for­est’s lush green­ery. At the hill’s peak is an in­tri­cate, red pagoda sur­rounded by pine trees that com­pete for aerial dom­i­nance with the pagoda’s nee­dle-like spire.

Strolling about gar­dens and tem­ples all day is sure to stoke the ap­petite as well as thirst. The gods make sure that doesn’t go un­sat­is­fied ei­ther. Down the path from the tem­ple is Kaede café, a quaint Ja­panese cof­fee and tea house. Here I stopped to try a tra­di­tional matcha green tea be­fore cross­ing the small field in front of the café to view Rakushisha house. It’s ru­mored that the fa­mous poet of the Edo pe­riod, Mat­suo Basho, stayed to write the poem

Saga Nikki. Built in 1644, it is the per­fect ex­am­ple of a feu­dal Ja­panese farm house.

By now we were fam­ished and craved sus­te­nance. De­mand­ing the fresh­est and high­est qual­ity in­gre­di­ents in their food is a Ja­panese hall­mark. This means the restau­rant cui­sine is tan­ta­liz­ing and de­li­cious. Lo­cated next to a crys­tal-clear brook is the all-you-can-eat BBQ buf­fet restau­rant, Chi­faja. We splurged and chose the “Ex­cel­lent Menu” for JPY ¥ 3,300 (USD30), al­low­ing us to gorge on prime cuts of Kobe beef for 90 min­utes. For an ex­tra JPY ¥1,200 (USD11) we also en­joyed free flow sochu and sake. With all our senses fi­nally sated, and plenty of im­ages cap­tured on cam­era to take home and look upon with fond­ness in the com­ing days and decades, we found our­selves ready to bid farewell to Ky­oto and the Land of the Ris­ing Sun.

Thanks to Ja­pan, my wife’s birth­day in Novem­ber was one she will al­ways re­mem­ber in vivid de­tail. Ky­oto is a mag­i­cal place to visit in all sea­sons, but au­tumn is its most ex­u­ber­ant, dis­play­ing a fleet­ing and bril­liant ex­plo­sion of sea­sonal col­ors to the city’s land­scape be­fore the win­ter snow wraps up the city like a white blan­ket.

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