Monday, February 3rd, 2014

It is nice not having to set any alarms and just get up whenever you like. I tend to let mother take the shower first as it means I get to sleep a bit longer.

I am not sure if I have mentioned this but my mother is vegetarian (or, rather, tries to be - she will eat chicken and fish and even other meats if push comes to shove). Not only that she is not really a big eater so taking her to an “all you can eat” buffet is a bit of a waste as she does not really get her money’s worth (though she does like the expensive things like prawns and lobster…). With this in mind we found a happy medium in having a rather nice breakfast at the hotel café. Yesterday we had noticed that they served a “continental” breakfast here and we found that unlike the crowded buffet restaurant on the floor above it was nice and quiet in the café. We found a table at the far end of the café at the window and sat down for our meal.

Breakfast Nook

The meal consisted of our choice of hot drink (Japanese for me), a small glass of raw yoghurt (ugh! that went to mother), another glass with some fruit in syrup, a glass of orange juice, a slice of toast, a croissant and a custard tart-type thing. There was some strawberry preserve on the side which worked very nicely with the breads. It was nice but I do think that if we eat this every morning I may well be losing weight this week…

The hotel is located at pretty much the furthest reaches of where we had visited the last time we were here. On the map of the local area I had noticed the “Himukaidai Jingu Shrine” that looked quite a bit off the beaten track up the hill behind the hotel so we figured this might be a good place to start our visit.

We turned right out of the hotel and walked down the drive to join the main road heading up over the mountain behind the hotel. As we walked up the steep sidewalk we passed by the local subway station “Keage” (only a few minutes from the hotel - very convenient). There is a water treatment plant next door and even this looks wonderful with well tended trees and plants. Where in the UK would you find a water treatment plant that looks like a show garden?

I could see on the map on my phone that there was a small road, unmarked, the led up the mountain off of the large main road we were walking beside but it was proving difficult to find. Eventually we saw what was likely our target on the far side at a traffic light so being careful to cross with the pedestrian crossing signal we made our way over. It was a narrow single-lane road that led up along the side of the mountain and curved away to the right. No sidewalk. Hum. Well, we headed up the steep road anyway, walking along the concrete covered drainage ditch alongside the road.

The Road...

A number of modern concrete houses loomed above us on the side of the mountain as we slowly climbed stopping only to let the occasional vehicle by. The road levelled out and we continued on our way following signs to the shrine (the character for shrine looks similar to the swastika but reversed if you look closely). The narrow road wound up and down around some more houses built right up against the road as they clung to the hillside.

Local Housing

Eventually we found ourselves at the top of a road leading straight down the mountain and straight up to the car park for the shrine where we could see we were not the first visitors for today though most appeared to be serious looking walkers with poles, maps, hiking boots, rain gear, etc. Hum…

A set of steps led off to the left that we followed up through a gate and into a small collection of wooden thatched covered buildings with shrines scattered here and there. There was an area enclosed in plastic that had seats set up inside where you could help yourself to some free tea and there was the ubiquitous stall selling religious souvenirs. Statues of animals and stone pillars engraved with writing were here and there amongst the grounds. This collective area is known as the “Himukaidai Jingu Shrine”.

Himukaidai Jingu Shrine

Other than the walkers that seemed to be regularly passing through it was quite quiet and peaceful with the trees on the hillside all around. We poked around for a few minutes following small trails to the left and right that led to yet more shrines. At the biggest building there was a path leading away further up the mountain. A post to the side of the trail had a small map that appeared to suggest it was a way to get to the next temple or shine along. Well, we wanted to see a bit more of this one first so we returned the way we came (with mother stopping briefly to use the facilities - which she assured me were “basic” meaning “squat” - *shudder* - sometimes I think it is better being a guy).

At the top of the car park were a few more shrines (this time, the “Fukudo Shrine”) with various notives such as the wooden plaques you write your wishes on, papers tied to trees (again with your wishes on them), etc. A shrine or temple is quite an interactive thing you know.


A wide path led up the side of the mountain where many people appeared to be headed so that is where we went. The path was quite steep with steps not quite in the right position for us walking (perhaps more suitable for shorter people) but helped us to quickly ascend. Ten minutes or so later we arrived a bit out of breath at a ridge where the path went left or right along the top. I knew that where we were headed was north along the valley so turned to the left.


The trail gave up on stairs at this point as we clambered up what was now a steep dirt and mud path with tree roots useful for grip as we climbed still further. The distance between trail markers was such that it was quite a distance before the next when you started wondering if you were completely off the trail.


Other than our out of shape panting it was quite peaceful here with the occasional glimpse of the next valley over being visible through the trees which were, of course, lacking leaves this time of year. We did not see anyone else until we came up to a couple of hikers at a sign post that made to clear how to get to the next temple along, Nanzenji, straight ahead but there was another sign to the left pointing towards what looked like a fairly level path leading to a “cave”. I had earlier seen a reference to this so thought it might be interesting to see. Off we went.

The Path

The peace of the forest was occasionally disturbed by this odd trumpet sound that got louder as we approached the cave (at one point having to stop to ask someone whether we were heading in the right direction). Along the way I had made a few disrespectful comments regarding the playing “C damn, it, I said C!” or “Does he take requests? ‘Like a Virgin’?” Of course these are completely non-politically correct and should be purged from the memory…but they were funny as we chuckled between gasps of breath.

The Cave

Eventually we arrived and found a small ramshackle building on top of a small mound of earth with a tunnel leading into it - which I entered to find a small shrine with the tunnel taking a sharp right turn to emerge at the front where an ornately dressed priest, in response to a small donation, was playing a primitive horn instrument.

A Blessing

The cave was actually just above the shrine we had just visited so we had basically come in a rather large circle. Oh well, enjoying nature and all that…We turned back the way we had just come and found a turning to the left that took us down the side of the hill. A brief glimpse of a building to our right and then another ahead and we found ourselves coming into the back of a temple we had visited in 2007 - Nanzen-ji. Well, actually we were at “Sosui” which is a magnificent brick aqueduct that runs alongside the huge temple grounds. At this point we were getting a bit of deja-vu – We had visited here before and things were beginning to look very familiar.

Top of the Nanzen-Ji Aqueduct

We climbed down from the top of the aqueduct to the ground to see the entrance to a temple with garden to our right - We had seen some of it was we had been climbing down. This was “Nanzenin Zen Temple” that we now visited after paying a small entrance fee (300 yen) to a lady in a booth. Through a tiny door in a wooden fence there was a large temple building on our left whose screen doors were all open (cold this time of year…). The walls of the room were covered with wonderful paintings and the floors were covered with tatami mats.

Inside the Zen Temple

Making our way around the perimeter of the building we were on the edge of a small rock and moss garden between the building and the side of the mountain. The main gold altar was visible through the open doors of the temple. Continuing around to the back there was a large pond with rocks and lichen everywhere. In the summer I am sure it would be a riot of colour but this time of year the colours were much more subdued and the pond was obviously in need of cleaning as it was silted with mud. We followed a small path around the pond passing by a small waterfall then over a wooden bridge before returning to the building.


Very peaceful and we were the only ones visiting this area.

Zen Temple

Leaving “Nanzenin” we continued under the wonderful huge arches of the aqueduct which, incidentally, had been built in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) to bring water to Kyoto from a neighbouring lake.


We were now in the main grounds of the temple proper. This is a very large temple with a massive entrance pagoda and side buildings throughout. Previously this had been the end of our walk so we wanted to visit properly this time so we headed to the main pavilion.

At the entrance to the main pavilion signs indicated to take off our shoes (did I mention it was cold?) and leave them on the side. Another small entrance fee (500 yen) and we headed into the somewhat gloomy interior. The wooden floors occasionally creaked as we passed by a tatami mat-floored study set up with four chairs (the ones without legs) and a table looking out over a small garden at the back.


Moving along we saw a wonderful rectangular zen garden, “Hojo”, to our left running alongside the main building in this part of the temple. It was the typical sort of Japanese gardens you will have seen pictures of - White stones raked into small ridges around trees and some rocks.

"Hojo" Zen Garden

From the Side...

We were pretty much the only ones here so it was quite quiet and peaceful. The main building is a series of rooms, again with their doors open and, again, floors covered with tatami and sliding walls covered with wonderful paintings.


We squinted as we looked in each of these dim rooms (no artificial lights and it was not sunny out) in term as we made our way around the building. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the rooms but we made up for it with the pictures we took everywhere else.

On the other side of the building was another smaller garden that we stopped for a few minutes to appreciate.

Zen Garden

A covered wooden walkway zig-zagged its way through another garden covered with mosses and small trees.

Zig-Zag Path


Everywhere was a picture as we stopped every few seconds to appreciate and snap away. The only thing that made us hurry slightly was the fact that our socked feet were not appreciating the sub-zero temperatures as we shuffled along (friction = heat). The monks certainly have a lot of time on their hands and they really do things well. The beauty is pretty staggering and in the summer it must be magnificent with colours.


Back at the main entrance we put on our, by now, cold shoes and headed back into the temple complex. We wandered around for a few minutes peaking inside some of the buildings scattered throughout the site - A large unlit building housing a golden shrine with offerings arrayed in front with a beautifully decorated ceiling (often people do not look up at the ceilings when visiting these sorts of places and I am always surprised to see what is often there - under-appreciated works of art).

Look Up

Next up was the massive 22m high “Sanmon Gate” that welcomes visitors to the temple site. It was built in the zen style in 1628 (the original was built in 1296 but burned down) with massive amounts of wood and a clay tile roof. We entered and paid another entrance fee (500 yen), took off our shoes, and climbed the extremely tight, steep and narrow stairs up to the observation deck that rings the top (a helpful “Mind your head” sign visible on the way down).

Steep Climb

On Top of Sanmon Gate

Amazing views all around of not only the temple buildings but of Kyoto below us in the valley. We spotted where we had come from - Our hotel to the left on the side of the mountain.

Our Hotel

We probably can see a lot more than you might be able to see in the summer where there are leaves on all of the trees…Our cold feet hurried us along back down to our shoes at the bottom of the stairs.

Mind Your Head

Can't Forget the Shoes

Across the road is the “Tenjuan” temple which we now visited (400 yen). This is a small almost residential temple that has a wonderful set of gardens all around including several more stone zen gardens perfectly raked. More beautiful views everywhere we looked. We were not able to enter the main building but looking through the windows was more of the minimalist interiors we have been seeing throughout the day - Tatami mat floors, painted sliding doors, wooden beam ceilings…


At the back of the temple there are some ponds but today there was some construction going on - They were making a bridge out of some light coloured wood that did not really match the darker wood around but then we noticed they got out a torch and started to scorch the surface.


In every pond we have seen today we have always looked for fish and here was no exception with some large koi that got very interested in us when we came closer to the edge of the pond. Some of them must have been more than a foot long, weighing several kilograms.

Silly Fish

We followed the path around the pond, over a series of large, flat, round stones serving as a bridge, past another water fall and through the trees.

The Path

One section had massive stands of bamboo towering over our heads. Again, it has to be said that in the summer it must be even more stunning to look at.


Tenjuan Temple

It was getting later in the day but we decided to have a quick look at the souvenir shop located just off of the temple grounds near the car park. It was a wonderful shop complete with sliding doors. It was a bit of confusion making sure that they took credit cards as we picked up a few things…There were a number of samples on offer of different things so I took the opportunity to try some of the local specialties. In Kyoto they are known for a particular sweet that is basically a small square of flavoured pastry folded over sweet beans. Simple but fairly pleasant though I can’t say it is something I would go out of my way for. Mother had a bit more problems with the credit card but we got there in the end…

Outside there were the ubiquitous drink machines that are everywhere here. As I bought a coke I noticed that the one machine in the middle was a bit different than others we had seen - It offered free Wi-Fi! So, as I sat drinking my coke and mother her hot coffee (we have figured out that the red buttons under the picture of the drink indicate it is heated - a bonus in this cool weather!) I connected my phone to the Wi-Fi connection…

Free Wi-Fi!

Around the corner from Nanzen-Ji is another small temple that we now visited just prior to it closing - Konchi-In (400 yen) we had pretty much to ourselves. Entering the main gate we paid at a small booth off to the right then wandered around the grounds of the small temple.

Konchi-In Temple

Following a path along the perimeter we circled around a large pond (yes, more koi) through a small forest then under a small “tori” (rectangular gate typically painted red and black at the entrance to religious sites) to a small building at the far corner housing a shrine.



Continuing along the far fence of the temple grounds we looked into a small cemetery with a few stone statues with religious figures carved into them guarding the entrance then finally to the main building with a massive zen garden raked out before it.


Religious Figures

We have been told there is a wonderful “eight-windowed” tea room here but sadly it was closed during our visit.

View of Zen Garden from Temple Building

This is a small temple but it took some time to visit as stopped to appreciate every view (and take pictures - I think we averaged a photo every minute or so).

As we left the temple I could see a collection of bonsai (meticulously tended miniature trees) in pots along the base of a wall.


We were “templed” out so headed back to the hotel. Small wisps of snow were in the air as we walked out the main road into Nanzen-Ji which is lined with some very expensive looking restaurants and shops (we stopped again at another souvenir shop that had a traditional Japanese vegetarian restaurant out the back…the menu showed it to be not cheap). We had a look at the ever-present “Hello Kitty” souvenirs for my wife but have to be very selective here - Nothing really grabbed us.

Our Hotel

Interesting Art in Front of Hotel

Speaking of “kitty”, when we got back to the hotel and were reasonably warm we headed back out again. This time we went straight to the subway station near to the hotel to take us into Kyoto. We had to go down a large set of staircases then after using our Suica cards to get through the station gates we had another escalator to get to the platforms. When we are walking around outside sometimes it is easy to forget that the hotel is actually quite a ways up from the rest of the city. Anyway, after our unsuccessful searches for the cat cafe in Tokyo I had searched on-line to see if I could find one here in Kyoto and, as luck would have it, they have one! We boarded the subway to “Shiyakushomae Station” where we left the station to find ourselves in a mall that looked very familiar to us. On our first trip here in 2007 we had stayed at a local hotel very close to this underground shopping centre that stretches for several streets. It is the best way to get around and has a number of interesting places to eat and shop.

After a bit of hunting on the street we found a small black sign on the sidewalk “Welcome to Cat Cafe Negokaigi”. We had arrived.

Cat Cafe

The sign indicated that the cafe is on the first floor so we made our way into the small elevator (which helpfully had a sticker of a cat next to the floor number).

Which Floor?

We entered the cafe and were told to first take off our shoes (of course) then wash our hands in a small sink just to the right of the door. There were cat decorations everywhere - An open sign with stuffed cats hanging from it, a wreath on the door with a cat in the middle, a cat picture above the sink, etc.

Cat Stuff...

...and More Cat Stuff...

At the main door they have lockers you can use to put your stuff in but we did not have much with us. We paid in advance for an hour (800 yen, each) then found a set of futon-type cushions to the side of the room and sat down. The place was crawling with cats. Twelve, to be exact.

Active, aren't they?

But, they were not terribly lively as most seemed to be sleeping. There were two other people there when we arrived with the one lady sitting on the floor cushion having a cat sleeping on her lap (we should be so lucky!). Her boyfriend was sitting at the front window on a bar stool with cats periodically climbing around him. They have a series of cat furniture everywhere - Climbing trees, cat cushions on the foor, a house with small plastic windows, and some cages in the corner (for those that are not so healthy and need to get away from the visitors presumably).

More Cats

Near the front window there is a clock that made me smile - It is in the shape of the “cat bus” which is a fixture of one of Hayao Miyasaki’s films (“My Neighbour Totoro”). Above it, about a foot from the ceiling is a narrow shelf that several cats seemed to enjoy jumping up to and sitting on. One cat was on the counter in a plastic wash basin - According to the owners he seems to love it.

Bowl of Cat

I think the cats like the confining nature of the objects as others were curled up into small spaces here and there.

We ordered drinks and nursed them for our visit. The low table in front of us had a bit of a “guide” to the cafe complete with pictures and information about every one of the cats. Helpfully it also had information on how to make friends with the cats which largely seemed to involve giving them snacks (for sale here, of course). We learned that all cats here were abandoned as kittens so were rescued to be housed here. I did try to make friends with a couple by petting them but they seemed happy to just lay there and sleep. There was a bit of drama at one point when one cat jumped onto the top of a climbing tree where two others were curled up and caused a bit of a fracas. Eventually they accepted him and three went back to sleep.

Throughout our visit they played some light jazz music and it was actually quite pleasant. Mother and I just sat and looked around us. Quite relaxing, really but a very odd experience.

Despite the lack of interest I did manage to make a bit of a friend of two of the cats and as I left the owners gave me their cards! “Ringo” and “Tampopo”.

Cat Cards!

It was quite late and they locked the doors as we left but we were very hungry - We had not eaten pretty much all day so decided we would get something to eat but not before trying to find our old hotel - A trip down a likely road was not fruitful and as our tummies were rumbling we headed back to the underground mall to find something to eat. There were not many places open now but after a bit of discussion we ended up in a “Katsu” restaurant which I did not mind a bit - I had a mixture of different breaded meats and mother had some chicken (of course with tea, rice and miso as well). Very tasty.

We just got back to the hotel at about 10 pm. It has been a very long day. I am a bit worried that if all of our days this week are going to involve so much activity and walking I will not be in great shape for skiing next week!

>> Next: Day 7

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