Kyoto and the Toji Temple Market

Both a bit shattered, Mia and I are currently watching Spiderman 2 in Japanese on the television in our hotel room. I think it’s time for another cup of tea, perhaps – along with some more almond chocolates.

Right, tea sorted. Update time.

Yesterday was epic. We awoke at around 7am to get ourselves sorted and on the way to Kyoto. One of the things Mia really wanted to do while we were here was buy some kimono fabric – and a bit of research made it clear that the optimum place to do that was a temple market. It turns out that one of the largest and most well known of these occurs on the 21st of each month at Toji Temple in Kyoto.

We took the JR line from Osaka, and arrived in the absolutely stunning JR Kyoto Station. Stepping out through the main entrance, our first task was to get our bearings. Thankfully, the Kyoto Tower across the road was marked on the map, and was due North of the station. The temple is to the South West, so we made our way around the station and headed in what we figured was the right direction. The closer we came to Toji Temple, the greater the crowd moving down the footpaths.

The multi-storied pagoda on the temple grounds was the final confirmation that we were in the right place, oddly out of sorts with a skyline dominated by traffic lights and power poles. As we joined the masses within the temple grounds, the comparison with our visit to the Nippombashi Street Fiesta was rather apparent. In the few days we have been here, one of the most prevalent themes has been contrast – and these two large public gatherings are a perfect example.

We browsed the many pretty things on offer, ate okonomiyaki from one of the food stalls, Mia bought a kimono, we ate takoyaki from another of the food stalls, we browsed more, Mia bought two more kimono, we ate tasty sweet bean-curd filled waffle things that were shaped like fish, and we found a magical candy stall.

One of the really amazing things was how the presence of this vast and hectic market didn’t take away from this being a place of worship. People threw offerings into large wooden boxes, burnt incense, lit candles and wrote on prayer sticks. Monks entered the main temple building through a side door. Mia pointed out how much the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ live side by side here, and somehow it just works.

Marketed out, we needed two things – a coffee, and some idea of how the bus system works in Kyoto. We knew that for 500 Yen you could get an all-day bus pass, but we had no idea of where to get one from, or where exactly the buses ran around the city. We figured our best bet for achieving both our needs was to go back to JR Kyoto Station – returning the same way we came. First stop was coffee, and it was clear from the building directory that the place to go was the 11th floor, with its “e.a.t. Paradise”.

The top floor of the station department store was full of expensive restaurants, and impeccably dressed probably wealthy people who didn’t blink in patronizing them. There was a cafe with staff dressed in what appeared to be cruise ship uniforms – they had encouraging pictures of their coffee, and seats – we were sold. Precisely what we were sold were two cappuccino (lattes) for 580 Yen each. We’d made a pact not to convert prices into NZ dollars, but we couldn’t help but consider that these were basically $12 coffees. Entirely drinkable, the uniformed staff were lovely, and we got a chance to rest our feet – we weren’t complaining, just a bit mystified.

After a brief visit to the roof of the station with its Happy Terrace, we made our way down the escalators back to the main entrance. Conveniently enough, pretty much directly outside was a bus information & ticketing building – after working out which counter we were meant to go to, we soon had both all-day passes and a bus route map with English bus stop names. We successfully deciphered which bus left from which platform, and were off into the city.

Our afternoon was largely spent just wandering through some of the small residential streets – trying to work out if the amazing buildings inside walled areas were temples, shrines or people’s homes. We met a friendly cat, drank BOSS canned coffees (Mia’s ‘Rainbow Blend’ was much nicer than my ‘Cafe au Lait’), and eventually headed toward Kyoto Castle. After walking around its perimeter moat, we discovered that we were in fact 20 minutes late for the last admissions for the daytime – so decided that we might come back for the night viewing later, but for now would find dinner.

Coco Izkaban curry came to the rescue, and we feasted on tonkatsu, mushroom curry, mango lassi and prawn & seaweed salad. Once again we rested, recouped, and planned the last part of our day trip. Mia’s main goal in Kyoto was the temple market – mine was the Higashiyama Hanatoro – an annual Lantern Festival through the streets of the East side of Kyoto. Incredibly full of curry, we made our way back to the bus stop to head over to what would be the most perfect experience in our trip yet.

But it’s now time to sleep, so I’ll have to come back to that later on – along with this afternoon’s trip to some of Kobe’s sake breweries with a big group of Couchsurfing members…

Published in: on 23 March 2009 at 12:42 pm  Comments (3)  
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