Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Walking the Paths in Kyoto

We arrived in Tokyo and took the train to Kyoto where we would spend our first four days. We wanted to experience the "old" Japan before moving over to the more modern city of Tokyo.

We stayed in the Westin Miyako Kyoto in the Eastern Hills, which was an amazing location. The hotel had a bird watching trail that we took one morning where we found a shrine at the top. Along the trail, we walked by the biggest bees I had ever seen, various colorful flowers, and plaques telling us about the bushes and trees. It seemed that I always found something to help in research without looking, as well as give us such a simple taste of this culture that said so very much.

This blog post would be so very long if I wrote about the entirety of our trip so I decided to point out the top five things that we enjoyed in Kyoto and Tokyo. Enjoy!

1. The Philosopher's Path
The whole city smelled very fragrant like the blooming flowers as we walked our way north to The Philosopher's
Path from our hotel. Not too far along, we found a pasture of cats. Sleeping cats, playing cats, cleaning cats, and cuddling cats. We sat down to look at them and one came up to rest in Joey's lap for a bit. We are very much cat people, so for us, it was a fun.

On both side of the many stone bridges are various businesses and residential homes. It is like that throughout most of the city so sometimes you are walking and can find someplace to eat, art galleries, or just a little store for visitors with dolls, half price kimonos, and t-shirts (or cat art) out of "nowhere". Most of the path was just taking in the scenery, which was very peaceful. I am glad that we decided to come while it was all green for spring, but I think it would be nice to see cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and even snow covered branches along this path.

At the end of the path, there is a long street full of various little shops that eventually leads up to the Silver Pavilion. Most of the street was full of junior high students in their matching uniforms. Students were visiting from outside of the city to visit the various temples. We were stopped three times throughout the trip to help different groups of students practice their English, which was a joy.

On the way back, we stopped by a wonderful little ice cream
stand to try a delicious three flavored cone (all I know is one was green tea). We stopped to sit by the water on one of the benches to eat and I wrote for a little bit before moving on our way.

2. Konchi-in Temple and The Crane and Turtle Garden
Our very first stop in Kyoto. It was much less crowded than we visited the Silver Pavilion later in the day since it was early morning and there weren't any students around. We were the only people that were in the garden at that time so we could go at our own space, the morning light dappling through the trees. It was quite peaceful and the perfect way to help us ease ourselves into our vacation.

It was very different staying in a country that wasn't predominantly Christian. We have never attended a Buddhist ceremony until we heard drums and chanting in this temple. Before entering temples, you must take off your shoes and carry them with you in a provided plastic bag. In the first of the buildings, we peeked inside to see a large golden statue of Buddha. On one of the tables, I spotted a bowl of oranges.

At the temple, we sat inside during the ceremony, taking in our surroundings of a monk chanting while another was beating a drum to the side. The smell of incense was strong, but wasn't overwhelming as it could have been. We just took in the moment before going over to another building where a middle aged woman gave us a tour the best she could in Japanese. She showed us a statue of Buddha, pointing out his serious face when you look directly on and his smile when you look to the side of his face. When we left, she pointed for us to climb up the mountain to check out the biggest bell in Japan. I am still wondering how they managed to either make or move the bell to that location.

We don't have any pictures inside of this temple (it isn't allowed) and it is really hard to describe. It is a temple full of 1001 Kannon golden wooden statues (one a bigger statue that sits in the middle), as well as other statues of various gods and goddesses.

The temple is used by Japanese samurai to have archery contests. They must hit the target from one end to the other, which is amazing. They have been holding the contest since the 16th century. Inside the temple, there are displays of the type of bows that they use and books that show the results of the contests throughout the years.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868 and so we decided to take a stroll through the Imperial grounds and see the palace itself. We didn't encounter much rain during the trip and this was one of the days that we encountered rain from time to time. We reached as far as the shrine when it began to pour out and we were stuck there waiting for an hour for it to stop. We found a bench where I wrote down details of our trip and notes of the sounds, the smells, the moment.

Kyoto was quite inspirational and peaceful and it was the overall emotion that I experienced while in the city. It was very beautiful and the people were always kind and helpful. There were many more temples and shrines I would have loved to explore, as well as more in the area. As I always say, it is a good reason to always return someplace in the future.

My next post will be about our four days in Tokyo, which was much more modern and urban than the part of Kyoto we visited.

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