Where Diego stretches his legs, visits three very different parts of Kyōto, and samples three very different kinds of tea.
Third part of four.
Mm, that tea was good, good, good. With rejuvenated spirits – and well-rested feet – it’s time to resume our leisurely stroll towards Gion.
The area at the foot of Ninen-zaka is much quieter than the tourist madhouse we’ve just left behind near Kiyomizu-dera. At the peak of hanami season – already some days past for this part of Japan – I imagine these streets would also be heaving, but the (relative) emptiness at this particular time makes for a more relaxed strolling experience.
Soon we reach the temple-lined street that runs near Kōdai-ji. Jinrikisha-pullers stand by the side of the road waiting for patrons.
As you walk down this street, look out for the following sign and turn left into the alleyway behind it.
This is Ishibei-koji, a lovely little stone-flagged path lined with honey-coloured wooden walls that lend it an incredible old-fashioned atmosphere. There are places to eat here if you’re feeling peckish, but the prices will probably match the refined ambiance so let’s just look around for now.
Let’s retrace our steps to the main street now. Further along stands the tile-roofed gateway of Entoku-in, a small sub-temple of nearby Kōdai-ji. Kōdai-ji itself – which I already visited in 2009 and is therefore not featured in our present walk – was founded by the Lady Nene, principal wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, some years after her husband’s death in 1598.
Let’s keep going down the road. Nothing particularly remarkable from here on, but the atmosphere alone is well worth soaking up.
Close to Maruyama-kōen – and looking rather out of place (but not in a bad way) – is a lovely Western-style building that almost seems like it’s been transplanted straight out of France. Known as the Chōrakukan, it was constructed in 1909 and was previously owned by Meiji-era tobacco magnate Kichibei Murai. The complex now houses a hotel, cafe, and a couple of (rather expensive) European restaurants.
Mere steps from the Chōrakukan’s elaborate wrought-iron gate is the entrance to Maruyama-kōen, one of Kyōto’s prime hanami spots. Unfortunately, the sakura wave has already rolled away for most of the city and the park’s iconic shidarezakura tree is long past the peak of its blooming period.
Of course, that hasn’t discouraged a lot of visitors from enjoying the park’s pleasant vistas. Seeing many of them clad in light spring kimono added a lot to the festive air (interestingly, judging from the snatches of conversation I heard, most of the kimono-clad tourists were actually Chinese rather than Japanese).
You can turn west just before going past the tree, where a wide pathway will take you straight to our next destination, but I suggest walking a few steps further and swinging to the left just north of the tree. In due course, you’ll meet a large torii . . .
. . . that marks the start of a brief but very atmospheric walk through a pathway lined with trees and shrine buildings.
At last, we find ourselves in the compound of Yasaka-jinja, one of the city’s best-known shrines. The place looks quite spectacular at night when its many lanterns are lit (a sight I treated myself to on an evening walk in Gion a few years ago), but it’s still quite impressive even in daylight.
Time to wrap up the day now with a visit to a place that shows a very different side of Kyōto.
To be continued.