Friday, April 17, 2009

Kyoto, Japan

Day 2- Kyoto, Japan

We awoke super early as we wanted to rent bicycles from a nearby hostel and we had heard that they sold out most mornings. Becca and Perri explored during the day by bus. I was a little rusty on the bicycle, mostly do to the fact that it was not a multi-speed bike like I am used to, rather it was a simple one with a basket on the front. Brittany was a bit of a speed demon, while I was more careful of my movements close to cars and individuals. After some practice I became steadier and the bell came in handy for warning pedestrians that we were coming.

Our day’s goal was to get to the Philosopher’s Walk, which is a 2km long path with hundreds of cherry blossoms, by two o’clock to meet Perri and Becca. It was clear across town and we weren’t sure if we would make it, but we wanted to give it a go.

I was the navigator, making sure we were always going the right direction and with Brittany’s help I am proud to say we never got lost! Our first detour was to a small temple and it’s surrounding gardens along Gojo-dori street. We got there before it opened so we were only able to explore the outside. The cherry blossoms were exquisites and paired with the morning sun and beautiful stone carvings we were in Zen once more.

Our next pit stop (after some hard core biking) was to the Kiyomizu-dera temple. It was gorgeous! Since it was overlooking (we biked a hill/mountain to get to it, it was windy and narrow, it’s a small miracle that we made it) much of Kyoto the views were amazing, it was probably my favorite temple in Japan. The entrance to many of these temples have sacred water which you take from a dragon spout or the like and wipe on your hands and face. Of course, we delved right in asking the locals how to properly proceed. The temple itself is Buddhist and belonged to the Kita Hoso sect which was founded by Enchin in 778 CE and it is made to enshrine the G-d of Mercy (Kannon). The current structures were rebuilt during the 1600s and are a Romon or two storied gate, a Sanjunoto or three storied pagoda and a Shoro or belfy.

The cherry blossoms were everywhere and we got to delight in their presense snapping pictures and looking at the city below. The structures all had black tile roofs which pulled upwards in the corners. The structures themselves were painted red and white. The temple sold trinkets promising love and other charms for luck, etc(which I found interesting, it was like a glorified cheap gift shop right in the middle of everything). There were different pagodas with places you could pray (ring the bell, etc), but Brittany and I had had enough prayer for the day so we decided to just walk down the hill and play with the cherry blossoms. The road back to our bicycles was paved with shops selling everything from expensive sake sets to tshirts. We stopped for crepes before departing.

It was another trek, this time up Higashioji-dori street to the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, but we were quite in the swing of things, having totally mastered biking amongst crowds. The entrance to the building was a huge red traditional Japanese gate or ‘Torii’. It was pretty spectacular. The museum had a special exhibition going on which was a photo gallery with Ads made by Japanese individuals. It was pretty cool to see all the different campaigns produced by Japan. Another hall had all pieces of modern art, I really liked one that was an interpretation of Matryoshkas from Russia. The upstairs portain of museum wanted like 1,000 yen for entrance (10$) so we decided to skip it and play once more in the gardens outside before departing. Our next stop was to the Kyoto Handicraft Center (I put Brittany in charge of this navigation). It was really touristy (it was basically a shopping mall) and since Japan was much more expensive than our past ports, I had already had my fill of less expensive Asian products. Brittany bought some thing for her dad and we were on our way.

Tired, but determined, we biked all the way up Higashioki-dori and over Marutamachi-dori to The Philosopher’s Walk. It is named after Kitaro Nishida who used to take the walk and preach philosophy to his students.  It was quite spectacular. There were more cherry blossoms than I had seen in our entire trip! They all lined a canal and made for some beautiful sights. There were quite a few vendors around as well. We couldn’t find Perri and Becca so we decided to just meet them at the hostel.

The bike ride back was also quite an event. Rather than wind through the busy streets oncemore, I thought it might be nice to bike along the Kamogawa Canal which splits Kyoto. Brittany agreed and after biking the cross street we made it to the canal. It was alive with locals picnicking and frolicking. Parts of the canal had larges stones which you could hop across, some where even carved into turtles! We jumped from rock to rock and then continued our long bike home, proud of ourselves for our journey!

We stopped for coffee in a vending machine before returning to our hostel. I don’t think I have mentioned these yet, but they are THE greatest! They have a ton of varieties of hot and cold coffee in cans in vending machines lining the streets for 120 yen ($1.20 USD). It is the simplest thing ever, but ever so yummy.

We napped for a little bit before Perri and Becca got home. We changed and quickly left for Kawaramachi Street. A shopping street, dotted with Karaoke joints and sushi restaurants was quite a haven for us after our exhausting day. Becca had heard about a conveyor belt sushi restaurant named Kappa Sushi which we all made a J-line for. The line was long but we waited it out and were rewarded with a really fun and interesting experience. All the rolls were 105 yen (1.05 USD) which was really awesome because it made us want to try every roll which rolled on by (they were on little plates on an electric conveyor belt). My favorite rolls were the Roe and Shrimp Tempura (two separate rolls), each plate had like 2-3 rolls which was great for sampling. The girls all competed for who could eat the most and I failed miserably, consuming only 5 plates worth (they were at 8-9). The other really cool thing was that there were little computers on each table from which you could special order rolls which would come on a fake shinkansen (bullet train). It was a really fun restaurant.

Becca had read about the Nijo Castle which is lit up at night. It was quite a long walk but eventually we made it. Brittany and I decided not to go in as it was a little pricey and we were tired. When Perri and Becca came back we were really tired but decided to walk back to Kawaramachi street to sing some karaoke. We rented a room for a half hour and the four of us belted out Madonna, Beauty and the Beast and Jessie’s Girl while drinking free Ginger Ale. We had a lot of a fun! Our voices and bodies were tired by the time we made it home (we had a little trouble figuring out the night bus) and to sleep.

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