The internet said that conbinis (convenience stores) sold day passes for the buses, so we picked up a couple from Lawsons around the corner and headed for the city centre, in the opposite direction from the station. We needed two buses to avoid a long walk, but that was the advantage of a day pass – for only £2.50 we could hop on and off as much as we liked for less than the price of 3 single rides, and without having to worry about the correct change.
Our destination was the Nikishi market, but we were tempted into a ¥100 store and couldn’t resist a couple of protective soft cases for our tablets. Nikishi market is a long covered alleyway lined with interesting, open-fronted food shops whose stalls offer a myriad gastronomic and photographic temptations. It’s aimed at residents but inevitably, many tourists find their way there, and the shopkeepers must be resigned to most of their free tasters being wasted on people who have no intention of buying. It gave us a chance to try the tiny white dried fish that we’d seen on sale elsewhere (and I do mean tiny – less than 1cm long and barely 1mm in diameter). They were unexpectedly nice.
At the far end of the market was a small shrine. Here the preferred fortune telling scam took the form of an animated puppet which picked out your fortune in return for your ¥100 coin. Down one side of the main building was a garden containing smaller shrines; in the warm spring sunshine it was beautiful and intimate, a little oasis in a bustling city centre.
We wandered back through the market, pausing to eat a portion of takoyaki for lunch, then into the Dairu department store in search of a western style toilet (my knee was still suffering from a squat one at Shinjuku station). We were inevitably lured into the basement by the aromas wafting up from cooked food stands. It was very upmarket down there but, astonishingly, had 500g tubs of little potatoes for 50p – far cheaper than we’d seen even in Koreatown. So we bought three, long with some leeks and Chinese cabbage. I really don’t understand pricing in Japan: this was like Harrod’s food hall selling stuff more cheaply than Lidl.
It was still early so we hopped on a bus to Daitokujo in the north of the city; Kyoto is not very big so, even with bad traffic, getting around it doesn’t take that long. Daitokujo is a compound that holds several temples, only some of which are open to the public. The one I particularly wanted to see was the Daisenin temple, which has a zen garden. The garden wraps around the main building, with white gravel representing a stream flowing into a sea, with various allegorical rock formations placed along the way (such as a turtle swimming against the tide of passing time, a boat laden with the ‘treasure’ of life’s experiences). A leaflet explained it all, luckily. At the back of the temple a passage with a ‘nightingale floor’ led to a smaller building. Nightingale floors are a genius idea. My landing floorboards are no longer just annoyingly squeaky, they are cunningly intended to ensure that even if a burglar makes it past the alarm, he will not get to my bedroom without waking me up.
Irritatingly, photography was not allowed: evidently the temple authorities are miffed about a few people selling their photos on the internet. Never mind that a photo that’s good enough to sell is a work of art, no different from a painting – nobody pays good money for your average holiday snap. I wonder if they ban sketching too? Perhaps they should put a time limit on gazing? Banning photography is just blatant commercial protectionism, which is kind of distasteful in a supposedly not-for-profit establishment, and a kick in the teeth for hundreds of tourists who have travelled a very long way to see the garden.
We meandered back to the main road, passing through a small bamboo grove (whose tranquillity was completely wrecked by noise from a nearby school) and a quiet residential area. A senior moment at the bus stop led to us getting the bus going in completely the opposite direction from what we wanted and we ended up in a bus station, where we got straight back on a return bus and hoped nobody noticed.
En route to the apartment I spotted a really huge Life supermarket, so we quickly jumped off and went in search of dinner. We dined that night on seared tuna steaks, stir fried veg, pickled daikon and ‘baked’ potatoes – not bad for one ring and a microwave. I suppose rice or noodles would have been more appropriate but hey, we like to push the gastronomic envelope.