After 2 weeks up north with me where I live, it was time to head back out on the road for some more travel and seeing the many wonderful sights of Japan. We actually planned really well and went to Kyoto over a 4 day weekend for the base (Labor Day plus a family day). The reason this was planned well is because Ryan was then able to go with us to Kyoto and that made me really happy. I knew he wanted to go here and would have really been sad if I couldn't experience this with him when I went for the first time. Plus, it would have been more fun.
I booked us for 3 nights at Kyoto Hotel Okura. After booking here based on excellent reviews I discovered that it was also rated as top hotel for an excellent view. When we got into the cab and told him what hotel he even told us that was the best. So I was feeling pretty good with my decision. We walked in to the lobby and immediately got a good vibe. Definitely a luxury hotel.
Out hotel room was larger than average for a Japanese hotel room.
Oh, and the view was amazing! Hard to tell, but we are over looking the river.
We were also surprised to find that we had both a shower and a tub. This was for a standard room too. Usually the bathroom is so tiny you can't have 2 people in there at once.
After getting settled and resting a little, we took off for the main shopping area by our hotel. Wow, it was definitely a major shopping area. Thankfully it was covered because it was raining a little that day.
One of the first interesting things we found was this place. This is the Kyoto Baby Cafe. I still have yet to figure this one out, but I think you can go there with babies and maybe have baby play groups there while moms can comfortably sit, drink some coffee, eat some food and enjoy themselves. But I have no idea.
Right near there we found this Lipton Tea House. I thought it was really cute but also funny because it is such a recognizable brand of tea. I know they make bottled tea in Japan but I didn't realize it was so popular here.
We never really ate lunch so we were starving and had a hard time deciding on something. In the end we picked Pomme's.
Ryan had a rice omelet and pasta set.
Rachel had the ketchup rice omelet, but unfortunately it came out with rice containing meat. I had assumed it would be plain rice but that was not the case. We returned it but the second one also wasn't very good.
Mine was excellent and Rachel did eat some of mine. It was egg with tomato sauce and mozzarella on top of mushroom rice.
Along the walking streets were many little vendors with local traditional treats. This is a pancake machine. The machine fills them with batter and flips them.
They are filled with white bean paste, which I think the man was filling them with. He also removes the excess batter when they are finished so they look perfect. They were really yummy!
By the time we decided on dinner it was late and we were tired since we woke up at 4 am to be on a 6:40 train to Tokyo. Indian is always a good bet so we found a Nepalese Restaurant (similar to Indian) and decided to give it a try. It was dark inside, but you can see it was decorated well with all the tables low to the ground so you had to sit down on cushions.
I tried my first beer from Nepal. It was really good.
Papadum to start.
Chana masala (chick peas)
Saag paneer (spinach and cheese)
Coconut naan, which is Rachel's new favorite.
Then it was off to get some sleep because we were beyond exhausted and had a long day of sightseeing ahead of us.
We didn't have much time in the morning before our tour guide was meeting us so thankfully there was an amazing bakery in the basement of our hotel. In the first basket, from left to right, is a ginger roll, sweet bread, and in the second basket was a pumpkin roll and cheese roll. The bigger one in the second basket was filled with black bean paste.
Right on time, we found our tour guide in the lobby waiting for us. The first stop was to see the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is very well know and has been featured in movies and lots of famous photos of Kyoto. It is the shrine with the 3000 torii gates (part of the Shinto religion).
Here was the first torii gate we spotted as we started walking towards the shrine, although I don't think this is really part of it.
Here is the main shrine at the bottom. The entire shrine complex covers a large area and up the mountain. It takes about 2 hours to complete and we weren't planning to do that with our limited time.
This is the front of the shrine. There are foxes on each side.
They are for good luck.
You can see they are both different.
Here is a picture of all of us before heading to walk through the torii gates.
This is the actual area for praying just beyond the main entrance.
All around were different shrine areas for praying for various things.
Here is the area where we started to make our way to the gates.
Really big torii gates to start.
Getting ready to head down the path lined with torii gates.
After the initial large gate area they get smaller in size as you ascend.
This is a map of the shrine area. You can see it is pretty massive and has lots of areas with torii gates.
There are foxes again at the sides of the entrance.
This is the price list for donors and the sizes of the gates they would get to put their name on for their donation. Our guide said these were mostly from companies.
Me and Ryan back out at the front as we made our way to the next location.
Me with my sister. So glad I got to experience this with her.
After this shrine we boarded a train back to central Kyoto. We had to switch to another line at Kyoto station, but we made sure to go outside and get a picture of Kyoto Tower.
Our next stop was Kinkaku-ji, commonly known as the Golden Pavilion.
On the way in we passed by this big bell. Some people were over there making wishes and ringing it.
The Golden Pavilion was originally for a Shogun, the head of the samurai. It has been rebuilt over the years as it had been destroyed (I believe by fire from lightning, which seems to be common for many Japanese buildings since they were originally constructed of wood). This is now golden, and contains actual gold (and lots of it). No one goes inside, although you can look at pictures. There are 3 floors and all 3 are decorated differently inside.
Here I am in front of the lake and temple with my sister.
Some different angles with the scenery all around. Very peaceful here.
Up close view
This is a really old pine tree that started out as a bonsai tree.
A waterfall, which makes sense because our tour guide told us that many, many years ago Kyoto was a lake and now things are over this but the water still remains down below so they have excellent spring water here.
Make a wish!
Here is the area showing where the tea ceremony would have been performed when the Shogun invited the Emperor or other important person for tea.
Lunch was at a traditional restaurant near by. Thankfully they had an English menu, but at least if not then our tour guide was with us.
Rach, Ryan and our tour guide all had this set with an omelet, pickles, miso soup, veggies and rice.
I had udon with spinach, seaweed, egg and fish cake (that is the white and pink stuff).
Next up was a trip to Nijo-Castle. This is where the Shogun lived. This had burned a few times and had been rebuilt and was eventually donated to Kyoto. Just a few days before our visit the main entrance was reopened after a few years of renovations. Lucky us!
All castles need a good moat!
Here is that gate that was just uncovered after the renovations. So glad we got a chance to see the very beautiful entry way.
Here I am with my sister out front.
Ryan joined us for a picture.
I wish I could have taken pictures inside, but no pictures were allowed. The woodwork was beautiful and we loved the nightingale floors. These are special floors that squeaked in a certain way and were used to alert of any intruders.
Lots of open area, also good for a castle.
Here is the side of the castle grounds and the moat (like a look out tower I suppose), which is often the part that remains of other castles are around Japan. At least from what I have seen. I rarely actually see more than castle ruins.
On our way to our final area, we entered a subway station and discovered they were selling produce downstairs. I would love to see that in America!
Careful, if you run you will smash into a wall and explode red stuff. And I am pretty sure it will hurt. It looks like it does!
Actually, I really liked how this subway was set up. You can't fall over because there are floor to ceiling doors that open only when the train is there. Hence the need for the above sign.
The next stop was Nishiki Market, the big food market in Kyoto.
Love the colored ceiling in the market.
Lots and lots of different seafood vendors.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to our tea ceremony. It was at a place called Fukujuen. It was nice because we had it reserved just for us and was less touristy because it was only our group. Our tour guide acted as a translator.
To get in you go through the little door. This is how it was done in the old days when samurais had formal tea ceremonies, although I think in tea rooms still there many still be small doors. I know this was set up for us and we could enter through a larger door is needed. All 3 of us (including Ryan) made it through the tiny door. Here is my sister making her way in.
First our host brought us out sweets. These are known as wagashi and are traditional Japanese sweets.
We decided to cut each in half and share. This one is filled with red bean paste.
And this purple one is filled with white bean paste.
Here are the tea ceremony tools for making the tea.
There is a very special procedure for the ceremony and lots of steps in the process. We were taught this step by step so we could learn how the tea ceremony is performed. A formal tea ceremony will last 3 hours and includes a full meal, so we only did the tea ceremony with sweets. It was formal enough!
Here is my bowl, yes bowl, of matcha. Matcha is the powdered green tea used for tea ceremony. It is whisked in a large cup (AKA bowl) and this is why it looks frothy.
Here we are with our host after the ceremony had finished. So fun! This was a great experience and I highly recommend this when in Kyoto.
After the tea ceremony we were offered some other tea to try.
Then our guide took us upstairs and showed us this tea serving doll. The mechanism was designed and created 400 years ago. That is pretty impressive! This wind up doll uses a clock mechanism for the wind up and the doll is set to move a certain distance and then serve the tea to the customer and return to it's starting place when done. Here you can see the inside.
This is the doll. So cute! The trigger for it to start is when a cup is set on his serving platter.
Here he is with the cup in place. We were given a demo and my sister got to be on the receiving end. So now she can say she was served tea by a doll.
After the ceremony we headed back over to Nishiki Market.
Lots to look at here. These are round eggplants. Definitely different to look at.
Octopus on a stick! Only $2!
Caramelized Ginger...I think!
Then an afternoon snack of shave ice with a little ice cream on top.
When we got back to the hotel there were two girls playing the harp on the stairs in the lobby. They were really good. It was nice and relaxing to listen to before dinner.
For dinner we were thinking we would head to Gion, the area known for Geishas, but it was late by the time we headed out and we spotted this Irish pub right next to the hotel, so pub style won out in the end.
It was actually really good. Rachel and I split some fish and chips.
We also ordered tempura veggies for the table. A little beer and we were good for the night!
It was a long day but it was amazing. Our tour guide was awesome and we got to see the major sights that we wanted to check out. The weather held out, which was perfect. It was really a great day. I can definitely say Kyoto is a "must see" in Japan.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever been to Kyoto? Have you ever attended a tea ceremony (any kind)?