February 11, 2008

Trip To Kyoto

Today was the "bonus" third day of our long weekend. So we decided to get up early, hit the railway and head out to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. It was about a one hour train ride out to the ultra-modern Kyoto Station. It was funny walking around this extremely contemporary train station knowing that we were about to spend the day touring temples dating back over 800 years.

While riding the train, Mike and Ilena got a kick out of listening to Jacob and Lauren. They were acting like real locals, very comfortable with the train lingo and even reciting the overhead train announcements in Japanese. (Jacob: "We're not changing at Uozaki for the Hanshin Line. We're going to Sumiyoshi to change to the JR Line.") Most of the "real locals" get quite a kick out of out kids too. Not only are they the loudest children in Japan, but we hear at least 100 times a day that they are "kawaii" - cute. Seldom does a blond or blue-eyed child walk these streets. One woman on the bus in Kyoto was literally petting Lauren and holding her ponytail in awe. Lauren said to us later in the day, "Everybody giggles when they see me, I'm such a laughy girl." Hope they both don't get a complex or let it go to their heads!

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we went to the Tourist Information Center which was hidden on the 9th floor of the Kyoto Station Shopping Mall. We were lucky to find it as it was invaluable and really helped us to plan our day. We bought one day bus passes (as buses rule the roads in the sprawling city), which also proved to be very wise purchases. Even the buses run like clockwork here. We can't understand how!

We first traveled by bus to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, which was built back in the 1200s, and is absolutely stunning lacquered in gold-leaf. It was quite a zen experience walking around the grounds of this gorgeous temple surrounded by ponds with running waterfalls, bamboo trees, large-mouthed fish and local workers hand pruning the shrubbery in their traditional attire. Jacob and Lauren loved the Golden "Castle," as well as walking the grounds.

From here, we hopped on another bus and headed to the Eastern side of Kyoto to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. On the outskirts of the city, up against the mountains, sits a quaint little alley-way hill that winds its way up to the temple grounds. We enjoyed some ice cream to keep the kids happy, and wandered on. (Unfortunately, Lauren had a mini-breakdown when we learned that the brown ice cream we thought may be chocolate was actually "roast tea" flavored. But we persevered.) Originally intended to be lacquered in silver, the plan changed and this breathtaking temple is constructed out of wood, and is set into a beautiful bamboo forest and surrounded by peaceful moss-covered gardens. We were able to walk up the mountain behind the temple and catch a great view of the city of Kyoto from above. After walking through the beautiful grounds of Ginkaku-ji, we felt remarkably fresh and at peace (and this, despite the fact that we had spent the day with Jacob and Lauren, who were growing more tired as the day went on - there was a lot of "Mommy and Daddy carry me!" going on). Amazing.

After we were done at Ginkaku-ji and had enjoyed some other Japanese street treats (Kumamochi - sweet rice balls on a stick and Kotoimo (we think!)- sweet potato wrapped in sesame, served warm), we took a stroll down Philosopher's Walk. This narrow street lined with cherry blossom trees (yet to bloom), lots of local souvenir shops and great eats, took us along a canal as we made our way back down next to the mountain. It definitely had a somewhat European feel to it (but also a completely non-European feel to it). The aroma was just plain ridiculous as one of the Kyoto specialties are these little crisp cinnamon cookies which are being baked on every corner. With all the cherry blossoms, in about a month, it is sure to be stunning. We will definitely be coming back.

We finished our day back at Kyoto Station at a great Ramen noodle place for dinner. Did you know that Ramen is the Japanese-ification of Lo Mein. So funny. Everyone loved dinner, and Jacob and Lauren (and Mike and Ilena) loved riding the 10 story escalators all the way up to the restaurant, where we caught some great night views before heading back home to Rokko Island.


Matthew J said...

Wow...the stories and adventures continue! I am trying to take note of some of the sites and regions that stand out to me...I like the idea of a trip back to Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season! I was really behind on reading your blog. Lucky for us each blog entry tends to read like a separate story so I can get caught up at a later date! Miss you guys!


jmgesq said...

Lauren looks very nice recovered from the ice cream adventure! Are there other unusual flavors for unwary gaijin (sp??) to consider?

Gabriel said...

They Look like they are having a lot of fun!


P.S. I love that last pic!

Gabriel said...

Gabi wanted to write to you...see above. We all enjoyed the latest installments. What beautiful places-we particularly loved the pics of the Golden Pavillion. How will you celebrate Presidents Day in Japan? :)


jackaw said...

Words fail me! It really is like an adventure story for the family! I am full of admiration for the way you connect to the place(s). the people, the food and absolute newness of it all. Once you mentioned Murakami, I was completely hooked, of course. Opening another of his books is like sitting down with an old friend and talking and talking and....

Well done, guys! Really a wonderful read and I finally realize what living vicariously can be!

Much love to all~!

Lisa said...

My favorite part of this entry was looking at pictures of jacob with the biggest nostrils i have ever seen and lauren's cute little hands convered in ramen soup...yumm. Love and miss you!