Riding the Yak back to Kyoto

Oh it was good to sleep in! Alex woke up early, then went back to sleep and we barely made the hotel checkout time of ten am. When Alex awoke the second time it was with a “woof” and a cheeky smile as he pretended to be a dog.

Then we crossed over to Izumoshi station to go and see the single major sight of the city: the Izumo Taisha shrine. We intended to catch the private Ichibata Dentetsu railway line there, but the station attendant pointed us to the bus instead.

The bus route followed the river canal most of the way. It would have made for a pleasant cycle ride. As we neared the shrine area we passed the old Japan Railways station, itself built like an impressive shrine. An old steam engine stood near it.

We were dropped off in front a torii at the entrance to the shrine. It is one of the oldest and most important shrines in Japan and is home to Okuninushi, the god of marriage. The other gods also get together here each year.

We strolled up the front park toward the shrine, admiring the beauty of the landscape, though is was not a Japanese formal garden. There were a few statues of interest. We noticed a group of garners using whippper snipppers to mow then lawn when a single ride on mower seemed much more practical. Make work?

The main shrine building is undergoing a rebuilding, but the are a number of other places of interest in the complex. The main halls are dominated by the huge twisted ropes of straw. Behind looms an impressive backdrop of cypress pine forested hills. A couple of ceremonies were taking place inside the halls, with loud drum beats and whistling flutes.

Alex played with the water cascading down a sculptured support pillar for one hall and complained loudly when we had to take him away. But we were in a little bit of a hurry as we had a long journey ahead of us.

Rather than catch the bus from opposite our arrival stop we walked down the main street. There we found the Ichibata railway station. Parked there was an old electric railcar that we had seen on numerous posters around Izumoshi, the Bataden. It was like one of Melbourne’s old red rattlers. And look, the trains were running to Izumoshi. We bought tickets, and then set off to find some lunch in the half hour interval before departure.

Our search took us all the way back to the shrine park entrance, to a tiny restaurant with a western theme inside. We ordered spaghetti bolognese for Alex’s benefit and tonkatsu and only just finished them in time to race back and catch the train.

Sadly it was not the Bataden that took us back. Instead we had a more modern electric train, changing once for Izumoshi. Still, it was more fun than the bus. I would have enjoyed going all the way to Matsue on this line.

Another wait at Izumoshi for the Yakumo Express to Okayama. We caught this train last year and I ended up doing much the same thing as then, humming to a whinging Alex in the train vestibule.It’s a magnificent journey as the train follows a wide river up into the forested mountains and down the other side. Tiny villages of a few houses and maybe a couple of shops clinging to the edge between the mountainsides, the road and the river. What I assume are limestone mines burrowing into hillsides. Rice paddies wherever than can bit fit in. Stone walls and bridges. I throroughly recommend this trip to anyone who loves beautiful rail journeys.

A Shinkansen then took us, with a happier Alex, to Kyoto Station. We then had to lug our heavy bags up and down stairs as we caught the subway to Karasuma Shijo and the Toyoko Inn there. We checked in, dumped our bags, then set out again to find dinner.

Behind the famous Pontocho-dori with its expensive and traditional riverside restaurants and the odd maiko, apprentice geishas is the less salubrious Kiyamachi-dori with its girlie bars and izakaya bars. If you can ignore the, mostly quiet, touts, it’s quite a pretty street besides which a shallow canal runs.

There is an all you can eat shabu-shabu restaurant along Kiyamachi-dori. That was our destination for tonight. Alex and the rest of us ate our fill of beef, pork sausage and vegetables dipped in boiling broth and sauces. There is all you can drink soft drink and grapefruit sorbet for dessert.

A pause now of a day in Kyoto, not enough for this endlessly fascinating city, then Tokyo.

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