That Time I Was Attacked By a Hawk in Kyoto for an Olive

Unnecessary but Cool Details that Led to this Impressive Life Achievement

The Kyoto National Botanical Gardens is a little bit off the regular track beaten to a pulp by millions of people pouring into Kyoto from all over the world. Japanese people love Kyoto even more than we do, and it was one of my favorite places in the whole country. While I have lots of tips for a Kyoto visit, I think this was in the top three best places.

Whether it was because of the rain or because of the out-of-the-way nature of this place, not many foreigners seem to go there (which may account for the lack of English signage that you will later see caused me much pain). It’s peaceful and I’m sure it’s beautiful year-round. I went in spring, but I would love to return in Autumn someday, because they have a maple tree forest.

Perennial Garden

I started in the Kamogawa gate and had a miserable time, because it was a perennial garden (not a fan) and the weather was rainy, cold and dismal. A really great bonsai garden kept me looking, though, until I was soaked to the bone. I took shelter briefly in the small greenhouse, which costs 200 yen more. When it stopped raining, I decided maybe I could try to see the rest and not waste my money. Thankfully, the best was to come.

Passing a stunning rhododendron garden, a dew-frosted rose garden, and a gorgeous fountain garden, I eventually found myself in a small bamboo forest. I walked through the maple trees, which were just green,  but surrounding a beautiful lake. The frogs were singing; a testament to how wet it was. It was a short walk to the Kitayama Gate, where the “incident” took place.

Even after the “attack,” I still managed to walk through the Conifer, Ume (plum), and Cherry Gardens, catching a glimpse of the small Nakaragi Shrine inside the park. Unfortunately the blossoms are only for a short time, and not in May, but early April. On the upside, the sun did dry my clothes out and I got to see everything in the park. Still, there is always room for improvement.

If I went again, I’d enter through the Main Gate and go straight until I hit the shrine, turn towards the Kitayama Gate, and eventually come full circle. Basically, I’d do almost everything in the reverse direction. I’d also spend more time in the greenhouse, which means getting there before 3:30pm (the greenhouse closes at 4:00pm). And I would defiently NOT EAT ON THE BENCHES.

That Time I Was Attacked By a Hawk in Kyoto for an Olive

As you can imagine, after seeing most of these beautiful gardens I was feeling a bit peckish and not at all willing to give up the little picnic I had made for myself in exchange for $12 pizza that would only be the size of a small sandwich. I cracked open some cheese, crackers, olives, dried meat, and generally pretty expensive stuff I bought from a foreign goods store and sat right on top of a bench with a large sign that apparently said (though only in Japanese) “the hawks will eat your face.”

Sure, it had a bird on it, but being unable to read kanji, and there not having been a single sign in English despite being at a tourist destination in Kyoto, an international city… well, I like to place blame on fate rather than my own stupidity.

Here I am, enjoying my snack, and just then raising an olive to my mouth on a spoon. I was so excited about this very overpriced olive. Suddenly, there is a blur and something has clearly hit me in the face. At first, I had no idea what. The olive is gone, but the spoon is still there. It took me a whole minute to realize I was bleeding because I was too busy looking up into the sky at a huge bird flying away. I didn’t feel the pain of the cuts for a while, but I could feel that something had smacked me pretty hard in the face. It was pretty sudden. In a slight daze, I stumbled to the ticket booth at the gate.

All of the women immediately crowded my vicinity and served me green tea until I calmed down. I was pretty freaked out, but not by the pain, which wasn’t too bad at all. I was ultimately left with just a tiny scar on my lip (having visited a doctor the next day and gotten some healing gel) and a bad story. I wrote them an English sign that I hope they got around to posting up one day. If you visit the Kyoto National Botanical Gardens, you should definitely stick to their overpriced food. And yes, I still love hawks.

Some Additional Info

For those who want to go, the price of the gardens is 200 for adults, 150 for students, and free for all elementary and junior high aged students, as well as senior citizens. They are open from 9-5, but the conservatory is only open from 10-4pm. They are only regularly closed for Japanese New Year’s (Dec 28th-January 4th). Take the bus, because parking is a whopping 800 yen ($8). The bus should be bound for either Shizuhara or Ichihara, and you should disembark at Shokubutsuen-mae (Kyoto City bus #1 also goes to the gardens). Apparently you can take the railway, but I don’t know how exactly. The garden seemed perfect for families, because there was a visitor’s center, two cafes, and a playground. Be prepared to spend quiet a pretty penny though (or get attacked by hawks) and a good deal of time, especially in April or Autumn.


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