Sunday, 24 April 2011

Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto: The Philosopher's Path and Arashiyama

Once a year, a beautiful wave of pink flowers sweeps across Japan from South to North. In Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan, Will Ferguson follows the path of the cherry blossoms up the coast of Japan, riding on the wave of the kind hospitality of strangers. For only a couple of weeks, hundreds of trees in every town are transformed into beautiful pink and white national symbols; ancient poetic reminders of the fleeting nature of all things. Every year, thousands of people flock to the most prominent sites to participate in the ritual of viewing these flowers, taking photographs and "Hanami", which literally means "flower viewing" - a kind of picnic under the cherry blossoms, often involving copious amounts of alcohol.

This year, I decided that I wanted to see some of the more famous cherry blossom sites - at least, a little more than Hamamatsu Castle Park, which is all I saw of them last year. So, two weeks ago, on a Friday night after work, Jeff and I headed up to Kyoto by slow train. We stayed the night at an interesting hotel and set off the next morning to the Philosopher's Walk, a renowned walking path beginning at Ginkakuji and ending at Nanzenji, two of Kyoto's many temples. In Japanese, it is called Tetsugaku no Michi (哲学の道). There are buses running from Kyoto station to Ginkakuji, where you can start the adventure. It's a relaxing, beautiful walk along canals lined with cherry blossoms (well, for a few weeks a year). Observe some photos:

But it wasn't all scenic views of cherry blossoms and water. Along the path were a lot of little stands, selling ice cream or scarves.

Perhaps the best thing I found was this dog...

Or perhaps it was the MASSIVE ground of cats hanging out by the river! Nobody really knew why they were there; perhaps they had escaped from a nearby cat cafe. But there they were, loads of friendly cats. Naturally, most passers-by forgot about their instilled love of cherry blossoms, and started photographic these feline distractions instead. I was no better, obviously, being a big fan of cats (I had to be careful with the wording there!). Perhaps the best moment came when another American in the area decided to feed the cats some takoyaki (octopus dumplings?)!!! It was very hot, which confused the cats. I think it's perhaps best explained by the following photos and video:


After that, we headed to Arashiyama - perhaps my favourite part of Japan. You might remember, I went there back in November when the leaves were beautiful and red. Well, this time, of course, those mountains were dotted with pink. We took the Romantic Train, which costs around 600円 and lasts 30 minutes. It does stop at various places, but is mostly a scenic train - old, slow, windows rolled down to bring fresh wind into your lungs as you pass rivers, mountains and trees. It's possible to take a boat-ride back down the river, although we weren't sure how to do this, so just took the train back as well.


Arashiyama itself was the way I remember it - far too busy, difficult to walk down the streets without ending up in the middle of the road, rickshaws speeding past and more cameras than a press conference. But walk down the quaint, touristy streets to the big river and it starts to feel as if you've stepped back in time (ignoring the cars and cameras, of course). Little boats fill the river, trees and flowers on either side, traditional-looking buildings and monkey mountain. Walk a little further down the river and you'll lose the crowds - nobody seems to want to wander away from the comfort of omiyage shops and yakitori stands - but the view continues to impress. Unfortunately, we didn't walk very far down the riverbank, but it remains on the "to do" list for another time. Now, behold some photos of beautiful Arashiyama:

The day ended with a battle through massive crowds near Gion, and the biggest Hanami I've ever seen. Beyond the gates of a temple (I forget the name!!) were hundreds of foodstalls, thousands of people and illuminated cherry blossoms and a very relaxed, Kansai party atmosphere. I wish now that we had stayed the night, partied with the Kyoto area ALTs and their random new German friends, getting to know various Japanese people over chu-hais and firelight... but, alas, we had to bolt to the train station for 8pm to make our very, very slow way back to Hamamatsu!

No comments:

Post a Comment