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Updated: Oct 3, 2019

Inspiring Japan Travel Stories
The main villa in Okochi Sanso garden

In memory of Lee, who believed in magic and miracle.

The dark cloud was hanging over Kyoto as downtown lights gleamed like a Geiko's mysterious charm. Kyoto is an elegant lady from the past. She is charming and calm. Rain sprinkled, and the wind swayed Sakura trees along Gion district as I walked past fancy souvenir shops and restaurants. Tourists in colourful floral-motif rented kimonos were patiently queuing in front of a street-food shop selling grilled rice dumplings on skewers. Smokes from charcoal grills filled up the air. It must be one of those reviewed by social media influencers, and YouTubers on their tips for Japan trips or their famous quotes on best places to go in Japan. The last cherry blossoms were dancing in the air, caught by street lights. In the distance, right at the end of Gion-Shijo where I was standing, The main gate of Yasaka shrine looked grand under the spotlights. Its roof emerged with the dark sky, and red-painted wooden frames decorated the white gate wall. The shrine has been the Gion's guardian for 1,350 years. So it says. Kyoto captivated me with its graceful beauties.

In the morning, from my hotel room window, Kyoto station neighbourhood was unattractive; bus terminal, hotels, rushing pedestrians, and shinkansen zipped through the elevated rail lines. The station shopping arcade was packed with travellers, and Kyotoites started their daily lives. You literally must queue to buy food or get your seat in a restaurant or even a coffee shop--just like what I was after at the moment. Japan tested my patience, and in fact, I wasn't patient enough. I walked off the queue. Ignoring my caffein need, I rushed to the checkpoint gate to catch the train to Arashiyama station. Along the way to Arashiyama, I couldn't wait to see the beautiful bamboo grove that has become a sensation in any travel books and social media.

As I got off the train with dozens of tourists at Arashiyama station, Tokyo's mild weather greeted me like I was a long-gone family member, sympathetic and enthusiastic. I lined up with other tourists through the side checkpoint gate to hand out my JR Pass. And here it was, hot and cold drink vending machines were just staring at me as I got out of the station. When I thought Japan was mistreating me with its crazy long queues, I fell in love with their sophisticated vending machines. I don't need to queue for these little ones. All I got was impatience and some gold and silver coins in my pocket. My travel budget reached the daily limit quota. Coins inserted, and there was nothing more precious than getting a can of hot coffee from a vending machine.

The towering bamboos were rustic green with accented yellow. Branches danced to the soothing wind composing the song of burning logs. I was standing on the footpath under the shades of majestic bamboo stalks. Sunlight reluctantly pierced through branches and leaves. Tourists with selfie sticks were trying to get any snapshots they could here and there. Man powered rickshaws shooshed dozens of tourists away. Arashiyama bamboo grove has become the main tourist attractions for social media selfies. At the end of the bamboo forest walk, I stumbled upon a slopy, concrete footpath. Under the tree canopy, I walked up the path. On the hilltop of the track, a lady in uniform didn't speak a word as she handed out the ticket. It says welcome to Okochi -Sanso garden.

Away from the bamboo-grove tourist circus, I was sitting on the square bench wrapped on a red table cloth. I looked up at an elevated wooden villa, sipping a bowl matcha tea under the gentle sun. The villa, built initially by Okochi Denjiro, a famous silent film actor, was surrounded by a breath-taking garden. The villa overlooking Arashiyama is one of a kind in Kyoto. Footpaths leading to the unknown were inviting you to another world. The garden, rather than it challenged and obstructed the land, it was built following the native land structure. Delicate, green mosses carpeted the soil among the trees with layers of multicoloured leaves. Each footpath was a short journey to the hidden shrines and rustic tea houses, and at one point, on the hilltop overlooking Arashiyama town. It is the garden where quietness is a gift from nature. The garden where beauty is a sanctuary for a soul from the troubled world we live in.

I left Okochi Sanso garden only to envy Denjiro-san but also thanked him for opening the door to the secret garden. I paced through the bamboo grove. The photogenic, bamboo grove was no longer in my mind.

Inspiring Japan travel stories
The path of philosophy

From the Ginkaku-Ji temple, there was a footpath known as the path of philosophy that leads to Nanzen-Ji temple. It's approximately two kilometres and takes about 30 minutes to walk between the two (Ginkaku-Ji temple and Nanzen-Ji temple). Cherry blossoms fell on the dark water along the canal. There are many tiny shops and restaurants along. I could only imagine when Nishida Kitaro, a well-known Japanese philosopher, was walking the path and meditating on his daily commute to Kyoto University. There is something about the path of philosophy that makes you not to rush but saunter and breathe, and give your time to think of nothing. In a way, it is a meditation. There are only a few tourists who chose to walk and occasionally cyclists the path of philosophy.

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Nanzen-Ji temple from San Mon gate

I looked up at the majestic San-Mon gate. Tall, slim trees branched out, canopying the courtyard with multiple shades of green. I could only imagine how autumn looks like; brown, gold and yellow. From the top of the gate, Nanzen-Ji temple was standing tall and dark. Lines of trees in the front were standing tall as if they were guardian soldiers to the temple.

Dozen of tourists were queuing orderly in front of the entrance, storing their shoes in shelves. The dark wooden floor squeaked as a Japanese tour guide was describing to a group of tourists in Spanish. I assumed she explained the name of the room and its function during the Nanzen period. Walking past different tea room through the hallway finally led to the garden. There was a spacious terrace overlooking the garden with Karesansui, the dry gravel Zen. Nanzen-Ji temple garden is the place where you can simply rest your troubled heart and leaves it to the moment.

Inspiring Japan travel stories
Nanzen-In Zen garden

Sitting on the wooden step overlooking the gravelled yard, I imagined myself sitting next to the honourable Daimin, the founder of Nanzen-Ji temple. His words echoed: Do not let past troubles catch in your mind, nor future fears. Live in this moment, this place in pure mind without regret, and each day will be a good life.

Inspiring Japan travel stories
The poster found on the wall of Nanzen-In Zen garden

And his words were indeed invigoratingly enlightening.

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