Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Japan 2013: Kyoto Adventure Day 1

We awoke to another sunny day here in Japan :)  Translation: it's going to hit 100 yet again!

We started the day with pastries bought last evening at Isetan & tea in this lovely tea set provided by the hotel.  So elegant!

Today's plan was to take a taxi to the Kinkaku Jinja, a Zen Buddhist temple & World Heritage Site whose main feature is the Golden Pavilion, an iconic Kyoto historic site. Ironically, although the temple was founded in the late 1300's, it was burned nearly to the ground in 1950 by a mentally-ill novice monk. The restored temple was rebuilt in 1955 in all it's shining glory.

And so, we hopped a taxi in front of the hotel & took about a 10-minute ride to the temple complex. Being a popular site, it was pretty mobbed. There were lots of groups of school kids:

And after a short, very warm walk, we got to the main temple:

The setting is beautiful, with the reflecting pond. You can't go into the building proper, but there are many vantage points that you can see it & the gorgeous gold phoenix at the top, from.
As we walked the path, we passed other temple complex buildings, including my first opportunity to buy omamori this trip. Omamori are beautiful little good luck charms that are ubiquitous in Japan. You find them in homes, in cars, hanging off of purses & backpacks. Many are aimed at granting specific prayers, like doing well at school or have a safe pregnancy. I adore them & collect them. Here are the ones I got today:

The 2 with suction cups are for safe driving. I bought 2- Brendan's learning to drive, you know... ;)
The others are general good luck charms. The bottom one has the kanji for gold woven in the brocade, "kin" which is where the name of the temple, Kinkaku-Ji, comes from.

After passing a few more picturesque buildings we came to the main temple where you can say a prayer.

 I was rather amused that we had to wait for a group of Japanese Catholic nuns to stop chatting in the entrance so we could step up, toss our go-en into the box & say our prayers :)

You can see the nuns in this picture :)
When we were done touring Kinkaku-Ji, we headed for our next stop- the Ryouan-Ji, where we had reservations for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant right at the temple. It was so very hot at that point that, when we asked a traffic lady to point us in the right direction for Ryouan-ji, she mentioned that it was a 20-minute walk & did we think we'd be okay? We told her we'd be fine, & we were... but it was a good ting we had bottled tea & stuff to drink along the way (while we waited at stop lights) because it was so hot!!!

(It was so hot that, not once but twice, while visiting public restrooms, I left with toilet paper stuck to my leg. Good grief!!!)

The Ryouan-Ji (it means "Temple of the Sleeping Dragon" :) is another Zen Buddhist temple that dates from the late 1400's. It's famous for it's rock gardens, which are also a World Heritage Site. Although the gardens are famous, it was much less mobbed, which was a relief. The buildings are a bit more nondescript at Ryouan-ji, since the focus is on the gardens, but everything is situated around a large pond with gorgeous water lilies:
We were also charmed by the way trees are supported, rather than pruned:
Our focus here was not the gardens, though, but lunch! The concierge had made reservations for us for noon, so we were intent on finding the restaurant. Buddhist temples are some of the best places to find vegetarian food in Japan, a country where the line between meat-eating & vegetarianism are kind of fuzzy. In the US, if you say tofu, everyone knows you're talking veggie food. But in Japan tofu is considered "real" food & is added to meat & fish dishes regularly. Since strict Buddhists are often vegetarian, strictly vegetarian restaurants are most often found near the temples. We'd heard this, but had never had much luck finding them before- mostly because we don't read much kanji yet. But Charlie had read about the yu-dofu restaurant on the grounds of the temple, so we were keen to try it.

You had to remove your shoes at the door, & then ring a doorbell to let them know you're there. We explained that we had a reservation & the lovely hostess/waitress led us to our table on the tatami floor. There was a charcoal brazier in the middle of the table & zabuton pillows on the floor to sit on. Whee! At the best of times I don't do well sitting on the floor, but it was still so much fun to try something new!

The waitress showed us a menu in English & we chose 2 yu-dofu meals with rice & one special with side dishes we could share. The guys had cokes, & when I said that I loved the cold tea served when we arrived, she showed us where we could get refills from a thermos. She then brought some bowls with grated daikon radish in them & a pitcher of sauce & mimed pouring the sauce over the bowls, into which we'd add the yu-dofu. Pretty soon, the nabe (ceramic cooking pot) with the yu-dofu arrived!

Yu-dofu is blocks of silken tofu that have been simmered in a broth with vegetables & herbs. There were little pink mochi flowers floating among the greenery & tofu, along with shitake mushrooms & other veggies. Here's the tray with side-dishes:

So we poured the broth- soy sauce-based with a hint of vinegar- into our bowls & ladled blocks of tofu & veggies & broth into it:
Total yum!!!
You can see the beautiful scenery out the window behind Brendan (the place was blissfully air-conditioned):
And, even Beanie had to get into the act (can you spot him?):
He looks like he wants to jump in! I don't blame him, it was so delicious! I've never felt so full after eating a meal primarily of tofu before :)

After we ate, Charlie got a picture of Brendan & I under the noren curtains to the restaurant:
And then we found a taxi back to the hotel. No, we did not look at the Zen gardens... another time maybe?

After a couple hours rest, Charlie & I took the shuttle bus to the subway station, & then the subway back to Kyoto Station to look for dinner & breakfast food. I knew I had to take a look at the floor devoted just to sweets & omiyage (food gifts). We did not leave empty-handed either...

For dinner we found some inari sushi, some corokke, & some futomaki sushi for me. Got an assortment of beverages, hit the bakery, & we headed back to the subway & home. Round-trip it took about 1 1/2 hours, but it's just so much fun to see the sights & just be in Kyoto :)

After dinner we indulged in:
Strawberry cake (called "short-cake" here) for the guys, & macaron for me!
Ok, yes I shared...

And so we settled-in for the evening, watching a bit of wacky Japanese tv & taking turns in the shower & ofuro after our really hot day out.

Tomorrow: Nishijin Textile Center!!

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