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  • 2012 Japan Trip, Part IV

    Posted on July 16th, 2012 Michele Sun No comments

    Wed, Feb 29th, waking up totally recharged after a good night’s sleep, thanks to all the walking yesterday and that nice dinner. Today we were going to spend the whole day, and also our last day in Japan, to explore Kyoto. We would take our time to experience and  appreciate this cultural and historical city instead of rushing through places, so we  had only planned to visit  couple places that I think Max  absolutely should not miss.  Though the cherry blossom season had not started yet, I was hoping that we would find ourselves drown in gorgeous cherry blossom today as well. There are so many places to see in Kyoto if you are into history and ancient culture, but unfortunately we did not have much time for that. I guess that would leave us something to look forward to in the future!

    While we were still in Tokyo, I told Max that we must experience the traditional Japanese breakfast once, and this morning  we got our chance; the hotel we were staying Miyaki Hotel, Kyoto (新・都ホテル京都) offered both the western style and Japanese style breakfast as part of the package (一泊一食  in Japanese). A traditional Japanese style breakfast consists of steamed rice or porridge, miso soup, and various side dishes such as broiled/grilled fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), tsukemono pickles, nori (dried seaweed), natto (fermented soybeans)..etc.   This morning the breakfast was served beautifully in a tray with several smaller compartments,  if you have Japanese bento set lunch before you should get the picture. Our breakfast this morning was porridge and it’s very yummy to my expectation; I particularly liked the broiled fish and  soft tofu which melted in my mouth like custard.  There were some small dishes that Max wasn’t very fond of, so I “helped” to finish his breakfast and I felt I was having a “Happy Meal.” :-p

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    Our first stop for the day was Nishi Hongan-ji (西本願寺), one of the 1,600 Buddhism temples in Kyoto and  was only about 10 minutes of walking distance from our hotel.  Nishi Hongan-ji was built in 1602 by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and as the name of the temple implied, it is located to the west of Higashi Hongan-ji.  Nishi Hongan-ji is listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; in this large rectangular compound you will find two temple halls – the  Goeido Hall, dedicated to Shinran, and the Amidado Hall dedicated to the Amida Buddha, the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. Also there are museum, bell tower, and the  Karamon (唐門) — a colorful gate of Nishi Hongan-ji which is a National Treasures of Japan.  As we were walking and chatting, an older gentleman approached us in perfect English, and from his vest and name tag I figured he was the volunteer here. He led us to the heated guest center  to stay warm while he explained that Nishi Hongani-ji not only is an important Buddhism temple in Kyoto,  but also the head of the global headquarters of the Shin school of Buddhism. He was very well versed and I was glad that we had the opportunity to talk with him to get more in-depth knowledge about this temple.

    We continued to explore the compound and Max got his opportunity taking lots of photos inside the temple halls. As I was telling Max to watch his steps while entering the Buddha Hall, he responded “like I would know any better.” It struck me that Buddhism is such important part of Asian culture and not necessarily religious; temple has always been an important part of our daily life and often served as a family or community gathering place.  Interesting to think that such temple, Buddha, bell… probably are something quite unique and mystic to a young Westerner. The museum was exhibiting extensive collection of calligraphy arts and I absolutely loved this unexpected treasure. The writings were  not Buddhism verse, but phrases that  applied with Buddhism teaching and something we could practice in our daily life. Most of them were written in Grass (running) style, with few pieces in Li (script) style, and all were simple but elegantly framed; the only slight disappointment was not seeing any scrolls though.

    We walked back to the Kyoto Train Station to find bus to Kinkaku-ji, and we purchased a one-day bus pass that would allow us to hop on and off  buses within the city limits. Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Temple of the Golden Pavilion) must be the most recognized landmark of Kyoto, and it was my favorite place in Japan and not-surprising highly recommended by friend of Max’s as well. We found ourselves among many high school students on this ride, so probably time for spring field trips, perhaps? At the entrance of temple, we got our ticket and pamphlet, and  the ticket looked exactly like an amulet (or omamori in Japanese) in white paper with black spell and red seals on it. Very interesting and definitely a great souvenir to keep.

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    We went to see the Golden Pavilion first, and found it even more beautiful than I remembered, even though the weather wasn’t perfect that day. The shinning pavilion itself, the bonsai, pine trees.. together  cast a stunning reflection on the mirror  pond.  It’s so gorgeous that you can get an awesome picture with the most  simple point and shoot camera; even my iPhone could produce great photo of this Golden Pavilion. No wonder there are so many beautiful photographs of this place, and its beauty is truly timeless and season-less;  I was so mesmerized by the view that  just wanted to stand there forever!!  There was a man standing next to me with a vibe of power who was accompanied by a group of very brown-nosed looking people, probably his staffs or business associates, and my wild imagination was telling me perhaps he was a gangster boss from Tokyo? Or L. A. since he spoke perfect English when he took  pictures for us.

    We walked along the Japanese strolling garden and got to appreciate the beauty of the Pavilion from varies angles. The pond, pine trees, little island, zen garden, bonsai, fishing deck, water falls..etc, brought a very unique harmony and also surreal experience — like the outside world didn’t exist. However it’s funny what this harmony feeling lead to :-p As we walking down the stairs exiting the compound, Max said “This might sound very out of place, but I am craving for some In-N-Out Burger.” Ah ha… that’s the funniest thing I have ever heard from him, and giving the place we were at it’s certainly very out of place. I told him finding an In-N-Out probably would be very challenge, but I was positive that there would be a McDonald nearby, and I happened to read about a new product launch from McDonald in Japan couple days ago, so this would be our chance to try it. We walked couple blocks and successfully found that familiar & universal “M” sign standing ahead of us. The “Big America Broadway Burger  590 yen” was speaking very loud and clear to us, and I also figured the Japanese food in last few days probably weren’t very fulfilling for Max! Not much to talk about McDonald except the “Big America” wasn’t that big in our opinions, and fries and soda were also very normal size.

    After lunch, we went to the Kyoto Gyoen, the Imperial Palace, and walked around in the public area which did not require admission; the Palace was about 650,000 sf that took us a while just to to cut through the ground west-east. On my previous trip I had the chance to tour the Imperial Residence, but this time we were uncertain about our itinerary before, so did not plan ahead to apply for admission to tour the interior of the Rresidence.  If you ever visit Kyoto Gyoen, I would suggest you to participate a guided walking-tour, and better if it’s in the spring for the zen garden here is too gorgeous just to skim. We had found cherry blossoms here and they were just breath-taking — fragile, delicate and stunning; we were very lucky that we got to see them and the beauty of them made time goes by so fast.  Time for us to take a break before heading out for last night in town.

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    On our way back to our hotel, I suggested that we walk along the Kamogawa (鴨川), which runs north-south through central Kyoto . It was once the main water supply for Kyoto, and now it provides excellent recreational path for walking, jogging and biking.  If you walk on the west bank of the river, you will come to see a long line of older-looking buildings facing the river. I was so in love with the older housings from last trip, so wanted make sure Max get to experience the feeling of walking into the history while we were here. We came across a filming crew that was shooting movie or TV drama, and looking at the wacky super hero costume and high school girl uniform we both were so amused about it been so Japanese — weird in an interesting way 🙂

    The water in Kamogawa was very clear, not deep, but current was pretty strong though, so even with Max leading the way crossing the river, I was a little intimidated when jumping on those huge  sea-turtle shaped stepping stones. It’s a bit challenging for a shortie like me, but soon it became quite playful!  As I safely reached the east of river, I found myself  discovered the best looking Starbucks standing by a bridge facing to the Kamogawa river, and the Kyoto sunset cast  a soft and warm glow on it  — what a romantic view!

    Time has stopped …..


    * Photo credit: the picture of me on steppingstones was taken by Max








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