Part two Japan recap - Kyoto

Old Apr 6th, 2006, 12:19 PM
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Part two Japan recap - Kyoto

We left Tokyo early Saturday morning, and since Evan traveled on a student pass we could only take local trains. Sometimes the changes were easy, but there were a few stations that had no English signs at all. We’d have been in trouble if we hadn’t had Evan with us (of course we wouldn’t have had a 9 hour trip with 6 changes of train either!)

Since we were running late I phoned Hirota of Hirota Guest House to let her know we’d get into Kyoto Station around 5PM. She told me to call her and hand our phone to the taxi driver when he became puzzled as to where she was located. She’s on Nijo Dori almost exactly 3 blocks south of the Imperial Palace.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to the station and qued up for a cab, sure enough, even though Evan gave the address in Japanese and pointed out in our guidebook we ended up doing exactly as Hirota said, and we had to call back when we were on her street because he still couldn’t find it.

Hirota Guest House was wonderful. Hirota’s English is very good, and we had reserved the small cottage in her back garden. This gave us 2 rooms, plus a bathroom and a tiny kitchen, plus an upstairs room where Gerard and I slept. It was our most expensive stay, but considering what we got, well worth it. She ushered us in and had us sit. She had turned the kerosene heater on and there was a warming table. Does anyone know the name for these? You sit on the floor and put your feet in the heated foot well under the table. It was cold and we were tired, I didn’t want to move. She showed us around, had us sit and brought us tea. I didn’t want to move. Eventually we walked to the underground mall and ate at a chain pasta place. It’s funny, the name was different but the menu was exactly the same as the pasta place in Tokyo. Gerard had been sick that night, so we decided he should get a chance to experience this – plus we were really tired.

We got up early on Sunday and walked down the street to a little coffee shop that was attached to a bakery. We had good coffee and breakfast and went back to speak to Hirota. She had a map that she wrote on and gave us the best options (subway, bus, etc.) for our planned sightseeing. She invited us into her living quarters and showed us her family alters.

So, first stop Ginkakuji (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion). The entrance was rather striking, the temple kind of OK, but the zen garden and the sand sculpture that represents Mt. Fuji (which we could see from our train yesterday) were very striking. The gardens were extensive and absolutely beautiful. It was one of my top three favorite places in Kyoto. We then walked the philosopher’s walk (it started to rain, good thing we brought umbrellas). It’s quite along walk, but nice and peaceful. I can just imagine how beautiful it will be when there are more than just tiny buds on the trees.
This takes us to Eikanko Temple. There are slippers here to protect the wooden floors, and Gerard could not even wedge the front of his foot into the one size fits all slipper. The halls and stairs meandered up the sides of the hill (Gerard gave up and walked around in his stocking feet). That’s when I noticed that was starting to snow and the wind was picking up.
We ended up skipping our next planned stop in favor of finding lunch. I cannot remember the restaurant, but was right across the street from the complex that hosts the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (our next stop) and the Heian Shrine. They had a large display of plastic food in the window, and since Evan was back at our last stop taking pictures, our poor waitress stood outside freezing (it was now snowing sideways) while we ordered by pointing to the food.

The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts was in the basement of the museum and was free. It was very interesting. I know we spent more than our allotted time there.
Then we walked down to the Shrine and took bunches of pictures there. We walked home and chilled for a while, and decided to try the French restaurant we had seen. When we got there, they were booked so we wandered down the street and picked out a tiny eatery. Hand written menus are difficult, and I think Evan did pretty well, but there was always some guesswork involved in ordering food. Anyway, afterwards Gerard wanted to sit at the bar and have a drink. He’s the kind of guy who ends up talking to the waitress, bartender, checker, cab driver, etc. and by this point I think he was a little frustrated at how little of this he’d been able to do because of the language barrier. The guy behind the bar was very friendly and we had a nice long conversation with Evan doing most of the translating and my husband trying several different interesting kinds of drink. (Me, I just had another glass of wine). The bartender ended up treating us to a glass of sake that tasted like green apples. It was a very nice first day in Kyoto.
We left Tokyo early Saturday morning, and since Evan traveled on a student pass we could only take local trains. Sometimes the changes were easy, but there were a few stations that had no English signs at all. We’d have been in trouble if we hadn’t had Evan with us (of course we wouldn’t have had a 9 hour trip with 6 changes of train either!)

Since we were running late I phoned Hirota of Hirota Guest House to let her know we’d get into Kyoto Station around 5PM. She told me to call her and hand our phone to the taxi driver when he became puzzled as to where she was located. She’s on Nijo Dori almost exactly 3 blocks south of the Imperial Palace.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to the station and qued up for a cab, sure enough, even though Evan gave the address in Japanese and pointed out in our guidebook we ended up doing exactly as Hirota said, and we had to call back when we were on her street because he still couldn’t find it.

Hirota Guest House was wonderful. Hirota’s English is very good, and we had reserved the small cottage in her back garden. This gave us 2 rooms, plus a bathroom and a tiny kitchen, plus an upstairs room where Gerard and I slept. It was our most expensive stay, but considering what we got, well worth it. She ushered us in and had us sit. She had turned the kerosene heater on and there was a warming table. Does anyone know the name for these? You sit on the floor and put your feet in the heated foot well under the table. It was cold and we were tired, I didn’t want to move. She showed us around, had us sit and brought us tea. I didn’t want to move. Eventually we walked to the underground mall and ate at a chain pasta place. It’s funny, the name was different but the menu was exactly the same as the pasta place in Tokyo. Gerard had been sick that night, so we decided he should get a chance to experience this – plus we were really tired.

We got up early on Sunday and walked down the street to a little coffee shop that was attached to a bakery. We had good coffee and breakfast and went back to speak to Hirota. She had a map that she wrote on and gave us the best options (subway, bus, etc.) for our planned sightseeing. She invited us into her living quarters and showed us her family alters.

So, first stop Ginkakuji (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion). The entrance was rather striking, the temple kind of OK, but the zen garden and the sand sculpture that represents Mt. Fuji (which we could see from our train yesterday) were very striking. The gardens were extensive and absolutely beautiful. It was one of my top three favorite places in Kyoto. We then walked the philosopher’s walk (it started to rain, good thing we brought umbrellas). It’s quite along walk, but nice and peaceful. I can just imagine how beautiful it will be when there are more than just tiny buds on the trees.
This takes us to Eikanko Temple. There are slippers here to protect the wooden floors, and Gerard could not even wedge the front of his foot into the one size fits all slipper. The halls and stairs meandered up the sides of the hill (Gerard gave up and walked around in his stocking feet). That’s when I noticed that was starting to snow and the wind was picking up.
We ended up skipping our next planned stop in favor of finding lunch. I cannot remember the restaurant, but was right across the street from the complex that hosts the Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (our next stop) and the Heian Shrine. They had a large display of plastic food in the window, and since Evan was back at our last stop taking pictures, our poor waitress stood outside freezing (it was now snowing sideways) while we ordered by pointing to the food.

The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts was in the basement of the museum and was free. It was very interesting. I know we spent more than our allotted time there.
Then we walked down to the Shrine and took bunches of pictures there. We walked home and chilled for a while, and decided to try the French restaurant we had seen. When we got there, they were booked so we wandered down the street and picked out a tiny eatery. Hand written menus are difficult, and I think Evan did pretty well, but there was always some guesswork involved in ordering food. Anyway, afterwards Gerard wanted to sit at the bar and have a drink. He’s the kind of guy who ends up talking to the waitress, bartender, checker, cab driver, etc. and by this point I think he was a little frustrated at how little of this he’d been able to do because of the language barrier. The guy behind the bar was very friendly and we had a nice long conversation with Evan doing most of the translating and my husband trying several different interesting kinds of drink. (Me, I just had another glass of wine). The bartender ended up treating us to a glass of sake that tasted like green apples. It was a very nice first day in Kyoto.
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Old Apr 6th, 2006, 12:28 PM
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Sorry, I don't know why it doubled my post.
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Old Apr 6th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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Second day in Kyoto
We were picking Evan’s girlfriend from the station midday, so we planned to sleep in and meet her, then start our sightseeing.
We ate breakfast at Cocofu again and took the subway to the Kyoto Station. It is amazing. Evan took the 6 sets of escalators and 4 or 5 more flights of stairs all the way to the top for pictures. We did some snooping around at a 100Yen shop, but they didn’t have much. There is a labyrinth of shops under the station and we poked around there for a while. Once we picked up Katy we walked across the street and had lunch at a small Japanese restaurant (I got really good with chopsticks). Then we took a bus to Yasaka Shrine. Katy had missed a train so was probably around 4ish when we got there. There was a festival that ended on March 21 and all the temples and shrines in this area were lit up at night and there were lanterns lighting the way up and down the narrow streets. Of course this made it more crowded, but for a unique experience like this, worth it.
This took us to the Koaiji Temple. They had a special lights show in the Zen garden – which seemed cool and a little strange at that same time. There was a giant Buddha up on the hillside that was all lit up too (It was getting dark by now, which made it all better). We walked through the grounds up and down the side of the hill (the Buddhist temples have the best gardens) and through a stand of bamboo. It was really cool. I’m not sure how much of the lighting there is on regular nights.
We walked up and down steep streets (all the shops were open – a real festival atmosphere with food stalls) to the Kyomizo Temple. It was fantastic. I really wanted to see this one and it’s striking at night.
We found our way to Nijo Dori (bus, subway, walk) and as we turned down the street towards home, we saw the nearly extinct liquor vending machine. This was a newer one, and it was functioning. We took pictures of it then ducked into another tiny eatery. It had a weird name that I can’t remember like Happy Kitchen. That was a so-so meal, not like last night. It was nearly 11 by the time we got back and I could tell we woke Hirota up (curfew is 11 – so we made it). I’ve never stayed at this type of place before and this was one of the things that took some getting used to.

Kyoto day three.
Every night Evan and I have sat down and planned out our next day, and the busses/subway that we need to take to get there. We met Katy and then ate at The Boulangerie. We had to walk quite a way to catch the bus to Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The busses seem to make a big circle around to all the sights and there are almost none that cut through the middle of the city. That was why it was sometimes easier to take subway to Kyoto Station and catch a bus from there.
But I digress. Kinkakuji itself is beautiful. It was a clear still day so the reflection in the pond was nearly perfect. It had also warmed up quite a bit from two days ago. The grounds were nice, but not as nice as Ginkakuji.
Then we hopped the bus and went to Nijojo (Nijo Castle). That was really neat. I bought some nice souvenirs there. I enjoyed walking around the castle (on the nightingale floors!!) at our own pace. The grounds were beautiful too. We spent quite a bit of time there.
Unfortunately, I was coming down with something and that was it for me that day. Evan found a chemist and got some aspirin for me (you could get beer at the corner convenience store, but you had to go to a chemist for aspirin and it was behind the counter.)
That evening we tried the French restaurant again, but they were hosting a wedding. We found a little Spanish place called Antonino’s. It was wonderful. It was authentic. Our waiter was Spanish and Gerard was very happy to have someone he could talk to. They flipped between Spanish and English, with a little Japanese thrown in that Evan had to translate. It was fun. We had tapas (great) that we all shared, and ended up drinking 3 bottles of wine between the 4 of us. The wine was Spanish and was it good!

Last full day in Kyoto
We started at Sanjasangendo Hall. It was fascinating. Katy was very confused ( and frankly had an odd idea of me in her head) because I kept talking about seeing the 1001 Kannons and she thought I meant cannons. You can’t take pictures so I should have bought postcards. We each bought a charm there.
We walked outside, it wasn’t raining when we left this morning, and now it’s just coming down like it’s not going to stop till tomorrow. We went across the street to the Kyoto Museum. It was nice for Katy, but it had much of the same exhibits as The National Museum in Tokyo on a much smaller scale. We stopped at their coffee shop and I had honest to goodness pancakes with real maple syrup. Maple syrup is made in Wisconsin, so I was shocked when Evan told me how expensive it was in Japan (almost 5x as much).
I wasn’t feeling well so the plan was for us to cab back to the house and drop me off. Everyone else was going to see the Imperial Palace. Apparently I am not only the planner, I am also the catalyst. They sat around while I slept.
Guess where we went for dinner on our last night? We finally got in at the French restaurant. It was very authentic. It’s where Nijo Dori and Teramachi Dori meet, but I can’t remember the name. If I find the card I’ll post the name tomorrow. I had the special, which was a lamb stew with olives, yummy.
Then we headed in, we had an early start for Saijo in the morning.
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Old Apr 6th, 2006, 01:51 PM
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Sounds like you've had a great trip so far!

The tables with heaters under them covered with blankets that you sit under are called kotatsu. The kerosene heater is called a stove it doesn't have a fan, and a fan heater if it has a fan.
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Old Apr 6th, 2006, 02:08 PM
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Well, I am leaving in 18 hrs on my own trip and instead of packing (which I have not started for either my daughter or me), or finding the digital camera that is MIA, or doing a work invoice so i can get paid, or filling out some legal papers that are due while I am gone, I am reading your report. I've read it twice now (and no, I don't mean I read the post that repeated your post!)

I laughed out loud at the kannon/girlfriend thing.

The festival you saw was the last night of Hana Touro, a famous light up festival each spring. We went to it last March on the last night also. I wish I would have realized before you went that you were going to be in Kyoto that night, I would have let you know to walk down to Maruyama park to see the juried light scuplture show and lit-up giant ikebana, as well as the parade of geisha in rickshaws that parades through Gion and all the way to the park that evening at dusk. That festival was one of the high points of my trip last year.

I am glad you had a place like "home" in Kyoto since it sounds like you were getting sick at this point.

Geez, I gotta go pack, etc.! Thanks for the send-off w/your report.
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Old Apr 7th, 2006, 05:51 AM
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emd - I know you've already left, but have a good trip.
I think you are going to hit the sakura just right. Lucky
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