After wall-to-wall conference, I decided it was time to see a little of Kyoto. After all this was once the capital of Japan and the remnants of that dynasty, in the form of temples, palaces, castles and gardens are scattered like jewels across all of this beautiful city. 

My previous night’s text enquiry on the best things to see had elicited a mere single response from the other 12 in the team (boy, talk about out of sight, out of mind). Mind you, my suggestion that I would welcome any company had elicited precisely zero responses. So, in summary, my team’s cumulative advice was that I should see the Imperial Gardens and on my own. Don’t sugarcoat it guys, give it to me straight.

By mid morning I was ready – panama hat, fake Raybans, pink flamingo shirt, tablets and camera. If there was a Wikipedia entry for ‘tourist’, I was its very essence.

Just as I was leaving, Jean emerged from nowhere. “Sightseeing?” She asked.

Half an hour later we rolled up at the Imperial Palace. It was blisteringly hot. And the ubiquitous gravel, whilst perfect for zen gardens, reflects the heat like a solar furnace. Despite plenty of bottled water, we still found ourselves hopping from one patch of shade to another, resting where we could.

The place was strangely free of tourists. Bizarrely our first encounter was with our own director of research. You’re in for a treat he said then reeled off several things to look out for. We walked on. “Oh, and you’re going the wrong way round“ he said. We were.

So few tourists. But their place seemed to have been taken by Japanese schoolchildren. One small group advanced of us holding a piece of paper that read “We are Japanese school children learning English. May we ask you some questions? It will take no more than 10 minutes.”

In actual fact, the interrogation lasted less than two minutes. Jean and I managed to give them our correct names (it was very hot). “Where are you from?“ they continued. Logical sequence, good work, I thought. We offered them “Tunbridge Wells” and “Florida” although it came out as “Tunbridge Wells in Florida“. They will struggle to find that on the map. The third question “What is your favourite Japanese sport?“ had us floored.  “Sumo“ I volunteered. Jean nodded. Yes, sumo. The children wrote it down and nodded respectfully but seemed unconvinced. No further questions followed.

The gardens of course were breathtaking. But in a strange way they had airs of Disney about them. They seem almost self-parodies. Each bridge fits perfectly into each landscape. It’s all about views. And harmony.

We were back at the hotel by late afternoon. Just in time to rehydrate properly before the evening’s musical festivities. But that’s another story.

Specifically it’s tomorrow’s story.


Kyoto diary 6. Sunshine and sumo.