June 1, 2008

Trip to Kyoto - Arashiyama Area

Today was forecast to be a beautiful sunny 80 degree day in Kobe, so we decided to take a day trip (which we hadn't done in a number of weeks) to Kyoto.

This time, we took the advice of one of Mike's co-workers who lives in Kyoto, and went to the Arashiyama Area (in the Western part of the ancient city). We arose early (as usual, thanks to the kids!), so we had negotiated the various trains and arrived to our destination by 10 AM. (Kyoto is an hour away from where we live, but Arashiyama takes another 20 minutes or so.)

Arashiyama, once an excursion destination for Emperors of the Heian Period (794-1192), is now a small, quaint area with tree-lined streets of cobblestone surrounded on three sides by mountains. It holds several historic sites, temples, shrines, but its true charms are the natural ones - the Oi and Katsura Rivers, the surrounding mountains, and the peaceful shaded bamboo forest. It was a terrific place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

After making our way from the train station, we strolled through the outer grounds of the Tenryuji Temple, where the kids posed with the large masks outside the temple. We then walked on a nearby path through the bamboo forest, a very cool and peaceful place (much appreciated on this hot, sunny day) lined with soaring bamboo trees. We emerged at the small Nonomiya Shrine, where Lauren rang the bell and washed her hands. Along the way, we hit a couple of great little souvenir shops and local artisan shops (at one, a friendly merchant tried to teach Jacob to juggle some hacky-sack type things she was selling), and of course, grabbed the requisite ice cream treat for the kids.

Next, we decided to head down towards the River area and the famous Togetsukyo Bridge (Bridge of the Moon Crossing the Sky), an old wooden bridge with plenty of room for foot traffic. Many people were out strolling with their parasols, and Samurai-era rickshaws were running through the streets along-side with the motor traffic. We even caught a glimpe of a few brightly adorned Geishas. We crossed the bridge and spent some time watching the local fisherman wading in the water below with the longest fishing rods we had ever seen.

Though we hadn't planned on hiking, we opted to check out Arashiyama Monkey Park, set 160 meters above street level. We trekked up to the viewing area where hundreds of Japanese monkeys roamed free. It was quite a hike for the kids (and Mike and Ilena in flip-flops), but we made it. (That'll teach us to wear sneakers.) We bought Lauren and Jacob each some food (chestnuts and apples) to give to the very hungry monkeys. It was literally gone in seconds. Feeding had to be done from the inside of the caged "Resting Hut." These were some very grabby monkeys.

After the hike back down to the river bank, we needed a rest. There were many people out in row boats (available for rental) and other "pleasure boats." We took out a row boat for an hour and relaxed on the River. Jacob had fun working the oars (and we had fun watching him try to navigate us around).

Since we didn't really feel the need to sit down for a lunch meal, we stopped at a couple little outdoor street food stands along the way. We enjoyed the freshly made rice crackers (flavored with sugar, or black sesame, or wasabi and seaweed) and croquettes, but our absolute favorite was the tsukemono store (very famous Japanese pickled foods), which today was selling fresh whole pickles (really just lightly-pickled ice-cold whole crunchy cucumbers) on sticks. Mike and Ilena each had two. They were delicious!

Before we left town, we attempted to take a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway, but it was sold-out. Guess everyone else had the same idea for this beautiful day. We'll have to save this one for next time. Arashiyama is definitely a place that we want to come back to.

After a 20 minute train ride, we were back at the mega-complex that is Kyoto Station (home of the longest escalators we have seen yet). There, we happened to catch the end of a very polished High School band concert, and then grabbed some dinner before heading back home. For dinner, we decided to try out Log Kit, a hamburger shop where all of the cooks wear cowboy hats. Seriously. Although a little light on meat (evoking a "Where's the beef?" sort of vibe), the sandwiches included all the fixins' and the fries were terrific. It's not like we've had the opportunity to go out for burgers too often over here, so it did hit the spot.

Here is one last shot of Jacob and Lauren on the train. Books and UNO passed the time on the way there and back.


jmgesq said...

Those are two very tired looking kids! Is Jacob actually reading on his own??

As usual a chock-a-block full day for the Kasdans. No half measures here!

Lisa said...

Seeing Jacob read just made me sooo happy..that's so wonderful. The bamboo forest walk looked incredible..really and truly. I'm so looking forward to coming! You guys are really taking advantage of this stay and i love that!

Mike said...


That's what my momma always taught me!