Thursday, January 7, 2016

Exploring Kyoto, Day One

Kyoto...all I can say is...amazing!  

AMAZING!!!

Day one in Kyoto

We were up Monday morning and, after a sweet friend dropped us off at the train station, we were on our way to Shin-Yokohama Station so we could hop on the Nozomi 165 Shinkansen to Kyoto!

On the way to Yokohama
We arrived a little early, so we waited for our train.  While we waited we watched how smoothly the "Bullet" trains would glide in and out of the station.  



Once our train was there, we found our seats, 2 by 2 by 2...Grandma and Grandpa, then Garytt and I, then Kris and Mackenzie.  We settled into our very roomy seats and waited to shoot out of the station.  
"Mommy, FINALLY we are on a bullet train!"
This thing moves fast!  Silly statement, I know.  It still surprised me to see that we were halfway to Odawara in just 8 minutes!  It usually takes us at least an hour to get from Yokosuka to just outside Odawara!  And, that's if traffic is perfect.  We plan a couple hours to get out there whenever we go.  Eight minutes.  8! Minutes!
Fuji's top is hiding



Counting the rice fields with Grandma and Grandpa



We made it to Kyoto Station at just about two hours later...1300.  Plenty of time to explore a bit before we could check into the house we rented for the week.  So, we went to get a few lockers at Kiyomizu-gojo Station to store our bags and suitcases for a bit.  Turns out, there aren't a ton of lockers at this little station.  Lucky for us, as we were standing there trying to figure out whether we would cram as much as we could in the one open locker and hoof it with the rest, two more lockers opened up!  Woot!  So, with all of our bags in the lockers, we were off to find lunch and then take a little time to explore a few places.

We decided on an easy Subway lunch; it was right outside the train station, the kids saw it and recognized it, easy decision.  

After we filled our bellies we made our way up the Gojo-Dori to Kiyomizu-dera.   

On our way we found Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine.  Mackenzie said, "Can we go in?" Kris replied, "Of course.  That's what we're going to do here...walk around and explore whatever we find interesting."  That's exactly what we did all week...miles and miles of walking and then a few more miles.  So,  we took a little time wandering around the grounds.   

Wakamiya Hachimangu

This shrine is known as the "pottery shrine" due to the diety of pottery being added to the grounds in 1949.  According to the temple literature, the shrine was established in 1053 and saw many samurai as well as shoguns as visitors.  In the late 1400's it was devastated during the Onin Wars and was then moved several times, until 1605 when it settled here.  The buildings we perused were reconstructed in 1654.





Joan found this little carrot-looking flower at the back of the grounds.

After taking a bit to walk around and look at the shrine complex we made our way back out to the main road and headed toward Kiyomizu-dera.

Kiyomizu-dera

Holy moly...the crowds!  So.Many.People.  We walked the skinny road up the hill to the temple and made our way up the stairs.  

Kiyomizu-dera was established in 778, however it has been burned down several times since then.  Most of the buildings today were rebuilt around 1630.  

In 1994 Kiyomizu-dera made the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as a Historic Monument of Ancient Kyoto.

The Deva Gate with the West Gate and 3-storied pagoda in the background

We have had a pretty long Autumn this year.  So, the full colors we expected to see throughout the city were a bit delayed.  There were places in the city in full koyo (autumn color).  Other places were still pretty green.  As you can see in most of the pictures, we had a lot of grey skies for the week.  I think the sun peaked at us a few times, and then came out in full force on Friday...the day we left.

Three-storied pagoda


Close-ups of the detailed painting on the pagoda.  This thing was phenomenal!  The colors and paintings were so detailed and vibrant!



After we paid the fee to get in, we made our way around to the main hall, a designated national treasure.  No pictures were allowed, but there were a lot of people praying.  There is an 11-headed, 1,000-armed Kannon here, famous for answering prayers.  


Here's a look down from the stage, pictured a few shots below.  There are little souvenir shops and noodle shops down there.  Also, a waterfall that makes its way down Mount Otowa (Kiyomizu-dera temple sits halfway up the mountain) and then falls into the well pictured here.  The water is considered sacred and falls from three places into the well.  You chose a stream to drink from, but don't be greedy and drink from all three.  One is for longevity, one for success at school and one for a fortunate love life.

As we walked away from the stage and made our way around to the walkway across the little valley we got a good view of the base of the stage.  And...the crowd!  Really...it was insane!!  I took the picture above from the stage in the picture below.


The stage was built using 12-meter high pillars that were constructed without using a single nail.  The floor was built using more than 400 cypress boards.

After walking around the grounds for a bit, taking pictures, marveling at the amazing colors around us, studying the thatched roofs, and dodging the millions of people there, we made our way back to the train station to get our luggage and find the house.  

Oh, the yummy food being sold everywhere!  I got myself a white chocolate mocha pancake...one of the most fabulous foods I've bought from a street merchant since moving here!  Yummmmm


After a bit of an accidental "tour" of the neighborhood....surprise!  I got us lost.  :/  Not the best time to go on an expedition...end of the day after half a day full of walking already.  We asked a gentleman for directions, but he didn't speak English at all and we couldn't understand what he was saying.  His hand motions got us moving in the right direction.  Finally, we made it to the house!

The alleyway leading to the house.  The one we stayed in is at the end of the alley on the left.

Aotake-an House


One of the most narrow and steep set of stairs I've climbed.  Be careful with socks on!  And, hold onto the rail!


The house is a three bedroom house with one bathroom; a separate shower/tub room - typical Japanese shower room, I think, with a shower head that sprays into the room with the tub towards the back of the room, the water didn't get too hot but the tub looked amazing!  It was just so huge that it would take a ton of water and time to fill it so we didn't use it except for the kids the first night; there was a little garden; a small kitchen with a stovetop and a fish oven as well as a table that sat probably 8 people and a few pots/pans; a living room with a couch, coffee table and tv.  Under the stairs there were a ton of slippers for all of us to wear, since shoes had to be taken off at the door.

The bedrooms were 6-tatami rooms.  Two bedrooms had futons on the floor...something I was a little afraid of...sleeping on a mattress on the floor was probably not going to be comfortable.  I loved it!  I thought it was more comfortable than my own bed at home!  Kris didn't feel the same.  He didn't say it wasn't comfortable, but he preferred a real bed.  

We put the two kids in the room with actual beds.  The blankets on the beds were incredibly warm.  They held in every ounce of body heat.  Which was good for the evenings when the temperature dropped and it got cold in the house!  I'm not sure there was any insulation in that house at all.  The temperature outside was pretty darn close to what we felt inside the house.  

The bedroom Kris and I stayed in had a small balcony off the back of the house.  We quite literally shared the roof with several of the neighbors.  Even with the VERY close proximity of everyone else, we rarely heard a sound from anyone in the neighboring houses.  We had rain off and on one day and then into the evening and the sounds it made on the roof was quite noticeable.  It was such a peaceful sound.  I just sat on the bed reading a book and enjoying the clinking sounds of the drops hitting the roof.  I could see myself cuddled up on that mattress with a hot cup of tea and a book on rainy days.


After we unloaded our suitcases and explored the house a little, we headed out for dinner and then we planned on seeing some of the fall illuminations I read about.

Dinner was at a little restaurant that we found had fried chicken...perfect for the kids.  I had salmon, delicious!   It was a nice little bento dinner before we made our way back out to find the illuminations.

So, I read that Yasaka Shrine had fall illuminations and they were worth a look.  Well, this wasn't quite the type of illumination I was looking for.  I was hoping to see the maples lit up with beautiful lights all around us.  Turns out, this place just had lanterns hung around the grounds.  Not exactly fall illuminations, but instead illuminations in the fall.  Oh well.  It was still pretty and it was not crowded at all!  Bonus!  It wasn't very exciting for the kids.  There was no admission fee to get it, but that also meant that I couldn't get a stamp in the stamp book I was so excited to fill.  Oh well.

Yasaka Shrine

I'm not sure how old the buildings are, but the shrine was established in the mid-600's.  These buildings aren't that old.  As we've learned from traveling here, many things were moved or destroyed and rebuilt.  


I thought this was interesting.  I haven't seen a shrine with a human-looking statue in the guardian's gate.  These guys were loaded with arrows.



There was a stage in the middle that as lit up with over 100 lanterns.  This is the site of the Gion Matsuri, maybe one of the oldest festivals in Japan, dating back over a thousand years.  




The lanterns in this shrine were quite beautiful.  And, back beyond the dance stage was a path that wandered around the grounds.

There were several smaller shrines, I think that's what they were.  They seemed to have different objects of worship in them.

A view of the stage and one of the gates leading into the shrine.

After we walked through Yasaka-jinja, we made our way to the Gion District so we could walk down Gion-dori.  This is the famous Geisha district.  We didn't see any Geisha, but we were able to get a good glimpse of the machiya merchant houses.  Way back when, Kyoto property taxes were charged by the street frontage...how much space your house took up on the street.  So, to get around that, houses were built with skinny street-fronts, about 16 feet, but then extended 60 or more feet away from the street.


We ended the night by visiting a grocery store on the way home so we could fix dinner at the house for the next few nights.  

The first day was a good introduction to the walking and sight-seeing we would be doing over the next four days.  We had nice weather, it may have been a little gray, but at least we weren't sweating or freezing or wet.  I was surprised by the number of people we encountered.  And, that was only the beginning!  The crowds only became crazier at some of the attractions we visited.

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A few details about our day:

Arrive in Kyoto and have lunch  1300, then...

We walked from:
Kiyomizu Gojo Station --> Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine --> Kiyomizudera Temple -->  back to Kiyomizu Gojo Station --> Aotake-an House -->  Dinner --> Yasaka Shrine --> Through Gion District --> Aotake-an House around 8 pm.

Total miles walked:   9.2 miles

Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine
Admission price:  Free
Hours:  24 hours

Kiyomizu-dera
Admission price:  300 adult; 200 child
Hours:  0600-1730/1800/1830
during certain times it's open 1800-2100 for an additional admission price

Yasaka Shrine
Admission Price:  Free
Hours:  24 hours