Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I had only a few hours left in Kyoto this morning, so I quickly headed to Nijo-jo Castle and Kinkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a. Temple of the Golden Pavilion) before I would catch the train for Kobuchizawa. Nijo-jo Castle (1603) is a grandiose and unequivocal statement of the shogunate's power. Nijo-jo's wide exterior most and towering walls are the castle's exterior face, but once inside, a second moat and defensive wall become visible.
This had less to do with defense than it did with reinforcing the castle's social statement: access to the inner sanctum depended on a visitor's status within the shogunate's hierarchy, and the powers-that-be could remind anyone of their place in the system. Anyone who was permitted inside was as much a hostage as a guest, a feeling surely driven home by the castle's ingenious nightingale floors, which "sing" as you walk across them, revealing your movements at all times. Pretty clever, huh?Next, I went to see Kinkaku-ji Temple which is said to possibly be the world's most ostentatious retirement cottages.It was built by Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga in 1393 in anticipation of the time when he would quit politics. He died, and the new shogun (his 10-year-old son) followed his father's wishes and converted the villa into a temple. The top two stories are coated with gold especially incredible site when reflected in the pond's still waters.Next, onto the train to head to Kobuchizawa for a stay with Danny & Lilac's friends Hide-san, his wife Choco-san, and Annica (a German foreign exchange student who speaks Japanese, English and German...thankfully!). They so graciously opened up their beautiful country home to us for two nights. (Remember, we only met them days earlier in Korea at Danny & Lilac's wedding). When we arrived, we were welcomed with a traditional Green Tea Ceremony...That was followed by a home cooked meal by Hide-san...his "famous" Sukiyaki, which is beef that's cooked with vegetables in a homemade sauce. When it's served to you, you dip it in raw egg (I know, it might sound disgusting...but, trust me it's amazing!) and then you eat it. WOW...his Sukiyaki was one of the best things I have EVER eaten!
Stay tuned for more from Kobuchizawa!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Today was time to venture outside of Downtown and Central Kyoto for a bit and head to Southern Kyoto. The destination...Fushimi-Inari Taisha..the site of thousands of red lacquered gates which are the quintessential image of Japan.

Fushimi-Inari is considered the central headquarters for 40,000 shrines nationally that do service to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity. The gates trace a path up the's such a beautiful site to see! You should spend a good three hours here, so that you can soak it all in.
A good way to do it is to stop halfway and take a break at one of the little restaurants along the way. Recharge with a little green tea, Kirin beer and rice crackers.

After some more time at Fushimi Inari, it was time to head to The Cube Department Store and I Setan which is right next door.
On the 10th floor of I Setan is something known as Ramen Alley, which is basically a bunch of restaurants that all serve ramen.You must order your food from a machine right outside of the restaurant and pay for it first. The machine will print out tickets with your order on it which you hand to your waiter and he/she will bring your food to you. I ordered ramen and pork gyoza...this is a must see and do!
Once satisfied and full, it was time to head to Ginkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a Silver Temple) and the Path of Philosophy. Ginkaku-ji is a two-story mansion that the shogun originally intended to be wrapped in silver leaf, but after a tumultuous war and government unrest, the funds for the project dried up. So when you go to Ginkaku-ji, you won't see a silver temple, but you will see beautifully and carefully sculpted gardens, which are surrounded by a pond and rolling moss-covered hills. It's so peaceful here.

The Path of Philosophy runs alongside the canal. There is a very narrow walkway which is lined with cherry trees. You can also find coffee shops and small restaurants along the way. This path has traditionally been a place for contemplative strolling for centuries.
After the stroll, I headed to Kyoto's wonderful food market, Nishiki-koji. Here you can find delicious grilled fish dipped in soy sauce for a tasty snack or fresh Kyoto sweets. The market is long and narrow- it goes on for many streets. For dinner that was time for some Japanese barbecue. I found a great place along the canal (one block over from Pontocho Alley). After lots of grilling, it was time to head back to Tawaraya before the curfew. This would be the last night in Kyoto. :( So far Japan (especially Kyoto) was perfect in every sense- it is beautiful, special, incredible and certainly unforgettable. Stay tuned for more from my next destination...the small town of Kobuchizawa in the Japanese Alps!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


One of the very special things about staying in a Ryokan is the fact that you have a choice of whether or not you want to experience Japanese prepared meals. If you do decide to try it (which I highly recommend), your food is served to you in a traditional way, and you are given yukata to wear (Japanese robes which can be worn in your room and around the ryokan as well). I only decided to do this for one of the three days at the Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto (for both breakfast and dinner)...and they truly were the most incredible experiences! At around 8:30 in the morning, someone came into the room to put away the futons and to serve the traditional Japanese breakfast which consisted of grilled salmon served with rice rice and vegetables, miso soup with clams and tofu and green tea. It was delicious and totally satisfying!After breakfast, it was time to head over to Sanjusangen-do Temple. This place is one of Kyoto's most awe-inspiring spectacles. It's 400-foot-long hall holds 1,000 golden statues of the many-limbed Kannon.You are not able to take pictures inside of the Temple, so that's why I only have pictures of the outside. The grounds surrounding the Temple are quite pretty too. One of the special things to do at any Temple you visit in Japan is to buy a fortune that has one of the levels of luck (very lucky, somewhat lucky, or not lucky at all). After you see what you get, you are supposed to tie it to something outside of the temple and make a wish. Both fortunes we got were somewhat lucky ones. Hopefully the wishes come true! Afterwards, it was time to head over to Higashiyama Park to check out the Yasaka-inja Shrine...The Kodaiji Temple (Love Temple) made by a woman for her late husband...And the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.Pilgrims have climbed Higashiyama's cobblestone streets lined with tea shops and craft vendors to this gorgeous mountainside temple for centuries. The main hall's huge veranda, jutting out over the valley, has become one of the city's quintessential images.Farther down the path, the Sound of Feathers waterfall tumbles down in three perfect streams before a raised platform. Visitors line up to catch some to drink using one of the long-handled silver cups; it supposedly helps with health, longevity, and academic success.Afterwards, you must stroll along Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka's cobblestone paths. These two streets are the finest examples of Old Kyoto, and this area is one of four historic preservation districts in the city.This is another area where you can see a lot of Geisha, or I should really say "Fake-sha" because real Geisha only come out at night. Nevertheless, it's fun to take pictures of them and with them! Dinner at the Ryokan was at 6pm that night, so on the way back, I passed through Ponto-cho Alley which is just west of the river in Kyoto. It's a tiny street filled with taverns, bars and restaurants. That night, an 8-course traditional Kaiseki dinner was served in the room. It included sushi, sashimi and cooked fish dishes served with cold sake, tea and dessert.Dinner lasted for about 2 hours. It was so relaxing that as soon as the meal was over, my head hit the pillow and I was out at 8:30p.m!!! Stay tuned for more from Kyoto!