Monday, January 27, 2014

Travel: JAPAN, part 2


We actually did Kyoto in two trips. We were there for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then back there for four days over New Year's, but I'm going to show you all the photos at once for maximum effect. On first glance, Kyoto is not a beautiful city. But once we started to explore and found the smaller neighbourhoods, it was everything we hoped it would be. In fact, it was everything we hoped Japan would be! The first night there I wandered down the street from our ryokan towards the shiatsu parlour, and I saw the most elegant husband and wife in their 70's, both dressed in kimonos and wooden sandals, walking down the the street together. They were the most elegant couple I'd ever seen. But what I would soon discover is that everything in Kyoto is elegant. There is tremendous attention paid to detail, quality, craftsmanship and creativity. Even the tourist-y shops are beautiful. We also got the sense of "real life" that was taking place - charming caf├ęs where people write or meet a friend, delicious food markets where women were doing the weekly shopping, and neighborhood folks saying their daily prayers at the local shrine. We crammed a lot into our 6 days in Kyoto, and still had so much more we wanted to do. In fact, I could easily spend a month in Kyoto. Maybe one day.

The twelve-course Christmas Eve dinner served in our room at the Hiirajiya Ryokan.


We didn't expect to see much evidence of Christmas in Japan, as it is generally not celebrated there. So the kids were delighted to see the few Christmas lights around Kyoto in honour of the tourists.


A buddhist priest on his way to work. I love the string and straw sandals they wear, even in winter.


Kiyomizudera a.k.a. Kyomi's Temple. These temples are amazing when you first see them, but I slightly felt like once I'd seen one, I'd seen them all. So we paced ourselves and made sure not to overdose on the temples.


On Christmas Day we treated ourselves to a guided tour in Kyoto. It was such a relief to just follow someone around all day, not to have my head buried in maps and guide books the whole time. Our guide showed us the best of central Kyoto - the temples, the restaurants, the stores. It was so much fun.


I loved how imposing this temple was. We all felt very very small and humble standing inside the main entrance. Zach really enjoyed all the Shinto and Zen Buddhist rituals he learned at the temples - drinking the holy water, ringing the bell, lighting incense. He is the most spiritual in our family.


The beautiful park between temples in Kyoto. Even though it was winter, there was still lots of greenery and sunshine.


Christmas Dinner at the Hiirajiya Ryokan.


If you have any plans to go to Kyoto, I highly recommend a trip to the Kokedera moss garden which you have to plan well in advance. We arranged our tickets through Chris Rowthorne tours (you pay a $50 fee for this arrangement) or you can write a letter to the garden and they will reply in writing with a day and time. The hassle of getting tickets was absolutely worth it. The gardens felt like a secret, lost world.


At Kokedera, it was also a relief not to be surrounded by hordes of people. They only let in  handful of people at a time, so you really get to absorb the beauty of the garden without tourists in your view.


The tea house at Kokedera.
We walked around the Geisha district at dusk hoping to catch a glimpse of a Maiko going to work, but as it was New Year's Eve we didn't have much luck. Nonetheless, the areas where they live and work looks just like old Japan, as it could have existed a hundred years ago. This walk was one of my favourites.


On New Year's Day Zach and I woke early and went to Kinkaku-Ji, the golden temple, just outside of Kyoto. Wow. It was everything we hoped it would be, and so lovely to start a new year staring at such beauty. We beat the crowds and didn't have to wait in line to ring the huge New Year's bell and receive a blessing.
The surrounding lake and gardens around the Golden Temple were as stunning as the building itself.


Christopher and I headed to a New Year's Day soak in the baths.



4 comments:

  1. Oh my god - so much beauty! You have convinced me to visit Kyoto.

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  2. Thank you so much for this comprehensive overview. My husband and I are planning our first trip to Japan (Toyko and Kyoto) in April and this information has been so helpful! Beautiful pictures, as well.

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  3. Hi there my dear, maybe we could follow each other on Bloglovin and/or GFC, Facebook?

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  4. I made a water color painting from one of the Japan pictures you posted, if you want to see it http://tobesane.deviantart.com/art/They-ate-sushi-too-430495914

    My parents took me on a trip to Japan when I was 15. To kyoto as well. The impression will stay with me forever.

    I love your blog. You are a gifted writer and story teller.

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