Adjacent cresting waves of gravel.
Every aspect of these gardens is impressive in its detail. Whether you stand back and view an area as a whole, or focus on just one feature – like the shape formed for the edge of a section of gravel – there's something to appreciate.
Inside, looking across to the pavilion. The most impressive feat in all of these places is the way the design of the garden is maintained over time, with the feeling that it was arranged and trimmed and presented for the specific current moment, a constant battle against entropy.
The garden is a traditional pond design, but combined with karesansui 枯山水 (“dry landscape”) features, notably the huge and precisely formed cone of white gravel that's said to represent Mount Fuji 富士山, standing by a sea of raked waves. This feature is known as kogetsudai 向月台, often translated as “moon viewing platform”.
Approaching Jishō-ji 慈照寺 (the real name of the Temple of the Silver Pavilion), the narrow street up the hill was filled with people buying snacks and browsing the tourist shops.
At the top, entering the temple, then taking a sharp right into a deep trench of green formed by towering hedge slabs that float, inset, above the sides of the path, shielding it from the world outside.
Another 90 degree turn to the middle gate and, past it, this unassuming but meticulously designed courtyard next to the first of the buildings.
The air full of pink and white, branches spilling petals into the canal that leads the way of the so-called Philosopher's Path 哲学の道.
The next day I planned a route to see the cherry blossoms and sights of the eastern side the city, starting with the streets that lead to Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion.
Because the train network isn't especially extensive and the streets are often busy, getting to anywhere out of the city centre is usually quickest with a train first, followed by a bus. Occasionally a bus is all that's needed, while a taxi is usually one of the slowest options, and only more convenient if you want to avoid walking.
I took the bus to see a bit of the city by day. Arriving in the streets of Sakyō ward 左京区, the trees were in full bloom and a hushed but excited buzz of people snapped photos and admired the flowers. I did, too.
Past the initial shrine buildings and up the first set of stone steps to the start of the torii 鳥居 shrouded path. Inside, people were gathered in a few quiet groups, taking and comparing photos, stepping out of the way to let others get a good shot as the remaining light left the sky. A few minutes later and further up through the tunnel it was suddenly much darker, the sun having set and the forest providing extra dampening, and the occasional lantern along the way reflected in a line of highlights off the vermilion columns.
As the path split into two parallel passages a few more people were making their way through, but at the end where the sides rejoined at the junction formed by the courtyard of the Okusha Hohāi-sho 奥社奉拝所 (a prayer building), the onward path to the left was empty.
I took a few snaps with my phone, but phone cameras back then weren't good in low light, so I moved on. It didn't take long before the gradient increased substantially. The pattern of lengths of pavement interrupted by occasional rises became a rarity, replaced instead by an almost continuous flight of weaving stairs, all enclosed in orange-red gates. Moving quickly up the hundreds of steps made for quite a workout.
The lighting became sporadic and the path barely visible, so I used the dim flash of my iPhone to light the way. All around, darkness, slow flows of wind rising up sometimes and rustling the trees. Occasionally, somewhere off the track, what sounded like wildlife scampering by – a monkey or boar, most likely. And once for a time the distant sounds of a crowd at a baseball game in the suburbs below.
After countless stairs and gates and past a few small buildings with vending machines glowing outside, a view opened above the trees and the shimmering lights of the city spread out like a lake of gold that filled the valley to the black mountains on the horizon.
A couple of young local guys chatted quietly under a light near where the path forks to form a loop that leads to the top, and I walked on and up, checking out the shrines along the way. Everywhere at these, adornments of little torii 鳥居 and statues of Kitsune 狐 (foxes) packed tightly together. I caught my breath for a while at the top and enjoyed the peace and the cool air. Looked around the little circuits of the shrines, square paths walled in tightly by stone blocks and stone fences.
Getting hungry and unsure of when the last train would be, I started back down, faster, skipping stairs that were visible to make up time while trying to avoid a trip in the dark. Along the way I realised I was on an alternative path that would lead to another side of the hill, so hastily I backtracked and found the right path again.
About half an hour later I was down at the base and sure, then, that I would do this again. Walking through there at night with the repetition of steps and gates is a meditative experience, even if you don't intend for it to be.
At the station, electronic bird sounds echoed down the platform, and not long later I was on a train and back at Kyoto Station 東京駅 where the restaurants had shut for the night. Walking back in the direction of the hotel I came upon a Curry House CoCo Ichibanya カレーハウスCoCo壱番屋 on a corner and decided to give it a try. It was a great choice.
Because I didn't take any proper photos that night, enjoy this phone pic of Japanese curry, which is super delicious (and now a favourite meal of mine).
Gliding into the city and disembarking in Kyoto Station 京都駅, then finding bearings in the many levels of the building to exit via the south side and head to the hotel a few blocks away.
The ground was still damp from earlier showers and a strong wind was relentlessly scrubbing through the city's street grid, which made for a chilly suitcase drag. But it didn't take too long to find the hotel and check in, settling in for a little to watch the sakura 桜 blooming updates on TV.
From the balcony, the five storey pagoda 五重塔 of Tō-ji 東寺 was silhouetted in the afternoon light and drizzle, amongst layers of rooftop machinery. It's a view that has proven itself indelible.
Although the sun was setting and the majority of temples and shrines would be closing, I'd read that Fushimi Inari-taisha 伏見稲荷大社, famed for its thousand or so torii 鳥居 gates, was open to the public 24 hours a day. Being situated on a hill there was also supposedly a good view from the top, so I donned a jumper and walked back to the station to catch the next train on the Nara Line 奈良線 to Inari Station 稲荷駅, just two stops and six minutes away. The walk up the mountain is supposed to take anywhere from one-and-a-half to two hours, so I left my DSLR behind figuring there'd be little time for taking photos if I was to make it up to the top and back down to the station before the last train.
The entrance to the shrine is situated just metres from Inari Station 稲荷駅, so it couldn't be easier to find. The giant vermilion torii 鳥居 helps too.
Quite a few people were still outside but the sky was fading fast. Once inside the shrine complex it was clear that most people were taking a few last snaps before making their way out.