By bicycle to the Golden Pavilion

For day 16 of #blogeverydayofjune, this is from  December 2007 when we last visited Japan.

Kamogawa bike path in Kyoto

It was the best day.

We checked out of our Kyoto guest house around 9.00 am. Our hostess Eimi-san presented us with gifts, which was unexpected and very sweet, and she stood outside the Hanakiya Inn waving goodbye as we dragged the cases up the hill to the taxi stand.

At Kyoto station we stashed the cases in luggage lockers, went to the ticket office and reserved seats on the 5.35 pm Hikari shinkansen to Tokyo, and now we were free for a day of cycling.

I’d drawn a map from the web site the night before for how to find the Kyoto Cycle Tour Project which is just a couple of minutes walk from the station. Once there we booked two basic bikes for the day – bikes without gears cost Y1000 ($10) for the day and as Kyoto is pretty flat we figured they’d be fine.  It does get a bit hilly as you get out to the temples so we probably should have sprung the extra Y500  for 7-speed bikes.

No bike parking!

So, armed with the Kyoto cycling map, we wobbled off down the street.

Kyoto, like any other Japanese city, has an amazing bike culture. Almost everyone seems to use a bike to get around, get to work, do the shopping, drop off the kids at school. The day before we’d seen one woman cycling down a busy Kyoto street with a kid on the front, another kid on the back, with two bags of shopping and holding an umbrella.

We had great workaday bikes with small wheels that had a very low centre of gravity. We soon found these great for weaving in and out of crowded footpaths. You could turn almost at right angles and stop to wait for a gap in the crowds to get past. There are bike lanes on the main roads and at street crossings, but most people cycle on the footpaths or the quiet back streets. Within a few minutes we were cycling like locals, confidently zipping on and off footpaths, out onto the roads, around vans and buses – which I would never dare do in Melbourne.

Along the Kamogawa bike path

Pretty soon we reached Keihan Gojo station, crowded with parked bicycles, and then headed north up the Kamogawa which has a bicycle path along the river. It was lovely cycling along the riverside with other cyclists and people out walking their dogs. The first person to pass us politely called out “excuse me” – in English – as he rode past.

North of Sanjo bridge the landscape becomes more suburban with lots of trees, and at this point we somehow ended up in the middle of a kiddy marathon run, with parents clapping us as we cycled past.

Northern Kyoto

At Imadegawa the river splits into two streams. We crossed the bridge and took the western branch. The cycle map showed a route from here to Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in the hills of western Kyoto.

From the river we headed west down Shimei-dori, a wide tree lined street with marked bike lanes, and found a convenience store for a toilet stop and to stock up on drinks and snacks. Almost all convenience stores have public toilets, which is very convenient! I recommend Family Mart.

Bikes parked outside convenience store

After a while we cycled down Kuramaguchi-dori, a typically narrow suburban street. We easily dodged around the odd van and car and, although we seemed to be going the wrong way down a one-way street, a policeman at the intersection cheerfully waved us through.

Nearing Kinkakuji, the uniformed guard waved us across to the temple’s bicycle parking lot where we parked our bikes among dozens of others. We had small combination locks included with our bikes that allowed you to lock the back wheel, but you couldn’t lock your bike to a pole or fence. However, everyone seems to only use these back wheel locks – and some bikes have integrated back wheel locks so you just park your bike and turn the key.

Kinkakuji - Temple of the Golden Pavilion

We approached the temple up a wide gravel path lined with red and yellow maple trees. Through the entrance and the golden pavilion appears, seeming to float above its reflection in the mirror smooth lake, surrounded by trees. It’s a magical view, and you can’t quite believe it’s real.

We wandered around the lovely grounds for a while, then headed towards the exit. There was a tea house here, with people sipping tea and eating snacks under red umbrellas and red maple trees, and then we found the fortune vending machines, including one with English fortunes. Wayne got an excellent fortune and mine was very good so we got to take them home as souvenirs. If you have a bad fortune you have to tie it to the bamboo fence so the bad luck blows away in the wind. We got a green tea ice cream, then fetched our bikes.

Tea house at Kinkakuji

It’s only a short ride further on to Ryoanji, Temple of the Sleeping Dragon, with its famous rock garden and a Tofu restaurant overlooking the lake and gardens.  But we needed to keep an eye on the clock so headed back the way we came, reaching the Kamogawa bike path again, then down some back streets near Imadegawa to a delightful lunch at Cafe Peace,  a vegetarian restaurant near Kyoto University.

The waitress welcomed us with hot towels and cold glasses of water, then we chose the daily lunch set… crumbed croquettes, brown rice, miso soup, several side dishes of vegetables and pickles, a small desert and organic tea.

After lunch we headed east down Imadegawa to Ginkakuji – the Temple of the Silver Pavilion – and then down a canalside path lined with cherry trees among traditional tea houses and souvenir shops and yet more temples. The path was ridiculously crowded with Japanese tourists so cycling was impossible. We veered off down some side streets and cycled alongside another canal, past a small temple in the hills until we reached the Kamogawa bike path again.

A bit of last minute shopping near Sanjo, coffee and a “choco cro” chocolate croissant at Cafe St Marc, then a leisurely ride through the back streets to Kyoto station where we dropped off the bikes.

Waiting for the shinkansen

An hour later we were on the platform waiting for the bullet train to Tokyo.

Cafe Peace closed in December 2007, just a week or so after we had lunch there. I’m glad we got to have lunch there one last time.

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5 responses to “By bicycle to the Golden Pavilion

  1. Aa, natsukashii! I enjoy reading about your travels, reminds me of my trips to Japan. Ruth aka @lewisr3

    • Hi Ruth, where have you been in Japan?

      • I lived in Tokyo for 2 years, and did my best to get around while i was there. I’ve been back a couple of times for short trips. Been to Hokkaido, but not Kyushu or Shikoku. I’d like to get to Shikoku one day.

  2. My father in law spent a lot of time in Japan. I hope I get there before my journey ends…..

  3. It looks delightful! 🙂

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