Sunday, September 7th, 2008
My night of sleep in this ryokan was considerably better than the rest I'd gotten in the other two ryokans. The mattress was considerably thicker, and the pillows were considerably more comfortable. We got up, got showered, then headed downstairs to have the breakfast that was included in the room rate. It was a traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, rice, tomatoes, miso soup and a few other things. It was very nice...I enjoy having real food for breakfast instead of sweet rolls or eggs every day. I could definitely eat this breakfast every morning and be happy!
After breakfast, we headed out towards one of the train stations that would lead us towards Nijo Castle. On the way, I stopped in a convenience store and picked up a Coke and a little round cake thing that was really good. Pretty soon we arrived at our station, and took it to the station that was closest to Nijo Castle. The castle was very close to the station, so the walk wasn't all that bad.
Arriving at Nijo Castle, we each bought our admission and headed inside to get our audio guides. After our experience at the Alcazar in Sevilla, we knew that it was well worth the extra few dollars to get two audio guides instead of sharing one and having to wait for each other to finish. We both ended up having to exchange our audio guides...Kevin's wouldn’t play the different recordings, and the audio on mine was so low that I could barely hear it. But once we got them both exchanged, it was much better. The tour began out in the courtyard with some dioramas and a guard shack, then went inside the Ninomaru Palace.
The Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle
The tour through the Ninomaru Palace led us from room to room, each one with a different theme to it, and a different function. There were mannequins in each room that were positioned to demonstrate what the rooms where used for, and where certain members of the royal family and their attendants would have been positioned. There were also nightingale floors, which are floors that were specially designed to squeak when they are walked on, which would warn the family of intruders. You didn't notice it much in some places, but in others, it was very loud. This was another place where you had to take your shoes off to enter, so I think that added to the overall sound of the nightengale floors.
After the main tour through the castle, the audio guides led us out into the Ninomaru gardens then through the courtyard of the Honmaru palace.
After leaving the main part of the tour, we walked back out toward the entrance through some gardens and wooded areas behind the castle.
Me with the Nijo Castle wall and moat behind me
It was quite scenic, with a lovely castle wall surrounded by a moat. At one point, we found a little rest area where we each got a drink.
The drink machine also had the best Engrish sign I've ever seen on it! It was so mangled up that you really had no clue what it was trying to say!
As we were leaving, we decided to stop in the main gift shop and see what they had for sale. I ended up buying a little gold temple figurine, and a magnet for a coworker. Meanwhile, Kevin had paused to get some shaved ice, so I decided to get some ice cream while I was there as well. They had a good selection, and I ended up with a Zakura bar, which was basically a rectangle of ice cream that was covered in little crunchy chocolate beads, dipped in chocolate, then covered on all sides with waffle cone. It was great! It was such simple yet ingenious idea...if you surround the ice cream with the cone, the ice cream doesn't drip! I could see this kind of ice cream working wonderfully in amusement parks since it was portable and not messy at all!
After leaving Nijo Castle, we backtracked to the train station and got tickets that took us to our next stop near the Philosopher's Pathway. While we were there, Kevin convinced me to try one of the grape Fanta jelly drinks that he'd had earlier in the trip.
It was really weird...it was just carbonated enough to burn a little, and you had to turn it up and suck the drink out of the can! It was so weird!
After catching our train, we disembarked at the train station closest to the Philosopher's Pathway. We walked for a little bit, then it started to rain, so we ran for cover. We ended up in a little tunnel with a few other people, and almost as soon as we got there, the skies opened up! There was a full on downpour for a few minutes, which then slacked off to a normal heavy rainfall for a little while longer. I took the opportunity to sit down and rest, and was glad that the rain didn't creep into the tunnel enough to make me move! There were a few other people waiting out the downpour in the tunnel with us, and we all got a kick out of a very loud van that went by with speakers playing lord knows what kind of loud announcements!
After a while the rain slacked off, and we headed off. After a few blocks, we spotted the temple at the entrance to the Philosophers Pathway. All along the road, there were drainage ditches...in the US, a drainage ditch would be nothing to look at, but in Japan, they were all spotlessly clean and sounded like little babbling brooks. All these tiny little waterfalls and canals of water gave the walk a strange yet wonderful vibe.
When we arrived on the Philosopher's Pathway, you had the option of either walking up on the sidewalk, or walking along the stone pathway that was near a stream. Most of the way we walked along the stream since it was calm and pleasant.
At one point, we passed a lady who was selling her paintings, which were 4x6 water colors of Kyoto landmarks.
They were beautiful, and when I saw that they were only 100yen, I had to get one! I felt bad that she wasn't charging more for them since they were so pretty. The painting I chose was the pagoda in Kiyomizu Temple with the sunset behind it.
Kevin, being philosophical on the Philosophers's Path
All along the pathway, there were small temples and shrines, but we didn't elect to go into many of them. At the end of the stroll, we spotted a shaved ice stand, so we both decided to get some shaved ice. It was still really hot, though it seemed to be a much more manageable heat than some places. While I was there, I picked up a Japanese soda with a marble in it, where you have to push the marble down inside the bottle to activate the carbonation. It wasn't terribly good...more like club soda than anything, but it was ok, and very unique. The shaved ice was awesome too, though we had to eat it standing up because of lack of tables or ledges nearby where we could sit.
As we finished the snow cones, I suggested going ahead and getting lunch since we didn’t know how long it would take us to make our way up to and through Ginkakuji Temple. Nearby, we found a little restaurant that looked like it had some nice choices, so we went inside and found a seat.
We both ended up with rice dishes, and mine had a sweet sauce with shrimp, green onions and eggplant (sneaky eggplant...I thought it was a slice of potato, but when I bit into it, it was eggplant. You don't normally find eggplant sneaking up on you like that!). Lunch was great, but since I'd just had the snow cone, I didn't finish all of it. But I passed what I didn't eat on to Kevin and he finished it.
After lunch, we made our way up through the sea of humanity to Ginkakuji Temple. It was another long uphill walk, which sucks, but I understand the reasoning behind it from a Buddhist temple builder perspective. When we arrived at the entrance, there was a vague sign saying that some parts of the grounds were being refurbished.
I didn't think much of it until we got inside and saw that the main pagoda was completely covered in tarps, and was all but deconstructed underneath! That was heartbreaking since I had chosen Ginkakuji to visit because all the photos I'd seen online of it were so beautiful. So I didn't get to take any duplicates of those beautiful photos :-(
But the rest of the grounds were beautiful, and they even included the only zen garden we saw during the whole trip. There was a steady stream of people walking around the pathways of the temple, so while my photos make the place look calm and serene, really it was teeming with visitors.
A pond with some lovely buildings in Ginkakuji Temple
We had a nice visit there, but it would have been much nicer had I been able to take my time photographing the pagoda.
When we were done wandering around Ginkakuji Temple, we decided to make our way over to the Kyoto Handicraft Center since everyone we came in touch with said it was a great place to shop for kimonos and souvenirs. I had really wanted to get a silk kimono, so that seemed like my best bet for finding one. Near the bottom of the hill in front of Ginkakuji, there was a bus stop, and we easily found which one would take us to the Handicraft center. It was fairly far away since the busses seemed to only run in one direction, but that was ok because it afforded us about an hour of sitting on an air conditioned bus.
After fighting off sleep for the hour we were on the bus, we finally arrived at the Kyoto Handicraft Center. My main goal was to buy a kimono, while Kevin was hoping to do some more souvenir shopping as well. When I arrived I went upstairs and began to peruse the kimonos. As I had suspected, almost all of them were too small for me. I finally asked a lady for help, and she found a silk one that fit me, but it was so loud and crazy looking! It was bright red and had large round frames on it with pictures of pagodas and Mount Fuji and stuff on it. It just looked tacky, and looked very much like what a fat American tourist would buy instead of what a sophisticated Japanese lady would buy. So I didn't get it...I didn't want to drop that much money on something that I wouldn't wear. Instead, I found some yukata in my size (they were mens, but they are fairly gender neutral) so I got one with fish scales and kanji words all over it. I have already worn it way more than I would have ever worn a kimono, and it cost about 1/3rd of what the kimonos cost.
Kevin arrived on my floor after a little while to browse some more. I thought I was done since I had decided on just the yukata, but I spotted some wooden sandals on the floor and decided to get a pair of those as well. They were terribly uncomfortable, but I figured that I wouldn't wear them much, and only wanted them to say that I had a pair anyway.
After finishing up, we went upstairs to a boutique-y area that had a beautiful panoramic view of Kyoto, then back downstairs to the first floor for some final shopping. I wanted to get my grandma something, and I had a really hard time deciding what to get for her. She's the kind of person that always says she doesn't need anything, so she can be very hard to shop for! I ultimately decided on a box with four compartments in it, each with its own separate door. I figured she could use it to store candy, change, cough drops or something else small like that. With all of our purchases made, we headed out, making sure to pick up our complimentary postcards on the way out.
We didn't have much else on the plan, so Kevin suggested finding a couple of geocaches, and going up Kyoto Tower. That sounded like a good plan to me, so we started walking generally in the correct direction. On the way to the Handicraft Center, we spotted a McDonalds, so we decided to stop there for dinner since it was close, and since there were still interesting items on their menu that we hadn't tried yet.
For dinner, I got the Ebi Filet-O, which was pretty much just like a Filet-O-Fish, but with shrimp inside instead of fish. It was SO GOOD!!! I also got a Shaka Shaka Chicken, which was a chicken patty in a bag that came with a hot and spicy seasoning packet. You just pour the seasoning into the bag, shake it around, and it seasons the chicken. It was good...way better than I was expecting after the nasty chicken sandwich I'd gotten in Harajuku! Kevin got a hamburger with egg on it, which was awesome considering that it was dinnertime!
After dinner, Kevin said that one of his geocaches was fairly close by, so he set the GPS and we followed it. It led us around a big intersection and into the grassy median of a street. The clue to help find the geocache was "wood crotch" haha
So Kevin promptly went to a large tree with two big branches, and with the help of my little flashlight, found the cache hidden in the "crotch" of the two branches! After logging the cache, we made our way back up toward Kyoto station, where the Kyoto Tower was.
We figured that there wouldn't be much issue finding our way up to Kyoto Tower...I mean, it's a big freaking tower on top of a building. But it was actually sort of difficult to find. We went inside a large shop and followed a sign up to the second level of the building. We came upon a 100yen store and a book store but couldn't figure out where to go from there! Finally we figured out that you had to take an elevator up to whatever higher floor, then board a separate elevator to get to the top of the tower. Admission to the tower was 750yen, and once we found the right place, it was easy to get to where we needed to go. The view was great, though not as vast and impressive as Osaka! The observation area was also completely enclosed, so it was a little difficult to get good photos.
While we were up at the top of the tower, they had a cool stamp and some sheets that you could stamp. I saw this in a couple of different places and didn't understand why they would have them...until I got home and realized that my sheet from Kyoto Tower was really cool, and that I was glad that I had it. I didn't buy anything there, so the stamp sheet was the only souvenir I had. They also had binoculars on top of the tower, which gave really close up views of tons of stuff in the area. We were able to spot a couple of people inside their homes, as well as take a good look at the McDonald's we'd eaten dinner in. Kevin also noted that all the high schoolers that were crowding in the McDonalds when we were there were gone by that time!
My favorite thing was saw was a Ministop convenience store. When I first spotted it, I saw two western backpackers go in, so Kevin and I watched the Ministop to see how long they took. After a few minutes they came back out without having purchased anything. We also noted that the girl was making the guy carry all the bags...lazy! hahaha
After a while, we went downstairs to another observation level where you could see more below you than the upper level. After a little while longer, we decided to go ahead and go, so we started our descent. On the way out, we decided to stop in the 100yen store. I don't recall if Kevin got anything or not, but I ended up with three new drinks to take with me to Tokyo Disney Resort since I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep up the "drink a new drink every day" thing that I'd been doing. I got Gun Gun Gurt, Snoopy Fresh and Senoby, which I planned on making last until our departure day.
Check it out! I got to meet a geisha! Well, sort of.
When we left Kyoto Tower, we decided to go ahead and call it a night since we had to be up so early the next morning to catch our 6:00 hour Shinkansen to Tokyo. On the way out of Kyoto Tower, I spotted a pachinko parlor and decided that I wanted to give it a go in a real parlor instead of the little arcade where I'd played it before. When I went in, it was deafeningly loud! I mean so loud that you could scream at each other and still not be able to hear! All I had was a 1000yen note which I was hoping to get changed into two 500yen notes, but I couldn't get my point across to the employees since it was so loud. They just kept insisting that I could put the entire 1000yen into the machines all at once. So I found a machine, and an employee followed me over to it to show me how to use it. It was all sort of a blur since I had no idea what the object of the game was, or when you would win extra balls, or what you would even do with the balls if you won them. It was over almost as soon as I started playing, which sucked since I'd dropped so much more money into that machine than the one in Osaka, and I got to play the Osaka one for three times as long. Oh well...it was definitely an experience! Not one I will ever choose to have again though.
On the way back to the ryokan, Kevin made another stop by the main post office to pick up some more cash, then we both headed back to the hotel. When I arrived, I said that I'd like to do one more load of laundry so I'd have more than enough clean clothes to last through the days at Tokyo Disney Resort. So I packed up some stuff, grabbed a few of Kevin's things, then headed out in the general direction of a laundromat that was identified on the hotel map.
So...I never found the laundromat. I walked to where it was, then walked two blocks beyond that just in case the map wasn't right, and I still didn't see it. Eventually I decided to just turn around and go back to the hotel, which was when I noticed that the 1000yen note that I'd had in my pocket was gone. So even if I had found the laundromat, I'd have had to walk back to the hotel to get more money anyway. Once back at the hotel, I threw a few items into my giant Ziploc bag and washed them out by hand, as I had done in Toba. Kevin also washed out a few things to tide him over until it was time to go home. We were both pretty well wiped, out, so we made it an early night, crashing around 9:30.