January 7, 2010

A Day in Kyoto - Five Favorites

I loved Kyoto. While living in Japan for three years, I didn't make the trip there until near the end of my stay. And I wished I had gone sooner.

It is all that you imagine of Japan when you read books or see movies. Lots of temples, beautiful quiet walk ways, serene even with the volume of people. Quite the opposite of Tokyo.

The hustle and bustle has a different pace, it is present but in a more purposeful way, as if in harmony with nature. You also have more opportunities in a smaller radius, to experience the Japan of yesterday. The solitude of a walk down an alley, or actual minutes alone at a temple - you would have a hard time finding this in Tokyo.

While we spent the day there, we saw actual geisha and someone dressed as geisha for a photo shoot. We walked down quiet cobblestone alleys without fear of getting lost because it seemed as if all paths and roads, big or small led to a temple or an open square with bench and relaxing fountain perfect for you to rest and regain your sense of direction.

My favorite five things to see and do in Kyoto in a day:

  1. Ginkaku-ji - The Silver Pavilion, which is a Zen temple. The building intended to be a monument to ostentation (supposed to be all silver) turned out to be a fine example of Japanese refinement and restraint. The sand garden is hypnotic. This is also the first time I have ever seen someone sweeping, with a broom and not a rake, a grassy hillside.
  2. Kiyomizu-dera - A Buddhist temple where not one nail is used in the whole temple. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex. This temple has the most spectacular views! We stopped and had tea here just to make the experience last a little longer.
  3. Walk the Philosopher's Pathway between these temples and along the most peaceful canal. The experience is so relaxing and allows you to soak up all that is really Kyoto.
  4. Nij┼Ź Castle - Feudal lords in Western Japan were ordered to build this castle in 1601 by the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kyoto Imperial Palace is located north-east of Nijo Castle.
  5. Eat Savory and Sweet - Some of the best takoyaki is found here and the delicious rice treat filled with sweet red bean known as mochi. If you go during cherry blossom season, the sakura mochi is out of this world! Beautiful to look at and yummy! We were in Kyoto a little early but still managed to find shops selling mochi in delicate shades of pink, blue and white. It felt like a Japanese Easter for me. And the octopus chunks within the takoyaki are amazing. Savory with the sweet and smoky sauce drizzled on top. I love the shaved katsuo bushi flakes (like a savory dried tuna) on top.

Two days are better than one but if that is all you have, much can be gained from those 24 hours in Kyoto. We did it. If you find yourself headed to Asia, and can make this your destination or even just a 24 hour excursion - do it! Kyoto is beautiful and worth the extra effort getting there, even for just a day.

Kyoto ceramics photo by Sharon Castellanos

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