Thursday, August 19, 2010

from Kyoto and Kurama: trees and river paths

I should have predicted that reentry would be hard. Beautiful mountains, clear skies, gushing ice cold waters, empty trails -- weighed against... a city.

So, how about visiting two of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto? – I ask Ed.
He knows what that means. If I think they’re among the most beautiful, then so will a large herd of others, especially now, during this holiday week in Japan. It’s very hard to take in the spirit of a temple and gardens when crowds are so dense.

Sensing reluctance, I propose something else – a wee version of what we did in the mountains, except on a smaller and more urban scale.

We pause for a coffee first – at the Bon Bon CafĂ© near the university. The name sounds French, but the menu is entirely Japanese and we are grateful for the waitress who takes it upon herself to give sketches of the foods they serve for a snack.

I settle on ice cream and coffee. Ice cream is a popular choice for the friends and lovers who come here to cool off...



We then take another little electric train (there are so many private rail lines running through this city that I have yet to lear all the names let alone manage to use their networks, but the station guards are supremely helpful;  even without understanding your English, once they know where you’re heading, they’ll make sure you get there).

We’re heading for the last stop on the Eizan line: Kurama. It’s in one of the river valleys in the hills just north of Kyoto.

And it is delightful to watch the city slip away...


We don’t spend any time in Kurama itself. It’s late afternoon (the best time to hike, as the light is muted and kind, and most visitors are long gone). We want to climb up to the top of the mountain (which is really more like a generous hill) and visit the temple there and then hike down the other side, connecting to an earlier station along the same train line.

And it is a very pretty hike, even if we never quite have the trail to ourselves for more than a minute or two. (And it is interesting to listen to hikers here talk. The utterances are melodic, but not quite sotto voce. Closer to Italians or the Spanish, and unlike the hushed tones you’re likely to hear on a British trail.)


Still, we are liking the not infrequent moments when we can lose ourselves in the noise of the cicadas and birds. And it strikes me that this is a place where the piecemeal is even better than the entirety. Looking at the individual trees is almost more rewarding than taking in the forest as a whole.


With the late sun still dazzling the gentle greens and the sudden orange of the shrine, you can’t help but be impressed.




At the temple, a monk is hitting the gong rhythmically and intoning what must be a prayer. We listen and then we leave and then we climb some more...


...all the way to the summit.


The cypress roots in the forest here are a work of art and as we pass smaller shrines, we pause to rest in the contemplative manner that surely is fitting for these places of quiet meditation.




A final descent, a final twist in the path (and in the trnks)...


...and we are in Kibune.


The small village has a row of restaurants along the mountain river and I thought we may want to have dinner there, next to the rushing waters, but the prices at all are in spheres where I do not walk and so we turn away from Kibune and take the train back to the city. I watch the sun set just as we slowly reenter Kyoto.



Now that we are again in the city, I am hungry for a set meal. The type that comes on a tray, neatly arranged, with a variety of fresh offerings.

We go to Ganko Nijo-en, which is perhaps unimaginative on my part as this is no small quaint little place. It churns out sushi and sashimi and tempura and soba and shabu shabu as if there was no tomorrow. But it does it well and it is not out of our way

...Sort of not out of our way. We take it upon ourselves to stroll down from the Eizan train station along the river path to central Kyoto. How long a stroll is that? Enough that it is dusk when we begin and full evening when we finally get to central Kyoto.



But the food is wonderful, even if it takes many many minutes for Ed to study the menu. So many choices, so little time...