Amazing Kyoto

Saturday, June 24

Exploring Kyoto! First we went to the Sanjūsangen-dō Buddhist Temple - a huge centuries-old building. Inside are 1,000 wooden gold-colored statues (all basically identical) from the 13th and 14th centuries!

Each one has 40 arms/hands.  They are lined up in rows 10 deep; 500 on one side, 500 on the other.  In the center is a much larger Buddha.  Truly amazing!

Then we went to the home of the Suzuki's - an elderly couple (he looked like a 13th-century Yoda!). We sat on tatamis (and chairs) and they showed us a traditional tea ceremony.  All 42 of us got a sweet cake and a cup of green tea. Then they cleared that away (with helpers) and put out little tables and gave us an origami lesson!  Mrs. Suzuki told us that children in kindergarten learn origami, but that does not mean it is easy!  We made a Samurai helmet and a little box.  Really cool!  And then they gave each of us an origami kit to take home.

Next we drove to the Gion district - a shopping area and home to the Geishas.  We walked around and saw lots of neat buildings and our new guide, Shiro, told us interesting things about the area.  Wendy got a green tea soft serve.  The afternoon was free time, so we walked past Shinto arches, the Kyoto Zoo, the Kyoto Art Museum, and then to the Kyoto Crafts building. The building has 5 floors with different specialties on each (e.g., dolls, kimonos / yakutas, ceramics).  A mix of tschochkes and some good stuff.  Many from our group were also there.  Then a walk back to the hotel and a well-deserved spot of tea plus a scone with cream and pureed strawberries (where are we?).  You notice there was no mention of lunch today - it was not included - because we are walking and trying to build up an appetite for our special fancy dinner at Misogi-gawa, one of Kyoto's best restaurants. 

Note: Kyoto was the capital for about 1,100 years!!!  "Kyo" = capital, "to" = metro / city.  Now of course it is Tokyo, which has the same letters, but here it means: "To" = East, "Kyo" = Capital (The capital in the East!).

OK: dinner. WOW!!!!  Fantastique!!  The restaurant is on the Potocho, a narrow "street" (no cars, room for 4 people abreast) with bar after restaurant after club for about 6 blocks.  We managed to find the restaurant easily enough though the taxi had to drop us at the end of the street.  Inside it was all wood and traditional Japanese décor, but Wendy was speaking French to the owner. Yes, it is a Japanese-French restaurant! They took us to a private room and we did the sit-on-the-floor thing (well...on pillows).  Then they started with the food.  All French, but served in beautiful Japanese dishes (so tiny!).  Here are some pix:

The amuse bouche: Mille fuillee with smoked salmon, cherry tomato with cheese mousse, pickled peppers, and a tomato basil tart no bigger than your thumb!  Then, the first of 3 great appetizers:  thin-sliced prawn topped with black caviar on red pepper mousse on a sea of spinach puree, with a little tomato and endive garnish.  #2: beef stew with mushrooms, watercress, gravy on a bed of mashed potatoes; the whole thing would fit in the palm of your hand with room to spare.  #3: scallops topped with dainty mushrooms and a truffle slice on a lemon and wine sauce (sauce rendezvous) garnished with okra.  Wayne had been taking pictures of each course but we suddenly realized we had missed the last two! (we were so busy oohing and aaahhhing and tasting!)  Then, soup...onion for Wayne (in a little tiny crock) and vichysoisse consommé on ice for Wendy.  Next, the fish course!  A beautiful brown crisp puff pastry filled with sea bass, tiny asparagus pieces in a little edible nest on a wine sauce with little heart designs.  Then lime sorbet to cleanse the old palate.  Finallt the main courses!  A salad with tomatoes and cukes grown in the mountains of Kyoto.  Cooked seasonal vegetables (carrots, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes), and thin slices of beef cooked perfectly in a demi-glace sauce.  And....dessert!  A thin cookie cylinder filled with several kinds of red berries floating on white chocolate mousse. And then (of course) the plate of sweets:  lace, almond tuille, mini cream puff, a grape-jellied thing (really a fancy Chuckle!), orange candy, chocolate square.  Plus two glasses of champagne, two bottles of beer. No pain...only happiness.

Sunday, June 25
After a light breakfast we took a short trip to Nijo Castle, home of one of the Shoguns.  The floors intentionally squeak like nightingales when you walk on them to warn the residents of invaders (these people were really paranoid!).  It was a little drizzly outside, but we were prepared. By the time we got to Nara an hour later, it was raining pretty hard.  Our luck during this rainy season had finally ended.  We ate another crummy chicken lunch, then took a short ride to Kasuga Grand Shrine/  There is a large park, and in the center is this Shinto shrine filled with thousands of 4' - 7' high stone lanterns. Amazing!  The park is also filled with hundreds of deer. Yes, deer!  Somewhere back in time a deer had helped someone, so now they are protected.  And they are not afraid of people and are very polite (like the Japanese!).  if you give them food (you can buy little deercakes) and raise your hand and say "Arigato", they will bow their heads 3 times!!!  yes, really!!!!!  So we walked through the paths to the main shrine building in the rain and luckily there was another wedding!  This time we got to see the whole ceremony...very neat.  Then back to the bus for a short ride to Todaii-ji Temple.  This Buddhist temple is the largest wooden building in the world!  Inside is a Buddha which is 53' tall!  Parts of it are form the 8th century!  By now it was raining harder and we were running late (due to the wedding) so we rushed to the bus (ha-ha - 42 people - our guide said we should learn to talk AND walk like the Japanese do) for the ride back to Kyoto.  By the time we got there the rain was just about over.  Wendy and several other women had to hurry to their 5:00 appointment to be made up like Geishas!!!!! 

First, they do the white face thing, then some eye and lip highlights.  Then they dress them up in several layers of slips and robes which are each pulled very tight (each one said "I can't breathe!").  Then the top kimono and the "backpack" thingie.  Then they put on a helmet of hair!  When they came out, Wayne was not sure who was who!
OK...that is Wendy on the right!

Then they all paraded around, and a pro photographer to many photos with various props.  A lot of fun - a once-in-a-lifetime thing!  But they couldn't wit to get out of the costumes!  The dressing part took about an hour; the undressing about 10 minutes.

Then we walked over to the Pontocho and met Dr. Bob and Rhoda, Howard and Irene, and Barbara and Mike for dinner at River oriental.  It was raining a little so we couldn't eat outside.  We had another great dinner:  spring rolls, spicy shrimp, lobster salad, snapper with arugula, and mashed potatoes.  Then chocolate mousse and fruit parfait for dinner. Really fun.

Monday, June 26
Our last day.  Three more temples to visit today (that only leaves about 1,990 to go).  First, the Rokuon-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion.

This is another Buddhist temple (actually, many of these temples consist of several to many buildings surrounded by gardens and/or a forest).  This temple is covered on 20,000 3"x3" gold leaf squares!  It was another gray, rainy day, so we couldn't see it's full brilliance, but it was still very neat.  Then on to Daitoku-ji Zen Temple.  This is noted for its beautiful raked gravel gardens. By this time most of us were "templed out" again. Luckily, it was time for lunch; this time "Italian style"!!!  But another fabulous meal:  it started with a salade Nicoise, then pasta Bolognese, then chicken (duck?) atop chick peas and kidney beans, and then a tri-dessert of mint (?) ice cream, apple coffee cake, and tiramisu.  Yum!!!!

Then off to one last temple: Kiyomizu-dera.  Even in the rain it was beautiful. A huge pagoda and big buildings rising out of the mist and lush mountainside (it looked exactly like Shangri-La).  So beautiful the camera could not capture it.  Then down one of the many shopping streets that surround the temple (hmmm.....temple....tourists.....shops.  Coincidence?).  We bought some beautiful pottery. Then we opted to walk back to the hotel instead of taking the bus. What a great idea!! The street eventually led us past several more beautiful temples and a park with a bridge and a lagoon. 

A fabulous way to end a fabulous trip!

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