Kyoto

Day 13 – Arashiyama

Our plan for today is to do some ‘city’ stuff like museums, shopping and playing video games. First stop is the Costume Museum, just up the road from our hotel, only to find it’s mysteriously closed. I remember reading something about today being Kansai Culture Day, a semi-public holiday, so maybe that’s why. Hopefully it will be open tomorrow or Thursday.

City plan is kinda of ruined, so despite it being absolutely freezing cold we decide to go and look around Arashiyama, a mountain town to the north-west of Kyoto. After getting confused by buses (the Kyoto system is pretty illogical to an outsider, and you often have to walk for ages to find the right stop) we make it there eventually. It’s a pretty little place that has a quaint village-y feel, but packed with people today, maybe due to the cultural holiday.

We look around the Tenryu-ji, a major Zen Buddhist temple – interesting to see a Zen temple, it’s much more simple and minimalist in design than some of the more grandiose ones. It’s surrounded by pretty gardens, and right next to it is a large bamboo grove, which is calm and beautiful to walk through. Unfortunately all the prettiness is marred by the cold – it’s really freezing and a bit drizzly. We stop for lunch at a little tea room; little toasted sandwiches filled with omelette and coffee to warm up. There are a few souvenir shops too mostly selling bamboo items due to the nearby forest.

After more difficulty finding a bus stop, we head back into town to go to the Manga Museum. Happily this place is open today, and also free because of culture day. It’s a fairly grand institution set in an old school house, with a huge library of manga books and an academic learning facility. The exhibition side is pretty small – I’d have been a bit miffed if I had paid to get in. There are tons of people lining the stairs and corridors reading the books from the library. After leaving, we have a quick drink in a nice cafe/bar nearby called Cafe Bibliotech Hello! then walk down the Teramachi dori, a covered-over shopping street. Most of the shops sell tacky junk but we find a great antique woodblock print shop (a bit pricey though) and a gorgeous little fabric shop called Nomura Tailor House, full of cutesy printed fabrics and sweet little kits. I resist buying anything else; mostly because I didn’t have any change on me.

We try in vain for a little bit to find somewhere for dinner (one veggie place in the guidebook closed, another we can’t find at all), before plumping for an izakaya (pub type place) with an English menu. I go for the only veggie option – tofu salad – and what I thought were plain udon noodles, but they came sprinkled with definitely-fishy-smelling shavings over the top. The tofu salad was tasty though and the waiters very friendly – we play rock, paper, scissors with one of them to determine how many edamame beans we get for our starter.

After dinner, we try to find a bar called Cafe La Siesta which has retro games machines and cocktails called things like ‘1 Up’ but when we get to it it’s annoyingly closed too so we head to the Namco ‘Wonder Tower’ on Kawaramachi Street instead. We play our old favourite games, Mario Kart, the building blocks game and the drumming game, and get some more silly photos taken. Then Josh randomly wins dozens of boxes of koala-shaped biscuits on one of the grab machines, we have a whole carrier bag full of the things.

Not really sure i’m falling in love with Kyoto in the same way I did with Tokyo. It seems like everything good – all the gorgeous temples and scenery – is around the outside, and downtown is a bit like Tokyo-lite – it has the shops, restaurants and neon lights but nothing’s as enticing as it was in Tokyo. It’s also much more awkward and expensive to get around, it’s not as clean and efficient and there are whole areas that are dead and featureless, whereas Tokyo was never boring. The cold and rainy weather probably hasn’t helped either. We’re going out to Nara tomorrow, 45 minutes away on the train, then only have one more day in Kyoto before flying home Friday morning.