On our second full day in Kyoto we ate the last of the Fruit and some of the granola bars for breakfast; then we hopped on the #100 bus for the east side of Kyoto to see Ginkakuji-michi (the Silver Temple). The Silver Temple was much better than the Golden Temple because it was less overrun with tourists and also because the surrounding gardens were amazing. The cultivation of moss is, itself, remarkable, but to see the whole garden come together is quite impressive.
Karen and Arpil went to the Philosopher’s Walk at this point while Anita and I broke off to go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kyoto Imperial Park (Central-North Kyoto). After some busses we made it to the Imperial Park. The park is huge and beautiful but probably 40% gravel pathways… there must be some big parades through there. There were many Japanese people walking their toy dogs there as well as one group of picnickers. As we walked through the park to the Palace, we soon found out that we were not getting in the Palace. It’s still the working Imperial Palace and understandably, they don’t want dumb tourists taking photos. (So I took a few photos of the outside)
We walked out of the Imperial Park and looking for food, ended up trying out “Mos Burger”. It was an experiment, measuring the yardstick of a “modern” culture by the quality of their fast food and Mos Burger wins (hands down) against any jast food chain in the USA.
After lunch, we got on the subway to a major bus route intersection, and finally caught the #28 bus out of town, West. We finally made it to Iwatayama Park (the monkey park). Karen had called it “Monkey Mountain” and as soon as we started walking uphill, we understood why. The path was about 20 minutes up one of the steepest “paths” I’ve seen. It was defiantly worth the effort, because about 80% of the way up, we encountered our first couple of monkeys, and were soon surrounded by monkeys. The tallest monkey would have been about 3 feet and according to park information, there were ~150 monkeys and each of them had names and the families were known. Like every primate documentary you’ve ever seen, the monkeys played and jumped and swam and fought and lazily groomed each other. The monkeys noticed humans but were not afraid of us at all – they never invited me to play, but were almost indifferent as we walked around. Also at this park there was a fantastic slide (meant for skinny people only) that I got a couple of great movies of Anita sliding down. She must have gone down the slide 4 times by the time we left the park… we were on a time-table to get back to the East side of town.
We made it to the Gion district before our appointed time for a tour at 4:00 pm, so we waited for a while in a swanky coffee shop. Everything was swanky around there; it seemed like there was nothing for sale (besides coffee) we could afford. We found Karen and April, and found the starting point for our Gion district tour. (The Gion district is known as the center of the Geisha world)
The tour of the Gion district was fantastic. Peter McIntosh led us through streets and alleys, pointing out buildings, people, architecture, and history … all the time he was fielding our questions and giving us a brief but authentic seeming window into that culture. Peter actually had lived in Kyoto 12 years by that point and infiltrated Geisha culture to the point that he actually married a Geisha. His job is to act as a liaison to Kyoto culture for westerners – from prospecting for filming a Hollywood movie to taking around the occasional tour group like ours, it sounds like he’s one of those invaluable bridges between gulfs in language and custom… It was at least as interesting to talk to Peter as to see “under the hood” of Gion.
After the tour we invited him to come to dinner with us. Though he decided not to stay for the full meal (perhaps out of kindness so we didn’t have to pay for him), he went for a beer with us to a little, basement, super-nice shabu-shabu restaurant. He knew the manager of the place and with a simple request got us a discounted price of 40,000 Yen a person (all you can eat) and a little backroom all to ourselves. We talked for a while and he had his beer, and then Peter took off… we carried on eating the fantastic shabu-shabu until stuffed. After lumbering to the bus and to the hotel, we all passed out, almost instantly.