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Foxy Fushimi: Wandering in Kyoto

There is nothing like a deep, hot bath after a day of walking. Our hotel room has such a bath. But being Japanese, it is important to clean your body before entering the bath. So we sit down on the plastic stool and wash all over using the flexible shower outlet, now and then pouring a bowl full of hot water over the head. It's a wonderful way to wash away the day's grime. I felt a little guilty over wasting water in the bath, but I did return a lot to the atmosphere through perspiration.

Kyoto was hot and sticky. We caught the Keihan line to Fushimi-Inari from Yodoyabashi station, changing trains at Chushojima. These private railways give you a great view of Japanese suburbia that you miss from the Shinkansen.

We had left late from the hotel room as I was busy setting up our new Panasonic TZ3 cameras. Still getting the hang of them, hence some blurry photos. Before ascending the hill to the Fushimi-Inari shrine we stopped for some lunch in a small and friendly restaurant near the station. B ordered a freshly grilled unagi (eel) which just melted in the mouth. I had gone off unagi after some bad experiences in Australia, but now my faith is restored.

The rice in the inari-sushi had seeds and crunch, so nice, while I had my first cold soba noodles dish of the trip. With regret we left the air-conditioning and began walking up the hill. Inari is the Japanese god of agriculture and industry and the Fushimi-Inari shrine was build by wealthy rice and sake merchants. Inari's messenger is the fox and there are many little shrines guarded by stone fox statues.

The main attraction of the Fushimi-Inari shrine are the pathways under hundreds of red torii. Though the four kilometre walk up many, many steps was a struggle in the overwhelming heat, the tunnels of torii made it a magical experience. The hills were heavily forested with cedars and maples and the tinkling sound of stream water merged with the background noise of millions of crickets.

Now and then a series of shrines would be accompanied by shops selling incense, prayer objects and cold drinks, even hot meals served on low tables set on straw tatami mat floors. Outside one such shop near the summit of the walk I thought I had discovered the Miracle of Grapefruit. Readers of my previous travel blogs will know that I am on a quest to find Gokuri Juice. There it was, sitting in a vending machine. But no! It was out of stock!

In a sense that was fortunate, because I lacked the change for the vending machine.

After we completed the circuit around the path of toriis we stopped by to try grilled sparrow on a skewer and cool down with a snow cone, then caught the train along to Keihan's Shijo station in central Kyoto. We were running too late to follow my original intention of walking along the Path of Philosophy and visiting Ginkaku-ji. Besides which, we felt that we had done our temple walking for today.

Instead we decided to walk through Gion. We wandered down Hanamikoji-dori, a street of restored old style houses and shops. Then B saw the Nakamachi-dori shopping street on a map and decided we should go there. But as we walked along Higashioji-dori we spotted a magnificent pagoda on the other side of the road. So we went to take a look.

The narrow road past the pagoda (Yasaka Pagoda) wound its way up through another restored area that looked so interesting that we had to explore. We followed it around, past traditional craft shops, restaurants and ryokan. The dark brown wood of the buildings was complemented by tiny green plantings and grey stones decorating their fronts.

While B waited below I climbed some stairs to see the outside of the big stone Ryozen Kannon (Buddha statue) and the Kodaiji Temple and was rewarded with fantastic views of Kyoto. Continuing on we found ourselves at the Maruyama Garden, where a heron posed atop a stone in the middle of a pond.

Evening was falling so we returned to downtown Kyoto along Shijo-dori. As we crossed the Kamo-gawa (river) we could see the lights of the outdoor restaurant platforms along the Ponto-cho-dori. To the north the orange and grey clound lay top darker hills forming a view straight out of a painting.

We walked along the narrow alleyway of the Ponto-cho-dori, past expensive restaurants that would probably not welcome us. We dined in one of those restaurants during our previous visit to Kyoto, eating modern versions of Kyoto food that looked much better than it tasted.

We did spot a maiko (apprentice geisha) walking along the Ponto-cho-dori.

At the end of the Ponto-cho-dori we turned back south along Kiyamachi-dori, where a pretty canal runs down the centre of the road. We found a all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu restaurant and decided to try it. Shabu-shabu consists of thin strips of beef which you cook at your table in a pot of broth. You then dip the meat in raw egg and a sesame or citrus sauce. We were also supplied with pork balls and vegetables to cook in the broth and for dessert it was melon and grapefruit gelato. For around $30 per person for the "special beef" it was a pretty good deal, we both ate until we were full.

Kyoto is not convenient for travelling around by train and we had a fair walk up Shijo-dori to Shijo station for a ride back to Kyoto's main station. We have really got the hang of using the ticket vending machines, one of the issues we had on our first visit. From there we caught a fast JR train back to Osaka. One young bloke was kind enough to offer to switch seats with me so that I could sit next to B.

Our legs were tired and my t-shirt was coated with salt crystals from perspiration, so it was very pleasant to return to our cool hotel room for that very hot bath.



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