Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Japan Day 3 continued: Last of Kyoto

We continued our walking tour of Kyoto. There are so many things to see it seemed we walked from temple to shrine to park to temple...


We ran out of time and unable to go inside this shrine to see this other large statue.

It was fun traveling around with Rowan because all of the Japanese loved this little blondie!
Rub these little statues which dot the walk for good luck.
We made our way to Maruyama Park for some more cherry blossom time. According to Wikipedia, this is the central area for cherry blossom watching in Kyoto. I was finally able to experience takoyaki -- fried octopus balls. This was evidently very popular carnival food because you could find it everywhere a festival was occurring.

Very hot inside!
I liked them okay but they weren't my favorite. I was fine with the octopus but a little less happy with the soggy dough in the middle.

Watching them cook the tako balls was the most interesting part of this culinary experience.


As I said before, "All Japanese love the cherry blossoms" (direct quote from a Japanese man we met). The parks are full of people, there are carnival-like festivals all over, and they like hanami (flower watching), even at night--or maybe especially at night. Coming from Hawkeye country, I couldn't help but think that they are tailgating, except without the football and for flowers and trees instead.

The park had hanging lanterns for the cherry blossom festival so we could continue the festivities into the night.

A girl (probably the one in the yellow pants) was ranting and raving about these fish. She seemed to really want us to try them. We weren't quite that brave...

I did try some sweet potato fries, a custard-filled pancake like dessert, and kobe beef. Oh, and don't forget, the octopus balls.

I think this is the gate for Yasaka shrine.

More walking along the streets of Kyoto. Aren't the Japanese lanterns pretty?
After a long day we realized we were still a little hungry after all of our festival food. We were back at the subway station and decided we better try our hand at Mickey D's for the teriyaki burgers. 

We decided to try a cherry blossom float. This was delicious, except they put ice in it which made the ice cream a big icy mess. When Abe tried to ask for it to be made without the ice cream he was told that that was not allowed. 

Teriyaki burger--also made with cherry blossoms. The bun was pink and there was a pink sauce. I think I was a little cherry-blossomed out by this point!
At this point I started thinking that "All the Japanese people love the cherry blossoms" enough to start eating, drinking, watching, smelling, touching, and maybe even hearing them!

I think any trip to Japan requires a trip to Kyoto. Especially if you can make it during the spring to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom (to watch and maybe even taste).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Japan Day 3 continued: Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera

The only time I had wi-fi while I was in Japan was while we were at our hotel in Kyoto. Our first night there I turned on my phone for the first time and saw some pictures from an old BYU friend who was living in Okinawa while her husband works as a dentist for the military. I had thought previously about contacting her that we would be in Japan, but as I knew there was no way we would make it down there, I didn't bother. As chance would have it, she was in Kyoto at the same time on vacation. We were able to do some maneuvering and meet up with them for half a day while we were there, thanks in part to Abe's rented phone.

We bought bus passes after lunch and headed to one of the most famous temples in Japan, Kiyomizu-dera, the temple of pure water. It is a beautiful wooden building built off the side of a mountain by a waterfall.

Taryn, Erin, and Rowan...where are Grant and Abe?

starting to get some cherry blossom blooms

Since we already found each other we didn't attempt the walk but thought we could maybe rub off some good vibes.

The temple houses a "love rock" on its grounds. There are two stones placed apart form each other about 100 feet. If you are able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you are supposed to be able to find your love. If someone helps you along the way, you will find someone but require a matchmaker. There was also a tree in the same area for women to leave curses for other women. Must be a powerful place...

The Japanese loved baby Rowan

You can use long cups to catch and then drink the water from the waterfall. It is supposed to bring you good luck and prosperity.

We thought we better give it a try! After all, we had come all that way. I was happy as the germ-a-phobe I am that they sterilize the cups with UV light in between use...

Feeling lucky after drinking the water

After leaving the temple, you walk down a steep hill lined by shops. We tried every kind of mochi you an imagine (crushed rice filled balls) and tried some cherry blossom flavored ice cream. I can't describe the flavor of cherry blossoms but I did like the ice cream. 

There was so much to see in Kyoto and we just scratched the surface...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Japan Day 3: Kyoto Tour

The third day was our first where we didn't have to do any traveling and could enjoy where we were! We booked a tour before arriving in Japan for the morning for some sight seeing. Our tour guide told us there are about 1700 temples and shrines in Kyoto, and as the things we wanted to see where pretty spread out, the tour was a good idea. It was nice to have easy transportation from place to place and to have someone there to tell us about the places we were visiting. I had been disappointed previously at other sites because I was unable to read the signs and understand what I was looking at so this was a nice change. (If I were in Kyoto without someone who spoke Japanese, I think a tour would be a good idea to take some of the stress out of figuring out where to go and what to see, even though they tend to rush you from place to place.)

Our first stop was the Nijo castle. This was one of my favorite stops. They have a large beautiful wall/fort (seen above) surrounded by a big moat. Inside is a large palace for the shogun, (the previous military leader before the emperor took control) made of paper walls, beautiful murals, and a "nightingale floor" which made a bird-singing song when you walk to alert intruders. We learned some more about samurai culture and the previous government system of Japan. It was surrounded by serene Japanese style gardens I would have enjoyed walking through more.

Our second stop was probably the most popular temple site in Kyoto, the Kinkaku-ji temple, plated in real gold. The temple was built as a palace for a rich shogun who obviously liked the bling. When he died, the palace was turned into a temple. 

The building was impressive to see but I might have loved walking its grounds with rock gardens, ponds, and cherry trees even more. I would love to have a Japanese garden one day! So beautiful and serene.

There were a lot of people here and hard to get a picture just the two of us (with the temple)
I can only imagine how beautiful the gardens must be when they are all green and perked up after winter!

Our final tour stop was the Imperial Palace. They have restricted access to the palace but the tour allowed us to go inside the gates without securing a pass weeks in advance. We didn't get many pictures but it was interesting to see. I liked seeing the large courtyard lined with white gravel that is like what I have seen in numerous Japanese themed movies.

outside the gate at the Imperial Palace

more gardens

When our tour ended, we were famished. We were able to meet up with some friends the afternoon and to get some lunch. We had a hard time deciding where to eat and finally chose a restaurant in the subway station with a pretty traditional menu. The subway system is pretty complex in Tokyo. There are multiple lines and the stations are quite busy. We noted the night we arrived how many people were out and about at 9 or 10 pm on a Sunday night. "Where is everyone going?" They have multiple restaurants, shops, and malls inside the subway stations. 

On a side note, one nice thing about Japanese dining is that they almost always have plastic models of the food in the window and pictures on the menu. You can walk through these big subway stations and see hundreds of options before choosing and you can get a good idea what kind of food you will be eating. It also makes it easier to order when you don't speak the language as you can easily see what you are choosing and can point without having to read or speak Japanese.

Abe got some of his favorites that have been passed on to me, tempura, soba noodles, and oyaku-don and I got curry udon (the fat white Japanese noodles in a curry broth). They gave me a bib to wear while eating. I guess they knew what they were thinking because I would have had splatters on my white shirt without it.