Japan: Day 6 - Monkeying around in Arashiyama

After a fun packed day yesterday there was still a few things in Kyoto that I wanted to do before I moved on to the next destination, but the last few days had been pretty intense so the snooze button got pressed a couple (at least 10) times! 

Once I was finally up and dressed I was ready to roll, and prepared for the worst as bad weather had been reported, but hoping for scenes like this ...
(This is my photograph so it's a bit of a spoiler alert I guess ... oops!)

I'd researched into the places I wanted to go the night before and had worked out a route, but to double check that I was being sensible with my time I went and spoke to the information point at the hotel who were very helpful. The route I'd figured out was the best way around the sights I wanted to see so I headed out and caught a bus from just down the road to the first stop; Arashiyama.

Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto. It also refers to the mountain across the Ōi River, which forms a backdrop to the district. Arashiyama is a nationally-designated historic site and a 'Place of Scenic Beauty', which was why it was on the list to visit.

The bus took around 25 minutes to get to Arashiyama, heading out west. The further west we went, the less built up it was and the more green it became.
Once I arrived I headed towards the Bamboo Grove which I had seen a lot of over the years through pictures on pinterest and instagram and was somewhere that I'd been really excited to see with my own eyes since watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, featuring as the backdrop to one of the main fighting scenes of the film. 

My first thought of Arashiyama was that it felt very local. Don't get me wrong, there were lots of tourists, but it felt like the community that live in the area are amongst you, going about their lives in harmony with the wandering foreigners. 

After walking for 5-10 minutes I'd noticed a lot of people on bicylces and at the same time stumbled past the place hiring them out. There was a rather old dude sat next to the bikes reading a newspaper with a sign saying 100 yen! 100 yen is 55p ... how could I not hire a bike? So with that I hoped on my bike and cycled down the road towards the bamboo forest. There were certain roads that were a little hilly and narrow so to be polite I jumped off and pushed the bugger up the steep roads. 
Before I knew it I was there ... a long path leads through the centre of the forest, meandering up and down the landscape with photo opportunities at every corner. I spent a good 45 minutes cycling through the forest, stopping to take photographs every now and again. The bamboo trees were so tall, after a while it started to hurt my neck (and to be fair I should have probably been watching where I was going ... but that's no fun right?)
With this sudden sense of freedom (and speed) that the bicycle gave me I decided to just go for a cycle through the area, looking at sign posts at every other corner to see what else there was to check out. It was really fun shooting down the side roads and seeing where you'd end up ... just because I could turn around if there was nothing of interest. 
The next place I wanted to see (that would have been a 15-20 minute walk from the forest) was just a 5-minute cycle was called Tenryu-Ji Temple, passing more interesting sites on my way. 
Tenryū-ji is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, located in Susukinobaba-chō. It was built back in 1345 and as a temple related to both the Ashikaga family and Emperor Go-Daigo, it's held in high esteem and is ranked number one among Kyoto's so-called Five Mountains. 

The gardens (as with most temples I'm coming to realise) were beautiful and very tranquil. They're filled with ponds, statues, streams flowing through the landscape, HUGE koi carp and perfectly formed trees that Edward Scissorhands would be proud of!
The temple itself wasn't much of a temple ... not grand like many a lot of the others have been, but the grounds were worth a look for sure. You also had to pay more to enter the temple so with that I grabbed my bike and headed towards the river for the next stop; Monkey Park! 

I handed my bike in before crossing the river by the Togetsu-kyo Bridge followed by directly after by the Togetsu-kobashi Bridge. The views of the river and mountainous region from the Togetsu-kyo Bridge were amazing.

The Monkey Park was only a few minutes walk from the Togetsu-kobashi Bridge.
Now I'd seen pictures of the Monkey Park and had noticed the amazing views ... but hadn't put two and two together. Those views were from up high ... and I was currently water level! After paying 500 yen I started the 20-minute trek up the side of this bloody mountain to go and check out some monkeys, but not before passing another shrine!
It had been raining slightly on and off but had finally stopped on the walk up to the top, which I was glad about for two reasons: 1. I was outside without and umbrella, and 2. I bet monkeys like the rain about as much as I do!
The walk to the top was actually a bit of a work-out. After making it to the top it was fun to watch other people as they finish their quest, looking red faced and kind of wanting to celebrate like Rocky when he reaches the 72nd (and final) step at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It was finally time to check out some monkeys, and they weren't hard to find! These macaque monkeys were just chilling all over the place. As you arrive one of the workers tells you that you can buy food in the shop, BUT they must only be fed within the building through the caged windows and NOT outside because they it starts a bit of a brawl as they just come at you grabbing what they can! So I went and bought a bag of peanuts for 100 yen and approached the monkeys.
The monkeys are literally lined up on the cage waiting for you to come and feed them. They were actually a lot more polite than I expected. The moment you go near them and pull out the food they put their arm through and hold their hand out whilst looking away, as if to say "it's OK, I won't tell anyone, just chuck a peanut in my hand, it's alright."
It was all going so swimmingly until I was tricked into a false sense of security. I was casually enjoying handing out these peanuts to a gentlemanly bunch of macaques, placing the bag down on the side - far enough away (so I thought) from the side. Obviously not. One monkey came flying up the side of the cage, stretched his arm through and pinched the lot! He then ran off into the woods with 3 or 4 of them chasing him. It was all too good to be true.

At that - peanut less, I decided to go outside and check out the view and get a closer look at the monkeys. You're told via the leaflet they give you when you pay:

- Don't stare at the monkeys in the eyes
- Don't touch the monkeys
- Don't feed them outside
- Don't take pictures up close (closer than 3 metres)

Now that's a very strict list, and all I want to do is look them in the eyes and take some close up shots! I tried a few but as you get close to them you can feel them get a little edgy. Their backs arch and they look as though they're ready to pounce. Now I've seen Outbreak a lot over the years and I don't want no monkey disease so I kept my distance.
The view truly is amazing, you can see the whole of Kyoto and the mountains that surround the city.
With a feeling of betrayal from the monkeys resting heavy on my shoulders, it was time to make the trip back down to water level. The last place I had on my list for the day was Kiyomizu Temple (which was recommended to visit by InsideJapan) and is the other side of the city, so I had to get my skates on if I were to get there before it turned dark or closed - which ever came first!
I took two buses to get east, which dropped me off around 2 kilometres away from the temple with a little stroll along the river before heading north ... and by north, I mean up! Yet again, this temple was famous for its views so I had another steep climb to make. This walk was up quite a narrow and winding road which was littered with stores and restaurants the whole way to the entrance of the temple.
I was one of very few people heading up, most people were heading down as it was nearing the end of the day. I got to the temple by 5pm with an hour before it closed which was plenty of time to take it all in.To get to the main hall was another trek in itself, but there's some pretty amazing structures along the way.
The views were fantastic and the main hall is very impressive. It has a large veranda supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. Large verandas and main halls were constructed at many popular sites during the Edo period to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims.
After taking in the views and grabbing a few shots of the hall itself I had a look around. This independent Buddhist temple has hundreds of little shrines dotted all over the place, giving tourists the option to spend their money to try and get some good luck or have their wishes granted at every turn. Some were quite fun ...
My favourite was the Love Stone. Two stones set about 20-30 metres apart. The idea is to walk from one to the other with your eyes closed. If you hit the rock at the other end it means you'll find love. If you don't ... you're fucked! Weirdly enough it was couples taking part, photographing each other as they veered off course! Now ... I'm not superstitious, but I wouldn't want to jinx myself when I end up about 15 metres away from the 2nd rock!
After my stroll I decided to head back down as it was getting dark. On my way down I stopped at a cream puff store and treated myself to a custard cream puff (afterall, I hadn't eaten since breakfast so I deserved a little treat).
With an extra burst of cream puff energy, I headed back to the hotel to drop off my bag and go straight back out as I was going out for dinner with Saki, who is one of the Travel Angels based in Kyoto from Japan Experience who had checked me into their amazing apartment on my first night in Kyoto and had offered to show me somewhere good to eat. It's always great to gain the knowledge of a local because otherwise you end up with food poisoning after a dodgy sashimi!!
I met her down Kiyamachi Street, which runs adjacent to the river on the east side of the city. The street was really cool - it kind of felt a bit like Soho or Shoreditch; really funky little bars and restaurants. I wanted to explore more but it had started to rain hard and was getting cold. We headed to one of her favourite places called Ponto5 which backed onto Ponto-Cho which is a street I'm hoping to check out tomorrow (if I have enough time).
Ponto5 was a Yakitori bar / restaurant, and was tiny - a total of 8 seats which face the bar / chef! A lot of the bars and restaurants down Kiyamachi Street and Ponto-cho were like this. I swear my kitchen is bigger than this restaurant ... but it was awesome.
Yakitori means grilled chicken and is normally a type of skewered chicken. The term "yakitori" can also refer to skewered food in general. Kushiyaki (skewer grilled), is a formal term that encompasses items other than chicken which have been skewered and grilled. 
Their wasn't one word of English in this bar so I was in the hands of Saki, who explained what was on the menu and what she normally goes for, so this is what we ended up eating in the order the dishes were served (I'll be adding the Japanese names for each of these dishes once Saki has sent them over to me):

- Potato salad with sausage and fried onions
- Cucumber with soy sauce, white radish and seaweed with sesame oil
- Grilled chicken and onion
- Mincemeat chicken balls with ginger 
- Pork cartilage with pork 
- Green peppers from Kyoto with fish flakes 
- Grilled chicken neck
All were delicious apart from the one that probably stands out the most. The chicken neck was fine, a little stringy but tasted like chicken so I was good!

After a hearty dinner it was time to head home, which was quite an easy 7 stop bus journey from the end of the road.

So that's pretty much Kyoto done! There's a couple of places I'd like to go tomorrow if I have time, it all depends on how long my day trip to Nara will take.

Until tomorrow ...

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