Grab a Hot Chocolate and get comfy, because this post is super long. Yes I mean its that ridiculously long. This is where we spent the bulk of our vacation so its a biggie. I added a bunch of pictures to the post to make it less painful and the green is whenever I wanted to add something in without it getting confusing.
We left early from Nikko, and caught the hostel shuttle to the train station which was some guys red minivan. After a short ride through the countryside of Japan we eventually arrived in Tokyo for our transfer onto the Shinkansen to Kyoto.
We got our tickets, did lunch at a Chinese restaurant (which for the record are completely different from the North American conception of “Chinese food”) and were a few minutes early for our train. We get into the shortest line, all excited that we might be able to sit together, and not have to stand for the 3 hour train ride. We get into the traincar, find seats, sit down, get settled in, and are all content. After we started moving, a cute little Japanese voice came on the intercom and said, “If you wish to smoke, please do so in Car Number 3.” We then clued into why everyone around us smelled like cigarettes, and had their packs out waiting for that announcement.
Side note from Paul: As I came on, noticed that everyone smelled like smoke but figured that its Japan so that will happen. I then look around to see someone lifting a cigarette to their mouth just as we are hearing the message saying to smoke in car 3. Well I quickly stare at the car number and ya, we are in car 3! Crap! I then leave Amie with our things because between the two of us I am the more pushy and therefore more likely to get through to a pair of seats. I quickly made my way down and up the three carts finding nothing and was dreading going back to the smoke capsule. After lowering my standards for seats I found us two seats that were a row apart, which led me to hoping we could just hope that one person from one of the rows would empty out before we got to Kyoto, which they did so we were happy. Okay, resume story…..
The train took longer to get into Kyoto than we expected, and after hauling our stuff around we were tired so we had an early night, and the first of what Paul likes to call our “7-Eleven Dinners.”
We got up early and went on the Kyoto bus to Northern Kyoto to see Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. It was a gorgeous temple! The grounds paled in comparison to how beautiful it was. It was funny to watch from my (Amie’s) perspective all the photographers vying for a spot whenever the sun would peak out from behind a cloud, and make the temple shine.
Side note: Yes I was one of those people waiting and muttering under my breath at the clouds. I did end up with the picture I wanted so I am happy.
Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion).
It was here that we also got to participate in an abbreviated tea ceremony. Paul actually liked this green tea!
Paul had read about a temple in Eastern Kyoto (Tenryuji Temple) with a cool bamboo forest near it. We went there next and found it, but couldn’t find the bamboo. The temple itself was neat and has one of the best preserved and oldest gardens in Japan so that was reason enough to check it out. After we bought our tickets for the temple and wandered around we found a patch of bamboo and went out the back exit, hoping that it would lead to the forest, which it did.
The Sgen Pond in Tenryuji Temple’s Garden.
Evidently the forest was free, and behind the temple grounds. The path was really cool.We walked it and got semi-lost trying to find our way to the Togetsu Bridge. Aside from the Temple, there was no direct way of getting to the forest that didn’t involve walking through the side streets of rural Kyoto.
Side Note: After the temple we made our way across to Eastern Kyoyo to check out a traditional craft making thing Amie wanted to do. When we got there it was a complete bust. The craft making was as we had feared completely for children which was a bummer but we did end up buying something in the complex which entitled us to a free bus shuttle to our hotel, and since we were the only ones on the shuttle, was a direct bus trip home! This is the part where Amie feels sick and takes a rest. I had grabbed a local advertising magazine and before Amie passed out I had gotten her preference on cultural things in the magazine that we could do assuming they were all available. This was of course a huge gamble as most things like that are (and were closed) during the New Years holidays.
I (Amie) got sick from accidentally eating a Gyoza with meat in it for lunch, so we were out of commission for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Things happening while Amie was asleep: I make my way downstairs to harass the front desk into calling our places to see if their open at all in the next few days. The #1 choice was a private cooking lesson with an older Japanese woman who can teach you how to make traditional sweets, full meals, basically something traditionally Japanese that you want to make. They said she wasn’t open so we called the other 5 places, all of which were closed. Now I was satisfied with the last 4 because I actually saw him call them. The first one said in the article that she could only be contacted by email and her entire advertisement was in English so I figured that might have confused him and he didn’t know what to do. I decided to email her myself from their computer in the lobby and hope for the best, It was worth a shot at the very least.
I might as well talk about my side quest for a drug store now too. Which Amie was sleeping I made my way through the entire Japanese assortment of convenience stores down our street: 2 or 3
Lawsons, a 7/11, a Family Mart, and a Circle K before concluding that I wouldn’t find medication in any of them. At the last Lawsons I used my little bits of Japanese combined with what English the guys in the store knew to find a small family run drug store about 5 or 6 blocks over from where I was (which by now was a good half hour walk from our hotel). I eventually make it out past 6 blocks and while crossing the street on a pedestrian walkway to check out a grocery store I saw, I noticed that under the crosswalk was a small drug store on my side that I had missed because the stairs to the crosswalk covered it! I make it back, go in, show the guy where it hurts, demonstrate that I feel sick and could vomit, use my book to ask what he recommends, buy it and go home, stoked that I finally found something. I woke Amie up, drugged her up, put her back to sleep and was on guard to wake her up again at 12 to celebrate the New Year but fell asleep. We both did manage to wake up and say happy new year sometime before 1 but we definitely both fell immediately asleep till the next day.
The next day we went to Nara for the Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world.
On our adventure towards the temple, we found out that Nara’s totem animal was a deer, because they were everywhere. I was going to guess but I thought I should look it up. There were at least 1200 deer in 2005 so there is probably a little more now. They were somewhat entertaining at first but the smell and annoyance of being constantly nudged in the butt sours you to these guys.
So why deer? Here is what Wikipedia says:
“According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, a mythological god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō. Since then the deer were regarded as heavenly animal to protect the city and the country.”
These “messengers of God” would follow and nudge you if they thought you had food. We did a little bit of Japanese sweet shopping, more like stabbing in the dark and grabbing random sweets, not knowing what they were. It was fun!
Later on, went back to Kyoto, and decided to check out the shopping district to find a good place for supper. It was here that we had some good yakatori, and a crazy tofu mushy soup, all with help from my (Paul’s) Japanese ability. It was really handy having some phrases worked out before hand, otherwise, we would have been eating some pretty interesting things! Mmm tenticles, carrion and cartilage, wait, we did have cartilage! We went to Southern Kyoto the next morning, bright and early to check out a Torii tunnel Paul wanted to see in the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
The temple was actually completely packed with people. It was still in full New Years celebratory mode. I got a hot dog on a stick, It ruled!
The late morning and early afternoon was spent doing the Philosopher’s Walk in Eastern Kyoto. It was a route walked by a professor at Kyoto University every morning on his way to work, and now commonly used by couples going on a romantic stroll. There were some really fantastic old temples and buildings along the way that tourist’s didn’t know about. We also found a couple really cute shops, including one that made me really happy. Everything in it hung from the ceiling, and was floating. It was all mobiles, origami, and dainty little artisan crafts. She also found a Cat that made her equally as happy.
Paul worked hard at finding a place or something to do that was traditional Japanese culture. He found a little old lady named Emi who runs Japanese cooking classes out of her home. Needless to say she was adorable and taught us how to make some really good traditional Japanese sweets. Whenever we would be doing something, she would always get me to help out first, rather than Paul. She was funny.
Yes, the lady emailed me back and we got our #1 choice, which worked out as none of the other options were even available. Once she found out that I can’t cook she basically focused completely on Amie and I became the taster, which worked out excellently for me. I also agree that she was funny.
Cooking with Emi.
Later that evening we went to the Gion district to see if we could spot us a Geisha. Instead, we got swept up into a huge crowd of people doing their first temple visit of the year, and eventually ended up where we had wanted to go the previous night for supper. One of the ladies at the hotel front desk told us about a street right by the river that is all restaurants in the traditional Japanese building style. This street, or alley had about 100 restaurants, all so different and so appetizing. We ended going to one place because they had tempura, seafood and an English menu. It turned out that for the New Year supper, they had a limited menu of many courses. We selected the tofu meal. So many different kinds of tofu, prepared in so many ways! It was all so fantastic, and all so filling! I’m pretty sure we had to be rolled out of the restaurant to go home!
Thats basically everything we did in Kyoto. If you are still reading good for you! Tokyo will be a fifth of the length, I promise!
Heres the pictures: