Kyoto still, at the hostel, sitting by myself at a table for 8, stooped in front of my laptop again. 8:45pm local time.
24 hours ago I was getting ready to leave the onsen, looking like a prune and feeling incredibly lazy and content. I would return to a hostel filled with familiar people whom I had met the day before. We (attempted to) cook yaki udon and ate dinner at 10 with more conversation. Then, during the course of the day, all those familiar people… left. It’s a whole new crowd now. I’ve never stayed in a city for so long while travelling and it’s a new experience being the ‘old’ one, the one who knows how to use the laundry machine and where the nearby grocery stores are. The new girls who moved into the same room as me have 10 days for all of Japan. I’ve planned 8 for Kyoto alone. The old bunch was an outgoing bunch, lots of interaction and laughter and ridiculous jokes. The new bunch are… quieter, focused, intent. The feeling of walking into the common area and recognizing not a single person was shocking even though I had done the very same thing a few days ago. What’s changed?
This morning, we went to Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion. It’s one of those ‘must-see’ sights in Kyoto and I knew it the instant we got on the bus. It was filled with people like us, with ‘tourist!’ written all over. When we got there, there were ‘lines’ for the best photo-taking spots. There were people, more people, the golden temple, statues with coins scattered around them, shops with expensive useless (but cute) things, vending machines and people. We tried to move between large crowds of people so we wouldn’t be squished too badly. The best part of it? The real Kinkakuji burned down in the 50s and what people see now is an obvious replica, flawless golden balconies and all.
This afternoon, we went to Kyoto Botanical Gardens. It doesn’t even get its own page on japan-guide.com – it’s that much of a tourist attraction. The original plan was to visit the International Manga Museum, which is – surprise! – closed on Wednesdays. Only Wednesdays. Because of this little fluke, we ended up in northern Kyoto with nary a ‘tourist!’ in sight. Mostly, the gardens were filled with photographers and little Japanese women wearing hats. The weather was beautiful and the garden was peaceful, in complete contrast to Kinkakuji.
From there, we walked along a section of the river with grassy slopes, benches and sandy jogger paths. I took photos of the river, the sky, the dogs, the clouds, Herrings staring intently at the rushing water… The sun was setting and we sat down to eat a healthy meal of candy and pastries with red bean and green tea filling. People took evening strolls, jogged, biked and walked their dogs past our bench. At one point, a man cycled by with three dogs running alongside and later, a girl with wedged heels waded into shin-deep river water after her rebellious collie.
The most memorable parts of a journey are never planned.