Moss and Sand Gardens of the Silver Pavilion and an Afternoon of Sweets

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Grey skies and rain set the tone of our sixth day in Japan, as we took the bus from the hotel to our first stop, the Hello Kitty Koubou shop in Northern Higashiyama. The shop was tiny but full of Hello Kitty goodies from handbags, pencil cases, hair accessories and very cute (if you can afford it) kimono-clad Hello Kitty dolls.

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We purchased this very adorable wall scroll then walked back down Imadegawa-dori towards Ginkakuji Temple.

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The temple’s name translates as the “Silver Pavilion” and although the pavilion wasn’t actually silver in colour, it was still magnificent, even in the rain.

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The sight of the impressive sand garden, known as the “Sea of Silver Sand”, greeted us near the entrance of the temple.

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We also meandered up through the charming moss garden, complete with ponds, trickling streams and small bridges.

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The walking path wound up a small hill, at the top of which we had a great view of the grounds below.

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We decided to take the walking route down the Philosopher’s path, which unfortunately was desolate, due to the weather and the fact that the cherry blossoms weren’t in bloom yet. We passed by the entrances of some shrines on the way, most of which seemed closed.

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Navigating with a vague map probably meant that we ended up wandering off the main walking route at times, but about 45 minutes later we eventually ended up near our destination of Nanzenji temple.

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The Sanmon gate at the temple entrance loomed high over the grounds and people were allowed access to the upper level of the gate to admire the view from the balconies above.

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Towards the Keage subway side of the temple grounds was a red, brick aqueduct, which did seem a little out of place amongst all the traditional structures!

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I followed the Lonely Planet’s write up about a small shrine called Oku-no-in that was hidden behind Nanzenji and assessable via a path that ran along the aqueduct.

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I took the detour to the shrine alone, and walking up the deserted path by myself in the rain was a tiny bit eerie.

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At the top of the climb was the shrine and a small waterfall.

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We walked back through South Higashiyama, hoping to try our luck at Jouvencelle again. Even with the rain, there was a queue with a 60-90 minute wait, so we headed for a patisserie called Gion Sakai. It was located in a little lane called Hanamikoji, which was just off the main road of Shijo-dori.

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Entering Hanamikoji was like stepping into a different world, with rows of traditional houses turned restaurants and stores lining the street and small alleyways. We found Gion Sakai, only because I recognised it from a photo I’d seen online.

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They had displays of delicious looking cakes, tarts and cookies.

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The lady recommended the butter and matcha baum cake and we also bought a beautifully wrapped box of cookies.

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The baum cake was moist, buttery, slightly sweet and the matcha flavour added a hint of bitterness that was just right. The outer layer had a thin sugary coating of matcha icing. It was so light that we pretty much devoured the whole thing in one go!

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We also had the cookies later, which were tasty and almost too cute to eat! It’s definitely a place we’d stop by again. The ladies were friendly, and my sister and I were tickled by the fact that they even had bags for the carry bags to protect against the rain.

In one of the small alleyways of Hanamikoji was a restaurant called Kinana, which I’d heard had really great ice cream.

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Luckily a couple was leaving as we got there, so we managed to grab the last available table in the seating area upstairs. We ordered the 3 scoop selection, of which flavours varied depending on the day. We guessed that the flavours were something along the lines of coffee, black sesame and honey. The ice cream was really fresh and creamy, and not too sweet.

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We also had the Berry Berry Kinana parfait, complete with cornflakes and a big fat cinnamon wafer stick. It tasted as good as it looked!

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Our late lunch stop was at the Nishikikoji branch of Ippudo. Boxes of condiments including beansprouts, pickles and ginger lined the bench tables. We ordered 5 pieces of gyoza, which came out golden brown and juicy.

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For ramen, we got the classic Shiromaru and Akamaru Special bowls. I did like the stronger, garlicky broth of the Akamaru bowl to the subtler broth of the Shiromaru, but they were both very good. The chashu was tender and fatty, and the egg with its salty, soft yolk centre was just heaven.

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Dinner was once again cheap but tasty bentos from Takashimaya. Only in Japan could you get away with salmon and meatball spaghetti in the same box!

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