Friday, July 12, 2013

Japan 2013: From Kyoto to Uji

Today we had our last breakfast in the Kyoto Brighton Hotel. It was such a lovely hotel, in such a great location, & I was sad to leave it. We watched some NHK kids’ programming while we ate- it’s kind of like PBS & has lots of short, really colourful educational shows for kids. 

One show kind of took us by surprise, though. A couple of guys visited an elementary school that had been in the path of the 2011 tsunami. They met the principal at the old school building, which was still standing but basically destroyed by the tsunami. Then they interviewed some kids & teachers about the day they escaped the tsunami. It was a hair-raising story, to hear from such young children, & Charlie & I found ourselves crying a bit (I translated for him). We supposed that, in a country where such disasters occur every few decades (they showed photos of the same area hit by tsunami throughout the 20th century) it makes sense to share these stories with other children, as difficult as they are to hear. 

Around 10:30 we finished packing everything up (it all still fits in the suitcases- yay!!) & took a taxi to Kyoto Station to meet Momo, Hiroshi-kun, & Aoi-chan, who were taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to meet us. Then we would all hop a train for a short ride to Uji, a little town south of Kyoto known for it’s very old temples & green tea. We got to the station early so we could reserve our shinkansen tickets for Monday to Matsuyama, since Kyoto Station is much bigger, & we knew it would be easier to make the reservations there. (We have had experiences trying to make these sorts of reservations in smaller stations, & it doesn’t always go well, since the staff is less likely to have supplemental English.) Momo & family were arriving around noon, so we headed for the central shinkansen gate to wait for them. 

They got there as expected & we decided to eat lunch at the station before going to Uji. We found a soba place that looked promising, & they even had a place for our luggage! It was so good to see them, especially Hiroshi-kun again, whom we hadn’t seen since last summer (& Charlie hadn’t seen him in 2 years). Aoi-chan was sleeping peacefully in the baby carrier & kindly didn’t wake up until Momo had finished eating lunch :)

Then we headed for the platform for the train to Uji. We were lucky & caught the fast train, which only took about 20 minutes- just long enough for Momo to feed Aoi-chan her baby bentou lunch. 

After arriving, we had to take 2 taxis to our ryokan, Hanayashiki, which is right near the Byoudou-in Buddhist temple, along the Uji River. Our taxi driver was a rare talkative one, & as Brendan was in the front seat, he got to do a lot of the chatting :) Our driver also spoke in Kansai dialect, which was a bit more difficult to understand, but fun to listen to :) We gave him a postcard from Rochester when we paid him, since he’d asked where we were from & all. 

It was about 2:00 pm when we got to Hanayashiki, & check-in time was 4:00 pm, so we dropped-off our luggage & went to explore. There is an old & beautiful bridge across the Ujigawa (Uji river) right near the ryokan, so we headed that way with Aoi-chan in the stroller. It was really hot & sunny, but being by the river felt a bit cooler. Crossing over the river led us to the Ujigami Shrine, one of our favourites in Uji. 

There’s a smaller shrine right by the river, where I bought a very cool omikuji (fortune) in a zipper pouch with a gemstone in it. I can tell it’s not a bad luck one by the kanji (you can get good luck, middle luck, & bad luck) & I’ll have Momo read the actual fortune to me tomorrow :)  There’s a protocol for dealing with the bad luck ones- you fold them up & tie them to a fence or tree at the shrine to divert the bad luck away from you. Good thing mine’s not bad... 

The larger shrine is up the road a bit & when we got there, we found the main building was covered because it’s having it’s roof replaced :( 
one of the smaller shrine buildings at Ujigami

We did find the small building built right over a stream where you can do a purification before praying. Charlie brought a dipper of water up to Aoi-chan so she could feel how cold it was :)

Then we walked a ways to our favourite sweets shop, that has been run by the Tsuen family for 830 years, & is the oldest sweets shop in Japan. 
even the manhole covers here are pretty!

It has been in the present building since 1672 & it’s small, & cool. The sweets are lovely, featuring matcha green tea. Charlie & Brendan had green tea parfaits & I had a summer special- kakigori (shaved ice) with green tea syrup & anko (sweet red bean paste) underneath. Hiroshi had a green tea shake & Momo had a parfait in a hand-rolled sugar cone. Yum!!! Aoi-chan had the rest of her baby bentou lunch :)

kakigori with green tea syrup & little dango (white mochi)

By the time we were done, it was time to walk back to the Hanayashiki ryokan (the name means “Flower Mansion”) & check-in. Our rooms were ready & the luggage had already been delivered. We’re in adjoining rooms on the 3rd floor, Momo & family are in the Tsuki (moon) room & we are in the Kiku (chrysanthemum) room. We rested for about an hour in our rooms- & I made a pot of excellent green tea with the tea set in the room- & then we headed-out in search of dinner.
Hanayashiki entryway- you take off your shoes & put on slippers 

We found a tiny place that served all kinds of noodles. It was so small we had to have 2 tables :) Charlie & Hiroshi-kun shared a beer at their table & Charlie learned that the younger person always pours for the older person. Brendan had green tea soba noodles, & I had kitsune-don, which is sliced aburage (sweet fried tofu) over rice. Momo had a yummy udon soup with vegetables & I have no idea what the guys at the other table had :)

 After dinner, as we were walking back to the ryokan, we found a grocery store & stocked-up on breakfast yummies. As it turns out, both Charlie & Aoi-chan like to start their days with bananas :) 

Then we finished our walk back to the ryokan, along the river in the twilight. It was gorgeous. 

And then we said “oyasuminasai” to Momo, Hiroshi, & Aoi-chan for the night. 

Our room had been made ready by the Nakai (kimono-clad room maid). She had re-arranged things & laid-out our futons for us.

The weather looks rainy tomorrow, so we’ll plan over breakfast what to do when. We’re hoping to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is halfway to Kyoto by train, as well as shrines that are closer to the ryokan. Plus, we want to visit our fave green tea place in Japan, the Mitsuboshi tea shop. Let’s hope the rain doesn’t get in the way!

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