I hadn’t got much sleep when I woke up and headed for a hotel where I would be picked up by the tour group. It really didn’t matter because nobody goes on a trip to sleep. At least nobody I have met. You need to sleep? You better do that at work! Ha! If only.
The hotel I was supposed to be picked up at was at the station I had visited the night before when I had went to the Umeda Sky Building. Which was nice because I knew that station a little bit. I left early anyway. I knew how to get to the Umeda building but I was not entirely sure where the hotel was. I was not taking chances. So I arrived really early too. I also arrived starving because I hadn’t picked up any food along the way. This was actually kind of a ridiculous trend of mine while I was in Japan. The earliness was okay because the tour people were already there waiting for me and the other early birds. The Kyoto tour was a popular one and they had 3 bus groups for the tour. So when another of the groups came through I was attached to them for the day and got to leave a little earlier. We were bound to board a JR train to Kyoto that only made two stops before Kyoto. It was a super special express or whatever the words they use. You see the JR lines have a local, an express, and a super express. We were jumping on the quick one. I got on a few locals in Tokyo and they were long boring rides that stopped every couple of kilometers (Japan is Metric).
Anyway my first action of the day was to lose my train ticket back at the hotel. Luckily the guide I was following had an extra and he handed it to me. The ticket was found on the hotel lobby floor and given to the guide who had spotted me later on in the day. They made it seem very easy and like a thing not to worry about. Except those were close to 50 dollar tickets, you know the price of one of my hats I bought the day before. That impressed me and it actually makes me really want to recommend the company. Sunrise Tours people! I booked through Viator but they can be booked through Japanican as well. They have all kinds of tours throughout Japan; including the one I took to Mt. Fuji.
When we got to Kyoto we walked across the street to the hotel where we would hop on a tour bus. As I said before, it was a busy day so we had a bit of a wait. Which gave me time to think about my growling tummy. When the buses did arrive we boarded the bus and our guide was an older Japanese man. He told us things and pointed out stuff as we drove to our first stop but none of what he said that morning stuck with me. I was too busy staring out the window as the city passed by.
The first stop was a Zen Buddhist temple. Ryoan-ji. Apparently this temple boasts the most famous rock garden in the world. I like rock gardens a lot and there is one I enjoy visiting in Portland. The temple was originally a villa of an aristocrat before the Zen Buddhists got it in 1450. The grounds are very well maintained and there was a lot of lingering Fall beauty to see with every step. The Japanese tend to cultivate everything in a garden like this, even the moss is carefully looked after and encouraged to grow. The rock garden was bustling when I got there and all front row seats were taken so I waited until I found a spot and then I waited a little longer until the group moved on. When I heard the next group coming in I finally left the peace of that area. When I left the rock garden I walked a wooded path around the lake and back to the bus. I stopped and took several pictures along the way.
We loaded back onto the tour bus and our guide explained to us that a shrine on the left was special for the Emperor because there were 5 white lines on the wall surrounding it. My tummy was growling at this point but we were still 2 stops away from lunch so I told it to shush.
Our next stop was Kinkaku-ji Temple, better known as the Golden Pavilion. It seems only fair that I booked this tour a couple months before I went on the tour and I had no idea where the tour would take me that day. I had no expectations for them to meet and no idea what I would see. Well, I knew I
would see temples and other stuff along that vein. So when I walked in and got a view of the Golden Pavilion I was really amazed by it. It was beautiful! The guide told us that it was wrapped in a layer of real gold and gave some estimate in US dollars but I was too spell-bound for the number to stick in my brain. The temple is a Buddhist temple. It is another case of the temple originally being a private villa. In 1397, the 3rd Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, acquired the land for his own use. When he died the villa was converted into a temple. According to my little brochure it was registered as a World Cultural heritage Site in 1994. The site has a nice strolling path and the lake surrounding the Golden Pavilion lends itself perfectly for taking beautiful shots of the building. When I was done looking at the site I wandered in to the gift shop and tried to find something to buy but nothing was compelling me to purchase it so went outside and bought an ice cream from the vending machine and waited for the rest of the group. This was one of the few times while I was on the tour that I did not feel the crunch for time. I had underestimated how much time it would take to tour the area and had, in my opinion, not spent enough time goofing around with my camera pointed at the pavilion.
We were headed to our 3rd stop of the day, the Kyoto Imperial Palace. You see, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years; from 784 to 1869. The Imperial Palace was originally built in a different part of Kyoto but it had a habit of getting destroyed a lot so the Emperor had some back up spots to crash at while the place was rebuilt. It started happening so frequently that the Emperor stopped going back to the original palace and instead chilled out in his backup pad. Eventually they topped rebuilding the one that kept getting destroyed. So I visited an Imperial Palace that was originally just a place for him to hang out at while his home was rebuilt. Knowing this information kind of makes the place seem even more extravagant than it looked. Our guide made sure that we knew all the giant building were only used by two people and only when they felt like coming there, you know since Kyoto is no longer the capital.
Just because the Emperor changed locations does not mean that this place survived without being destroyed or burnt down. The palace continued to get destroyed regularly and the one I visited was rebuilt in 1854. It is in a traditional Heian style, in case you know what that means. To give you scale, the palace is on a land that is approximately 27 acres. There are several buildings and several gates on the property. One of the buildings was specifically designed as a waiting room for people coming to see the emperor. There were 3 waiting rooms and you are sorted by your rank. Each room has different scenes painted on the walls for you to examine while you waited. If you were in the lower level you probably were wishing iPads were invented so you could game, read a digital book or post selfies about how you were waiting for the emperor.
They have another building for important ceremonies. A gate that was used for official visits by courtiers. There is the Seiryoden that was used originally as the Emperor’s residence but it seems like according to what I have read it no longer is. There is also a nice garden with a lovely pond. I do like this part of Japanese architecture where they make room for a little nature, well crafted nature of course. You know, that is, if you have the money. The biggest building on the grounds is the Otsunegoten and until the Emperor moved the capital this was the place he called home from the end of the 16th century. In case you are wondering, we did not get to go in anywhere. This place was heavily monitored by dozens of guards and we had to walk in lines of 4 when we went in. We were probably supposed to stay in our rows of 4 once we got in but we all spread out like crazy people. So I did not get to explore the inner splendor of the Imperial Palace and I am not sure that many do. I was still amazed by its size. When we were leaving I was very happy to be heading toward lunch.
I was happy to arrive at lunch but we had 3 different lunch locations we were stopping at and he was telling us which ones to get off at but it seemed really confusing to me. I attempted to get off at the first stop but he told me to wait. When we stopped at the second stop he had me wait again. So I started eating my arm. When we stopped at the third stop only 2 of us were left, so we got out and walked a ways toward the restaurant. When we walked in we were greeted by a soup, rice, tempura, a hot pot thing, some white stuff, some green stuff, some more white stuff and fruit. I ate everything and it was all decent but I would not order it again if given the choice. While I was there eating lunch I found myself sharing the table with the other person from my earlier tour group. I decided to be friendly and we talked through lunch. This is what I found out while pretending to be an ace reporter. She works for some kind of company that works with some other company that is based in China so she is frequently in Hong Kong. She decided after the most recent trip that she was taking a holiday in Japan. She had spent some time in Tokyo and was beginning her time in Kyoto. I felt way better after lunch and on the way back to the bus with a bunch of new people, the others went elsewhere apparently, I bought a coffee from the vending machine.
The bus driver had changed over the lunch period but the tour guide was the same. So the only two people on the afternoon tour from the earlier group were myself and the lady I had lunch with. Apparently the afternoon tour is more popular than the morning tour and we had a full bus. I could no longer have the luxury of 2 seats to myself. I was a little sad about that. The first seat partner was a big muscular Russian guy. He was not talkative. So I sat there listening to the tour guide sprinkle in some of his earlier anecdotes with some new sightings as we drove to the 4th destination.
The 4th stop was Heian Jingu Shrine. It is a temple of orange, white, and green. Apparently it is the newest religious site in Kyoto, it was built in 1895. It has the largest sacred gate (torii) in Japan. There are gardens somewhere in the are but a stroll through the gardens were not on the tour agenda. In fact, until I read up on it later I had no idea there were gardens associated with this shrine. This shrine is a Shinto shrine and was built to honor two different emperors. This was built after the capital was moved to Japan and one of the emperors it honors was the person who located the capital to the area and the other was the emperor who moved the capital to Tokyo. The style and colors the shrine sports is an ode to the Heian period Imperial Palace, you know the first one not the other one I visited before lunch. Apparently a few of the buildings burned down and were rebuilt in the 70’s. Which leads me to believe that being a building that is an Imperial Palace or a replica of an Imperial Palace in Kyoto is hazardous to your longevity.
The 5th stop was my third favorite of the day. When I got there I really was not expecting much from it. On the outside it was not the most impressive and I only took pictures of the building through the view of trees. It was brown and big but not super compelling. The inside was what was interesting but I was not allowed to take pictures in there. SO I will try to describe it for you.
The 5th stop was Sanjusangen-do. This was originally set up in 1164 but it burned down. When it was rebuilt in 1266 they managed to keep it standing and have only had to do 4 major restorations since. Inside there are 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity; 1000 of which are standing and one large seated Buddha in the middle. All of the statues, despite appearances, are made of Japanese cypress. It originally had 124 statues in the 12th centuries and the other 876 were made during the 13th century. In addition to the 1001 Buddhas there are several other gods there. The Thunder God and Wind God are placed on a side of the hall and stand on pedestals shaped like clouds. They have 28 guardian deities standing in front of the Buddha statues. They are pretty vivid and kind of alarming really. It took several minutes to walk the temple Hall and look at all the statues but it was pretty amazing. On the back side of the hall, the route you take as you exit, they had several paintings, carvings and informational displays. They also had a few of the statues in miniature form so that the blind could experience the temple as well.
When you walk in the hall is dark and at first you are walking down a hallway. Then you round a corner and see more than a 1000 statues. It is amazing. All the lights in the room are focused on the statues and very few illuminate the path but there are hundreds of people leading the way so it matters not. The room is a functioning temple after all and a lot of the people passing through are Buddhists. This means that the room is filled with incense and it is almost overpowering despite the size of the hall. I was walking along and I kept being amazed at the size of the place and the details carved into the wood. Until the guide said something to us I was under the impression it was stone or metal and I was surprised to discover it was all wood. I had been feeling antsy before we arrived here. The tour was starting to get on my nerves because it felt like we always had only a short window of time to look and enjoy the places we stopped. When we arrived here I was immediately glad we stopped and perused and was less irritated when we loaded back on for our 6th and final temple.
The last stop was the Kisomizu-dera Temple. This place ended up having a decent amount of walking just to get to the temple. The buses park in a lot below and then you walk along a street filled with shops designed to bring the tourist inside. Our guide told us several times to stick with him and that we would be able to shop on the way back to the bus. It was raining as we made our ascent and my umbrella was in Osaka. I eyed the umbrellas for sale at the shops but I wanted to get in the temple and so I followed the guide’s directions. I still managed to miss him handing out the tickets and brochures to the group. So when I went inside I got in the middle of the group and just acted confident as I strolled in. That is a technique that works just as much here as it does when I sneak into Costco for free snacks. I did not feel bad about it because I had paid for the tour and I am sure the guide had paid for me. I just had been too busy taking pictures to see him hand out the tickets. He was too far ahead for me to wave him down and it was fairly loud, by the time I was near him again I had forgotten the ticket issue and was once again taking photos. The temple has a great view of Kyoto. The trees that were spread out before me were in all shades of colors from green to Fall colors and even some Winter shades of dormancy.
I had to look this place up later because I had missed the brochure and had not been close enough to hear what the guide had told the group. Kisomizu-dera means “Pure Water Temple” and was built at the Ottawa Falls. It is a well-known temple and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is built high up and has a balcony area that you can overlook the world below up. As I walked around snapping pictures I found the guide again and he was letting us know that to the left was the Jishu Shrine, where you go for matters of love and the heart. We could head there or we could head around the path toward a tower I saw in the distance and loop back toward the street filled with vendors. At this point I was all shrined out so I headed toward the town below. Stopping to take pictures along the way; a few pictures were snapped of the tourists who had picked a different tour where you tour Kyoto in a kimono all day. It sounded and looked fun and might be something to do next time I find myself in Kyoto. I think the selfies would be marvelous. I also saw the building that surrounded Otowa Waterfall that separates the flow into 3 streams for visitors to dangle a cup into. Each stream has some specific benefit but not knowing what was going on I did not do anything but snap a photo and head toward the shops. I wandered the streets until it was time to go and you can tell from the lack of pictures of the street that I was tired and ready for dinner. I did find some curios and even found a place selling tasty snacks. I had a green tea and vanilla ice cream as I waited for the group to head for the bus. When we got on I was glad to be headed toward the train station for a ride back to Osaka.
I disappeared into the sea of people shortly after we arrived in Osaka, after saying goodbye to our train escort (the guide lives in Kyoto and we had parted ways at the train station). I headed back to Dotonbori street area because I was hungry. I had been looking at my Osaka guide and it said I needed to try the Okonomiyaki while I was in Osaka. It also recommended a place in Dotonbori but I never found it. I did find a place and had some Okonomiyaki and it was delicious. The way it was explained to me was that it was like a savory pancake. What happens is a bunch of things are mixed in a batter; like mine had cabbage, green onion, bacon, cuttlefish, and shrimp. It was made in front of me in the middle of my table on a hot skillet in the middle of the table. They left little things that looked like small gardening hoes and I had to start playing with them. This got me in trouble. The waitress ran over and began telling me no and that she would handle it. The damage was done because in my playing I had broken it in half. She was not pleased by that and gave me an exasperated look as she tried to push it back together. The next time she came back I got the look again as she had to flip it and it separated again. When it was finally ready to eat she came back spent a few seconds pushing it together again, giving me the look, and then had me pick the sauces to put on it. Then I got even smaller more adorable gardening utensils to break it into edible pieces. So I did get to play after all. I have to tell you I loved this thing and have been looking for it ever since I left Japan. I did try to eat it in Tokyo once but the place was closed, I stopped by too early. After I ate I wandered a little more before heading to the hostel to call it a night.