Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/31 - Day 15 - Kyoto Castles and Copies

We started the day determined to have a sit-down breakfast, since for the last several days we've been going to bakeries in the morning and grabbing something doughy and fast. On the way to our first stop of the day, Nijo Castle, we found a breakfast diner called Hello and Goodbye which happily proclaimed that they featured American style breakfasts. Well alright then, Kyoto, show me what you've got. Unfortunately, what Hello and Goodbye had was a pretty bizarre take on an American breakfast - scrambled eggs with their whites and yolks more or less entirely seperate, toast with margarine (ick),  cabbage salad (no idea where this one came from), some pieces of deli-sliced turkey-ham, and some watery diner coffee. Ok, at least they got that last part more or less correct. We also got a piece of cheese cake because why not? The owner did seem a little confused about the fact that we ordered that along with the breakfasts, but he also uses cabbage slaw in his American breakfast, so I dont hold his opinion in the highest regard.
One of the resplendent gates at Nijo-jo
After we broke fast, we headed across the street to Nijo-jo, a castle originally built by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1626. The castle keep suffered a series of disasters and was rebuilt twice since the original construction. Once in 1750, and then again in 1788. It is a large complex, parts of which were even imported from other castles during the original construction. The coolest part of Nijo-jo was the "nightingale floors" of the central building. They are built using special nails that shift in the supports when you walk across them, and they make a noise that sounds remarkably like the musical honks of a nightingale. I recorded it and I'll try to post the sound later when I have access to a program that will let me do that (I'm writing this from my iPad and there's not an elegant way to do it from here.)
Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. Not quite as jazzed up
as its older twin.
From Nijo castle we took the bus out to the Philosopher's Walk, a stone pathway running along a canal on the western edge of Hirashiyama. It was given its name because a prominent professor at the University of Kyoto in the early 20th century used to frequent it. It connects several of the shrines and temples in the region and is lined with shops and food stalls. Apparently it is gorgeous in the Spring due to all the cherry trees that line the path, though I have only seen it in early Autumn and mid-Winter and it was pretty enough even then. We walked the path up to Ginkaku-ji, the silver pavilion, which is a less  spectacular version of its older twin, Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion. Kinkaku-ji was created by son of the creator of Ginkaku-ji, and he *did* have plans to foil the building in silver to match the gold of its twin, but a war got in the way of his plans and then he died, and well the whole silver part of the silver pavilion just never quite got around to happening. While that bit is a little disappointing, the best thing that Ginkaku-ji is its gorgeous grounds, which are even better than its older twin's, much lusher and more beautiful in every season.
After Ginkaku-ji we were a bit templed out, but we still wanted to see the Heian-in shinto shrine, if anything for its enormous tori gate. It was starting to rain by the time we got there, but we saw the gate, the grounds, and the shrine itself which were actually a bit disappointing after all the grandeur of the last few sites we had visited. Heian is in a bit dishevel compared to some of its comrads - the paint is starting to chip a bit, the wood is starting to look a little rough. It's probably due for some maintenance. After Heian we were pretty much spent on Kyoto shrines and ready to head out to our next destination, Nara. Nara is the pre-Kyoto capital of Japan, and since Kyoto was the capitol city for over 1000 years, we are talking the *old* old capitol. Of course, it isn't the *oldest* old old capitol, and was in fact the seat of the empire for only about 70 years, and its tiny compared to every other city we are visiting, but the little guy has a lot to offer. 
We took a local JR line train from Kyoto to Nara, which took about 45 minutes, and checked into our hotel, the Nara Nikko, which is literally attached to the train station. It was late enough that all we really wanted to do was get something to eat and relax for the rest of the day, so we walked around the corner to a restaurant highly rated on Trip Advisor, a seafood restaurant called, wait for it, Uosen Suisan Sakanaya Dojo Nara Sanjo-dori... or at least that's how it is listed on Trip Advisor. There is no English signage at the restaurant.
Big Sashimi bowl at Uosen Suisan. They
give you the head and tail to prove how fresh
it is, then fry the bones up for you as crackers.
We sat down, our waitress brought us some chopsticks and then promptly disappeared. We ruminated over the all-Japanese menu for several minutes and she hadn't returned...many more minutes passed and I was beginning to think that we were receiving the unwanted tourist treatment, then the Japanese couple next to us asked us in pretty good English whether we needed help ordering, and we discovered that you had to *summon* the waiter with a big red button that was sitting on the table the entire time. It was definitely an embarrassing stupid tourist moment, but lucky for us, our discomfort and disquiet at being ignored made us some friends, as the couple chatted with us for most of our meal about cultural differences, why we were in Japan, what we did, and all that. And once we actually figured out how to order, the restaurant really did have some great food. The sashimi was super fresh, the takoyaki was much better than the stuff I had in Tokyo, and we got to try some new things including a mixed grill of chicken yakitori (including skin and gristle, which were both actually pretty good), and a dish typically made by fishermen called Sangayaki, which although tiny, was also good - sort of like a small tuna casserole without the noodles. Maybe it was the several drinks we had, but we were very chatty with our new friends, and it was a nice evening. We payed for it a bit the next morning when we were supposed to be up and touring Nara, and were instead oversleeping with hangovers. But that's for tomorrow!

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