>Day 8 Kyoto

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We took the Thunderbird from Kanazawa station to Kyoto in the morning. Skimming past the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, the morning sun in my eyes, the lake was an endless stretch of silver water rimmed by hills and small towns. As we pulled into Kyoto station, a sense of familiarity and excitement set in as we recognised landmarks.
From Kyoto station it was a 10-minute walk to K’s House Kyoto. I wanted to experience different types of accomodation on this trip and K’s House provided the hostel experience. The building (painted in yellow) and its extension, was modern and clean. Our room was an 8-bedded dorm. Because of the size of our group, we paid to have the whole dorm to ourselves. Toilets and bathrooms are communal and just next door.
We dropped the bags off at the hostel’s luggage room and zoomed out for sight-seeing. In autumn night falls early at 5pm and we didn’t want to miss any daylight sightseeing hours, especially since it already took us the better part of the morning just to get to Kyoto from Kanazawa.
It was a short 150m walk down Shichijo-dori and across the Kamo-gawa to take the bus to our first stop – Kiyomizudera. I had bought the 2-day city bus and subway pass (which I felt was a bit pricey at 2000yen per adult) and so armed with a bus map, we took the public bus. As usual, the bus was packed with people! My bus experience in Kyoto has never been good and this was no exception.

This picture shows the kids at the Kamo gawa. In the background, you can see a short white buidling, that’s the entrance to the Keihan Shichijo station. The Kamo-gawa was wide but not deep and in places near the banks, I think you could even wade in and play in the summer. But for now, no, not in this cold!

It was not far to Higashiyama from the hostel, barely 4 or 5 stops but the traffic was bad and the bus was crowded so it took a while. We’d been to Kiyomizudera (or, Clear Water Temple) before but wanted to go again because the last time we went, it was drizzly and getting dark and we totally missed the Jishu Jinja, the small shrine for love and marriage. We also missed the Tainai Meguri the last time.

To get to Kiyomizudera, you have to climb a steepish hill, flanked with shops. Its really commercialised and touristy and every other shop either sells souvenirs or pricey drinks/snacks. I have to give Trin credit for walking like the rest of us, for most of the way. Its not easy going uphill and being smooshed on all sides by the thick crowd.

Made it! At the entrance to Kiyomizudera at last!

Just before you enter the temple proper, on the left side of the grounds, there is a small building. This has the usual store that sells the omamori, the charms etc. You can also try your luck at the omikuji (fortune slips) here. But far more interesting and less noticed by the hordes of visitors to the temple, is the Tainai Meguri. This is probably one of the strangest places to visit but pretty fun for everyone!
The Tainai Meguri is said to be the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu. The last time we went, we completely missed this despite also doing the omikuji routine at the same place! But this time, having read the Lonely Planet about the Tainai and given that there were now temple workers who explained what it was all about, it was easy to find. You pay 100yen, take off your shoes and descend down into a dark cave where you follow a beaded wooden handrail which leads in a loopy fashion to a huge stone. The English translation from the Kiyomizudera website says something like: “Return to the womb of great merciful mother. When you find a light in the dark you will realize you are newborn again. There is a Sanskrit character that symbolized Daizuigu Bosatsu on the stone. Turn the stone and make a wish.”

Not much different from our experience in Zenkoji, but this one less atmospheric because it was more crowded and it was not entirely pitch dark – which KH was fervently grateful for. At the point where the big stone was, there was a shaft of light. We all stood around the stone and turned it, making our (rather noisy!) wishes! The kids enjoyed it tremendously though and thought it was a great deal of fun!

Fresh from our ‘rebirth’ , the kids pestered to do the omikuji. It was simple – shake the box, a numbered stick will fall out, present to the lady behind the counter with 100yen and she will issue you with the fortune slip. The kids all took turns to do this. I was the go-to girl for interpreting the fortune slips. Let me say that I can’t read Japanese so the best I can do is tell you whether the fortune is good or bad, but forget about translating the details!
Here’s Gillian and Owain getting the omikuji. Owain is so independent that he did it all by himself – shaking the box, getting the money and the stick to the lady. I think other kids, even other adults, might be a bit intimidated about doing this without knowing a scrap of Japanese but Owain just went right ahead while the rest of us were busy looking at each other’s fortune slips.

As usual, most of us had good or exceptionally good fortune while KH and Gillian once again, drew slips which were not so good. To discard the bad fortune, all you had to do was tie them to the racks conveniently provided.

Kiyomizudera was super crowded. On hindsight, I realised that we must have ended up in Kyoto over a long weekend again. It was a marvel how the wooden platforms, so iconic of Kiyomizudera, did not collapse under the weight of the massive crowd, especially since they must be several hundreds of years old!

Yep, it’s a steep drop and a lo-ong way down. Trin looks rather precariously perched there doesn’t she? Centuries ago, it was said that whoever jumps from this point and lives will get his wish come true. Well, sure! If you can jump from here and still live, heck, life – even a shitty one – will start to look real good to you! Luckily some common sense prevailed and no one does it any more!

And finally, here we are at the Jishu jinja shrine. Its a quaint place atop a small hill. The shrine is dedicated to love and marriage. So the charms sold here are mostly those dedicated to success in love, although the usual ones for examinations, good luck, health, wealth, longevity, traffic safety etc are still there.

The interesting bit about this place is the pair of ‘love stones’. These are two small boulders set about 18m apart. It is said that if you close your eyes, and call or think about, the name of your loved one, and can walk from one stone to the next succesfully – without assistance, you will find success in love. If you can’t, well, time to get a new partner.

Because KH, Gillian and Caitlin had rushed off to the toilet with Trin who badly needed to pee, only the boys and I went to the Jishu shrine. The two of them had a lot of fun up there. Both attempted to close their eyes and walk (without cheating!) from one stone to the other.

Did they make it from one stone to the other while closing their eyes? Not by a mile! Despite bumping into amused passers-by, the boys failed in their mission. Owain, our would-be Romeo, was chagrined to miss and kept insisting he wanted to try again until he got it!
Owain and his effort for ‘love’!

Isaac and I also tried this interesting activity where you literally ‘dissolve’ your troubles away. You simply write down all your woes, your troubles and problems on a piece of paper and then dissolve it in a bucket of water from the shrine.

Does it work? Well, I wrote about my impending move down to another office and how I disliked the tight space and lack of privacy. Today, I was told I’d have to move in two days!! So you tell me…

Such a lovely day eh? Skies were blue and trees ablaze. I soaked in this scene for all of 10 minutes before my phone rang and an irate KH demanded that we come out to the main entrance again. He and the girls had difficulty in finding the restroom for Trin who was frantic to pee. They ended up in a desperate rush right out of the temple grounds (quite some distance away) and even then, not making it in time. Trin ended up peeing her pants.

By the time I got there, Trin was sitting primly on the stone step, looking solemn. The daddy was fuming mad and the two girls tried to fill in the blanks. So with this scenario, the rest of Kiyomizudera was shot. We never made it back in and down to the little grotto to ‘take the waters’ for longevity, health and wisdom. So our second visit to Kiyomizudera also ended abruptly like this.

It all went downhill from here. Literally.
We battled the crowds downhill, looking for the turn-off to Ninnenzaka and Sannenzaka (two of Kyoto’s most picturesque streets, with restored wooden houses, cobblestoned streets). Chalk it down to physical discomfort (who would like to walk in pee-soaked pants right?), fatigue and no nap-time. A fatal combination for Trin who spotted an ice-cream stand and when denied it, screamed blue murder. She wailed and screamed in the crowd so piercingly that we had disapproving looks shot at us. On top of that, we had to carefully negotiate the steep stone steps downwards, all the time being pushed and pulled by the crowd.
Kyoto’s prettiest streets? I never saw ’em. I was too busy smouldering, angry, embarrassed and grimly carrying a banshee howling right in my ears. Nothing would appease her. We offered to get her an ice-cream down the street as we walked – no go. She wanted THAT ice-cream and THAT only. KH had to backtrack up the hill, leaving us at the foot of the steps, Trin still screaming away, to get the monster her ice-cream. Once the cone was in her hand – instant peace. Honestly, I could have strangled her and I am not joking. This was a constant recurring scene throughout Japan. All the other kids wanted to kill her at some point or other. We were busy fantasising about the many different ways we could do this. It kept us sane.

By the time of this meltdown in the streets of Kyoto, the other kids had grown immune to this. Previously, they would all look at her aghast and horrified at the screaming. Some would be trying to comfort her or distract her or scold her. But this time, the other kids just rolled their eyes and played among themselves. It was no longer a biggie to them.
Look at that face. You’d never know it, looking at her, but the amount of noise that can come out of that cute little face can rival a jet. Under that perky exterior, lurks the tantrum monster.
Travelling is hard on everyone but especially for someone so young who needs some form of daily routine to feel stable and when you travel, this is near impossible since there are schedules to be kept to, places to go, trains and buses to catch etc. So while I am really furious over her tantrums, there is a part of me that can understand why she acts up. Still, that does not prevent the rest of us from getting upset with her. We all feel angry and resentful because we’re kept hostage to her moods. This trip, we gave in a lot to her because we just needed to have the quiet back and to move on with the itinerary. But that also added to our resentment because she kept getting her way. Thankfully now that we’re home, she has fewer outbursts (which proves my point about travel stress on young children) and even when she does, its easier to manage without the constant giving in. We’ve learned to evade, ignore, distract – tools we learned the hard way in Japan. So this trip has been a real learning journey for all of us, in more ways than one.

So tantrum over, emotionally exhausted (me – not her. Tantrums really do take a lot out of everyone, me in particular and I always need time to wind down from the tension), we sat for a whole and then moved on, heading towards Yasaka jinja. We paused along the way to admire the sunset from the hillock housing Kodaiji and for the kids to run their hands round the sutras rings for luck and for me to get a lovely piece of calligraphy from the temple. But with admission charges of 800yen per adult, ominous dark skies, light drizzle and Trin’s stinky wet pants, we decided against exploring the temple further. Pity because Kodaiji has one of Kyoto’s loveliest gardens and its autumn foliage was near its peak.

We moved on to Yasaka jinja. It’s a bustling place even though the grounds seem huge. I got my calligraphy done again and we had some takoyaki – whereupon Cait choked on a piece of octopus and threw up. Sigh, the drama that accompanies me when I travel with kids!

The best part of Yasaka jinja was not so much the shrine itself – although when it was all lit up at dusk, it was truly beautiful – but the food! This guy (below) was selling some of the best steak I’d ever had – on a stick! We were actually about to leave Yasaka when the smell caught and held us back – grilled beef! He was doing a very brisk trade with a sizeable queue. Thick slabs of tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef, marinaded in red wine. My gosh, it was sheer heaven! I have never had such tender soft flavourful beef – even good steak houses here do not offer beef this good.

Everyone clamoured for more and KH had to queue up several times before we were all contented. And even then, we had to stop because it was quite pricey for a street snack at 400yen a stick. The taste of the beef, hot steam rising from the stick, amid the cold air and the colour of the shrine – these stay in my memory today.

We wandered from Yasaka through the crowded streets of Gion, down Pontocho. We saw geishas hurrying off to their appointments. One gave me a quiet smile as she disappeared down a dimly lit alley dotted with lanterns. It seemed almost surreal that amid the crowds and the chatter, these enigmatic women dressed in brocaded finery appear and then just as quickly, fade away.

Bread from a bakery, kyoto sushi rolls in a window, we stopped to look and to taste before we decided the day had gone as long as it had for us and it was time to head back. Plus Trin was still in stinky pants!
Dinner was McDonalds across the Keihan Shichijo station and then it was back to the hostel. The children were surprised that they had to make their own beds! Isaac said he was not surprised, but the look on his face belied that. Hah, have to say that KH made most of the beds including mine – it was army training – he made beds with sheets so taut coins could bounce off!
So there were eight bunks in the room and each of us had our own. The shower was clean and the water was hot, the pressure was good. The washing machine and dryer worked great so we did a laundry load. KH explored the place while I stayed in to plan the next day’s sightseeing. The lounge was full of other fellow travellers, many with laptops, or using the hostel computers. It seemed like a jolly place.
I met a nice American lady in her 60s who had travelled to Singapore before and we spent some time chatting in front of the shower room. She had spent two to three days here and was full of praise for the country’s “cleanliness” and “efficiency”. But other than that encounter, I was not very sociable – wrong type of person to stay in a hostel like K’s.
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8 Responses to >Day 8 Kyoto

  1. Anonymous says:

    >Hi patricia,I stayed in K House Mt Fuji. I like the Japanese style room, the common kitchen, common dining area etc. They are so clean.starlight

  2. Anonymous says:

    >Hi, Enjoyed reading your japan episodes ; )juz4moi

  3. Anonymous says:

    >Hi momto5,chanced upon ur blog when I bought a hse in jalan riang. Read more & realized might have a lot in common.- my son, Isaac, resembles Owain more in age & personality- I love japan & just came back 2 weeks ago- I am staying at Pasir Ris till my hse's been renovated- my previous owner mentioned that his mum died in the hse, am afraid might encounter some 'sightings' & they are Catholics… they hv stayed here for almost 30 yrs… The hse is very lock-kok… i likehappy new year,juz4moi

  4. Anonymous says:

    >agreed totally to travel stress on young kids. just came back from bangkok and yes, have to deal with tantrums and uncooperative behaviours from my boys. and dh would say things like regret bringing them, never learnt his lessons etc…at least, your dh doesn't do that, right?octopusmum

  5. Momto5 says:

    >Hi juz4moiGlad that you are also a Japan fan. Welcome to the neighbourhood. Octopusmom – my dh would not say all that, but I did!🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    >hmm, i am surprised that you are the one who said those things…i guess it is all out of frustration and come next vacation, u will still bring the whole brood, right?octopusmum

  7. mummyof3 says:

    >am reading your entries in reverse. my sympathies to you abt trin's meltdowns. my kids didn't have tt sort of tantrum but wld you believe it dh and i did. we fought several times, quite badly, too. and a couple of times at the end of a long day at the hotel when the kids were just being a bit boisterous we let rip into them badly. my kids just wilt when they get tired. M especially, he'd just flop down n refuse to walk, so eventually dh and i learnt the routine: i'd get baby out of the ergo, pass it to him, pop bb in the sling then help dh hitch up M on his back with the ergo. tt's why i say the ergo is my lifesaver. i missed kiyomizudera and gion. must go must go. thank you for such great a description. and yes, i think i'll check out K's house next time i go to kyoto. i'm not going back to budget inn.

  8. Momto5 says:

    >If you're going to K's House, don't get your hopes up. Its still a hostel – in every sense of the word. The people are friendly and the showers are clean etc but its still pretty no frills. Re meltdowns with dh. I DO know what you mean – see day 9. I think if the trip is a long one, these meltdowns are likely. I had memorable meltdowns in Spain too.🙂

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