Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 10 - Communists in Kyoto

It was another early start, this time in Kyoto. After spending the night in a room smaller than some walk in closets back at home we up and ready to go.

Note: While in Japan, at least in some smaller hotels, don't plug a hair iron and a hair dryer into the same outlet and have both going on full blast. That morning she ended up knocking the power out to the whole floor in the hotel. Whoops. Just don't tell anyone it was us.

We met our Goodwill Guide in the lobby of our hotel and were off. Unlike Mr. Oka a few days earlier in Japan this one was free and was doing it simply for the pleasure of showing off his city to travelers.

Off we went to learn how to use the Kyoto city bus system, which once explained is surprisingly easy. Just get an all day pass for a few hundred yen and you'll be on your way all day to explore the city.

It's also empty in the morning, so get out there while you can. In the afternoon the bus is packed and there will be a line to get on if you are at a stop in the middle of a route.

Walking up the hill to our first destination we noticed a heavy police presence in the area. There was a very large group of them walking to every corner along the road, leaving at least one person on each.

"Is this normal?"

"No, nothing like this, let's ask to see."

--some Japaneses spoken here--

"There is someone special coming to visit today, they are getting ready for him."

Only one last flight of stairs until we arrived.

We continued on, wondering who was coming.

The stone golems guarded the entrance.

We made it up to Kiyomizu-dera, the Pure Water Temple, named as such due to the healing powers the waters that flow down from the mountains into the waterfalls of the temple are purported to have.

We tried some for ourselves while cleaning before entering the grounds. At the very least it was refreshing.

High above the city in the mountains it was quite the site to look down on the bustling old capitol of Japan below.

While not in full bloom yet the sakura were peaking out.

Entering the temple you'll see this on display. Try to pick them up. They are the tools the monks use for their meditations. Not very comfortable looking shoes and large staffs that weigh more than I do. The small one I could move but the larger one wouldn't even budge. I don't think I would be cut out to be a mountain monk.

Offering plates and prayers placed by pilgrims to the temple, the monks will pray for them and their wishes. In the temple you will find many different places of prayer and offering. One of the more known are the two love stones.

(not my image, taken from The Sun Calling The Moon Bright blog, click on over and show some love. No idea why I did not take a picture myself)

With the stones stand at one, close your eyes, think of the person you love, and walk towards the other. If you can make it with out opening your eyes then you two are meant to be. Otherwise, well, just try again until you do make it.

Looking down at the line of people waiting to drink the water from the mountain. The wait was over a half hour. People come from all over the country to have it.

Heading outside we see the shot that is on all of the postcards and magnets (including the one we brought home for our fridge). It was here we were all of a sudden surrounded by Chinese secret service agents. They came in like a bulldozer, pushing everyone out of their way. I, somehow, was instead caught right in the middle of them.

The first thing I noticed was a rare site indeed, the head monk of the temple was out amongst the people, or at least out amongst the people surrounded by a huge amount of protection.
The second was this guy.

Li Changchun, the one on the left. Pretty swell, eh? That's my picture there, which I also stuck on Wikipedia. I wonder if I am on their watch list now. He is the 5th ranking member of the Communist party of China and the head of the propaganda arm of their government. At the time I had no idea who he was, but I figured he was important if he had that kind of protection around him. As he stood there a dozen different people in the entourage stood next to him for a photo opportunity. He was in town during a multi country tour, we just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

As he was swept away we headed down off the mountainside temple.

After the temple we headed down into the popular tourist souviner street and may our way through many different shops, all selling mostly the same basic things. There was a type of sweet that we loved and one of the more popular stores offered enough free samples to fill your entire stomach.

Coming down from the temple one of the first stores you'll pass (if you are headed northish) is the one pictured above. There you will be greeted with a glass of green tea to get you in, dance music playing, and Yatsuhashi, one of the most popular sweet souvineers to take home from Kyoto.

We continued on.

Through a garden found behind a store.

Down an old street with many Ryokan unchanged through the years.

We spotted the Ryozen Kannon Memorial off in the distance, we never got any closer though.

Along the way we made our way into yet another Sakura related party going on in a park.

It was bamboo season and we stopped for a snack of some of it fried and put on a stick. Tasty stuff.

We walked past another huge temple that had more stairs than we could handle. We were hungry and it was time to eat a real meal instead of just snack and vendor food.

We decided on this place, which was pretty much across the street from the temple just above.

Some shots of the grounds. It was a quiet escape from the bustling touristy streets we were just on. The restaurant specialized in local Kyoto food, Tofu Ryori.

We ate in a small Japanese style tatami room with the main table having a built in heater for the main dish.

We got quite a lot of food. Each was tofu based, the main course was a large hot pot containing different kinds of tofu cooked at our table. Dessert was sakura iced cream. Our guide was quite delighted by the meal, instead of the tourists he was showing around asking to be taken to McDonalds or other non Japanese food we treated him to a delicious tofu meal. Along with the food we ordered a local Kyoto sake and plumb wine. By the end everyone was feeling quite comfortable and we headed back out to the streets.

Our next stop was one of the largest Shinto shrines in Japan, the Heian Shrine.

Walking through the entrance you enter a massive courtyard.

But the main attraction are the gardens.

One of the things you may recognize in the back gardens are the path of stones across the pond.

As you can see, they want you to be careful.

We somehow managed to survive the path of stones, we didn't even fall into the water.

As we left the shrine our day was not yet finished, we still had another stop.

It was almost closing time and we quickly made our way to..

Ginkakuji, The Silver Pavilion.

Unlike the Golden Pavilion, which is overly golden, this one is silver only in name, and is also under construction.

Sand sculptures created by the monks.

The grounds of The Silver Pavilion were moss covered and peaceful.

Unlike the Golden Pavilion, which was packed when we were there, the Silver Pavilion there were no crowds here, walking up and down the mountain paths through the gardens gave us a chance to unwind after a long and busy day.

Our guide said that each person has their favorite between the two gardens, either the openness of the Golden Pavilion or the shaded moss covered mountainside of the Silver Pavilion.

A look from the highest point of the gardens, down over the Pavilion, sand garden, and the city in the distance.

But don't try anything, they are always watching.

We we left the Pavilion and headed back towards the bus stop.

Along the way we took a side trip down the Path of Philosophy.

It was closing time and also time for us to finally end our day. We started the day on the bus and ended it there.

With one last look at the mountains we got onto the bus and headed back to Kyoto station. Our guide had to transfer somewhere before so we said our goodbyes to him and waved as the bus pulled away. We made it back to the station and were ready to fall asleep.

But the in the station she noticed that there was a huge underground shopping mall (not to be confused with the 11 or something story department store in another section of the station) called The Cube that we had left unexplored, so we ventured in. I spent my time leaning on walls trying not to collapse from exhaustion, for her the shopping gave her final boost of energy for the day.

Complete with a restaurant section that rivaled any seen in America. All enticed you with the standard Japanese plastic food displays on the outside and all looked wonderful.

But we'd have none of that, instead we picked up another strange item from McDonalds Japan, the McPork. It was quite good. With the excitement that the McRib sandwich gets when it comes here introducing this one would seem like a good idea.

She picked up a donut munchkin shaker thing. Like the Shaka Shaka chicken from a few days before they gave you a flavor packet to be added into the cup, then shaka shaka, and you have powder covered donuts.

I'll try not to do that. We passed out.

Day 11

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