Day 12 - Kyoto - Southern Hirashiyama

A slightly alarming start to the day when I find that one of my little toes has swollen to nearly double its normal size and is extremely painful to walk on - I thought I had just get blisters from my shoes yesterday but this was beyond blister pain. Not going to waste time crying about it though, so I don comfy trainers and hobble to the metro to get a train up to to Kyoto Handicraft Centre. Unfortunately the guidebook mis-labelled the stations on its map so we have a long and unattractive (and painful, for me) walk to the centre. Downtown Kyoto certainly isn't a beautiful place to walk around - quite bland and featureless with none of Tokyo's excitement and constant distractions - but at least the street names are better labelled than in Tokyo so it's easier to navigate.

The Handicraft Centre is a 7-storey superstore selling all kinds of local specialty crafts, and it also runs demonstrations and workshops. We signed up to a woodblock printing workshop and after a short instructional video with amusing American voiceover, we get to have a go. None of our attempts come out perfect but it's really fun and we get a nice handmade souvenir to take home. We then get shown how to sign our names in kanji script, and I buy a calligraphy pen. We have a look around the rest of the store and I buy a few professional woodblock prints - nicer than my own effort.

Our lovely handmade woodblock prints

It's raining again when we leave the craft centre, so we duck into a nearby cafe for lunch - then I realise it's Kaira's Cafe, one I'd marked on my map to visit anyway. It's a charming little place that feels like it's converted from someone's home - there are childish drawings on the walls, stuffed bookcases, and low tables with floor cushions to sit at. The menu is like a little hand-bound book with cute illustrations of the food with little smiley faces. The owner's grandmother even makes the sweets for dessert. The food is mostly vegan (all vegetarian) so for the second day in a row I have a huge array to choose from. I go for the set lunch; I've got really keen on getting lots of little dishes of mini treats to nibble at. The food is amazing and feels really healthy and restorative. We linger over a pot of roasted Japanese tea, and amazingly my foot feels a whole lot better so we decide to stick to our original plan of walking the Philosopher's Path, a scenic walkway up the hills starting at the Nanzen-ji temple.

Kairas cafe

Kairas cafe

The Nanzen-ji temple is really lovely; a huge entrance gate marks the start of the complex which contains several sub-temples, a small waterfall, and an attractive aqueduct with huge archways. Perched on top was a large grey bird (a crane, maybe?) who looked like he was just sat there posing for photos.

Nanzen-ji temple

Nanzen-ji temple

Nanzen-ji temple

As we leave and started walking towards the Philosopher's Path entrance, the sky breaks out into an amazing double rainbow behind the hills. The light is amazing and it's just jaw-droppingly beautiful. It more than makes up for the annoying stop-start rain showers of the day.

We start walking the path and immediately see two little cats on a bench by the side of the path - so sweet, one must only have been a couple of months old because he was teeny-tiny. They feel cold and wet from the rain and are very meowy - I hope they belonged to one of the nearby houses; they look clean and well-fed so I guess they are looked after. The path is really pretty, following a stream uphill lined with trees and the odd cafe and gift shop (there's even a gift shop dedicated to products all featuring cats). Near the end we see three maiko (apprentice geisha) walk past, seemingly on an errand - the first authentic geisha we've seen.

Cats on the Philosopher's Path

Maiko on the Philosopher's Path

Now feeling cold, tired, and a bit damp, we catch a bus downtown and find an Indian restaurant, Kerala, recommended in the guidebook. It has funny old-skool British curry house decor, but the curries are tasty, with lots of veggie options, just the thing to warm us up a bit. We finally see a more lively and city-ish side to Kyoto on the Kawaramachi road - the pavements are lined with lit-up covered walkways and it houses the big department stores Takashimaya and Hankya, as well as a Namco arcade we'll have to visit before leaving. it's quite surprising to see this area after our first impressions of Kyoto as so quiet, but I guess it is still Japan's second-biggest city. The night has turned freezing cold so we hop on a bus back to the ryokan fairly quickly.

Click here for all photos from this day on Flickr