For whatever reason, I never check the weather when we are on vacation. I just assume it will be blue skies and sun no matter what. I’m on vacation after all. Nothing should ever go wrong (yes, I laughed as I wrote that.) So it’s no surprise that our first full day in Kyoto was rung in with gorgeous blue skies, but quickly drowned in thunder showers.
We started off our time in Kyoto exploring the eastern edge of the city, known as Gion. Most people know Gion from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, as this was the geisha quarter of the city. Very little of the movie was actually filmed in Kyoto, but there are still several tea houses and theaters ready to entertain wealthy patrons.
I was so proud of us. We had gotten out the door at a reasonably early hour. I figured out the bus across town so we would not waste precious leg energy getting to our destination. Everything thing seemed perfect until those dark clouds came rolling in.
As Dek looked around with curiosity at the smoky grey pillows zooming towards us, it dawned on me that my son had never heard thunder before. Living in Seattle, we don’t actually hear thunder or see lightening very often. Dek didn’t know that he should be scared since he had never been awakened during the night by the terrifying rumbles of the angels bowling upstairs.
We managed to check out the Ryosoku-in Temple before the heavens opened wide. Most of the temple was under renovation. We did not end up staying very long. As drops of rain started splashing down, we very quickly took shelter under an awning of a closed shop. I hadn’t packed umbrellas that day, seasoned traveler that I am, so we were stuck for a bit. While having a snack of raisin rolls, we watched fellow travelers rush by with and without umbrellas in hand. All in various states of drenched.
It took about 15 minutes for the storm to pass. We moved up the street towards the Jishu Shrine and Kiyomizudera Temple. Along the way we met up with a horde of school children (I told you they were stalking us.) The narrow lane we were traveling on was packed with tourist shops selling everything from mochi to cheap hand fans, ice cream to action figures. The temple was up a hill against the base of a mountain. From the top we could see the city spread out below us.
We opted not to pay to go into the temple. There was still too much to see on our walking tour of Gion. I didn’t want to waste the time. I regret this now. The walk through the temple grounds would have been impressive I’m sure. I was so convinced that we had to pack X amount of things into a day. At least I was able to get Dek strapped into the Ergo and down for a nap in a quiet corner of the temple grounds before we continued on our way.
Strolling down the small cobbled street of Sannenzaka, the rain decided it wasn’t quite done with us. We bought two $4 umbrellas and keep walking, taking shelter as needed. It was a bit tricky keeping Dek asleep and my camera covered while holding the umbrella. Needless to say, we were all a bit damp by the end of our walk.
We were looking for food, but not having much luck. Any restaurant we found was too pricey or did not seem appropriate for a sleeping baby to go into. I also hoped that Dek would sleep at least an hour so we could make it through the rest of the day. Instead of a lovely sit down lunch, we snacked on what we had in our backpack. This was not satisfying at all.
We hit a few twists and turns. This is becoming the norm for us when we travel. We missed a few shrines we had been trying to get to. We found a few others we might have skipped, but were well worth the side trip.
One of these diversions was the Higashi Otani Mausoleum. We needed a restroom and a place for Dek to stretch his legs after waking up from his nap. Something free of cars was always preferred. We saw a long walk leading up to some steps. I did a little scouting mission, while Mike slowly walked up the pat with Dek. I found the restrooms we needed, a small snack shop and a smattering of buildings. I waved Mike up to join me.
To be perfectly honest, we did not know where we were at first. It was just far enough out of the way from the suggested walk on our map that I am sure many travelers don’t even realize it is there. I’m still not completely sure what it was. A general had been buried there I think.
The buildings that made up the mauseleum were OK, but it was the cemetery in back that was the most fascinating. Stairs wound there way through terraced grave stones. Greenery and prayer plaques were tucked in between. What appeared to be a monk of some sort was making his way up the steps to say prayers or check on some other matter.
My camera (yes, it has its own personality) had to get loads of shots at every angle and details of the stones. The rain had other ideas of course. We took cover under the narrow entryway to the cemetery with a lovely Danish traveler. Dek got to wile away the time by splashing in puddles and play with my umbrella.
Dek had also just started to figure out how to walk up steps without having to crawl up them. We don’t have stairs at home, so they are always fascinating when stumble across them. Our new Danish friend took it upon himself to cheer Dek on as he explored pulling himself up using the railing. He coached Dek and gave him a hand when necessary. Once the rain let up again, we thanked our new friend, wished him well and headed back down to the path. On to the Yasaka Shrine.
Built in the 650s, the deities of the Yasaka shrine are said to protect people from illness. It’s a very popular place on New Years Day.Worshipers say a prayer and then ring a bell before they head back to their daily lives. Sporting the dominant orange color seen on many Kyoto shrines, the shrine seemed to blend in with many other buildings we had seen on our trip. Once the sun started to set though, the shrine showed off its brilliance. Lit up in front, it seemed to glow as the road parted around it.
With dusk upon us, we started the long walk back to our little rental home along Shijo-dori, one of the major thoroughfares in Kyoto. I had learned my lesson to pack an umbrella whenever we went out. Not only did we not always know when the rain would come pouring down, but I later found that it was a fantastic defense against the sun.
Mother nature had also found her own way to slow me down while traveling. My goal had been to see all of Gion in one day. We had seen only half. It was time for this mommy to readjust her expectations and roll with the flow that life was presenting us. We would head back to explore the northern section of Gion a few days later.