Sunday, September 14, 2008

Exploring Kyoto

Woke up again this morning looking forward to a full day in Kyoto. We opted for a simple breakfast in the room of fruit, juice, yogurt and canned coffee. It was sprinkling rain by about 9am, but had stopped entirely by 9:30 when we met Oki again in the Holiday Inn lobby.

We were headed for Nanzen-ji, a massive temple complex in the eastern part of Kyoto. Instead of taking a taxi, we decided to take the local trains. It was about the same price to ride the trains as take a cab, and it took quite a bit longer (having to transfer three separate times), but the local lines are very scenic, almost perocial.

We walked through the cool but humid morning to the Chayama Station, an open air station in a mostly residential neighbourhood. Just before our train pulled into the station, we heard the sound of several police cars, and at least six of them parked with lights flashing outside a corner apartment complex on the next block, voices going over their loudspeaker. As we boarded our train and pulled out of the station Karen saw a women standing in front of the police, hands and shirt covered in blood.

We got to our second stop at the municipal subway (covered with dark velvety green benches) we had for the first time in Japan an entirely empty car to ourselves.

Nanzen-ji temple was a short walk from the final train stop through an ancient (and clearly affluent) neighbourhood. Stately manners and beautifully constructed small run-off drainage canals lined the windey streets. The approach to the temple is a large tree lined set of stone stairs. The outer gate is a massive two-story heavy-timber construction, with very steep stairs that for a 1000 yen donation to the temple, you can climb up to. It was worth it for the view. You could see over the treeline to the elaborately oranted roofs, the now hot sun evaporating the morning rain ff the thick bamboo thatch. Several Buddist morning ceremonies were being performed in different buildings in the temple complex, so from the roof we could hear the solemn chanting, powerful drumming and the chiming of heavy copper bells.

We walked through a large brick and stone waterworks, which provides some draining from a river that whose source is Lake Biju, an area which I am told many of the immigrants to Canada came from before WWII. We then went through a large formal garden-meeting room complex. A shoes-off boardwalk provided great views of the garden, which had elements of rock gardens, moss gardens, tea rooms, and so on. It was breathtaking. Elwyn remarked about three-quarters of the way through that it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Oki told us about a number of the Buddist philosophies which underwrote the garden and some of the ancient paintings on the walls of the inner building. It was great to have such an informed guide!

We hesitatingly left Nanzen-ji and had some lunch in a small restaurant just outside the temple. Oki helped Karen order a tofu set-meal (I had the prawn tempura teshoku), Alden ate two kinds of zaru soba (plain and green tea) and Elwyn ate his favourite hiya-yakku tofu (tofu on ice) and white rice. We bid farewell to my old friend who unfortunately had to work, and then made our way downtown for a day of shopping.

We had a taxi drop us off at Keihan-Shijo Station, a very centrally located place for shopping right on the Kamo River. We stared out buying a couple more canned coffees (Megatron in one, Optimus Prime in the other) and walking up the Shijo-dori to the Yasaka Shrine. There were very nice sweet shops and craft shops and restaurants and traditional japanese bricabrac shops. I found one in particular that I liked very much. It had some real Edo-period antiques including some samurai armour (all way out of my price range) and some lovely contemporary produced items (just regret that I didn't get a nice pair of sandels they had). I bought the boys some small buddhist drums, the kind that you put between your hands and spin to make the balls on strings make the sound. I believe they are used in prayer and chants. Elwyn and Alden made very good use of them for the rest of the time on Shoji-dori. As Karen went in and out of the different shops that interested her over the next two ours, the boys stood outside the door, one on their side of the passage, and used their drums, Elwyn calling out 'switch' every once in a while, when they switched sides. This caused a great deal of amusement from passers by, young and old, who were genuinely delighted to see the little buddist performance from these cute kids. At the end of the street I bought an interesting snack from a street vender -- sticky rice packed onto a stick, roasted over a flame, dipped in soysauce, flame roasted again, then wrapped in nori. it was cheap and tasty!

We then crossed the Kamo River (seeing cranes and carp and turtles from the busy bridge) and made our way to the Shin-kyogoku and Teramachi shopping arcades. These are covered shopping streets, closed to traffic and very popular with locals and tourists alike. We walked up one, had a picnic supper from a grocery store in a little square, and then back the other side. It was great shopping and interesting people-watching. The highlight for the boys was a store at the very end for bubble toys. This is a store that stocks in densely packed racks every imaginable toy that can be found in the bubble machines that you put one or two hundred yen into, turn the knob and get the toy out. There are premium prices for 'rare' toys, but an almost unlimited selection. The boys stocked up on tiny trains, Star Wars ships and unusual Japanese robots.

Caught a cab back to the hotel where we spend the last shopping hour of the day in a grocery store, getting supplies for our trip home. The boys went to bed while Karen and I packed for several hours, filling the new luggage Karen bought as well as the bags we brought.