When my partner Tim gets something in his mind, there is no shaking it out. Such was the case in Kyoto the day he decided we would bike around Kyoto to visit all the temples.
A guide book had told him that that was the most efficient way to see Kyoto, which he took this to heart, despite the forecast. “One hundred per cent chance of rain today,” the concierge said, trying to deter us. No dice. The bikes were free, too, which made matters even more rigid.
We got to the first stop and it started to rain. It then rained for hours. The bikes were e-bikes, so less pedalling was required, which was a blessing because my whole body felt like I had gained 50 pounds, the rain water soaking through my clothes and into my underwear.
I’m not really a history buff, but you can’t help feel awed by Kyoto. Gawking at gorgeous, centuries-old stuff has a humbling effect, to say the least.
Shoot for April. Cherry blossom time, while very busy with people from all over Japan arriving to enjoy the annual show, is absolutely gorgeous. Families gather in their traditional formalwear for the annual family photo will make your Instagram shots look so authentic!
Lose count. The 1,001 statues of Kannon the goddess of compassion line the hall at Sanjusangendo temple, also known for the 28 guard statues in the front row and for the willow trees out front. The simple, wooden Yogenin temple is nearby.
Take in the terrace. Kiyomizudera Temple is noted for its wooden “patio” jutting out from the main hall. The Jishu Shrine is nearby, dedicated to love and matchmaking.
Find a quiet moment. Carry on to the Otani Hombyo, where things are more peaceful, particularly in the morning. The hauntingly beautiful Higashi Otani Cemetery is worth a climb up the steps for the view at the top. Pop into Maryuama Park for a while, too.
Go for the gold. Over on the city’s north-west side, the Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji shimmering in the pond out front is a true spectacle, always busy but very worth visiting. It was built in 1397, but reconstructed in 1955 in magnificent gold leaf and is surrounded by the most perfect garden.
Feel small. Also on the west side, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Sagano is almost otherworldly. The trees are so tall, you feel microscopic, like the flea on that dog’s back in the cartoon.
Feed a monkey. Just over the river, the Iwatayama Monkey Park is inhabited by more than 100 macaques or snow monkeys, all wild but still willing to accept food from you, which you can buy before you climb up the hill. It takes about an hour or so and again, the view at the top of the mountain is incredible. Tip: Don’t look into the monkeys’ eyes!
On our return ebike trip to the hotel, it rained so hard, everything in our backpacks was soaked, including the map. We managed to piece it together—only to find that we had matched the sections incorrectly and were solidly lost for more than two hours. My poor passport never did recover.