When the sun shines and the cherry blossom is spectacular, the kimono rental shops in Kyoto do a roaring trade. Tourists of all nationalities want to have a go. However, there is a big difference between a real kimono and the polyester ones on offer at the rental shops. However, if you just want to dress up to take photos in the sunshine what does it matter? The expensive ones are often a more muted colour – not so photogenic! See if you can spot the difference?
Two days in Kyoto and most of our plans came to fruition. One day of brilliant sunshine and one day of torrential rain. In the sunshine, we worked our way along Temples, pagodas watching people posing in their costumes and headed down to Nishi market – a veritable foodie heaven, if you know what to choose! The black sesame balls with a crisp outer coating are delicious but very rich. One between two was enough. Pounding the sesame seeds looks like hard work!
The Unesco site Nino-jo castle was sadly shrouded in scaffolding for a major renovation, but the gates around it and gardens made for a pleasant walk. I loved the special plant to remember the dropping of the atomic bomb and hope for peace. How incredibly resilient is Mother Nature.
There was a big police presence escorting someone important but we didn’t get close enough to find out who. We had explored the Gion area where we were staying, the night before, when we met a friend for dinner who is teaching English in Osaka and himself learning Japanese, so we headed to a Korean bbq restaurant we had previously spotted, which was a fun place to eat.
Armed with borrowed umbrellas, we headed to visit the Imperial Palace, Kinaku-Ji and Ryan-Ji gardens. Everywhere we looked there were umbrellas. A huge contrast to the day before and not many kimonos on display! The Imperial Palace sits in vast grounds, but the gardens have to be seen on an organised tour. The thrones had been removed to Tokyo, presumably to be ready for the enshrining of the new Emperor in May when the old one abdicates. So for us, a quick walk round was enough to give us a feel of it, dodging wet brollies as we went.
The rain if anything added to the atmosphere at Kinkaku-Ji, the famous temple of the golden pavilion. It originally formed part of a larger retirement villa built by the former Shigun Ashigaka Yoshimitsu (1358 to 1408). It was converted into a Zen temple on his death. It floats above the aptly named Kyoto-chi (mirror pond.). The Phoenix on its roof is appropriate as it was destroyed in 1950 by an unhappy monk. The replica was rebuilt in just five years. It was last gilded in 1987.
Then our final destination, the dry garden of Ryoan-Ji or maybe not as it was still raining! It is all about quiet contemplation of the white raked gravel and fifteen stones set in groups of five. But I preferred the cherry blossom round the lake, the clever tree supports and deep red bark. However the garden is meant to be a riddle set by Zen masters for their students and I have never been very good at riddles.
So much for our final destination, a last little temple caught our eye as we wandered back through Gion in the rain to give us more memories of a wet day in Kyoto.