The town is the centre of Japan's Buddhist tradition and home to the largest Buddhist cemetery in Japan. We stayed in the Eko-in monastery, a deeply spiritual place where we were received graciously by the young monks who lived in the monastery whilst completing their religious studies.
The highlight of our stay in this incredible place was our night-time tour the Okunoin cemetery with a monk called Nobu. It is hard to describe Nobu other than to say he radiated spirituality and peacefulness. He guided us through more than a mile of gravestones, with careful explanations of the Buddhist tradition to which he had dedicated his life; dealing with the complexities of subjects as vast as forgiveness and enmity with true grace.
Finally, he took us to mausoleum of Kobo Dashi, a much revered monk who is believed to still be meditating beneath the ground, over a thousand years since he first began his communion with the Gods. As Nobu asked us to close our eyes and say a personal prayer whilst he prayed for us, I could truly feel the holiness of this very special place.
We arrived in Kyoto at approximately lunch time and after a sad goodbye to Eric the Toyota and a much needed hot shower in our Airbnb we set out to explore this wonderful city of contrasts. It is impossible to describe all our wonderful experiences in Kyoto but indulge me in setting out my top two:
- Sunset in Gion - Gion is historically Kyoto's Geisha district. Its winding streets used to be home to traditional Japanese tea houses in which the Geisha entertained their clients; now they are filled with little shops selling delightful Japanese eats (matcha cream cone - umm ... yes) and modern Japanese women dressed in traditional kimono carrying selfie sticks and experimenting with life as their grandmothers may have experienced it. Truly a clash of cultures. We stood at the Temple at the top of Gion and watched the sunset over this fascinating place.
- The Temples of Northern Higashiyama - Northern Higashiyama is an oasis of calm. You wander through the cobbled streets, with sunlight dappled by cherry blossom shining upon you and happen upon temples with gardens of mossy stones or perfectly manicured trees. Holding hands with Sam walking through such a setting was like being in a dream. I particularly loved a tinytemple (the name of which I shall never know) where we stumbled across an exhibition of modern Japanese art; full of brightly coloured figures holding balloons beneath a starry sky. It very much summed up my mood.