Saturday, September 6th, 2008
On Saturday morning, we got a relatively early jump on the day since we'd had a relatively early night the night before. After completely emptying and repacking my backpack and my bagallini expandable bag, we headed out, and were walking into the Vie de France in Shinsaibashi station right around 9:30. I got a long square pastry that tasted like honey as well as a big crusty roll that was filled with cream cheese, cheddar cheese and spinach. It was very good, though I did have to scoop a little bit of the cream cheese out since there was a little too much of it. I also got a Junsui Budou drink, which was pretty much just dark grape juice.
Once we were done with breakfast, we took the Midosuji line up to Shin-Osaka again, went to the JR ticket office and got tickets not only from Osaka to Kyoto, but from Kyoto to Tokyo later in the week. We wanted to make sure we would be on the first Shinkansen out of Kyoto on Wednesday morning so we would be able to get to Tokyo Disneyland early. With little time to spare (like always) we headed off to our platform and easily caught our Shinkansen. Kyoto was barely a half hour away from Osaka on the Shinkansen, which is very cool when you think about it. The US could easily have high speed rail like that, which would make travelling shorter distances so nice!
When we arrived in Kyoto, we had a tough time figuring out which exit we needed to take from the station to start us off in the correct direction for our hotel, Ryokan Shimizu. I had a map, but we couldn't figure out which exit to take to reach the post office that was outside. We took one, walked a little ways out, decided that there was no post office there, then went back in to try another exit. Kevin said that his GPS was pointing in the opposite direction, but we still didn't know, so we found an information desk. Turned out that it was completely on the other side of the station. But once we found the correct exit, we found our hotel easily by following the map. It was HOT, and we were really sweaty since we had been schlepping our luggage on our backs, so when we arrived, we couldn't have been very nice to look at!
Our Kyoto hotel, Ryokan Shimizu
When we arrived, our room wasn't ready, but we left our luggage with the staff and sat down in the lobby to cool off for a few minutes. The man working at the desk brought us over two glasses of green tea, and I tried to choke it down, but it was just too gross and I couldn't. So I asked if I could have some water, which he happily brought me. I ended up drinking well over half the pitcher of water he brought since I was so hot and dehydrated.
After we both sufficiently cooled down, we headed out to see what there was to see in Kyoto. There was a vending machine located on the street directly in front of the ryokan, so I picked up a Calpis Water on the way out. How handy! This was a side street too, so you'd never find a machine there in the US, but this street had easily three or four in just a few blocks! I loved this about Japan, but what I loved more is that most machines had different offerings in them, so it wasn't just the same "Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, water" like it tends to be in the US. Some had coffee, some had energy and sports drinks, and some had juice, but most at least had Coke, Coke Zero, water and tea among the many other options!
Our first planned stop was going to be Sanjusangendo Hall. I hadn't really looked much into the transportation around Kyoto...again, I'm not sure how this important bit of research went unresearched! But Kevin had picked up a bus information brochure in the train station. We decided to just walk to Sanjusangendo since it didn't seem unwalkably far away.
Along the way, we passed the Taimatsuden Inari Shrine, so we stopped to have a look and take a few pictures.
As we walked, we crossed over a river that had these huge grassy islands in it, as well as a bird that looked just like a penguin! Of course I had to get a picture of it so I could show it to people and make them believe that wild penguins live in Kyoto (I have yet to fool anyone with this, but maybe one day!).
Further down the street, we came upon the entrance to Sanjusangendo Hall. You couldn't take pictures inside, which is a huge bummer for me since I love to take pictures. This is the largest wooden structure in Japan, and contains 1000 statues of the 1000 handed Buddhist goddess Kannon. We strolled the grounds for a few minutes, then went inside the main building, which is where all the statues are.
Inside Sanjusangendo Hall - scanned from a postcard
It was pretty amazing to see all those statues, each one identical to the next, lined up in row after row. In front of these were other statues of other gods, all of which had plaques in front of them explaining what they were god over, and what their physical characteristics meant. After passing half of the statues, you come upon the giant Buddha, which was completely enormous! I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but even then I doubt it would have conveyed the size. Beyond that were more Kannon statues.
I was done a little bit sooner than Kevin was, so I browsed the gift shop, and decided to get a pack of postcards of the statues inside since I wasn't able to take my own photos.
I also did this thing where you put a 100yen coin into a box and pull out a little piece of folded up paper. Inside is a fortune and a tiny little gold statue of a Buddhist god. I got the god of Taoism, and it said I would lead a long, healthy life without misfortune.
When Kevin was done, he browsed the gift shop, then we both picked up our shoes at the front door. I got scolded for sitting down on the step leading out of the gift shop...oops haha.
Outside, hundreds of bad fortunes were tied to a fence to negate them
Once we went back outside, we explored the rest of the grounds, which were beautiful, just like every other religious site and park we visited. We walked all the way around the temple, admiring the beautiful gardens and architecture.
In the back of the main temple, we found the Inari Shrine, which was a very small Shinto shrine. After a little more wandering around, we decided that we were done, and moved along.
Almost directly across the street from Sanjusangendo Hall was the Kyoto National Museum. The admission was only a few dollars, and spanned multiple buildings across the site. We only got admission to the permanent exhibit, and almost as soon as I walked in, I knew that this wasn't my kind of museum at all. The first floor was stuff like pottery, bowls, vases and stuff like that, all of which were sitting in cases behind glass, with extremely minimal explanation of what I was looking at. After just a few minutes, I headed upstairs, leaving Kevin on the first floor to continue looking around. I didnít find the second floor much more interesting than the first since it contained stuff like fabric, caligraphy, laquer boxes and stuff, and statues. It was moderately more interesting than the archeological stuff on the first floor, but just barely.
All told, I was done with the entire museum (15 rooms full of stuff) before Kevin was done with the first two rooms of stuff. I just don't find museums like this to be interesting since I don't find old bowls and pieces of fabric things to be things to linger over. I don't see what things like this have to teach us unless the museum does a good job of explaining the significance behind each piece. I saw no such explanations, hence I didn't learn a single thing from the museum. Sitting an item on a shelf with no explanation of what it is or why it is important really short changes not only the people who come to the museum, but the piece itself since it will just get looked over and not appreciated for the significance it holds. Such was the case with me...as soon as I realized that the museum didn't do a good job of teaching me anything, I wrote it off as wasted time.
While I waited for Kevin, I plopped myself down in a large, poofy leather recliner and rested. For as long as he took, I could have had a nice nap! The leather recliners were by far my favorite part of the museum :-) hahaha I was clearly ready to go once he arrived, but he wanted to rest for a minute and go over the rest of the walking tour we were following. After a while, we headed out and found our way to the Kawai Kanjiro House.
This was just a personal home of a famous Japanese sculptor, so it was interesting to see the inside of what used to be a real home. There was also a large kiln outside that we could walk up to, and pottery storage areas behind it. It was an interesting look into the way that Japanese folks live, though I did think it was a little overpriced at $9.
I was getting hungry by this point, and suggested going back to a nearby McDonald's to have some lunch. Kevin agreed, but then never mentioned it again and started walking off in the direction of our next stop, Kiyomizu Temple. It was quite a walk, with stairs on the sides of the street instead of sidewalks! But there were lots of things along the way that made it interesting, including numerous smaller shrines and temples. Along the way, we passed through the Toribeyama cemetary. It looked kind of small at first, appearing to only be a few yards deep and running up the left side of the large hill we were walking up.
But at one point we crested a hill, and off to the right was a huge valley that was completely covered in headstones! It was amazing to see just how many there were, and how vast this cemetery really was!
By the time we reached the top of the hill, I was exhausted and really hungry. Luckily, there was a noodle shop at the top of the hill, which seemed like a god-send at the time! I was actually so hungry that I was past the point of feeling hungry, so for the moment I just ordered a Coke (which came in a glass bottle). Kevin ordered a bowl of soba noodle soup, and I ordered the same thing. But when the food came, I guess the lady had not understood that I wanted the soup too because only Kevin's arrived. I went back up to the stall and ordered my soup, but I got udon soup instead of soba. After just a few minutes, my soup arrived, and it started to rain. We were sitting under a canopy, so we were well protected from the rain, and it really cut the temperature down as well.
When I was done eating, I needed to use the bathroom, but a nearby map showed that the only western style toilet was a nearby pay toilet. I had to go, so I didn't have much choice but to use it! I scurried over to it, but it was occupied, so I ran back over to our seats. After a few minutes, someone emerged, so I scurried over again, only to have someone else beat me to it! haha Finally, I saw that person leave, scurried over once again and was victorious in securing my spot in the pay toilet. This was my first encounter with a pay toilet, and I must say, I was quite impressed! hahaha
There was soothing music, a lady's voice that explained all the features of the toilet, a scrolling LED that gave all the features (y'know, for the hearing impaired toilet user!), and it smelled quite nice. It had a regular toilet, a bidet, and a baby seat and changing area. It also had really nice mirrors and two different sinks! I took my time (since my 100yen bought me 10 minutes in there), and when I left, all I said to Kevin was "So worth the dollar" hahaha
Once I was done with my unique bathroom experience, we moved along on the last leg of the journey up to Kiyomizu Temple. It had been a pretty grueling walk, but the temple at the top was amazing!
This was most definitely my favorite of the temples we visited. It was very large, and very high off the ground, which meant that the view all around was stunning! It was architecturally gorgeous, and the bright colors indicated that it was very well maintained.
Off from the main area of Kiyomizu Temple is a smaller Shinto shrine called Jishu Shrine, so while we were there, we went to check it out. It was very crowded there, so we only lingered for a little while. While we were there, we ran into the family from the Miyajima ferry two days before! They said that they'd planned on going to Universal Studios the day before, but arrived when it was raining and decided to not go in since everything was closed. We exchanged pleasantries, reconfirmed our lunch time and meeting place in Tokyo Disneyland, then parted ways so we could see more of the temple. They had taken a day tour, and only had so much time there, so we didn't want to keep them.
Leaving the main temple area, we followed a path across the hill/mountain so we could get a better view of the pagoda on that side, and consequently a better view of Kiyomizu Temple from far away.
The view was amazing, and it seemed to go on for miles and miles. As we got closer to the pagoda, we followed another pathway even higher up, which gave us a wonderful view of the entire temple. Once we got to the top, we stood and appreciated the view for a little while longer before coming back down.
On the way back down, we passed a small cafe, and across from that was a place where you could drink from a natural spring waterfall. There was actually a queue for it, but we decided to wait since, y'know, how often do you get to drink from a natural spring waterfall inside a temple in Japan? hehe We had the option to buy our own souvenir cup, but neither of us did. We decided to use the cups that were provided, which were made of metal, and on very long poles so you could stick it out under the waterfall and not get wet.
Kevin went first then I did, and we both have great photos of ourselves drinking from the waterfall. We also got a kick out of the fact that inside this ancient temple, they've installed an ultraviolet sterilizer for the cups people drink out of haha Safety first!
We were pretty much done with everything we wanted to see in the temple at that point, so we left and started back down the hill/mountain through the area called Sannenzaka.
There was a long street leading from the temple that was lined on both sides with small shops and restaurants. Kevin wanted to stop for a snow cone (he got peach...interesting snow cone flavor!) and we sat down near a 1050yen store, where basically everything in the store was $10. When Kevin was done, we decided to go inside and take a look at what they had to offer. They had a bunch of clothes, all of which were too small for me, and a bunch of trinkety things. Kevin was looking for a gift for his mom and his sister, and ultimately decided on some pearl pendants. They were beautiful, and decided to get a string of pearls while I was there as well. I assumed I'd be spending well over $100 for a string of pearls, so $10 was a welcome surprise. Sure, they aren't as rare or perfect as more expensive ones, but they look very nice from far away. The pearls ended up being one of my favorite souvenirs, and they are a nice conversation piece too!
After walking a little farther, I spotted another shop that had masks hanging in it, so I decided to stop. I had decided prior to the trip that I wanted to try and buy a mask as a souvenir, mainly because of the Adventurer's Club in Disney World. I love the ambience there, and have tentatively planned on having an Adventurer's Club type room in my future home where I can display my treasures that I've collected as I've travelled. So I felt it quite appropriate to pick up a mask as a souvenir. They had quite a few to choose from, and I decided on a mask of a happy old man with a long beard, which was mounted on a slatted board. I really love it, and I'm sure it will be something I treasure for a long time.
When we got most of the way down the hill, we decided to pause and regroup, and decide what to do with the rest of the night. We stopped on some steps, which was actually just across from the entrance to the Ryozen Kannon temple.
The temple ended up being closed for a private function that day, but we were still able to get a look at the giant statue that the temple is known for. We decided to go ahead and cut our walking tour short (we were only skipping a couple of small shrines and temples) and head for Gion Corner that night so we could see the tourist show they have there. The thought was to try to do that on the first night, so just in case we couldn't get in that night, we could try the second night as well. We figured that that was a good plan, so we walked off in that direction.
Gion Corner wasn't horrible far from the Kiyomizu Temple area, so we found it quite easily. We showed up a little before show time, so we had plenty of time to get our tickets and find great seats. As well as the main show, we also opted for the tea ceremony experience, which was $15 more. While we were seated in the theater, we started talking to a woman who was from Ohio, and in Japan on business. She had come out to Kyoto for only one night, and I thought it was very fun to chat with someone else from the US while in Japan.
During the show, we saw demonstrations of numerous types of entertainment in Japan. We saw flower arranging, a tea ceremony, some traditional musicians, a comedy sketch and a bunraku puppet show among other things. But my favorite part was a dance done by two Maiko.
It was so pretty and elegant...too bad I wouldn't be half so elegant if I learned to do the same dance! haha People were allowed to take photos during the show, and the Maikos had more photos taken of them than the other acts combined, I think! It was a very interesting show, and gave us a nice sample of all the types of entertainment Japan offers. I wish we had gotten to see some Kabuki and a full Bunraku play, but it just never worked out with our travel schedule. At least this way, we got to see a little of everything, which is definitely better than nothing!
After the show, Kevin and I and about 7 other people made our way upstairs to the room where the tea ceremony was being held. One girl delayed the ceremony because she was waiting on friends, but ultimately she decided to ditch them since they were so late. I would have done the same thing! The ceremony was directed by two ladies...one who actually did the ceremony, and another that explained exactly what to do at each step of the ceremony. Before you started, your tea service was set up very precisely, with the bowl in a certain place, the tea jar in a certain place, and the tea spoon hanging over the edge of the bowl in a specific way.
The tea ceremony started out with wiping down the bowl that you drink the tea from. Then you put some water into the bowl and swirl the whisk around in it a few times, lifting it twice to make sure that no dust or dirt is on the whisk. After that, one of the ladies doing the demonstration folded her napkin in a certain way and ran it over the jar with the tea in it a few times. They said that this was an intricate step of how you fold the cloth and whatnot, so they didn't want to go into it during such a short ceremony. After that, you spoon the powdered tea into the bowl, add some water and whisk it until it's foamy. Since I don't like tea, I thought I could get away with only putting a little tea in my bowl, but the lady came around to make sure everyone had the right amount of tea in their bowls. Busted. So I had to put more in mine. Then you eat some little candies, turn the bowl a few times, drink the tea, then wipe off the part of the bowl that you your lips touched with your hand. After wiping your hand on the papers from the candies, you then go through a process of cleaning the whisk and bowl, and returning all the pieces to their original locations.
Eventhough I don't like tea, I had a great time doing the tea ceremony. My trick was to keep the little sugary candy in my mouth until it was time to drink the tea, so the tea didn't taste quite so bitter because of all the sugar. It was really fascinating to me that something as simple as serving a cup of tea can take years to master! It was cool though, and I was very glad that we had sprung the extra $15 for the opportunity to do it.
When the show was over, we wandered out and down the main road that runs through Gion. Most of the places looked exclusive, so we didn't figure that we could get into any of them for a meal! Once we got out to a place where there were bus stops, we perused the map and figured out which bus we would need to take us back to the train station, where we could walk to the hotel from there. I was hungry, so I stopped in a convenience store and picked up a plate of sushi and a cone full of chicken cheese bites. I ate the chicken right away, but saved the sushi for when I got back to the hotel, so I could have it with soy sauce. The chicken was really good...way better than I was expecting, so I ate that while we waited for the bus.
Once we caught the right bus, it was an easy trip back to the train station, and an easy walk back to our ryokan.
On the way, I picked up a Fruits Ade drink, which was really good, and contained mango, peach and apple juice. Mmm. Kevin went to check his email as soon as we got back, while I sat in the room and ate my sushi. When I was done, I went ahead and laid down and watched a little TV (well, what I could understand of it at least!). After a while, Kevin came back from the lobby, and it was lights out.