February 25, 2009: “Day #8: Memoirs of Kyoto”

We woke up this morning to more pouring rain. We are still determined to visit the Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion), the Ryoanji Temple, and the Ninnaji Temple. If we have additional time we will try to visit the Daikakuji Temple but with the odd bus schedule, it is somewhat out of the way. We will be heading out soon so I will write about our adventures upon our return.

We headed out in the rain and walked to the Kyoto Station. We caught a bus headed for the Nijo Castle. This castle was our absolute favorite! It was originally built in 1603 and was the official residence of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu. The main building inside Nijo Castle – the Ninomaru Palace – has approximately 33 rooms and more than 800 tatami mats. In order to enter the castle, they required that all shoes be removed and slippers be worn. My poor hubby! They don’t make any slippers in Japan large enough to fit his feet! The Nijo Castle is renowned for their Nightingale floors. In order to be forewarned if an enemy breached the outer moat, these floors were installed. When gravity is forced on the floorboards, there is a space that moves up and down to produce a squeaking sound. Remarkably enough, it does sound like faint birds chirping. I was completely amused by this and I think some of the Japanese “guards” gave me a wary eye for being easily amused by the chirping floors. No pictures were permitted inside the Ninomaru Palace. They keep the building quite dark to preserve the original paintings and woodcarvings. I did, however, manage to sneak a few different pictures (sans the flash on my camera so as not to damage the paintings). I had to be very careful about sneaking pictures and we are fairly certain one guard suspected we were disobeying their strict rules so we were followed around for a short time. The gardens as the Castle were incredible, and I am certain they must be much more beautiful in the spring time when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. We were able to catch the very beginning of plum blossom season and it was exceptionally beautiful. I think we took about 100 pictures of the Nijo Castle alone. We spent more than two hours at the castle wandering around the beautiful grounds, viewing their incredible rock walls (similar to the rock walls I took pictures of at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in October).

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From the Nijo Castle we headed to the Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion. This pavilion is probably one of the most photographed Japanese temples and it has appeared in National Geographic several different times. The temple was built in 1220 and it overlooks a beautiful Zen-pond that is quite incredible. Honestly, the temple itself was breathtaking but that was really the only main attraction. We wandered through the grounds (though they were not nearly as expansive as the Nijo Castle’s grounds) and noticed that it is a Japanese tradition to throw coins in small ponds of water or at statues. We took pictures to show how many coins were surrounding some of these statues because it really was quite unbelievable!

Afterward, we wound our way down the street, ate lunch at a local ramen shop, and then headed to the Ryoanji Temple. This temple consists of a very simple Zen-like rock garden, consisting only of white sand and fifteen strategically placed rocks. It was created at the end of the 15th century. Within the grounds of the temple is Kyoyochi Pond which was made in the late 12th century.

Our plans to visit the Ninnaji Temple faded as our feet started to ache. It was not one of the top attractions in Kyoto and was more a convenience factor since we were viewing other temples on the same street; therefore, we did not feel it was a great loss to readjust our schedule.

We then headed down toward Gion in search of a geisha/cherry blossom souvenir. We did not find any that were to our liking. We then headed down the small side street that we soon realized was the true geisha district. We have some pictures of the geisha’s watering the streets (as the restaurants opened). I am not sure what this custom is but I felt bad for some of the geishas because photographers were literally getting right in their faces and taking pictures. I took a couple pictures from afar, but did not interrupt their daily routines as we both found it quite fascinating to watch.

Afterward we returned to the hotel where we referenced our Japan Handbook that Lisa kindly allowed us to borrow. We found a sushi-go-around, known as a kaiten-zushi. The plates are color-coded according to the price of the sushi and at the end the server totals up the number of plates and gives you the bill. This was actually the best kaiten-zushi I have ever eaten (though nothing compares to Shin’s delectable sushi). We then wandered down the L-O-N-G block to a crazy crepe stand and had dessert. I mentioned my obsession with crazy crepes in my previous emails (October 2008). For those that may not recall, a crazy crepe is a French crepe that is wrapped like a waffle cone and filled with various ingredients. Mine was filled with vanilla ice cream, heavy whipped cream, and blueberries. My hubby’s was filled with maple custard that was positively delicious. I am telling you, I have no idea why this amazing concoction has not caught on in the states!

Tomorrow we will try and see one additional temple, though it will be a bit tricky with our check out time and hauling around our luggage. Our train departs for Tokyo at 1:46PM and arrives at 4:40PM.

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