Our Japan Trip

June 29, 2008

Kyoto (written on June 28)

Filed under: Japan Trip — Andy Mayer @ 7:16 am

Today was your basic sight seeing day in Kyoto. I neglected to mention in my post yesterday that there is a strong police presence in the city right now due to a meeting of the G8 foreign ministers. There are streets blocked and police in riot gear standing guard in various areas. It’s a bit spooky.

Last night’s sleep in the ryokan was a bit fitful. After one day in a bed in the past eight, I’m ready for my memory foam mattress topper back in Chesterfield. Tokyo Disneyland looms on the horizon, where we’ll be in a hotel with real mattresses/beds. Yahoo!

I began the day with a trip to the traditional Japanese bath in the ryokan’s basement. In a traditional Japanese bath, one washes themselves first and then sits in a Japanese bath. Sounds simple, right? Well, first, when you leave the changing you room, you walk into the bath with your wash cloth. That’s it. Then, the washing is done sitting on an upside down basin, looking into a mirror with a bunch of other people doing the same thing near you. Then the bath itself is so hot that when you move it hurts. I don’t know if it was the hottest spa I’ve been in, but it was close. Since the hotel is small and has a low occupancy rate, I was by myself, but you can imagine if it’s crowded. Oh – I forgot to mention that men and women are separate.

Breakfast was a traditional Japanese breakfast, which mean sitting on the floor with a low table and no Frosted Flakes. In addition to green tea, we had rice and seaweed, some cold scrambled egg (picture it in a rainbow mold), miso soup, poached salmon, salad with ham and a bunch of other things that neither I, Joey nor my nephew Aki can remember. Sorry.

Then we headed out for the day. We made two stops: Kiyomizu and Kinkaku. Both are old temples that are set on spectacular grounds. As this is a Saturday, both areas were crowded with locals and tourists.

Kiyomizu is at the top of a very long and steep hill – and I mean a long and very steep hill. It was as if someone, back in the day, said “Let’s build a gorgeous temple at the top of a mountain so that only those people who are really serious about religion will make it up here.” Or – as Beth put it, maybe it was built in a valley and an earthquake made it a mountain. Perhaps.

On the way up to the temple, you run a gamut of souvenir stores and restaurants. Just like Miyajima yesterday. Odd how that happens. We saw one store that offered a bunch of spiderman materials, but the owner refused to let me take a picture inside the store. I’m still not sure why.

Kiyomizu itself is fantastic. It overlooks all Kyoto and is a tremendous architectural feat, built on these large wooden timber stilts. Once you get to the temple itself, you still have a long walk ahead of you to get through the buildings and the grounds. There are several shrines at which you can pray or make an offering of incense. There is also a natural spring from which you can drink and make a wish. I understand why my sister says it’s her favorite temple in all of Japan.

Kinkaku is called The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It’s not as scenic as Kiyomizu in terms of view, but the landscaping is extremely beautiful. The temple sits in the middle of a lake and is indeed very gold. The grounds are well kept, and there are several areas where you can contribute funds to the temple and make a wish. We let the kids use coins up to 10 yen (about 10 cents), but wouldn’t go higher, so eventually we ran out of coins.

By the time we got through Kinkaku it was close to 3:00 and was raining. We stopped in small restaurant from some soba and udon (types of noodle soups), before heading back to the hotel. After another trip to the Japanese bath, it was dinner time.

My sister, brother-in-law and I wore our Yukata robes. Yes – not all Japanese robes are kimonos. We again sat on the ground with a low table. If my memory serves me right, dinner included: shark fin soup with a big chunk of tofu, eel on a bed of pickled eggplant, shrimp and eggplant tempura, sashimi (tuna, sea urchin wrapped in yellow tail, octopus), some fried whitefish, assorted pickled vegetables, shrimp cooked on a bed of pickled vegetables, miso soup, rice, fruit for dessert (honeydew, grapes, watermelon), and some sort of green jellied stuff that I couldn’t get up the courage to eat. Beth and I also added some Asahi to get everything down. I have to say it was extremely tasty and very filling. I’d do it again, if it wasn’t just ridiculously expensive.

One more night here in Kyoto and touring tomorrow before we head back on the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Monday morning, we’re up early and off to Tokyo Disneyland before coming back to the US.


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