A British Girl In… Kyoto! Part 1 (Temples and Shrines Galore on Philosophers Walk and my first Okonomiyaki!)

I managed to find my hostel in Kyoto fairly easily and decided to drop off my luggage and head straight out to “Philosophers walk” a beautiful cherry blossom lined canal between Ginkaku-Ji Temple (The Silver Pavilion) and Nanzen-Ji Temple. It takes its name from the fact that a University Philosophy Professor used to walk the route daily although if you are there during Cherry Blossom season as I was, it is packed with tourists (mostly Japanese) although I was still able to find some peace and tranquility amongst the many temple gardens along the route.
Ginkaku-Ji was originally the mountain retreat of Shogun Yoshimasa in the 14th Century built in tribute to his grandfather who had been responsible for creating the “Golden Temple” at Kinkaku-Ji by covering it in Gold leaf. He never actually managed to coat the temple at Ginkaku-Ji in silver leaf however the name renames and its gardens are considered by many to be an excellent example of garden design with both a Zen, dry rock garden (with its stones raked to represent ripples in water) as well as beautiful trees with foliage of all colours. From here, I walked to Honen-in Temple which I actually found far more spiritual than Ginkaku-Ji and would definitely advise a visit to (even though it barely merits a mention in many guide books) Built in 1680 by a Priest and named for another who founded the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. As you pass through the thatched entrance gate you walk between two piles of sand, one either side of the path which are there to purify the body and soul instead of the more common handwashing area (as shown in my posts on the Meji Shrine) I couldn’t find any information about the beautiful stone statues I saw there- if anyone knows more about them, do please let me know as I really felt so calm and peaceful there, it truly was a special place to be. As you leave there is a small hall which shows frequent art displays, it was exhibiting artwork done by local school children after the Tsunami which was very thought provoking. I walked past a few of the temples (Anraku Ji and Reigan ji) without visiting as I had seen a lot of temples by this point (and had planned to spend the next day in Nara seeing more temples there) and instead made my way to Otoyo-Jinja a shrine built in 837 and popular with the Japanese who seek health, cure for illness, good fortune, long life and assistance with matchmaking (really covering all their bases then!) and is intriguing in that it is guarded by mice statues as opposed to the usual dogs! I spent a few minutes after this walking to the Koun Ji Temple before heading to Nazen Ji which currently dates from the 17th Century (after being mostly destroyed in the 15th Century) The dry garden there was one of my favourites and they also had many beautiful artworks lining the walls (pictures were forbidden which I found out when I took the first one – oops!) The huge Aqua duct outside is one of the main attractions at NazenJi and seems somewhat out of place but never the less dates back to the late 19th Century and part of a plan to build a series of canals to bring in water from nearby Shiga. I somehow ended up off the Philosophers walk and near the Heian Shinto Shrine, which I have included some pictures of, even if I didn’t have much information on! Night was approaching and I was in serious need of something to eat. I made my way back to the centre of Kyoto and onto Ponto cho, a lively little street which along with Gion is known for its Geisha and traditional architecture, which luckily for me was also packed with numerous restaurants, teahouses and bars. Many of the restaurants were selling dishes such as sukiyaki where you cook thin slivers of beef in a mixture of sweet mirin and soy and then dip in raw egg yolk before you eat it (randomly, i tried this for the first time in Kuwait!) but I was keen to try something new. Eventually I stumbled across a restaurant selling Okonomiyaki (which I knew to be a sort of savoury Japanese pancake but had never tried) and so decided to stop there for dinner. The Okonomiyaki was served directly onto an inbuilt skillet in the table to keep it warm while you ate it, or in some cases to continue the cooking process. The one I chose had thin strips of pork inside, cooked egg and plenty of cabbage (which I learnt is a very popular ingredient in Japanese cooking) The waiter explained through a sort of universal sign language that i should top it with the dried seaweed and Bonito and then the thick Woucestershire stlye sauce and mayonnaise for full effect which really made the difference. It was the perfect night to try Okonomiyaki for the first time, I was tired, it was drizzling and cold outside and this really is up there with the all time best comfort foods I have tried I think, as well as really changing my perception of what “Japanese” food is. Definitely something you should try in Kyoto or Osaka (the regions where it is most famous)

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