Japan knows how to do pastry right. Our first morning, our hotel breakfast included fresh croissants. Their buttery goodness almost made me cry. Today, a mom and pop shop selling filled buns and more croissants set off the day right. For less than $10, we filled up our bag with croissants, an apple fritter, red bean buns, and a strawberry cream cheese bun.
Walking in light rain until we took shelter in the underground mall/subway station, we located our tour meet-up spot before heading on a bus.
A bus? I know. My first experience doing the all-out touristy method with the tour guide holding up a mini pink pompom to boot. Before you write me off thinking I don’t know how to travel, cut me some slack. There are up sides and down sides. This being the off-season and therefore not too crowded, it wasn’t that bad. There were times where we were feeling a bit rushed, but for the most part we saw and lot and learned a lot. However, I definitely don’t think it is valid for every situation.
Our first stop was the Nijo-jo Castle, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. A massive moat and wall separate it from the modern city, making it’s mysteries unseen from the street. Shoes removed and slippers donned, we shuffled through the wooden structure, each step marked by squeaking — a defense against assassins and ninjas.
Tatami mat covered floors and intricately painted walls depicted cypresses, tigers, and cherry trees defined each room. It was easy to imagine ancient day samurais and the Shogun wandering the halls, the future of Japan on their minds. I’d love to show you, but unfortunately pictures were not allowed.
Second stop: Golden Pavilion. To be honest I mostly knew of this due to a computer game. But despite that, it was definitely worth the visit. Although much like the 1000 Tori gates from yesterday in that there were many tourists jostling for pictures, the overall beauty of the Pavilion cannot be marred. One could spend eternity snapping photos of this thing (for its beauty, not just because there are random people taking a selfie in the background).
Gently flowing waters give way to floating islands of trees and pagodas, the shimmering exterior of the Pavilion rising up from the bank. The public is not allowed to enter, due to a fear of arson (the cause of the destruction of the original pavilion in the 1950’s) but even so, taking a deep breath while looking out over the water to the shining building brings a sense of peace and calm — even while others bustle around you.
The Imperial Palace, once the home of the emperor, was our last sightseeing stop of the morning. Massive, the walls surrounding it looked longer than the 200+ m terminal we had to walk through at Haneda Airport. Through a quick security checkpoint and we explored the grounds. Gates, one for each level of social importance, broke up the monotony of the tall white walls, sometimes hidden behind trees and shrubs. Large expanses of gravel creating a stark contrast against the intricately designed buildings standing tall from the barren surroundings. However, turn the corner and there was a pristine and manicured garden. Water features, maples, and rocks coming together to replicate nature, maybe even better designed.
Lunch was at the Kyoto Hand Craft center. A buffet, it was nothing spectacular. Next door were shops which were interesting to check out. I found a couple books on learning Kanji and Dad bought a couple of Japanese souvenirs to bring back home. I wanted to buy a Kimono, but I didn’t know when I would actually wear it.
Stepping back onto the bus, we headed out to the Heian Shrine. Originally constructed in 1895 as a pavilion to mark 1,100 years since Kyoto was made the capital, it is based off of the Imperial Palace design. Now since converted to a Shinto shrine, orange beams greet visitors. It was interesting to see the similarities between here and the actual Imperial Palace, especially noting the mandarin and cherry trees before the main building.
Sanjusangen-do was the next stop. Wait, weren’t you already there? Yes, yes we were. We were just too ahead of the game we saw it a day earlier. A bit of a repeat, but still fascinating. Noticing details I missed out on the day before, the whole idea of these figures being hand crafted over 100’s of year ago baffled me. I intended on lighting incense, but the moment I got to the altar in front of the main Kannon, one of the temple staff put out the candle and took the incense away. Perhaps a different day/temple.
Another drive and hop down the the bus stairs, we began our ascent to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. If Diagon Alley was Japanese, visitors liked to dress up in kimonos, and it had a thing for ceramics, I think it’d look a lot like the street leading up to the temple. Vendors call out from their shop fronts, where they offer tea and bits of mochi.
Fake replicas of ice cream rule the boulevard and come in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and matcha. And above it all is the temple, gripping the mountainside in the setting sun. Raised upon giant stilts, the temple is a wonderland of views. Views of Kyoto, views of the forest covered hillside, views of the temple itself, it is a photographers dream (and selfie enthusiast). One of the attractions of this temple is its waters. Three spouts of water pour out from a little rooftop. It is said that drinking from one will bring wisdom, another longevity, and the other love. I don’t know which one is which, however. As the tour guide was explaining it, I was too far away to hear. Not wanting to mess with my fortune (or get a water borne disease), I opted not to test the waters.
Returning back to Avanti, a mall where our tour guide office was located, we concluded my first bus tour. Wanting to buy a scarf, we headed up to the fourth floor to check out the selection. Coming around the corner from the escalator, I was astonished to find a full length wool coat for about $50. Something of the same quality in America would be easily over $150. Excited by the prospect of getting a deal you couldn’t find anywhere else, Dad and I went on a small shopping spree.
With a shopping bag in hand, we headed back to the hotel. We stopped by another take-away sushi place for dinner.