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Friday, November 24th. The weather is just wonderful. It’s somehow fresh, but the sky is blue and the luminosity more than promising. We decide to make a tour and try to capture a few photos. The Kôyô season (fall foliage) has been at its peak for a few days now and with the good weather, it’s an opportunity rare enough that we can’t miss it. A quick coffee and we jump on our bicycle, direction the Anraku-ji Temple. It’s already a bit late, but we have not yet visited it this year.
The Path of Philosophy
As we live in Higashiyama, just south of Gion, it takes us less than 30 min to reach the Path of Philosophy by bicycle, our first stop. This is a place not to be missed during the spring when all the Sakura (cherry) trees lining up the canal are blooming. Now, it’s almost completely deserted. Still, a few spots with maple trees display beautiful colors and are well worth a quick stop for a photo or two. A coffee shop in an old traditional Japanese wooden house on the way immediately attracts me. It’s in the middle of a bunch of yellow, orange and dark orange (just short of red) leaves. The light isn’t the best, but the scene is really nice.
We then lose our way, trying to find a shortcut to reach Anraku-ji, and find Ootoyo jinja, a little shrine lost on the edge of the hill. It is also called “Nezumi (rat) Shrine” for its “Koma-nezumi” standing as guardians instead of the typical “Komainu shrine guardian dog”.
After this little stop, we reach the Anraku-ji Temple. A couple of photographers are waiting in front of the flight of stairs, camera in hand, for the last visitors on the stairs to move from the scene. Of the four persons present, three go down and leave quickly, but the fourth one hesitates to enter the gate at the top of the stairs, looks around, takes his phone to snap a photo. We look at each other, still cameras on hand, and smiling. We all have the same thought and wish for the visitor to hurry. He then watches his photo slowly and takes his time to go down the stairs. We are now seven photographers patiently waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and as soon as the fellow leaves the scene, the shutter noise of several cameras start.
Unfortunately, as I thought, we arrived too late and the photo is missing what makes this spot so special: the stairs have already been cleaned and there are no leaves around! n addition, it looks like we can wait a few extra days for the actual peak of the Kôyô in this temple.
The Honen-in Temple (one of my favorite places in Kyoto) is right next door. Here also, three photographers are waiting in front of the Sanmon gate (the entrance gate) to be clear of tourists. Three persons are on the stairs, ready to enter the temple grounds. But they stop at the gate, to look at the inside of the grounds and take a photo. I found their silhouette interesting and capture them. They then enter the place and we can all take our photos and go inside the temple. As soon as we pass the gate, we can see the other side of the situation — a group of photographers is waiting for the scene to clear on the inside. Well, I quickly take a couple of shots, but afterward, I realized that I should have taken the photographers themselves.
Inside the temple grounds, all is quiet, as usual. There are few visitors here except for the photographers and some people coming to see an art exhibition. This is one of the iconic scenes of Kyoto during the fall season and this place attracts a lot of photographers. Here also, it is a bit early in the season and the colors, while beautiful and rich, are missing some tints of orange-red.
The same situation repeats itself again. Everyone wants to capture the gate inside the leaves of the surrounding maple trees, but without anyone. The scene is empty and I capture a few shots from the left side, with and without an attendant cleaning out the fallen leaves with an old broom. I then move toward the right side for a different angle. As I get ready to capture another photo, four persons appear at the gate. Three of them quickly move in, but the fourth one looks around, admire the scene, move on the side, pull out something from her bad — an iPad, and start taking photos. Photographers around look at each other! I chuckle and the guy next to me laughs. And we wait. After taking the photos, the person at the gate (or shall I say, in the middle of “our” scene) starts to look at them. This lasts for some long minutes. As soon as she walks in, the noise of the shutters starts again.
After Honen-in, we quickly go to see the writer Junichiro Tanazaki’s grave. His spot is under the shadow of a beautiful cheer tree that is amazing in April. Today, the sight is quite austere.
Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion
Next, we arrive at Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. It’s beautiful as ever and more crowded than ever. The sky is blue and clear and the sun provides a brutal light that makes taking any photo difficult. I’ve been in this temple a number of times and have taken a lot of photos. This time, I try something a bit different, some low angles, a few details of red leaves on the green moss. Three attendants are cleaning the pond where visitors throw small coins, and this is another interesting shot, maybe. The sky is not only blue, it is very clear and from the high of the temple grounds, we can easily see on the other side of the city the large kanji “Dai” (Chinese character for “big”) indicating the location of Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion.
Our next destination is the small Koto-in, a sub-temple of the large Daitoku-ji temple complex. It’s located about 6 km away, on the north-west part of the city. On the way, we briefly stop at the Gosho Imperial Palace park (Gosho Gyoen) to see how the Gingko trees are. We failed to find a very large one I took photos of last year, and the only one we do find is just not very spectacular. The clock is turning and the sun is getting higher. Going north on Horikawa Street, a line of gingko trees separating the traffic lanes is worth a quick stop and a couple of photos, but the weather is changing and the light suddenly absent.
When we arrive at Koto-in, we found out that the temple, another one of the most beautiful places in Kyoto for its garden during the fall, is closed for renovation, and this until March 2019. This wasn’t indicated on their website and we are quite disappointed. All I can shot is the entrance and then another small temple nearby.
I then try to capture the line of gingko trees just outside a walled temple (Ryusho-ji Temple), but I just cannot get anything interesting. The light is either too violent or absent. Sure, I should know that just after noon is not the best of time to take photographs, I do take a few photos of the ancient wall that I found quite interesting.
Next stop, the Imamiya Shrine located just at the end of the street. It’s a very large and quiet Shinto shrine, with a lot of interesting details. We’re lucky as two couples in traditional wedding kimonos are being taken in photos. Needless to say, I invite myself to the photo session, and after asking for the authorization, I’m able to capture a couple of nice shots. Walking around, I found another couple of unusual subjects, a Lion statue in front of a small maple tree, a small shrine with a nice red colored tree and a lovely tori. The sun comes and goes, and the scene is either under a light that is simply too strong or without any relief or life because of the almost complete absence of light. I turn around and try different angles to find some acceptable light condition.
Last, we seat down to eat some “aburi mochi” for which two old shops located at the entrance of the shrine are pretty famous for. Both couple and their photographers are also taking a break here.
This closes the half-day tour and we take our bicycle to return home.