Day 13 - Kyoto Day 2

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

A bit of a tidy-up day – our last full day not only in Kyoto but also in Japan. So, we had to squeeze a lot into it!

Imperial Palace

Of course we started with the visit to Kyoto Palace that we had arranged only a few days previously. The tour was to begin at 10:00 so we headed back to the park north of the hotel (ok, ryokan) for that time. Passing through the front gates immediately in front of us was another wall surrounding buildings within the grounds. We were shown to a large room in which there were a series of benches (and lockers where mother and I left our rather ungainly rucksacks). The room slowly filled up but fill up it did. At the end there must have been about 150 people on our tour. There are only a few English tours a day (there is a tour every hour, I believe, but the other tours are, of course, in Japanese) so it was quite crowded. We were shown a brief video of introduction before being taken (en-masse) out to see the palace itself.

Palace Buildings

Tour Crowd (SW)

The emperor now spends most of his time in Tokyo so the Kyoto Palace buildings are generally not used all that often. On the tour we were not permitted inside any of the buildings but walked on a pre-defined route around them as our guide pointed out things. It was difficult getting pictures of anything without 10 or 20 people standing in the way and many of the tourists (I won't say where they were from but they spoke English and were not from Europe…) seemed to be terribly rude (talking when the guide was talking and walking in front of people when they were taking pictures). That along with the fact that some of the palace is currently being re-furbished meant the visit was a bit of a disappointment. Seeing the gardens and the wall paintings on some of the buildings was definitely the highlight of the visit though.

Wall Paintings in the Palace (SW)

Mother and I tended to wait around after the group had passed to more properly enjoy the surroundings (though we were ushered on by anxious security personnel). The buildings are, of course, quite incredible. The dark old wood with the wonderful craftsmanship of the carving is very special. The gardens where the empress can wander and enjoy herself are fantastic: Decorative bridges of stone over a small pond with goldfish surrounded by evergreens, flowers and rocks. The simplicity and elegance. Again, very Japanese.

Imperial Palace Garden

Leaving the grounds of the palace mother had spotted something last night that she expressed an interested in seeing: The Nishijin Textile Center. This is only a short distance from the palace so we walked down the street to pay it a visit. Along the way I spotted something I had been looking for since we had got to Japan: A 100 yen shop! It is a shop where (pretty much) everything is 100 yen. Not exactly the fanciest of places we descended the staircase to the shop which was full of all sorts of things, mostly household items (soaps, food, etc.). I thought it was really interesting (the thermometer was of particular interest so we can just how damn hot it is outside) but mother got a bit bored so we left fairly quickly.

The Nishijin Textile Center is actually a factory that has fashion shows throughout the day in the front foyer as well as a museum (on the top floor) and a (large) shop on the first floor (above ground). There is also a small restaurant at the back that turned us away as they had a group of students visiting the factory. Anyway, we arrived just in time to enjoy the fashion show which showed off several traditional as well as contemporary kimonos. All were very beautiful and made of wonderful, colourful fabrics. The crowd in the room quickly dissipated after the show as we took a look at the few displays on how the fabric is made (mostly in Japanese). We spent a long time in the shop upstairs. They had a lot more than just clothing with prints, carvings, and other souvenirs also on offer. We did go a bit crazy and picked up a number of things (myself, mother purchased a nice Yukata – a light, informal kimono – for me, and I also picked up some fantastic Japanese prints). Along the side of the shop there are a series of looms where they demonstrate how the fabrics are made (but not today, it seems). Heading to the museum proper on the top floor we were impressed by the wonderful kimonos on display. Huge and colourful. Mother told me that there are many layers when wearing a kimono and it takes a long time to put them on (I had been told that often geishas have people assist them in dressing but mother suggested that you can do it yourself).

Fashion Show at Nishijin

We ate at a local restaurant just down the street. There were a few westerners eating at the back (I wish we had noticed the floor seating at the back – I would have picked that over sitting at a table near the front door). I had the set meal of tempura while mother continued her trend of ordering the Chicken Katsu. Both were very enjoyable.

I had a bit of an odd experience with a lady in a shop as I picked up a manga (Japanese comic) magazine (more like the size of a telephone book and published weekly!) from a stand outside the store to take a look at it to see if I wanted to buy it (to practice my Japanese). She took it away from me and took it back into the shop muttering something under her breath. I was a bit confused about this (as were we both) – I am not sure if she had too many people doing this and not buying…Perhaps there was a sign saying “no reading” but I could not read it! Odd experience though.

Another subway trip and we were back at Kyoto station. I wanted to visit the Toji temple. Now, on the map it is quite close to Kyoto station. It is about the same distance, said the map, as the Toji train station. I am not sure but it was not really all that close. First we had to get across the train tracks (I think we got out at the wrong exit…) and then walk quite a few blocks before we came to the temple. Along the way we passed through areas where it was obvious there was less wealth than we have been seeing. Simple shops no where near as fancy as elsewhere. Still – all very clean and tidy.

With the rain threatening at all times we eventually arrived at the temple. We were not really able to read many street signs along the way but we followed some school children then saw the tall pagoda (the tallest in Japan at 187 feet) of the temple in the distance so were able to make our way. Paying the entrance fee we entered into the grounds which are actually quite simple in terms of other temples in Kyoto (just that impressive pagoda in the corner of any particular note…). The two main buildings housed various large Buddha statues which were very impressive but it was good to still see people there to worship – as was intended – this is not just a place for tourists. Incidentally, we were disappointed to find that we could not go into the pagoda and I don't believe you can even climb up it even when it is open.

Toji Pagoda

Mother helped herself to some green tea ice cream which I thought was a bit…boring so went for the more exciting option: vanilla (!).

Toji Temple Buildings

I found the most interesting part of the visit to Toji was not the temple itself (where you have to pay to get in to see) but rather the buildings surrounding it. There are a number of smaller temples all around as well as monks quarters and the like. Much smaller buildings closely nestled together sharply contrasting with the massive buildings of Toji.

Toji Surrounding Buildings

It was getting late with the main gates into the temple already closed and locked. We headed out another exit beside an attached school and residential area with the hope that the far gate would be open. The area is also home to another temple and quite modern with one-story wooden buildings, small gates and gravel gardens. Except for the school band practice the place was quite quiet away from the city surrounding us on all sides.

Continuing back north towards the main part of Kyoto we passed under the train tracks then by a number of other temples in the area – I was following on the map where we were and at least wanted to see them from the outside despite their being closed for the day. Having a bit of time we continued walking through the streets of Kyoto back towards our hotel which is quite some distance north of the main train station. It was interesting to watch the street life around us – A lady walking her dogs, the workers rushing home in their rumpled shirts, the streets of streaming traffic, the stall owners packing up for the day…The drizzle of the rain stopped and the sky was full of an amazing rainbow as the sun finally set below the surrounding hills.

Rainbow (SW)

Kyoto Restaurant

The other day we had stopped at a local coffee shop (part of a chain – Excelsior Coffee) as they have a frozen drink a lot like my much-missed Slurpee – A Blood Orange Slush. Not terribly sweet but very, very tasty. The weather was getting miserable and we were getting tired. We did not really feel like looking around for somewhere to eat so we ended up in the sushi place we both enjoyed when we first got to Kyoto. A quiet end to our trip here in Japan.

A return to the sushi restaurant we tried on the first day was also very enjoyable. Not the most imaginative choice for dinner, unfortunately, but I did agree it was quite satisfying.

Sushi Restaurant

Now, to packing…Always packing…

Our Room

We are staying at the Hotel Nishiyama in Kyoto. Here is our sink/toilet/shower area…

Sink/Toilet/Shower (SW)

Our slippers…

Shoes at the Door (SW)

Mother working on her (ever present) post cards…

Mother Doing Post Cards

In bed…

Me in Bed (SW)

Day 14 - Japan Departure