On our second day in Kyoto, my husband and I woke up to a warm sunny day – perfect day for cycling. We went to the cycle rental shop nearby main train station we’ve spotted the day before and rented two bikes with which we explored Kyoto.
Kyoto served as Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868 when the capital functions were transferred to Tokyo. For centuries was the centre of politics and culture. Many of historical buildings, temples and shrines were build during this period – so many, Kyoto is now also known as “City of Ten Tousand Shrines”. Seventeen of those buildings are now inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. My husband and I decided to visit two of them: Kinkaku-ji and Ryōan-ji.
With our rented bikes we hit the roads in direction of Ryoan-ji temple. I wasn’t sure what to expect of riding a bike in a city like Kyoto, but soon I realised Kyoto is a perfect place to cycle: its largely flat, roads are easy to navigate and are well maintained and the drivers are relatively polite.
We cycle through the streets of Kyoto, passing modern and ancient architecture. When we arrived to Ryoan-ji temple, we searched for parking lot for our bicycles. We were warned, it is illegal to park at places that are not specifically marked as bicycle parking zones and the city regularly removes illegally parked bicycles. If our bicycles would be removed, we would have to pay a fine to get them back. Most certainly we didn’t want to experience that so we always parked the bikes at the bike parking lots. Most of temples has them – Ryoan-ji was no exception.
Ryoan-ji is Kyoto’s World Heritage site famous for its rock garden – a collection of 15 carefully placed rocks that looked like are drifting in a sea of sand. The designer, who remains unknown to this day, provided no explanation.
Ryoan-ji was nice, but neither my husband nor I were impressed. The rock garden was something we’ve never seen before, but it still lacked something that would made it spectacular. It might be my high expectations. It might be the crowds who all wished to get a better look at the rock garden or lack of peacefulness and calmness. Or, it might be the fact that after 9 days in Japan it was hard to beat all the stunning things we’ve seen. I don’t know. Despite the slight disappointment, we still enjoyed our visit.
Next stop on our cycling tour was the famous temple of “Golden Pavilion” – Kinkaku-ji. After a slight disappointment with Ryoan-ji, I’d lowered my expectations of Kinkaku-ji. Being one of Japan’s best known sights, I expected to be packed with tourists. It was, but the crowds didn’t bother me as they bothered me at Ryoan-ji. Kinkaku-ji’s grounds were large enough for visitors to spread around and not to get in each other’s way.
Kinkaku-ji definitely deserves its fame. The main temple building, covered in gold leaf and neatly trimmed trees reflecting in lovely pond are stunning.
After we strolled through garden and enjoyed the beauty of this place, we left and returned back in direction of the main train station. On our way we’ve passed the Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine. The entrance to it aroused our attention and we decided to stop and take a look.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is Shinto shrine associated with Tenjin – the “shinto god” of education. Many students visit this shrine to pray for success in their studies. We’ve met some of them.
Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine is not world heritage site, but it is beautiful and a bit more pristine then Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji. It is not as well preserved, but on its grounds you can still sense the spiritual value shrine has for the people. The spiritual note, Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji lost, when they’ve become heritage site .
After we strolled through Kitano Tenman-gū shrine grounds, we continued our ride. It was already late and we felt hungry. We stopped at one of convenience stores and bought ourselves pre-prepared meal. It was surprisingly delicious. We ate it at the bench in a park surrounding Kyoto Imperial Palace.
After finishing our late-lunch, we cycled around the park. Then we returned back to the streets of Kyoto. We stopped at two places to do some shopping. Then we returned back to bicycle rental shop, returned our bikes and walked back to our hotel. After we refreshened ourselves and rested a bit, we returned back to the train station where we’ve met two Slovenian friends who had also travelled around Japan at the same time for dinner. It was fun exchanging experiences of our travels. After dinner and far too many drinks, we bid farewell. We returned back to our hotel to refill our batteries for the next day.