Just like in Tokyo, we did lots of touring in Kyoto. We experienced a tea ceremony, visited a golden temple, and learned Taiko drumming. We had a guide in Kyoto unlike in Tokyo to show us around the city. Her name was Miho and we’d highly recommend her, if any of you are travelling to Kyoto. There is so much history and beauty in the city of Kyoto that even the U.S. government didn’t want to use the atomic bomb on Kyoto!
Our first stop… the temple Kyomizudera
One of the more impressive things about Kyoto’s temples is the architecture, but the architecture of Kyomizudera is different than what you would think. The temples have a platform raised up 40 feet by wood, and without a foundation or nails. I wasn’t really sure how the platform stayed up! The temple also has a famous waterfall with pure water (which is where it gets its name) and many people come there to drink from the three fountains… one for Health, second for Wealth, and the third, to become Wise. My dad decided he needed to give it a try… check out the photos! (He was lucky not to tall in! oops!) The temple is also home to the Junshi love shrine– which has an area where if you walk from one rock to the other with your eyes closed, a wish comes true!! People in love can help each other do this.. and we did more than once for each other. 🙂
Tea Ceremony: In Japan, tea is just like coffee in America, except the Japanese take it a step further. They worship the tea as if it is sacred and when it is consumed, it should be consumed correctly. When we arrived at our tea ceremony, it interested me to see exactly what the tea master (the person who makes the tea) would do as every movement she made while making the tea had a purpose. The best part, though, was getting to be the tea master and serving my mom!
Gion: Gion is Kyoto’s cool neighborhood which is the home to most of its famous “Geisha” women. In Japanese, they call these “Geikos” and “Meikos” (younger girls still in training). These are actors and entertainers who wear white makeup, and they entertain in Teahouses. Lots of the buildings in Gion seemed as if they had been built a while ago, and some of the buildings still had tatami mats. There was an occasional coffee shop in the neighborhood, but other than that the neighborhood was traditional with very few modern buildings. We had one awesome dinner here… my mom would say the Kobe beef at Itoh was the best she’s ever had.
Taizoin Zen Garden… and Meditation:
Zen gardens are always sacred and spiritual in Japan, but unlike most American tourists we did not come to this Zen garden to walk around, we came here to meditate with a monk. When Americans think of meditation, we think of closing your eyes and saying “ummmm” but when you meditate, you keep good posture, keep your eyes slightly open, and push your hands firmly into your stomach. You might not think it, but meditating is HARD!!!
Kinkakuji, the famous Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji is a temple that converted to a house. In English, “Kinkakuji” means the Golden Pavilion. About 50 feet high, the temple is covered in a skin of real gold. Next to the building is a pond that reminds me of the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C., because when the water is perfectly flat, it is hard to distinguish the reflection and the real one. When the sun is shining, I love how the light reflects off the gold.
Ryoanji and the 15-rock Garden. The most famous rock garden in Kyoto is called Ryoanji. It has 15 large rocks all placed so that you cannot see all 15 rocks fully, and if you can, that means that you’re the Buddha. It reminds people that nobody is perfect. (They do not allow drones in the garden because if you did, you could probably fly your drone up and look down to see all 15 rocks.)
The most famous castle in Kyoto is the Nijo Castle, the castle used to be for the Shogun, the most important samurai. In the 18th century, the Shogun had all the luxury that anybody could have wanted with multiple servants doing whatever he asked. Something like “could you please scratch my leg two centimeters below my leg?”
Sagano Bamboo Forest & Tenryuji, the Heavenly Dragon Temple,: When I say bamboo forest, I mean bamboo forest. I’ve never seen so much bamboo in my life. I can’t really explain how much there was. Look at the pictures. There was a trail right through a forest of bamboo….
… and right next to the bamboo forest, there was the Tenryuji, Heavenly Dragon Temple, which had been a summer house for one of the most important people in Japan. The house had a beautiful view with a pond and some perfectly cut moss growing next to beautiful trees.
Arashiyama Monkey Park: We hiked up to the top of a small mountain to find monkeys crawling everywhere, climbing on everything, and eating peanuts and bananas. We got to feed them– but we had to go INSIDE a building and let the monkeys reach in through the wire to get food from our hands. All over the top of the mountain, many baby monkeys played with each other. I couldn’t believe that Piper was scared of them. They were SOOO cute!!
Taiko Drumming: The traditional Japanese drumming with the big sticks and large, deep sounding drums. We were in there for about an hour and a half simply playing one drum in rhythm. We were all dripping in sweat at the end. I was surprised that I would have not gotten bored after all that drumming.
Fushimi Inari and the 1000 Torii
I have never seen so many Torii gates in my life, and I honestly couldn’t believe that there wasn’t more than 1,000 gates. Unlike any other shrine, this one was built on a mountain, but we didn’t have enough time to go all the way to the top. Right after Fushimi Inari, we went to Sanjusangendo. Sanjusangendo is the temple with 1,001 Buddha statues, mostly built in the 13th century, Unfortunately, they didn’t allow any pictures.
Restaurants, Markets… the Food!
I’m really going to miss the food in Japan with all the markets and the restaurants. It was Sydney and Piper’s first time trying different foods like Tempura SHRIMP (which Piper loved). We walked through a market called Nishikikoji and we tried vanilla ice cream with honey, which was awesome. But for our last lunch in Kyoto, we got McDonalds. I got a teriyaki burger and we all shared… CHOCOLATE FRENCH FRIES!!!
And, as I mentioned above, we ate our last dinner in Kyoto at Itoh Dining– where I thought the fried rice tasted just like the fried rice at Tokyo Steakhouse back home in Seattle. They had just the perfect mixture of beef and soy sauce to make REALLY, REALLY, REALLY GOOD fried rice. The pasta was also very good!!
Origami: During one of our lunches, Miho, our guide, taught Sydney, Piper, and I how to fold a paper crane and a ninja star. Sydney loved it so much that she’s now keeping a collection of her origami!
Peace Park and the A-Bomb Hiroshima Museum:
Hiroshima was a must for our homeschooling as we’d just learned tons of American history while traveling the U.S., a lot of which was about WWII and the atomic bombing.
From what we could tell, they had everything to do with the atomic bomb at the Peace Park. They had a building that was completely in ruins but still standing with an eternal flame, and thousands of origami cranes surrounding a statue commemorating all the children killed in the blast.
The museum had all the information on the atom bomb and how much destruction it caused to Hiroshima and to man-kind. They also had a very cool giant model of the city with all of the buildings that were destroyed. I learned that when the bomb blew up, it didn’t actually blow up on the ground. It exploded about 1/3 of a mile above the surface.
Myajima and the famous Red Torii gate:
Facing the city of Hiroshima on the island of Myajima, the Torii gate stood in the high tide, when it looked like it was floating on the water. The island is considered sacred so the citizens of the island have policies, one of them is that nobody is allowed to die on the island and because of the sacredness, you can find deer anywhere on the island, and we even saw a couple fighting.
I will be sad to say goodbye to Japan because I think Japan will end up being one of my favorite countries. Why? Well I’ll only tell you if you promise not to tell anybody else. Promise?? Okay. One of the main reasons Japan is my favorite country is…… THE VENDING MACHINES!!! They’re basically our fancy Coke machines, except they’re vending machines, not “Fill up you’re Coke cup!! Free refills!!” type of things.
Goodbye Kyoto! Goodbye, Japan!