Visiting Kyoto

When Cute Husband and I first began dating he had just returned from a post-college traveling adventure and regaled me with tales of how incredibly charming the city of Kyoto was.  So of course, when we moved to Japan, a visit to Kyoto was tops on our “Japan List!”  Cute Husband has never, ever steered me wrong, and certainly didn’t this time.

We left Tokyo on the Shinkansen {bullet train} and arrived in Kyoto in under two and a half hours.  Not bad for a trip of almost 300 miles in the pouring rain!

Our first stop was Nijo Castle, which was built in 1603.  In addition to its architectural beauty, Nijo is famous for its “nightingale floor,” designed to make noise from even the slightest weight, so that invading ninjas could be detected!  You can only imagine the fun The Cuties had trying to walk as stealthily as possibly around corners to see if we could hear them coming!

I am particularly fond of Japanese roof lines, and Nijo had lovely ones ~ especially around this chimney.

We switched things up a bit next and headed to Takashimaya, a fabulous Japanese department store that was founded in Kyoto as a kimono shop.  Any readers who are New Yorkers may have visited their beautiful store there before they closed about two years ago.  Big Cutie was in desperate need of some new shoes, so she was the lucky shopper. I pressed my nose up against the pink and green Goyard totes salivating, hoping someone might take notice of my fawning, but alas, no such luck!

On Friday, the skies cleared and we started our day at Kinkakku-ji Temple, often referred to as the Golden Pavilion.  And boy was she a sight to behold!

This was originally a Shogun’s retirement home.  Not so shabby, eh?  The entire building is covered in gold leaf, which having attempted some craft projects with this material myself, is awe-inspiring.

When the Shogun died, he left behind his bonsai tree.  Apparently it’s a great responsibility to care for the Shogun’s bonsai and you simply can not let it die.  So the caretakers opted to plant it outside and let it take root instead of continuously clipping the roots and branches in a pot.  And so this is what a 700+ year old bonsai tree looks like ~

{Little Cutie is currently working on a research project on bonsai and was thrilled to find this to add to her presentation!}

Next we went to Ryoan-ji Temple, which is a dry landscape rock garden.  This is really the most famous of all the rock gardens in Japan, and if you’ve seen a photograph of one, it’s most likely Ryoan-ji.  The Temple uses the technique of kare-sansui, which utilizes no actual water, but the raked patterns in the rocks evoke the illusion of waves in water.  There are 15 rocks within the garden and it is meant to be viewed from a seated position.  Interestingly, while seated only 14 rocks can be seen from any place around the garden {trust me, we tried!}.  There are many different theories as to why this is and you can read about some of them here.

Ryoan-ji had a particularly beautiful tsukubai for people to wash their hands before a tea ceremony.  This one incorporates the square center into the characters on each side to read “I learn only to be content.”

And again my love of rooflines continues….check out the craftsmanship in those layers!

So at this point, I had The Cuties completely worked up in a frenzy of excitement that we were headed to the Japanese Dollhouse Museum.  Only to discover upon arrival a note on the door saying they were closed this week, despite a website proclaiming they were open for business.  We attempted to quickly regroup and opted to go for a boat ride on the river.  This sounded great!  Cute Mom and Dad are huge boaters, The Cuties love being their crew, and Cute Husband and I were content to sit and have everyone else bask in our ability to rally with a Plan B.

As Big Cutie said, this sounded much better than it actually was. ;-)  Oh well.  We did encounter this lovely flautist along the riverbank, however, who serenaded us to much hearty applause!

{and can I point out that for someone who climbed down a riverbank to sit on the rocks and play a wooden flute she was dressed significantly better than I was?  Japanese women continue to impress me with their impeccable style!}

Our last stop of the day was the Bamboo Forest.  We knew we weren’t going to be in Kyoto at the optimal time of the year for either cherry blossoms or foliage, and so we didn’t expect much in the way of Bamboo greenery.  We were still quite impressed with the sheer magnitude of the bamboo, and to learn that the trees reach their full height in only a matter of mere months!

On Saturday we visited Heian Jingu Shrine, which is a beautiful, bright red color.   It began to rain, so we headed to the Kyoto Handicrafts Center and lucked into our hands-on woodblock print experience you can read about here.

And finally, we hit Fushimi-Inari Taisha.  What a way to end our sightseeing!  The head Inari shrine of over 40,000 shrines throughout the country, it is fully active, and we were able to see all sorts of activity going on.

The shrine is really beautiful and elaborate and we were blown away by its condition considering it was dedicated back in the 8th Century!

{If you follow me on Pinterest, you know I’ve got a whole East Meets West decorating obsession going on.  Do you think the priests will let me know where I could get some of those incredible gold lanterns for a patio?}

And I’ve gotta throw in one more roofline I’m in awe of ~ last one, I promise {this post at least!}.

Are you ready for the piece de resistance?  The crowning glory of Fushimi Inari Taisha though are the red torii gates.  There are thousands of them.  People donate them in all different sizes, and they are lined up, one after another.  It’s absolutely breathtaking and goes on for miles.

Company and family names of donors are inscribed on the backs.

And here’s Cute Husband with a great new investment opportunity!

I know this post has reached epic proportions so I’ll quickly sum up the rest of the trip:  we ate an amazing meal in Gion Corner but failed to spot any Geishas {this is the area of Japan that Memoirs of a Geisha was based on so we were hoping}; we spent the next morning at the Nishiki Food Market sampling until our bellies were full and shopping for souvenirs; and then hopped on the Shinkansen and made our way home.

And there’s no better way to end a great trip than a celebrity sighting.  We may not know a thing about Japanese movie or rock stars, but there’s no missing these guys!

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4 Responses to Visiting Kyoto

  1. Laura says:

    What an amazing adventure in history and culture. Appreciate you sharing it on your blog! Much more interesting than the school lessons I remember.

    Love the juxtaposition of the shoe choice in the last pic =)

  2. eternalros3 says:

    This post just added another reason to visit Japan, thanks! Kyoto is on my bucket list for sure.
    Any advice for planning a trip {however far off it may be for me}?
    i.e. learning the language, to-do lists, and the current economy vs currency exchange?

  3. Catherine says:

    How neat! I love everything The Cuties wear!

  4. Great pictures….they brought back wonderful memories of my trip to Kyoto. It was one of my favorite cities in Japan.

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