“This place and this moment

Never cross again.

Each and every memory

Of good encounter, however,

Lingers on

Like the sound of a temple bell.”

~Yoshihisa Tashiro, Interpretation of Buddhist phrase, Ichigo Ichie

One day is clearly not enough time to spend in Kyoto. Japan’s former capital city is rich with more than 1,600 Buddhist Temples and 400 Shinto Shrines, dozens of beautiful and unique gardens and a history that dates to the sixth century. It’s an ancient city and a modern city and a place where simply wandering seems to be a favorite local pastime.

I knew I would fall in love before I even set foot there.

But the problem was, we only had one day.

Determined to make the most of our precious time, Herb and I turned to Yoshihisa Tashiro – “Yoshie” as he loves to be called – a private tour guide who agreed to accommodate our schedule and take us to the places I most wanted to visit. I had happened upon Yoshie’s video while doing research for the trip, and after emailing back-and-forth a couple of times, I had a feeling he would be a perfect fit for us.

Taking the Bullet Train

Our plan was to avoid the long drive from Kobe, where our cruise ship would be docked, and take the Shinkansen – or bullet train – to Kyoto Station, about a 30-minute ride. If we traveled by car, we would lose at least an additional hour of driving time each way. Just as we had done to prepare for navigating the Tokyo Metro, Herb and I watched YouTube videos on taking the Shinkansen – from how to purchase tickets to what the stations looked like to train etiquette. The difference this time, however, was that someone would be waiting for us, and we didn’t want to miss a minute of the day.

As soon as our ship was cleared for disembarkation, Herb and I practically sprinted to the port exit and found a taxi. We were hoping to catch the 9:52 a.m. train that would arrive in Kyoto just before our 10:30 a.m. meeting time. Shin-Kobe Station is relatively small and extremely manageable, and we easily found the ticket machines and platforms. We decided to purchase round-trip tickets with unreserved seats, giving us flexibility on the return time.

We headed to the turnstile and inserted our tickets, but the machine wouldn’t let us through. After a second attempt, a friendly Japanese passenger saw our dilemma and came over to check our tickets. He motioned for us to see an attendant at the ticket window. It turned out that we were supposed to insert two tickets each into the turnstile – we’d thought the second one was a receipt. With the proper fare accounted for, the door opened and we were on our way to the platform.

Herb purchases our tickets at Shin-Kobe Station.
The bullet train arrives at Shin-Kobe Station, ready for our journey to Kyoto.

The train was as impeccable as what we’d experienced in Tokyo. As we left the station, a conductor entered our car, stood in the doorway, faced the passengers and bowed before disappearing into the next car. The ride was smooth and didn’t feel nearly as fast as I’d imagined we were traveling – until I looked out the window. We later learned that the train couldn’t travel at its highest speed because it needed to stop at Osaka before reaching Kyoto. I took a short video to capture the beginning of our journey.

Meeting the Incomparable Yoshie

We arrived at Kyoto Station and then began the challenge of locating Yoshie’s designated meeting spot. After ten minutes or so of texting each other, we found Yoshie, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief that we’d made our way there just as we’d hoped. But before we set off on our tour, Yoshie reached into his bag and handed us his business card, which featured a poem of his interpretation of the Buddhist phrase Ichigo Ichie, the concept of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a moment, “for this time only.” I was extremely touched by this beautiful idea and Yoshie’s thoughtful words.

And then, like Mary Poppins pulling objects from her magic carpetbag, Yoshie again reached into his bag and presented us with two miniature origami cranes, carefully packaged in a cellophane envelope. “A small gift for you,” he said. “My wife made these.” He removed the cranes from their case and showed us how they open, the tiniest marvels and the kindest gesture from this extraordinary gentleman who would be our guide for the day.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

Yoshie’s paper cranes now occupy a special corner of my desk where they join other treasured travel mementos.

Soon we were off and running – almost quite literally. Our delightful guide turned out to be an amazingly speedy walker, navigating Kyoto’s streets with the ease and swiftness of someone half his age. Herb and I are fast walkers, but our pace paled next to Yoshie’s – and we later learned that he was older than we were! If I were going to see everything I’d dreamed of in Kyoto, I knew this was the guide who would get us there.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Yoshie hailed a taxi, and we headed to our first stop, Kinkaku-ji Temple, which translates as Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It had been drizzling on and off, and by the time we reached the temple, the rain was in full force. Before we left the ship, Yoshie had texted to make sure we had foldable umbrellas. Along with our jackets and waterproof shoes, we were prepared to walk through Kyoto in a downpour. Yoshie seemed to take the weather in stride, stopping at his planned spots to talk about what we were seeing and smiling as if the day were filled with sunshine.

Kinkaku-ji is a three-story pavilion surrounded by a pond on the grounds of the Rokuon-ji temple complex. In 1397, the site’s original villa was purchased by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died, his son converted the building into a Zen temple, as he had wished. In 1950 the pavilion was destroyed by fire, and it was rebuilt in 1955.

Even on a rainy November morning, the pavilion’s top two gold leaf stories shimmered in the daylight. We walked around the pond – the temple is not open for interior visits – and explored the grounds and gardens. I asked Yoshie if he’d mind stopping at the goshuin window so I could add another stamp to my goshuincho, which had quickly become my newest traveling companion in Japan. “I’m happy to,” he said with a smile. “I have three of these books at home.”

Kinkaku-ji Temple entrance.
Kinkaku-ji Temple in the rain. Yoshie kindly held my umbrella as we walked, to help keep my camera from getting wet.

The lovely gardens were awash in autumn colors.
Dragon’s Gate Waterfall is named after an ancient Chinese legend of a carp that leaps over the waterfall and is transformed into a dragon.
The White Snake Pagoda is dedicated to Hakuja, the White Snake – or White Dragon – who controls the waters of the complex.
I loved this old stone staircase and wondered where it might take me.

Our Japanese Lunch

Back in a taxi, we headed to a café that Yoshie had selected for lunch. We were on our way to the Arashiyama district and its famous Bamboo Forest, but Yoshie advised against having our lunch there. Arashiyama, he had told us, was so crowded that eating there would take too much time away from our tour. Instead, he took us to a small “off the beaten path” restaurant that was one of those places you only seem to find with the help of a local. It was charming and quiet and a great place for us to get to know each other.

Yoshie taught high school English in Kyoto for more than 30 years before retiring and starting his second act as a tour guide. His enthusiasm for sharing Japanese culture and history is second only to his gentle philosophical nature and his delightful  humor. I’m always fascinated when people who come from different backgrounds have a shared sense of humor. It’s a great leveler for friendship.

We looked at photos of the food choices on the menu, and with Yoshie serving as interpreter, selected beef bowls with rice and noodles made from yams. Our meals were served on small black trays trimmed in red with matching red and black dishes, chopsticks and a soup ladle. Everything fit perfectly together and was so neat and tidy that I almost didn’t want to disturb the setting!

My delicious Japanese beef bowl was also served with a side of seaweed soup.

On to Arashiyama

Our next mode of transportation was the local train. With Yoshie leading the way, we walked to a nearby station, boarded the train and a short time later, transferred to a second train. Arashiyama is located on the western outskirts of Kyoto and was the place I was most concerned about having enough time to visit. The local train experience is more like a trolley and a world away from tourists and the bullet train. It was a real treat to have a chance to see Kyoto from its windows. At one point, we passed an area that looked like Hollywood movie studio buildings. It turned out to be a theme park and movie set. Yoshie told us the area had been the center of Japanese film production before the pandemic.

One of the local train stations.
View from the front window as another train approaches.

The first place that Yoshie wanted us to visit in Arashiyama was the Togetsukyo Bridge, better known as the Moon-Crossing Bridge. The Kyoto landmark was constructed over the Oi River in 836, with present-day restoration completed in 1934. As the story is told, the bridge’s poetic name was inspired by Emperor Kameyama, who witnessed a luminous moon rising above the river, as if it were crossing the bridge.

Moon-Crossing Bridge.

We headed into the town of Arashiyama and the nearby gardens of Tenryū-ji Temple. The rain was still trying to decide if it wanted to leave or stay, drizzling one minute and disappearing into blue skies the next. Its indecision offered an interesting variation on the garden landscape, almost as if I’d taken the photos on different days.

The pond at Tenryū-Ji Temple in the rain…
…and a sun-filled reflection a few minutes later.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

As we reached the edge of Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, seemingly thousands of towering trees began to appear. Slivers of sunlight cast beams between the narrow trunks, painting an extraordinarily beautiful scene. Before entering the forest pathway, we stopped at a viewing point that Yoshie had selected to take a few photos.

The bamboo forest comes into view.
So happy to be here!
Our wonderful tour guide Yoshie.

I was thrilled to be walking through this enchanting world that had captivated my imagination when I first learned that such a place existed. I knew from my research that the crowds would be overwhelming, and I was determined to tune them out, concentrating instead on the sights and sounds of the bamboo forest that surrounded me.

I loved the way the light dances between the trees.
A serene view while looking up…
…and the reality when looking straight ahead!

At the end of the pathway, we walked through the forest – a neighborhood, really – passing private homes, persimmon trees and berried bushes that Yoshie said people plant in their yards to ward off bad luck. There was a shrine for matchmaking and another for dealing with hair-related matters. I would have loved to have stopped for more than a few quick photos, but we had another train to catch.

Persimmon trees.
Nonomiya Shrine…
…a place for women who want to find love or wish for children and a safe childbirth.

One More Destination

It was mid-afternoon, and there was one more destination to visit. The sun had finally decided to appear, illuminating Kyoto in a soft autumn light. Yoshie and his commentary were still going strong, and Herb and I were in awe of how much ground we had covered in such a limited amount of time. It had been a whirlwind of a day, and I was filled with that special kind of energy that seems to kick in when you’re completely focused on the moment at hand.

Back on the train – this time on one of the busy JR lines – we traveled to Kyoto Station, where we noticed a flurry of activity as we stepped onto the platform. The Hello Kitty train had just pulled into the station, and people were lining up to take photos. Yoshie told us that it’s an express train from the airport and encouraged us to head across the platform to get a closer look. Knowing that he was keeping a watchful eye on the time and train schedule, we heeded his advice – and soon we were off again to catch a train to our final destination.

Hello Kitty Train Kyoto Japan - the modern postcard
Hello Kitty in Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

It was a short ride to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, a place I’d wanted to experience as much as the Bamboo Forest. Known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, the shrine was founded in 711 and is dedicated to Inari, Shinto god of rice, sake and prosperity. The shrine is one of Kyoto’s top sites for visitors and is always open.

The torii gates magnificently wind their way through a forest along a series of trails leading to the summit of sacred Mount Inari. Yoshie told us that there are probably about 5,000, but no one knows the exact number. Gates are donated by individuals and companies as expressions of gratitude, with the donor’s name and date of donation inscribed on the back. And although they so seamlessly line up together, each gate is a little different.

Foxes are considered to be Inari’s messengers and are featured throughout the shrine. This fellow is near the main entrance.
Walking in…
Symmetry in vermilion.
Entering the torii gate pathway.
One last photo of the day!

“For this time only”

With the thousands of vermilion images behind us, we walked through the last torii gate and retraced our route to the train back to Kyoto Station. We had hoped to catch the bullet train that would arrive in Kobe at 5 p.m., allowing us a window of time to find a taxi and return to the ship before we sailed to Kōchi that evening.

Yoshie walked us to the turnstile, and we said our goodbyes. Although we’d only known each other since that morning, it felt as if it had been much longer, and I knew I was really going to miss him.

As Herb and I rode the bullet train back to Kobe, I thought about Yoshie’s poem on the unrepeatable nature of a moment. This had been our moment with him, our time in Kyoto, our one day. And as Yoshie says, the memories will linger on like the sound of a temple bell.

6 Comments

  • Lovely post! My first solo trip as a teen was to Kyoto. I was 16, traveling with my best friend via bullet train from Tokyo. We were quite the spectacle- she a tall California blond, me a redhead with hair to my waist….ah the 60’s! The highlight was going to a zen temple with a beautiful combed sand garden where one of the priests took an interest in us and gave us our first lesson in Zen Buddhism and living in the moment.

    • Thanks so much, Jennifer! I’m really glad you enjoyed the Kyoto tour. I love your temple story. Living in the moment…what a great lesson to be given at such a young age! The sand gardens sound really intriguing and will definitely be on my list for a return visit.

  • Another wonderful missive. We, unfortunately did not visit Kyoto but I now feel through your writing and observations that I at least was able to experience it in a small way. Thank you for bringing your wonderful experiences to life.

    • Josh, thank you! Kobe was a challenging port visit, with only one day and so many options for exploring Osaka, Nara and Kobe as well as Kyoto. Too much candy in the store window on that stop, but it gave us all another reason to hopefully return one day! I’m happy to have brought a little bit of Kyoto your way.😊

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