Where Diego stretches his legs, visits three very different parts of Kyōto, and samples three very different kinds of tea.
Second part of four.
From the rarefied world of Japan’s ancient aristocracy, we rejoin the lively world of the common folk in a rambling walk across the hilly districts of eastern Kyōto.
But before we proceed any further, it’s best to manage expectations, especially for those who may be looking for pictures of certain sights and won’t find them here. As I mentioned in my previous post, we won’t set foot in the precincts of Kiyomizu-dera or any other temple in the area. Sure, the view of Kiyomizu-dera’s famous stage-like hillside balcony is breathtaking, and the other compounds have splendid ancient architecture and gardens, etc., etc. The thing is, I’ve seen all that before during my previous visits to Kyōto, even more than once for certain attractions (Kiyomizu-dera included). Fellow repeat visitors to Japan will probably be familiar with the phenomenon of being “templed out”: the state of feeling, after having peeked into several temples, that it’s all starting to look the same. Well, I’ve templed out long before today and I’m in no mood to dip into my pockets again for admission fees to places I’ve already visited. This day’s primary objective isn’t sightseeing, but relaxation, which can be achieved with no more than a long pleasant walk and a spot of tea (which we’ll get to shortly).
Back to Kyōto Station now, and to the transport terminal right outside the Karasuma exit. I boarded a bus with “Kiyomizu Temple” listed as one of its destinations – more than one route counts this popular landmark as a stop – and got off near an intersection that marks the start of the uphill walk towards the temple.
Springtime is one of the busiest seasons for Kyōto’s tourism industry. No surprises here, given that the pleasant weather and magnificent sakura make for perfect sightseeing conditions. Fortunately, it was a pretty well-behaved and good-natured horde that was invading the eastern district of Higashiyama, and the fact that many of them were high-school students marching in controlled lines kept things more or less orderly.
At the top of the hill, a cherry tree standing near Kiyomizu-dera’s main gate greeted visitors with waves of falling petals every time a gust of wind blew past.
A view of Kiyomizu-dera’s pagoda, with a wooden gate just in front of it.
From here, I turned westwards and walked down the broad steps leading from the temple gate. At the foot of these steps is the start of Matsubara-dōri, a narrow street lined with shops selling all manner of (mostly tourist-oriented) goods. The street was crowded but the atmosphere was just splendid, with tourists of every nationality enjoying the fine weather and an international tossed salad of languages flying through the air.
Off to one side of Matsubara-dōri was a passageway that led into what almost seemed like a shopping arcade of some sort. Not really an attraction in itself, but worth mentioning – if only because the stark newness of the place seemed so out of place in this ancient-looking district.
Here’s a brief video showing part of my walking route, from Matsubara-dōri to the long flight of steps that makes up the picturesque Sannen-zaka. The quality isn’t great – the camera’s stabilisation feature wasn’t enough to combat the natural jerkiness of my movement – but as I was too busy capturing this video to take better-looking still shots, I’ve no choice but to put it up here in order to illustrate what Sannen-zaka (visible from about 2:26 onwards) looks like.
Further north of Sannen-zaka is a shorter flight of steps known as Ninen-zaka.
Just a few steps down from the top of the street, in a rustic old building . . .
. . . is a venerable traditional tea-shop called Kasagi-ya. I was last here back in 2009 (scroll down to the last part of the linked post) and I’m here again for another refreshing tea break.
Sit down, glance at the menu and soak in the wonderful old-time atmosphere. Just to be clear, this place – very popular from what I’ve heard – isn’t usually as empty as the picture suggests; in fact the rather haphazard arrangement of the seats in the photograph is due to the fact that a group of travellers had just vacated the table across from mine.
I believe I only snapped one image of the shop’s interior (above), but as usual, here comes Google Maps to the rescue with a marvellous 360-degree tour. (The basic map will load first; give it a few seconds for the floor-level view to load.) Click and drag the image around to see all of the interior; you can also step back towards the door (and even to the entrance-way just outside) for a different perspective. The table I sat in is the one in the corner by the window, closest to the door.
Whilst waiting for my order – a matcha and sweet set – I sipped on a clear tea served steaming hot from a lovely little earthenware pot.
Next, the star of the show arrives.
Let’s now take a moment to refresh ourselves, before heading back out . . .
. . . and carrying on towards Gion.
To be continued.