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|
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.