“Can I please have your autograph?”

Are autograph books still a thing? My precious book in the 80’s and 90’s had gelati-coloured pages with gold edges, and I was so excited to have a bunch of car drivers’ signatures (Keke Rosberg, Niki Lauda) gathered by my dad, and then the scribbles of celebs I’d met in my early days of radio (Harry Connick Jnr, Samantha Fox). But I guess they’ve been taken over by celebrity selfies?

Well I have a brand new autograph book, and I’m not collecting celebrity signatures. I’m collecting stamps from the Shinto and Buddhist shrines we visit across Japan. Thanks to my sister-in-law Tamsyn, who visited Japan last year, I have a gorgeous green covered “Goshuin-cho”, or “Honourable red stamp note book”, which I take to little offices on most temple sites and ask politely “goshuin onegaishimasu”, or “stamp please”, and hand over 300 yen.

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Today in Kyoto, we added a few more stamps into our book, and looking at the map of our area, there are many more potential autographs to collect!

If Tokyo taught us about modern Japan, about kawaii, about trains, and how Japan’s city-folk live; we’re looking to Kyoto to school us in history, tradition, and WHY Japan is the way it is. We are staying in a “machiya” a wooden townhouse, right in the heart of old Kyoto, Higashiyama/Gion. We are on a tiny lane-way, where old ladies nod us “konnichiwa” on their way to the market, and a long-legged crane (who we’ve named Dwayne) wades through a creek a few steps away. There are traditional paper and pottery shops, restaurants, corner stores and lots of lane-ways similar to ours. And the best bit…we’re about a 10 minute walk from some of Kyoto’s best temples.

Our day started at Sho-ren-in Temple, the girls resplendent in their Harajuku-bought frocks. Apart from a couple having their wedding photos taken, we were some of the only ones there.

Shoes off, we wandered over the tatami mats, and through the various rooms, then strolled through the garden (I loved the little piles of rocks at one shrine), and let the calm serenity take over…

…and I stalked the wedding couple. Just a bit though.

Next stop was Chion-in Temple, which was undergoing repairs, so we didn’t enter, but the outside was a collection of buildings and garden spaces, and the largest bell in Japan, which weighs 70 tonnes, and is rung by the temple’s monks 108 times on New Year’s Eve. (Wearing ear muffs I hear).

We walked through Maruyama Park, where these two temples are housed, then it was Kodaiji Temple’s chance to be immortalised in my “honourable note book”.

Around this area, it started to get quite touristified. Tourist shops, tourist prices, and tourists! Luckily a high percentage of them were girls dressed in kimonos (you can hire them for 3000 yen a day to parade about in), and a lower ratio of tour groups in 3/4 pants and sandals ruining my photos, so I was pretty happy with that. The buildings were old wooden tea houses and geisha entertainment quarters, and are now gift shops filled with souvenirs, green tea treats, and arts and crafts.

The crowds were here for Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a spectacular hilltop affair with soaring views over Kyoto. Hardly tranquil, it was buzzing with activity, and visitors from Spain and Italy to China and the Philipines (I love listening out for languages and accents). Oh yes, and the Americans. You could hear them over everyone else.

We were a tad templed out by this stage, so didn’t pay the admission fee, but enjoyed the panorama, people and atmosphere. A change of pace tomorrow. We’re visiting a Ninja Park. Off to do some stretches…

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