Day 5 (17 June): Kyoto and surrounding suburbs

Today we had another busy day in Kyoto's suburbs.

First stop was Kyoto Central to pick up our JR rail passes, which will give us our unlimited train travel for the next week.  When we went out onto the main platform we were surprised by a huge crowd of people, corporate mascots (in typical cute Japanese style), models dressed up as geisha's and officials handing out flags and holding banners. What was going on?  We were just in time to see the Twilight Express arrive along with hundreds of onlookers and news helicopters. This is Japan Rail's newest train and is their equivalent of the Orient Express.  One whole carriage was a single suite complete with king size bed, its own sitting room and even a bath!  Look it up http://twilightexpress-mizukaze.jp/en/index.html.  This is our new win-the-lottery journey.

Once that excitement was over, we took the local train out to Fujinomori Shrine.  June is hydrangea season in Japan and this shrine had a spectacular hydrangea garden sheltering under the branches of enormous camphor laurel trees.  We also spent some time watching a Buddhist blessing for a new born in the temple.  It was a delightful experience, even more so because we were the only Westerner's there.

We have mentioned before how each shrine in Japan has an animal mascot. Fujinomori's is a horse.  The vending machine even neighed like a horse when it delivered our water!

From there we returned to Fushimi Inari (the Red Temple) which we visited previously when we were in Kyoto for New Year's Eve in 2015/16.  Last time the place was in full party mode with thousands of visitors. Today it was much easier to walk under the thousand red tori gates without the crowds. It is one of our favourite temples with the fox as it's animal guardian.

In the afternoon we travelled to the north east of the city to the Philosopher's Path.  This is a delightful stone path alongside a small canal which winds for about 2 kilometres alongside houses and temples.  The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan's most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.  This was a beautiful and tranquil walk, with more hydrangeas in flower.  In spring the cherry blossoms bloom and in autumn the maple leaves will change colour and the walk would be different again.

At the end of the Philosopher's Path is Gingaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), another UNESCO World Heritage site.  The garden is set on a hill which has an expansive view of Kyoto and is full of more maple trees and azaleas. It has some spectacular sand structures including a two metre sand cone and we wondered what happens to them when it rains.  Some poor monk would have to spend hours rebuilding them.

When we last visited Kyoto we went to Kinkaju-ji, aka the Golden Pavilion. It was breathtaking. The Silver Pavilion is modelled on the Golden Pavilion, yet was never plated in Silver and remains painted brown, which is a great example that something plain can still be beautiful. The gardens are one of the best examples of Japanese landscapes.

Today was our last day in Kyoto.  We love this place!  We returned for a second visit and will come back for a third.  There is still so much to see and we will time our next visit in the autumn when the landscape shows is many autumnal colours.

We will post photos of today's adventures later.