My last two days in Kyoto have been interesting. Spent the first peddling my way around Arashiyama, one station stop from GHBB. I hadn't ridden a bike in years, and you could tell. Thankfully I managed to stay on it most of the time, and, considering that the streets round these parts rarely allow enough room for one car to pass let alone two-way traffic, I think I did alright.
My first stop was Tenryu-ji Temple which occupies the space on which the first Zen temple in Japan was built and, since '94 has had the cachet of being a World Cultural Heritage site. It also had a bamboo tunnel. Cool!
Actually, you're pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to World Heritage sites in Kyoto, as the prefecture has a whopping 17 properties included on the prestigious list.
I visited another temple next, Shakado, which isn't on the list but was most accessible given my shit map reading skills. That bought me up to my two-temple-a-day quota and the rest of my afternoon was spent zooming down alleyways and plonking about sidewalk shops.
Near the end I got lured into a Kimono factory on payment of 100 yen. Initially I thought I'd been stung when one of the craftsman tried hard to sell me expensive boogie rags, it was the first time my ignorance of japanese worked in my favour. I just smiled and slowly backed away, bowing. Although good news for trees, the whole concept of a handkerchief is disgusting. But, the place turned out to be quite decent, I was shown the various stages of pattern and colour application to kimono fabric which was interesting.
Back at GHBB I had the good fortune to meet two boys from Oz, Matt & Adam. It was so nice to finally have people to speak with! That they were highly entertaining and offbeat AND had apple flavoured vodka only increased my esteem for both and I'm extremely glad to have met them. Unfortunately that night was their last in Kyoto and so I have now returned to my aphasiac state, more acutely aware of how much I miss speaking with my friends.
Today I went on a 5hr walking tour of the back streets of Kyoto with the colourful Johnny Hillwalker. 'That's HILLwalker, not Walker'. The tour runs a few times per week and he's been doing it for the past 11 years. I wonder how many times he's made that joke?
Although it must be said, with all those years under his belt, he's been able to refine his commentary to perfection and gave very concise and insightful information on a wide range of cultural peculiarities. The tour avoided the usual tourist hotspots and we were shown around generational workshops of fan makers, prayer bead producers, tea canister manufacturers, tatami mat makers and potters. All of these goods are hand made by families and not mass produced in factories, ensuing high quality and often hefty prices.
He also showed us a geisha school (from the outside) and gave an interesting account of their training and practices. We wondered around their stomping grounds, peering at tea houses, but unfortunately our timing was out and we didn't manage to spot any geisha.
The tour was a great way to learn some interesting cultural characteristics and a very pleasant way to spend a day in Kyoto, though unfortunately, I did manage a couple of grievances;
1. In a group of 30 sweating westerners, all wanting to take the same photo, I hadn't yet felt like such an intrusive foreigner. I would happily have paid more to be in a less imposing number.
2. The little boy who, even before the tour, was complaining that he didn't want to walk. And, who's parents allowed him free rain to interrupt and disrespect the entire length of our course.
As a very sage friend once said: Anybody who takes children under the age of 15 on holiday should be shot.