Writing the last post left me more exhausted than actually spending 3 days touring Tokyo on foot. After resting, refortifying with miso soup, squid jerky, and sake in one of Roppongi’s ubiquitous all night ExPat bars (where one must be sure to guard both your wallet and virtuous reputation) it’s time to reconvene for the next captivating installment of our virtual tour.
Pat II- Kyoto and Nara
Kyoto entails a fast Shinkansen (Bullet train) ride an hour and 45 away west of Tokyo.
When discussing Kyoto, I get very serious, so please excuse me while I don my Edo period costumed alter ego and assume a stage voice to increase the dramatic tension.
Now let’s all huddle together in a darkened tent, with nothing but the stars for light, and I’ll shine a flashlight up my nose for effect as I begin my tale of KYOTO. Please don’t crinkle your snack packages as it ruins the ambiance.
Many, many, moons ago-oh wait- wrong story- that’s the start of my Native American act, but, the beginning is similar in this factual recount, for it was around 10,000 BC that Kyoto was first established. “Blah blah blah blah” until about the 7th century when Buddhism was introduced from China. Religion usually stirs things up. And it did. Kyoto got interesting enough to fight over as birthing a religion usually baptizes a culture with legitimacy. And so it was with the introduction of a major religion in to Kyoto that the major players followed suit- enter the politicians (Shogun) the entertainers (Geisha), the Religious (Buddhists), soldiers and protectors (you knew it was coming- my personal favorites- the Ninja), and finally the artisans headed toward the emerging culture. The capital was born. Kyoto.
At this point in my tale, I usually pause to flicker my flashlight and move the beam around the walls of the tent in a sickening circular motion. (Our attention spans are shortening as our use of technology increases.)
“BEFORE WE EMBARK UPON THIS MOST WONDEROUS JOURNEY- TAKE HEED-IT WAS ALMOST LOST FOREVER! BEFORE WE OBSERVE THESE WONDERS OF THE FAR EAST- KNOW THIS- FOR IT WILL MAKE YOU APPRECIATE THE SPECIAL PLACE THAT IS KYOTO EVEN MORE…”
A cultural and intellectual center this ancient is bound to have a provocative history- and thankfully it remains to tell the tale. A sobering fact- and one to appreciate when visiting Kyoto, was it’s close call with annihilation. Kyoto was the original target of the atomic bomb during WWII, however the Secretary of War in the US, Henry Stinson, had honeymooned in Kyoto and aware of its historical significance, changed the location. Now, Kyoto is home to 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites- the bulk of Japan’s sites. More UNESCO sites than most countries in the world. Thanks to one American man, in the heat of WWII, while the rest of Japan lay in rubble by the same hand of fate, Kyoto remained untouched by the bombs of WWII.
All righty then, let’s pick up the tour now that the background is behind us. With teenagers and Spouses, our tour must be limited to 3 temples and shrines otherwise whininess, pouting and fits occur. Primarily thrown by me. For the purposes of this tour, I’ve chosen based on:
1) Variety of scenery.
2) Exposure to interesting UNESCO sites from a teenager’s perspective.
3) Entertainment Value- which is not the same as educational value.
Day 4- Kyoto
Sanjusangendo Temple– 1000 Buddhas lined up and standing at attention- guarded by a few of our favorites seen at other temples.
Who can resist a Temple covered in gold? Kinkaku-Ji. Be careful with your hammer and pick- I’m sure it’s been tried before in the centuries since it was gold leafed….
After two temples, I’m about done for the day. Depending on the taste of the group, there are several choices.
Option 1: Shopping is a possibility. What are the options? Kyoto is famous for:
3) Green Tea- matcha- a traditional green tea. Tea houses are also ubiquitous in Kyoto.
5) Food- there are varying types for which Kyoto is known which would be a series of post on its own.
There are plenty of shopping streets in Kyoto along which a nice evening can be spent gleefully parting with one’s money. When in yen, it’s so hard to keep track of exactly how much you’ve really spent….So many zeros.
Many people peek over the fences along Gion street hoping for a glimpse of the famous Geisha. Now on the endangered list, most reside in Kyoto. If none are sighted, many places will miraculously turn you in to one for a fee. Provided you are an expert at walking in the shoes, perhaps you’ll be mistaken for the real thing and end up in a tourist’s Travel Advisor pictures.
Option 2: The alternative is a Wild and Wooly ride (well maybe not really) down the river. Take the Romance train to the entry point for the Hozugawa River Boat Ride.
End the journey with a zen stroll through the bamboo forest:
Option 3: Nijo-Jinya House- This boarding house was built several centuries ago to house visiting feudal lords all of whom expected a high level of security. As such, the house is riddled with secret Ninja hiding places, undetectable passageways, and all rooms have a concealed exit to the outside just in case one needs to make a hasty escape. Currently closed for renovation, I must admit, I haven’t been there yet. When it re-opens I’ll be the first in line. We’ll see how good the proprietors are at finding the Clampitt Ninjas once hidden and ready to pounce on one another Cato-style within the walls of Nijo-Jinya.
Time to put the walking dead to bed. See you in the morning.
Day 5: Kyoto and Nara:
Here I give the choice of two temples based on the interest of the group. The first-Kiyomizu-dera– is based on its panoramic view of Kyoto which many find a highlight- especially during cherry blossom season or the changing of the leaves. Not on the Clampitt list since the only worthwhile conversation at a view-point is speculating on the best snowboarding route to the bottom.
The second- Byodo-In Temple or the Phoenix Temple- is on the 10Yen coin. I admit it- pure photo opportunity. Vacations are made of these. Otherwise people will flat refuse to look at your pictures.
Now, it’s time for the hour or so journey to Nara.
Who can resist a giant Buddha? I can’t. Todai-ji. I want to whisper sweet nothings in his 8 foot ear.
Another option for Nara is the Horyuji Temple. Famous for two points, Buddhism was introduced here by Prince Shotoku and it’s the oldest wooden building in the world. Reflecting on the day over a good drag off the pipe would be ill-advised.
The Bell Tower
Nara is famous for tame deer originally introduced by visiting gods as city guardians. Like many wild animals used to being fed by tourists, the deer on top of their game will bow for deer biscuits. At this point, however, our wild animal of choice is the Japanese Macaque- or Snow Monkey.
Iwatayama Monkey Park is on the way back to Kyoto. Unlike a certain paranoid country of which I am very familiar, Japan’s not overly protective of her citizen’s coming in close contact with other natural beings with whom we share planet space. With a monkey encounter guaranteed and on the horizon, the Clampitts always buy every bit of available food temptation to entice any and all remotely interested monkeys our way.
I must give fair balance, dear friends. I have checked the tour guides long since forgotten and compared my recommendations to theirs. We must agree to disagree, the travel writers and me, for what I find entertaining about Japan, and what they think one should see, don’t intersect very often.
If I still have you with me, our tour will commence again in the next few days. Check back soon…