Day 2: Kyoto – Ginkakuji, Daimonji and Ponto-Cho

It was a beautiful sunny morning and clever Mr Lillots found a bike rental store called Eirin that offered good bikes for rental at a good price! We both love cycling and were so thrilled to explore the city on bicycles. After getting our bikes, we decided to visit one of the nearby top attractions, Ginkakuji.

We started looking for a place to have our brunch and many eateries were not open yet. We used our combined intuition to assess whether a place would serve good food from the menu board, the decor of the store-front and if we could peer to see any souls eating in there. After riding uphill for a while, we started getting tired and very hungry and finally found a place that looked promising.

A chef greeted us and showed us the menu. There wasn’t a single customer in there (yet). We made the call and in we went. The TV was showing some entertainment program and the chef excitedly started to prepare the sushi while his helper served us tea which we kept asking for refills as it was so tasty and we were parched from the heat!

In my quarter-baked japanese, and his quarter-baked english, we started a conversation and we talked about how we had flown from Singapore and the number of days we were staying here. Mr Lillots decided to take a picture of him at work and the chef went “wait a moment!” He hurried to a side and took out his sushi chef rope-bandana before posing with a grin for a picture. What a cute chef!

We later learnt that he has been serving sushi in this shop for the past 30 years. The sushi was worthy of such a heritage and we noticed how he kept watching how we were enjoying the sushi and sushi bowl and paced himself to serve us so that each sushi piece can be enjoyed as freshly made as possible.

He told us how we have to visit Daimonji (which was originally not on our list) as it offered the best panoramic view of the whole of Kyoto. Before leaving, he also asked us for the english translation of the different sushi ingredients. Too bad we didn’t know too much as we use the japanese names for sushi in Singapore too. He wrote down “prawn” on a piece of paper and kept repeating after me to make sure he got it right. We could feel his passion right there and then.

After thanking him for a wonderful meal and company, we set off and passed the Philosopher’s Path en-route to Ginkakuji. A little pity that it was summer and there were no cherry blossoms nor autumn leaves to watch. If not, I am sure the Path would be even more beautiful than it was on that day.

Ginkakuji was the temple with the nicest gardens out of all that we would come to visit. It wasn’t a top attraction for nothing! We watched gardeners sweep every inch of the slopes with a small brush and came across a nicely name pond loosely translated as “The pond that washes the moon”. We can imagine how the young Shogun who built this place would have sat there admiring the moonlight as he takes in the evening breeze. When leaving the temple, do not forget to try the local cider “Ramune” which is sold at the store on the left after you exit. Cheap and refreshing!

We totally over-estimated our own abilities as we were in slippers and we were going to hike up Daimonji. But life is such, you will never know until you are being tested in the situation.

There were no english signs and thankfully we could make out some signages as Kanji is similar to Chinese. There was a “Beware of Bear” sign. Gulp. Some much older hikers kept over-taking us and we trudged on in our thin slippers. Finally we reached an un-sheltered landing where we could really see far ahead of the entire Kyoto! Frankly, the density of the city made us feel a little sorrowful as we compare that to the beauty of nature which has not been overtaken by human activities.

The view was correct, but the spot seemed wrong. How can anyone hike up such a long way and reach a HOT landing with no shelter? We saw some other people resting in the sun and using our quarter-baked japanese, we discovered there was still another 30 minutes to go uphill to the very top. I was thirsty and tired and I gave Mr Lillots a look. He smiled and said “how can we come all the way up here and give up now?” Okok, here we go again!

We finally reached the top and it was on another side of the mountain with a different sprawling view. Some of the hikers said something to us which we didn’t understand but our intuition told us it was probably some words of encouragement. They looked at us who were ill-equipped until all of them with their backpacks and proper shoes and started to ask us questions. I really love all these moments when we rely on our commonalities as fellow human beings to communicate even when we don’t necessarily understand what each other is saying.

They all knew about Singapore and one even said Ma-Rai-On (while doing a vomiting action) which unfortunately is the most famous commercial mascot of Singapore which people associate our country with.

I don’t know how it happened but at some point, Mr Lillots asked for water from them and a kind soul actually gave us a bottle of ICED water (with ice still inside it) to us. A bottle he had carried all the way up for himself! We couldn’t express our gratitude enough. Here are the cute old men we met:

Downhill was faster for us, and following the locals’ behavior, we greeted everyone we met on the way and I couldn’t help but say the only encouraging word I know to them – Ganbatte!

P.S. We later discovered that we kept looking out for where we can see the word “Dai”, where the name of the mountain came from. But we were wrong. The hot area which was the flat landing was right smack in the middle of this gigantic word which literally means Big! So much for a lesson on perspectives.

We cycled back to the Kamo River and discovered to our delight a stone path that one could skip across to the other side of the bank. We sat down on one of the stones and let the cold water cleanse all tired feet. The evening was beautiful and cyclists would pass on each side of the bank with many couples sitting or lying down on the grass to enjoy the evening. This is what life should be about.

We visited Ponto-Cho, which was kinda up-market as it was river-side dining but we managed to find a Yakitori shop that was decently priced! After a pile of empty skewers, we headed back for a well deserved rest.

Travel Tips:

1. Rent a bicycle for 2,500 yen for 1 week. Deposit is 2,000 yen and bring your passport too.  Cycle Eirin, has seven shops in Kyoto, and the shop closest to downtown is at the corner of Kawaramachi – Marutamachi. Parking overnight at bicycle stations around town cost 200 yen.

2. Ponto-Cho Yakitori: The 1st store on the left with red lanterns when you enter from Gion Shijo.


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