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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Japan - Kyoto 11.08

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  • Nijo Castle 二條城
  • TenTenYu Ramon Bar
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace 京都御所
  • Shiraume Ryokan 白梅料理旅館
  • Kiyomizu Temple 清水寺
  • Kodaiji Temple 高台寺
  • Gion 祇園  

Finally, it was time to visit Kyoto today.  H's birthday is in November.  When I was preparing for this trip, I decided to book a traditional Ryokan in Kyoto as H's birthday gift. Originally, I was planning to stay at Shiraume Ryokan for the first 2 nights of our trip.  However, with only 6 rooms in Shiraume, I was only able to secure one room for one night.  

We checked out of Sheraton and stored our luggage at the hotel since we would be returning the next day and only brought a small backpack with us to Kyoto.  The express JR train took less than 40 minutes from Osaka to Kyoto.  

Once at Kyoto station, we purchased the two day bus/subway pass for JPN 2,000.  We probably did not ride enough to make the pass worthwhile, but it definitely saved us a lot of hassle.

Our first stop was Nijo Castle.   The Ninomaru Palace had 5 huge halls with tatami floors and wall painting dividers connected by a corridor.  I kept wondering how people centuries ago kept warm in the winter in these types of architectures.   Walking on the corridor of the Palace, the wooden floor made  squeaking sounds, almost like bird chirping.  It was called a nightingale floor to alert guards when  intruders were coming in. 

After Nijo Castle,  we were starving.  Our next destination, Kyoto Imperial Palace, had free English tours at 10 AM and 2 PM.   We decided to get a quick bite before the 2 PM tour.  I was craving for Ramon and was lucky to find a small Ramon bar in Shijo.  The ramon noodle soups were delicious!

Kyoto Imperial Palace was inside the Kyoto Imperial Park. There were two subway stations at the opposite end of the park.  Imadegawa Station 今出川駅 will save you at least a 15 minutes walk and take you closest to the office of Imperial Household Agency to apply for the free tour.  After spending a lot of money on layers and layers of entrance fees the past few days, it was a pleasant change to have a free tour of the Palace.

After the palace, we were ready to check into our Ryokan.  The Shiraume Ryokan was located in the heart of the historical Gion district with the Shirakawa Stream 白川 running in front of the Inn on the picturesque Shinbashi 新橋通 street.  It was an idyllic setting in a beautiful location.  We felled in love with the inn before we even stepped a foot in it.   

Satoko, one of the inn keepers was there to help us with the check-in and decision on dinner & breakfast details.  H was thrilled with our traditional tatami room and private garden and I was happy to share the experience with him.  Eventually, I had to force H out of the room so we could visit Kiyomizu Temple 清水寺 before it closes. 

Kiyomizu-michi 清水道, the street leading to the Kiyomizu Temple, was probably more interesting than the temple itself.   Beautiful old houses and souvenir shops along side the streets.   By the time we reached the temple, the sun had set.  The view from Kiyomizu Temple overlooking Kyoto city was beautiful.  

After Kiyomizu Temple, we headed back to our Ryokan just in time for our Kaiseki Ryori 懐石料理.  There were no other guests in the dinning room that night so we had the place all to ourselves.  The Inn owner, Tomoko, was serving us that night.  She offered a pot of Kyoto sake with golden flakes for H's birthday.  The sake was light and smooth, so much better than the sakes we had in New York.  Tomoko explained that Sake is a very delicate  drink.  Often the transportation of sake affects its flavor.  The ten course Kaiseki Ryori meal was too exquisite to be eaten.  Although every course came in small portions, we were quite full by the end of the dinner.  Tomoko was a gracious hostess and great conservationist.  Every time she brought the dishes to the dinning room, we would chat about the food, the Inn history and Kyoto.  Tomoko told us that Shiraume was originally an Oyagi teahouse in Edo period and she was the 7th generation owner, and that this type of business was only passed down to the women in the family.  Although there were other guests in the inn having dinner at their rooms, Tomoko gave us undivided attention, and the service was never rushed.

Two hours later, we finished dinner and headed out again to Kodaiji Temple 高台寺 as per Tomoko's recommendation.  During the autumn season in Kyoto, many temples and shrines host evening illuminations of the fall leaves in displays.  Kodaiji Temple is well-known for it. When the light lid up the garden, the reflection of the maple leaves on the temple's pond was absolutely breathtaking.  We reluctantly left the temple after the temple staff politely informed us of it's closing time. 

Walking back towards our ryokan,  we strolled through the cobbled street of Hanami-Koji 花見小路通.  The street was lined with traditional old wooden houses that operated as restaurants on both sides.  We saw Japanese men in business suites accompanied by a geiko (Geisha in Kyoto region) or a maiko (apprentice geiko) coming out of the restaurants.  Old fashioned taxies were waiting by the street as the restaurant hostesses and chefs came out bowing good-bye in a 90 degree angle.   The setting was so dreamy that H and I felt that we were transported back in time to the Edo era.  

It had been an amazing day with highlights after highlights.  Both H & I were exhausted, and we returned to our ryokan just before the mid-night curfew. 


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