Saturday in Kyoto shone through bright and hot! Time to maximize the two day Kyoto Pass we bought and try to see as much as possible in two whole days.
First up, a 20 minute train ride from Kyoto Station and then a 550 meter walk to the famed Tofukuji Temple, a much visited site particularly for viewing red autumn leaves. Unfortunately we were six weeks too early so all the foliage was still a bright summery green.
This covered cedar walkway spans the treetops and is called the Tsutenkyo Bridge, a vantage point for viewing the maple leaves in autumn. I'm sure the view must be spectacular!
Everywhere you look, there are pockets of greenery -- from leaves to moss on the ground.
We walk towards Kaisando Hall and come upon this beautifully lush pond and shrubbery garden.
It is in distinct contrast to the Zen rock and sand garden directly across it. The perfect checkerboard design adds to its unique beauty. There are wooden platforms around where you can sit, contemplate and meditate while viewing these two different yet complementary gardens.
We tear ourselves away from the peace and quiet of Tofukuji and walk back to the train station to catch the JR Nara line to the second item on our itinerary for this morning.
Inari, our next destination is just one station away.
Unlike Tofukuji which was quite a walk from the train station, the huge red torii of Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine startle you right as you step through the turnstile of Inari Station.
It is just the first of thousands of red torii that make this shrine so unusual and compelling and therefore, a must if you are visiting Kyoto.
As you walk past the giant torii, a purification fountain beckons you to symbolically prepare yourself to enter sacred grounds. It is a simple ritual -- using the bamboo ladles provided, wash both hands with the clear cold water then rinse your mouth.
Don't spit the water back into the fountain though, there is space at the base of the fountain for this.
The shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and is placed on Mt. Inari, a sacred mountain that stands just under 300 meters tall. What makes Fushimi Inari so significant is the thousands and thousands of red torii that wind their way up the mountainside.
You walk through these massive vermillion gates as they go on and on and on.
The torii range from massive and tall to densely clustered and lower. I hardly noticed the gradual uphill climb -- I was so fascinated and awed by this experience!
It is estimated that there are over 10,000 red torii placed on Mt. Inari. All the torii along the trail are donated by individuals and companies. Printed behind each torii is the name of the donor. Donations are quite hefty and reach up to more than a million yen for the larger sized torii.
The climb to the summit of Mt. Inari would have taken us one hour but sadly we had to forego this pleasure. Much as I wanted to walk through all the gates and enjoy the view at the top, we had to climb back down.
So much to see, so little time -- never had this been more true!
The walk back down the mountain is quick and easy. As we leave Fushimi Inari, I say good bye to one of the many fox statues guarding the torii.
Foxes are said to the messengers of the god Inari and thus, so many of these statues can be found throughout the shrine.
On the walk back to the train station, we chanced upon some small restaurants -- this one had skewers of chicken fragrantly grilling on an outdoor stove. We decide it's a good place to have lunch.
Grilled chicken notwithstanding, the real specialty of Fushimi Inari however is kitsune or fox udon. Don't for a minute think that I ate Little Red Riding Hood's nemesis. Kitsune udon actually uses just aburaage or fried tofu.
It's called that because legend has it that foxes like fried tofu.
Foxes are vegetarians! Little Red Riding Hood had nothing to worry about.
Jay ordered a bowl of mixed tempura udon which came overflowing with shrimp, fish and all sorts of vegetables. Not oily, not greasy, lightly battered and perfectly fried -- the vegetable tempura had all the fresh sweetness of late summer vegetables.
As we walked back out into the bright noontime sun, I peered into the small kitchen where the chef was busy preparing the orders and the single waitress stood by to bring the trays out.
Finding this simple and unassuming restaurant was surely serendipitous -- I like to believe that it was a gift from Inari.