Kyoto without the crowds

If there’s one covid silver lining for me, it’s the lack of tourists in Kyoto. Kyoto’s one of my top three favourite cities in the world, and I couldn’t wait to get back once I’d arrived in Nagoya. So, with a good weather forecast last weekend, I set off, determined to see some of the temples and gardens I hadn’t managed to fit in last time … and what a difference!

Tenryu-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site, with a very famous14th Century Zen garden. Normally the viewing area would be packed with hundreds of people, all admiring the garden and taking photos. But not on Saturday …

I was the only person there, and was able to enjoy the peace and tranquility in much the same way as the monks used to do, I should imagine. I could even hear the birds singing …

And it’s not just the monks in Japan who know a thing or two about creating a beautiful garden. Denjiro Okochi, one of the best known silent film actors in Japan and famous for playing samurai roles, built a house and created the most wonderful garden high up on a hill with views out over the mountains.

Apparently when the cherry blossom in the temple garden on the other side of the hill is in flower, the mountains look as though they’re floating on a sea of blossom. Sadly the cherry blossom is over for this year, so I’ll have to save that for another visit.

Denjiro’s garden is next to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is a popular place for a stroll and a selfie on a Saturday afternoon. The guide book says that it’s like entering another world, and I couldn’t help thinking that it’s because the bamboo shoots look like strange alien monopods with their whiskery noses pointing up in the air. They’re definitely the ugly ducklings of the plant world.

Ever since my first temple visit, gravel raking has become a particular interest of mine – especially after I learnt that it takes 5 years of study and practice to master the art. So I was glad to see that the raking is definitely still up to standard – and has even become a bit funky in places …

Whimsical dragon trying to claw its way out of the gravel

But it’s not all temples and Zen spirtuality in Kyoto; there’s plenty of room for the Japanese obsession with cuteness too. I paid my first visit to the Miffy shop, where everything is rabbit-shaped.

And, no – I didn’t buy anything. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I firmly believe that anything Miffy-shaped should be strictly reserved for the under-fives.