Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/30 - Day 14 - Golden Temples, Zen Gardens, Imperial Houses, and Some Manga

That view of Kinkaku-ji that everyone has a shot of.
There are a few temples in the Kyoto area that are sort of out of the way of the rest of the scene, and one of them is a near-critical visit - Kinkaku-ji temple, the golden pavilion, was originally a retirement villa for a Shogun (well, according to a Spanish tour guide we eavesdropped on, it was originally a small village which was then 'appropriated' by the shogunate into a retirement villa.) His son converted it into a Buddhist temple after his father's death. Like most extremely old buildings (this one dates back to 1397) Kinkaku-ji was once burned to the ground and a new one was constructed in 1955. It was faithfully reconstructed aside from the fact that the new architects thought it needed a little more bling, so instead of just the top floor of the pavilion being leafed in gold they just went ahead and did the whole shebang, inside and out. The inside is sadly inaccessible to the public, but we did see some photos.
We took a peaceful stroll along with several thousand other tourists through the grounds of Kinkaku-ji. There was a little tea house here where we stopped and had some matcha. Neither of us are particularly fond of matcha, but the novelty of the idea of having some tea at a temple struck us, so we went ahead with it anyway. Having lightly refueled, we exited the grounds to walk a mile to the other out-of-the-way sight in northwest Kyoto, Ryoan-ji.
Ryoan-ji is a temple complex of the Rinzai school, and the zen garden there, with its fifteen perfectly positioned rocks amidst a field of combed pebbles, is a famous icon of Kyoto. The zen garden is surprisingly small, and you view it from a platform within the main temple building, so you can't get particularly close to it. The grounds of the complex were almost more striking than the zen garden itself, with a large lake surrounded by maple trees and copses of spruce and willow. 
Kyoto Imperial Palace main building
A 25 minute bus ride returned us to the area near our apartment, which also happens to be the location of the old Imperial castle. Kyoto Imperial Palace was the seat of the emperor of Japan for upwards of 1000 years before it was moved to Tokyo in the later part of the 19th century. In one of those the serendipitous travel coincidences that sometimes occur, we had come to visit the Imperial Palace on the first open day of the Fall season, which means we didn't have to go apply to get access to the palace area, it was open to everyone. On the one hand, cool, we didn't have to show our passports and fill out paperwork to get in. On the other, there was a swarm of tourists who all wanted in on the first open day, so we shared the experience with the unwashed masses. The grounds of the Imperial Palace are expansive, and the inner gardens and buildings are impressive as well. It occurs to me as a write this that my readers are probably tired of hearing "impressive" and "beautiful" as descriptors for everything in Kyoto...but seriously, I'd be spending a lot of time with a thesaurus trying to come up with unique adjectives for the same effect. Everything is just freaking amazing, ok? Go see it.
After the Imperial Palace, we had a hankerin' for some noodles. It so happened that we were in the apartment's neighborhood, and we had a pretty thorough food recommendation list for the area from our host. It also so happened that our host's wife's family runs a noodle shop in the area. Oh cool, we thought, we can visit a little cafe run by locals. It turns out that our host's wife's family runs are pretty epic Kyoto institutional restaurant called Honke Owariya, which has been around for more than 500 years and has four locations in the Kyoto area.
Rikyu Soba with fried gluten cakes
We dined upon Nishin-boni, smoked herring filets simmered in sweet soy. Sean had the house soup with soba noodles, leeks and a poached egg, and I had Rikyu soba, made with fried wheat gluten cakes, yuzu citrus peel and the same house broth. For dessert, Sean had Tokoro Ten, which are glass-like jelly noodles that are more or less flavorless, but in this case served with sweet vinegar and, of all things, spicy yellow mustard. I had warabi-mochi, which are sweet dumplings made from bracken root and dusted with roasted buckwheat. The dumplings were pretty much like mochi, but the buckwheat dust had a sort of unpleasant gritty mouth feel. Eh, at least I tried it.
A few blocks away from the restaurant was the Kyoto International Manga museum, our next stop. Aside from informative exhibits about what Manga *is*, the museum is a living repository of manga books, and seemed more useful as a place one holds a membership and goes to as a library. There were 3 floors of manga, mostly in Japanese but several in other languages as well, in the extensive collection. There was also a gallery for a new anime that is going to be released in January of 2015 called "Fleet Girls" which judging from the illustrations and the short promo video, is light on story and big on hot chicks with guns and anchors and fighter planes attached to them in various ways. We weren't that impressed with 'Fleet Girls'.
Afterward, we returned to the apartment for a few minutes, then went out to downtown Kyoto, where we walked around the shops. We were originally going to Nishiki market, which is a food and kitchen supply area, but it closed at 5 o'clock, so the whole place was forbidding metal rolling doors and unlit signs. Right around the corner though was the main shopping district, and we walked through there for about an hour and a half before losing steam. Our last gasp of the day was to visit a Japanese bookstore, where we headed immediately to the ages 0-3 section. Sean picked up a book about a little girl going on her first errand, to get some milk for her mother, and on our way out we saw the Japanese version of the first Harry Potter book, so I bought that to add to the many other versions of Harry Potter I have in my library at home.
On our way back to the apartment we got some take-out from a crappy little fast-food place called Hotto Motto, where I got a Japanese curry with tonkatsu, and Sean had a fried chicken donburri rice bowl. Tomorrow we check out of our apartment in Kyoto. We will spend most of the day trying to see some of the things we missed over the last few days, and then we'll head over to Nara for a taste of ever older Japan.

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