Day 10: Two Weeks in Kyoto
Since our last update, we have done many day trips to some of the surrounding cities. The first one we went to was Hiroshima.
It’s hard to describe what it was like. When you first enter the city from the train station it is like any other city in Japan. We took the tram/trolley towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It’s both at once peaceful and sad. The first view upon walking into the park was the A-Bomb building. Originally this was a government building that later became known as the A-Bomb building. This building was at the epicenter, or very close to, of the bomb blast and had an amazing amount of structure that was left after the blast. It is a silent testament to the devastation. We walked around the peace park and saw different memorials built throughout the years. One was devoted to college students, another the famous children’s memorial and other various ones.
At the center of the park are the long water fountain and the memorial tomb holding the names of those who died in the atomic blast. There is a flame that will be kept lit until that last nuclear weapon is disarmed. Behind this or in front of it is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. No words can describe the images and artifacts that were left behind. Parts of the museum were about the blast and the other parts were about the history of nuclear weapons and the need for the world to be rid of them.
We walked around the park more and made our way through more of the city. Along the way we stopped at Hiroshima castle, but did not go inside. Many of the historic monuments had to be rebuilt, so many of them weren’t really that old anymore. Some places were not rebuilt at all. After the stop at Hiroshima castle, we went to a garden nearby.
It was a beautiful area surrounding a small pond. This was a place where many people after the bomb went and took refuge. They rebuilt it and it’s now a very nice garden to visit. There were many little bridges and winding paths. There were also some cute turtles that couldn’t resist a photo opportunity. They just swam up and onto the rocks for some pictures.
Afterwards we headed back to Kyoto. There really wasn’t too much more to see in Hiroshima without spending longer time there. Most of the other sites were further out. Eventually, I would like to see Miyajima, an island close to Hiroshima.
Day 11: Kyoto City
We decided to go visit the north eastern side of Kyoto. This was where the famous rock garden Ryoanji is situated. This is experience also showed another great facet of Japanese people. We were around the university in the area and was not clear how to get to Ryoanji. As we were asking one of the students handing out pamphlets, another student overheard and said she would show us a shortcut. She took us through the university and walked us to the temple. It was very kind of her and cannot think of an example of that happening in the US.
In Ryoanji, you first enter through a garden and lake area. Afterwards you head up to the main temple. At the temple is the famous rock zen garden. It’s much smaller than I thought it would be. Otherwise it was very peaceful. Around the back there is a water fountain with the saying ,“ I learn only to be content.” I couldn’t resist and got a keychain of it.
Afterwards we walked around a bit more before heading back to the hotel to rest up. Later that evening we went back to the Gion district. At the Yasaka Shrine we were able to see the 3 sacred carriages that will be brought out for the Gion Matsurii. They were beautiful, ornate and very detailed.
We walked around more and headed out for dinner and stumbled on a chain called Ki-Chi-Ri. It’s like a tapas restaurant - very trendy and a younger crowd. It was a fun experience, which I’m sure you can tell from the photos.
Day 12: Fushimi Inari- Taisha and Day 13: Gion
Today we spent the morning switching to yet another hotel. After dropping off our stuff we headed to the south of Kyoto city. Here we went to the famous Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine. This is the place where those famous photos of the red torii gates are all together.
When they say there are hundreds of them, they weren’t lying. It took a good couple of hours to do the entire loop. This is not including some of the side paths that led to other shrines. Many of the shrines are dedicated to foxes and there are stone statuaries of these throughout. Fortunately there are many little stops for breaks. The pathways go up and around a small mountain, which meant a lot of steps going up. I liked going down a lot better! From one of the tourists I learned you can get a torii gate with your name on if you pay $5,000 - $15,000. The amount you pay denotes how large your torii is. We ran into a couple of cats along the way. I couldn’t resist taking many photos of them. We finished in the later afternoon and headed back to our hotel.
After that hike we pretty much stayed in and relaxed for the rest of the night. We slept really well! The next day we just walked around Gion and took in the pre-Gion Matsurii set-up. Each of the 32 floats are assembled a couple of days before the actual parade. Included are some photos from the Shimizu Ryokan we were staying at. I loved their decorations – many cute things!
Day 14: Nara
Today, we did another day trip outside of the city. We went to Nara (northwest of Kyoto?). Along the way to the train station we did see the firefighters working out. It was fun to watch.
Nara is famous for its large park with many free roaming deer. They also have the largest wooden structure in the world with a large Buddha sitting inside, Todaiji. It was an amazing site to see. You felt really small in that space. Interestingly enough, this was one of the few temples that allowed for photos inside. It’s one large Buddha flanked by two smaller gods/goddesses. There is also a pillar that has a hole in the middle bottom. It is said that the hole is the size of the Buddha’s nostril and if you go through it you will attain Enlightenment. Interesting enough, I think all the kids who went through will succeed in that! Hint – go through with your arms over head first. We made no attempts.
Anyways, the whole area was beautiful and it was peaceful to walk around. Peaceful that is until you had food in your hands and the deer went after you! Haha. This area really has a lot of free roaming deer and every so often you will come upon a stand that sells deer cookies. Closer to Todaiji there are several stands and the deer seem to know if they stand there long enough they will be fed by the many tourists there. They even seem to know when they can and cannot cross the street. They also have no fear of people. I had no food and yet I had five nuzzling me. The back of my shirt had plenty of deer drool on it from them chewing it thinking it was food. > .< Thomas with a cookie, got one to follow him around. Earlier, while we were feeding a group, the one decided that our map of the area was food. We played a bit of tug of war with it. We both got a piece!
We stopped briefly at the Sannin-ji, which is the oldest temple in Nara. They had many stone lanterns lining the way - probably an eerie site at night.
After Nara we stopped off in Kobe (famous for Kobe Beef). There wasn’t much to do there and unfortunately we didn’t try any beef. We walked around a couple of blocks and then headed back to Kyoto.
Day 15 and 16: Arashiyama, Toji and Katsura Imperial Villa
The next two days we again did some day trips. We first went to the Sanjusangen-do temple, which houses 1001 statues of the Buddhist Kannon (Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon). The temple site is similar to others, but walking in the main shrine area was very impressive. There is only natural lighting from the paper screens and one can only think how it would look at night. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos inside the building.
From here we made our way to a city outside of Kyoto called Arashiyama. They are known for the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo Grove. We first went to see the bridge and walked up along the river. There was a ride we could have taken down the rapids, but we didn’t think it was worth the price. Along the river we came upon the entrance towards a park. A famous Japanese actor had apparently built a home here and it’s now a park/museum. We skipped this and headed for the bamboo grove. It was very beautiful and interesting to walk through. From here we headed back to Kyoto.
We stopped by a nice restaurant a block away from our hotel. It seems like a place the locals like and the people are very friendly. There was one foreigner, perhaps exchange student, who was there. Later I saw him there again on another night talking it up with the same chef. That concludes day 15 and off to day 16.
We had made an appointment a while ago to see Katsura Imperial Villa, one of the few places we wanted to see on our trip. However, since we could not go in until the afternoon, we explored the south side of Kyoto first.
We stopped at the Toji Temple, a five story pagoda, along with two temples housing impressive Buddhist statues. Apparently this is the highest pagoda in Japan. It was surrounded by a nice pond/garden area. By the time we were finished here we made our way back to the train station and headed to Katsura.
Katsura was a villa completed in the 17th century by the emperor’s brother. It is surrounded by tea houses and a beautiful pond and garden. This place is tightly restricted and only allows 20 people at a time to go through it. Sadly, Thomas and I could not go through together, so we each had to wait an hour for the other.
The area is very beautiful and no matter where you stand you will always get a different view of the garden. It was built so that each time you move around the pond or stand in a different place something else will be revealed to you. They even planted a pine tree at one point to block the view of the pond so as not to spoil it for the visitor. A worthwhile place to go visit.
Day 17: Gion Matsurii
For now I will hold off on this until there is more time to write an appropriate entry. There is just too much to say.
Day 18: Last Day in Kyoto
We pretty much spent the last day in Kyoto at the new ryokan that we moved to for our last night. This place is one of the oldest ryokans in Kyoto, dating to over a hundred years old. The other oldest one is right across the street. We used it to relax and just to catch up on some much needed rest. The highlight of this stay, was a traditional Keiseki dinner (traditional Japanese meal with multiple dishes). There are no words to describe it, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I should add it took about 2 hours to eat all of this and each one dish was brought in one at a time to eat.
Day 19, 20 and 21: Osaka
The last three days in Japan before we headed to Hong Kong was spent in Osaka. This is another large city, similar to Tokyo. We went in the morning from Kyoto to Osaka on another Shinkansen. It took about an hour to get there. After checking in at the hotel, we made our way to the Osaka Bay area to check out the aquarium.
The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the world’s largest aquariums in the world. It’s tanks represent the Pacific Oceans different water life. You go up to the top and walk down around a ramp and it slowly takes you from the land further down into the ocean’s depths. The main attraction, were the two whale sharks in the Pacific Ocean tank that is 9 meters deep and filled with 5,400 tons of water. There were so many different animals here: penguins, dolphins, sea otters, colorful fish, ugly fish, giant spider crabs (creepiest things ever), jellyfish, etc. I don’t think I took enough pictures.
After going through the aquarium, we walked around the bay area a bit more. We went on the ferris wheel, which use to be the largest one in the world or still is. It was fun, but a bit scary at the same time going up, down wasn’t a big problem. We got some nice shots of Osaka.
The next day we went to explore Osaka Castle and the surrounding area. Having gone to old castles, temples and shrines, the castle was not what we expected. Mainly because on the outside it looks like a traditional castle, but on the inside it had been completed remodeled. It had gone under renovations earlier, but we were not expecting the museum and modernization that had been done (stated somewhere was that it was the only “castle” with an elevator). It was very informative, however, with the crowds and the number of tourists groups it was hard to really enjoy.
Before Osaka Castle Museum, we stopped at the Osaka Museum of History. This had some nice exhibits and displays about Japanese history as well as Osaka’s own history. This was probably one of the best museums I have seen in terms of the miniature models of daily life.
That was pretty much it for Osaka. There really isn’t that much to do or visit. From here we flew to Hong Kong and
spent the next week in Hong Kong and China. So for now a goodbye to Japan.