Monday, March 26, 2012

Those Elusive Monkeys

Since arriving in Kyoto, all anyone seems to be going on about is monkeys. Apparently there's an area in the bamboo forest that's become a bit of a hot spot - wild monkeys live there and tourists turn up to feed them so they can have a good view. One American girl in my hostel said she'd enjoyed it so much that it was her main reason for returning to Japan.

Intrigued, a Canadian girl named Krista and I decided to make a day trip out there.

Getting Distracted

Whilst the Buddhist temples in Japan are undoubtedly gorgeous, they're also abundant. You can't walk through Kyoto without tripping over one, and the tourist maps point out around five per square mile. However one in particular does stand out: the Golden Pavilion in the North West of the city. It's a large temple with stunning gardens, wildlife and shrines but the highlight is a building set on a small peninsula that's coated in gold leaf, making it shine in the sunlight.

After climbing with great relief off our overcrowded city busy, we followed the crowds to the gate of this temple and paid the 400\ each to go in. We walked, chatted, took photos and sampled some extraordinary sweet green tea with gold flecks in it, which was I'm afraid being sold at an extraordinary price and was therefore left behind.

The Golden Pavillion (yes it's real gold)
So, while that was lovely an' all, we weren't much closer to finding the monkeys. And it was starting to rain. Krista attempted to unfold the various maps and guide books while I held our umbrellas up but we soon decided to dive into a nearby Cafe for hot teas and orientation..

Back on the hunt

All evidence suggested that there was a station nearby that would allow us to board a street car to the Bamboo Forest. Once the rain had eased off and the sun had returned, we marched confidently South in the expectation of reaching it.

Unfortunately, as so frequently happens, the direction we were marching in didn't seem to lead anywhere useful. Indeed we found ourselves leaving the main trail and walking through smaller and more residential streets with no indication of where a station might be found. Worse, the rain had returned - we were now fighting with our umbrellas and stomping through puddles with frozen hands and dampened spirits.

Whilst we didn't want our journey to be wasted, there was suddenly a great need to be somewhere warm and dry again. So we gave up and headed back to the bus stop where a crowd was already lined up for the next bus home.

A last minute change

The bus arrived and the queue began to move. At the same time, the sun once again made an appearance. Krista stepped out of the queue and peered at the approaching blue sky. "Should we stay?", she asked. "It's your call," I replied. So we ducked out of the bus shelter and, umbrellas back in their sheaths, resumed our journey Westward.

This time we kept to the main roads, ensuring that the North mountains were always on our right. We walked for quite some time before the grey clouds started to gather - this time we stepped into a convenient convenience store before the rain could start. As we took out our maps again, the shop suddenly became very busy so we browsed for a while and bought drinks.

I used the trusty Kindle to search for a Google Maps route to the nearest station, which was apparently less than 10 minutes' walk away. The rain passed quickly this time but we had somehow gotten slightly disorientated... the mountains weren't really visible now that we were in an urban area surrounded by tall buildings, so we initially overruled Google and walked in the direction that 'felt right'. But we were wrong and had to backtrack in the end.

A delightful surprise

Walking down a small road towards the station, we were impressed with the general character of the street which was low on traffic but full of people. As the road opened into a square we found a huge flea market selling second-hand goods and unusual snack foods. Krista set to work trying out anything that looked tasty while I rifled through some used Kimonos. I found one that I loved and which was actually long enough for my statuesque (in Japan!) physique and folded it into my backpack with a big grin on my face.

Flea Market on a Sunday in front of a temple
We browsed stalls selling Godzilla toys, theatrical masks, knives, silk scarves and all manner of nick-nack, and also found ourselves in the front of yet another temple sporting pink cherry blossoms. Once we'd been halfway round the market, we looked at our watches and realised there was less than one hour remaining before the monkey access would be closed for the day, if indeed it was still open given the sporadic rain. So we agreed not to bother - this market was more than good enough reason to travel to the area and we still had more to see.

Easier on the way back

As the stall holders started to pack their things, we walked on to the main road and straight into a bus stop serving buses back to central Kyoto. We boarded it, pressed ourselves up against strangers for the duration of the hour-long journey, and then walked back to our respective hostels satisfied with our lot.

The monkeys will have to be seen another day.


  1. Nice blog. You might like this cartoon about "getting organised".

    1. Thanks Carole. Bit better now though ;-)