Shrines, temples, temples within shrines, shrines within temples, they are everywhere we’ve visited, especially in this city and nearby Nara. Many Japanese consider themselves to be both Shinto and Buddhist, which explains the mix of practices. To show respect, wash hands before approaching a shrine. Toss in a coin, bow twice, clap twice, pray, then bow again. Cleanse in incense at temples, then bow once.
We wrapped up our organized tour in Kyoto, spending a couple sight-filled days with our new friends. With four extra days, Nancy and I took a couple side trips and saw a few more sights in this comfortable city. With a population of about 1.5 million, it’s not overwhelming like Tokyo.
April 7, 2017 – Torii Gates and Bamboo Forest
We took a short local train from Kurashiki, then a Shinkansen, arriving in Kyoto late in the morning, finding warmer, but mistier weather. After checking into our hotel, we walked back to the JR station, a huge complex, first going to the top for a cloudy view of the city (Team Stairs beat Team Escalator to the top, guess which one I was in). We had ramen for lunch, ordering from a machine. Mine came with a side order of rice and chicken that was better than the main dish. From there, we took a subway and walked to see the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, with 10,000 torii gates and numerous small shrines dating back centuries. That may not be an exaggeration; we walked through hundreds of vermillion gates, but not nearly all of them. What an amazing place! With more time, I would climb to the top of the mountain.
When I saw Mari pull a cute, facecloth-sized towels from her bag, I realized why these are for sale everywhere; almost none of the restrooms provide towels, conserving paper to help make up for the excess packaging on most purchased items. We took a subway and train to our next stop: the bamboo grove in the Arashiyama district of western Kyoto. Mari challenged us to come up with a haiku about the bamboo forest, here’s mine:
Leafy green columns
Dark and peaceful in the mist
Unseen birds chirping
Another our walk, I had another yummy crepe served like an ice cream cone, served from the side of a small van. Back in town, we picked up dinner in the Isetan basement, salad and a mango smoothie. Nancy and I had a bit of a challenge getting connected to WiFi and had to arrange a call from an English-speaking tech specialist.
April 8 – Temples, Tea Ceremony, and Farewell Dinner
Beep-boop, beep-boop, chirp, chirp-chirp, beep-boop, beep-boop, chirp, chirp-chirp, … these sounds are found at every signal we’ve encountered throughout Japan. We heard them throughout the night in our hotel room across from the train station. (Window opened to get some air). We were pleased to discover that breakfast was included, though this time it was a very crowded place with a much smaller selection than our first hotel, in Tokyo.
After our meal, we took a subway to the Gion district and walked from the Chion-in Temple (shrouded in construction cloth) to the Kiyomize-dera Temple. Lots of cherry blossoms, bringing lots of people. We then split up and headed in a few directions. I had hoped to return to our hotel for an afternoon break, but that was only wishful thinking since our morning excursion took longer than anticipated. Instead, I hopped on a bus back to the Gion District with Marty and Dori. We crossed the river, had lunch, walked through a shopping district, then caught a subway to our rendezvous spot at the T10 subway station. Nancy caught a cab with Raj, Katy, and Alana to go knife shopping.
We reconnected for a tea ceremony at the Hosomi Museum, a welcome, peaceful break in our otherwise too busy day. We learned how to prepare, serve, and drink green, powdered matcha tea. From there we headed back to our neighborhood for a farewell dinner – sashimi, tempura, roast pumpkin, and tofu. We had considered a night of karaoke, but were all too tired. I dropped everything and crashed. Packing could wait until morning.
April 9 – Goodbye Hugs
Mari air-dropped photos she’d taken along the way, we confirmed email addresses, and gave everyone a final hug. Some are heading home, some have a few more days of travel. I’ll miss Marty’s and Raj’s humor, morning walks with Dori, Mari’s great smile, and everyone’s good company. May you all have safe travels; perhaps we’ll meet again. Nancy and I headed to the train station to visit Nara, followed by side trips to Hiroshima and Miyajama (see earlier posts),
April 11 – Back from Miyajima
We stopped at a 7 Eleven on our way back to our room in Kyoto where we picked up items for dinner and breakfast, my standard: yogurt and a rice ball (onigiri, often triangular and wrapped in seaweed). These convenience stores, and another chain called Family Mart, are all over the place.
April 12 – Cherry Blossoms, Temples, and a Castle
I woke up early, as usual, wrote a bit for my blog, then headed out for an early walk before Nancy got up. I returned to some of the sights we saw a few days ago, covering in reverse our path from Kiyomizu-deru Temple to Maruyama Park, enjoying the lack of people.
I returned to our lodging, anticipating a leisurely final day, but Nancy had a burst of energy so we walked to the Nijo-jo Castle. It wasn’t raining, but I had to dig out a couple warmer items from my suitcase. Though also surrounded by a moat, the architecture was totally different from the castle we saw in Matsumoto. This one was a whole complex of low buildings with murals of tigers, trees, and birds. The restored entry gate was amazing.
From there we caught a bus to the Kinkakuji Temple, a.k.a. Golden Pavilion. We arrived at closing time, hoping to avoid crowds, but that wasn’t possible. Fortunately, visitors are separated from the pavilion by a pond and we were able to appreciate it in the afternoon light that broke through the clouds.
I was exhausted when we boarded a bus for a 45-minute ride back to our neighborhood, so I was happy to get a seat. We had our last Japanese dinner, more sashimi than anticipated, such as in our salad, but satisfying. According to the health app on my phone, I walked 10.5 miles, a record for this trip. Before I started, I worried that I’d get out of shape for my next big adventure, hiking in the alps; instead I averaged over 15,000 steps a day!
April 13 – Home Again
Our alarm went off at 5:00 and the taxi arrived promptly at 6:00, whisking us to the bus station in five minutes. We took an hour-long bus ride to the Kansai airport. After spending my last few yen on novelty yummies, I realized that I left my carefully packed bag of breakfast and plane snacks on the counter. Fortunately, Nancy found an onigiri and bag of the crunchies I’ve been enjoying, small rice crackers mixed with peanuts, at a place that accepts credit cards. (Many places accept only cash, unlike in Iceland where credit cards could be used for everything).
On the flights home, we had a layover in Seoul, I finished reading, 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Cathy Davidson, a series of interesting observations about the culture based on her experience teaching English there in the 1980-90’s.
I’m going to miss Japanese toilets, the kind with warm seats, not the squat ones. (I’m going to put one in my bathroom when I remodel). I’ll also miss cherry blossoms (of all varieties), sculptured trees, bowing merchants, quiet voices, Japanese gardens, torii gates, wafts of incense, the peacefulness found at many temples and shrines even when crowded, robust and reliable public transit, fresh sushi, peach water, and strawberry mochi. I won’t miss crowds of people, ugly, utilitarian buildings, prefab bathrooms that stub my toes, futons (we slept on the floor about a third of the time), tofu or noodles. I look forward to a soft bed, affordable fresh fruit, and seeing my friends, family, and cats.
P.S. When I got home, I was surrounded by a whirlwind of obligations and commitments, a common occurrence for me post-travel, so it took a while to get this last post out. Now I need to start work on a slide show.