So yesterday I climbed a mountain. I didn't mean to climb a mountain, it just kind of happened, as these things do from time to time. Granted, at only 233 meters tall Mt. Inari isn't the tallest mountain I've climbed, but that's besides the point, I still climbed it!
Yesterday was the day I actually succeeded in getting out of bed (maybe still a wee bit later than hoped) and managed my trip to Kyoto where I had four very specific locations to visit. Yes, unlike most other days I had actually done a smidge of research and scouted some things I wanted to see.
First up is possibly the most popular of Kyoto's tourist destinations, and after Googling for it you can see why. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a stunning place. Built on the side of the sacred Mt. Inari it is the head shrine of Inari, notable for its famed Torii (Japanese gates) that line the trails up the mountain.
They're placed pretty close together as you can see, so when you have thousands (seriously, reports say over 10,000) lined up through the forest paths on a mountain they create quite a spectacle, and a wonder to walk through.
Sadly my photos aren't the best I can produce. If I spent long enough there with a tripod and maybe an interchangeable lens camera, with different lighting i could have generated something more spectacular but with a mass of tourists wandering through, finding the right snippets of time was tough and in all honesty, it's fairly difficult to get a bad picture of these bright orange tunnels so I'm happy enough.
The one thing that did confuse me was that walking up the paths it seems as though you're travelling through the gates backwards. That picture up there is facing up the mountain, on the trail away from the entrance, yet if I turned around (and it wasn't for quite some time that I realised this) all the gates have Kanjii written on the other sides which adds a bit more interest to the gates from some angles.
After a while, the torii thin out a bit and the mountain paths become more windy and interspersed with smaller shrine areas. These are often laden with smaller Torii.
After a good couple of hours overdosing on the colour orange, I'd walked all the way to the top and back down again. Back on to a train headed for the north of Kyoto. This time in search of a much greener setting.
There is a chain of three locations up in the north, the first being Tenryu-ji temple. I didn't actually go into the temple itself, I was more interested in the garden (I probably should have paid extra for the main hall and done that too but never mind). The garden was landscaped to give the appearance of mountains, and that definitely comes across. Despite the tourists wandering around making lots of noise it was quite peaceful and I had a pleasant time wandering the paths. I didn't get many photos of this garden to be honest, it was hard to find a spot that didn't have a bright jacket or someone posing with a selfie stick spoiling the view.
The gardens of Tenryu-ji have a North exit though, that if used, places you in the heart of Kyoto's famous bamboo grove. I've seen pictures of the bamboo grove before, one very striking HDR photo from photographer Trey Ratcliff springs to mind, but didn't know what, or where it was. That was until I read about a bamboo grove in Kyoto. A small bit of Googling later and I had cemented this location as a must see.
Those dinky little bamboo canes you can buy to hold your plants up are nothing compared to these, I never knew bamboo grew so big!
The path through the grove is fairly short, and full of tourists so I wandered down it at a fairly swift pace until I reached a destination that I'd ummed and aahed about for a while. I only decided to go in because I had plenty of time.
The Okochi Sanso Villa is built right next to the Bamboo Grove and was the home and long time project of actor Denjiro Okochi. He would take time between filming to build the gardens and tea room as well as visiting to meditate and gain inspiration.
The garden is incredibly tranquil, the hubbub from nearby is entirely eradicated, the only sounds I heard from outside the garden were that of trains in the distance, and at one point, a helicopter. I wasn't prepared for how I'd be affected by this place.
Gardens generally aren't my thing, I've been round a few and never been hugely enthused but this one had a completely different appeal to me. It wasn't created to be beautiful, or artistic, or scientific. It was built for peace, and inspiration. It only took twenty minutes to walk around the whole garden at a strolling pace, and having done it with camera in hand and music in one ear I thought to myself "Tom, you've done that wrong, do it again". So I did. I removed the headphone from my lug hole, and put the camera back in my pocket and strolled round the garden again, this time a bit slower paying more attention to both myself, and my surroundings. It was highly meditative.
The entrance fee includes a free tea (the greenest I've ever seen) at the tea house at the base of the garden so after my second trip around I took the opportunity for a sit down and a beverage. Once I'd done that, instead of leaving, I walked round again.
I could have strolled for hours more too but the day was moving on and I needed to catch a train back to Osaka. Maybe in the future I'll be able to build my own stroll garden on the side of a mountain, with views that are designed to cause mountains to float on a sea of cherry blossoms in the spring.
I can but hope...