Friday, November 6, 2015

Kyoto Day 1 -- Beat This!

This is the next post of our Japan trip.  It took place in September but I only managed to write these notes a couple of months later.  For contemporaneous reports, take a look at Track My Tour -- a brilliant app that I used to ... well, track our tour.  Here is the link.

Cat's itinerary for Day 1 in Kyoto ran like this:

  • Arashiyama -- Tenruji temple, bamboo forest, Okochi Senso (villa that includes tea and cake), maybe Jojakko-Ji, moon bridge crossing and lunch in village
  • Taxi (20 mins) to Kinkau-Ji (gold temple)
  • Taxi or 30 min walk to Ryoan-Ji (stone garden)
  • Ninna-Ji (5 storey pagoda) next door
  • Myoshin-Ji and Taizo-In (walled complex of temples and gardens)
  • Geisha evening
What a day if we actually made it all (we didn't!) but still an epic day!

The taxi ride to Arashiyama was through Kyoto, as it turned out the southern very populated part of the city to journey's end where we found Tenryu-Ji Temple (yet another World Cultural Heritage Site -- by the end of the trip this became kind of normal.  Everywhere was World Heritage this, that or the other).  However this was different.

Religion in Japan is in the main either Buddhist or Shinto -- about half each.  The religions co-exist fairly well and the temples themselves are pretty much identical except that in the Shinto ones, there's no big chubby looking chap sitting and smiling.  Usually there's quite a few grim looking guys whose primary job is to scare off evil spirits of one sort or other and in the process give small children nightmares.  However this temple was the first Zen temple in Japan established in 1339 by the Shogun following yet another civil war in which vast numbers died.  Of course it had the raked sand garden with little rocks strategically placed all around in perfect position (of course).

The publicity blurb says this version is of course not the first, nor the second or many after as most perished in fires throughout the ages, but dates back to the Meiji period 1868-1912.  Interestingly this temple is one of the few that did not start out as some bigwig's home that was subsequently bequeathed to the religious sect.  It was purpose built from the outset... even though a bigwig ordered it done.

Classic Kyoto art being preserved under the Tsuzuri program.  This is a dragon looking distinctly boggle-eyed.
Being a Zen joint, it was very nicely laid out with plenty of places to sit back and reflect.

Crazy thing happened after in that a TV film crew asked if they could interview us for a TV programme of some sort so Indy, Cat and I hopped into their car and were filmed and interviewed driving around pointing out sights and giving our views on the world.  Who knows where that will end?

Bamboo forest
Behind the temple was a bamboo forest that we walked through and up to a silent movie star's home in the hills above the temple called Okochi-Senso.  It was sited in a lovely spot in the hills.  Obviously the movie star was a wealthy guy to be able to afford not to live with the hoi-polloi in the valley below.

Daytime job

Okochi-Senso is a place where you can book for events of all sorts.  It is very peaceful and has lovely overland views.

The highlight of the day though undoubtedly was the golden temple called Kinkaku-Ji.  This again belonged to a bigwig but dates back to the 1300's ... even though this one was actually rebuilt in the 1950's.  


Again lovely gardens all around and a splendid place to visit.

Both these places took so long to take in properly that we felt that enough was enough in the templing stakes and that a cold beer and quick rest before Geisha night was called for.

Actually there's no Geishas in Kyoto, they are called Geiko's.  They have trained for years and are in fact professionals who get paid to appear in various places... such as where we had dinner in Gion.  They have trainees called Maiko's who to all external appearance look identical except that they are not yet professionals and are therefore unpaid.  They have day jobs.

The evening had one of each who danced (really slowly) for us, poured tea, played a stringed instrument in a twangy fashion that sounded ... well sort of really twangy.  Reminded me of watching the Monterey Pop movie years ago which had Ravi Shankar playing in the same twangy way only for the audience to burst into applause once he'd finished.  He looked bemused as he'd actually just been tuning up.  

We got to play games with the Geiko/Maiko.  Something like slaps for drinks!  Great fun and the dinner was another one of a multitude of small exquisitely presented very small dishes of items that were largely unidentifiable... along with unending sake!!

The full menu was: Snapper and salmon sushi, boiled crabs and vegetables, ginger, egg, squid with salted entrails and roe of Ayu fish, Prawn, Fried maiden hair-nut, Kelp with herring roe, Duck, Edamame, Grilled scallop, gluten cake, grilled bonito, Hamo conger eel, Rolled tuna and condiments, Steamed snapper with tofy skin made from black beans, eggplant, salmon roe, Bean with shark fin thick starchy sauce, Fried Hamo conger eel, Deep fried Hamo's born, Tofy and yuba (tofu skin), wild vegetable with clear soup, Steamed rice with Hamo sea eel and Japanese pepper and for dessert Pear comport, Grape, Jerry, sauce mint.  Whoa!
This is becoming a trend!!!

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