With only one more day in Kyoto there was plenty to see and do, so it was another early morning for us. After a tasty meal of French toast and crouqe monsieur breakfast sandwich at the the French place across from our B&B we hopped the bus to the famous Golden Temple of Kyoto. Formally known as Kinkaku-ji Temple, we were one of the first in line at 8:45 a.m. with the doors opening at 9 a.m. Shortly thereafter the line grew tremendously long with tour groups, school kids, and gaggles of other temple goers waiting behind us. Once we the gates opened it was a hurried pace to the ticket counter, and then a frantic charge to get a prime photography spot across the water from the golden shrine. Once we entered we could see why, the morning sun was reflected beautifully off the gold gilded three story building. This glowing spectacle was enhanced by the picturesque stillness in the water and trees surrounding the pavilion, creating the perfect “Kodak” moment. Continued through the grounds with different views and glimpses of the pavilion building, but also got to admire the autumn beauty of the well taken care of gardens. The bright reds and yellows of the changing trees rival some of the best New England falls and were in gorgeous contrast to the sodden trek through Kyoto’s eastern parks two days prior.
Shortly thereafter we took a short bus ride and walk to the Ryoan-ji Temple, birthplace of the Zen Rock Garden. Boasting the oldest rock garden in the world, the temple area was gorgoues. The grounds include bright green moss and tree landscape gardens, as well as a lake filled with lilypads and reeds, even a passive crane was there to complete with aora of peace. But the main attraction, the world’s orginal and classic rock garden, is seen from inside the main temple building. After removing our shoes, Beth and I proceeded to gaze out on the rock garden courtyard that featured 15 rocks, some moss covered, in a sea of sysmetrical lines and rings. The acute attention to detail and preservation of the garden over hundreds of years gave us plenty to think about.
Leaving the Ryoan-ji Temple we ventured across town to Ginkaku-ji Temple, nicknamed the Silver Temple. Feeling hungry we enjoyed ten delicious pork gyozas for lunch at the low low price of only 250 yen! These little potstickers were freshly cooked on an open grill just outside a local grocery and were a delicious way to enjoy our walk to the Ginkaku-ji Temple. After scarfing down our gyozas, we encountered more storefronts, tent shops, and food vendors along the entrance to the temple. Most of the food was ordinary yakitori and bean paste snacks, but one treat stood out above the rest: the Potatornado! This swirl of fried potato delight lies in the grey zone between French fry and potato chip. Using the special Potatornade slicer, the potato is spirally cut thin and skewered on a stick. It’s then given a quick dip in oil and salted for taste. The end result is either a soft potato chip, or the world’s biggest curly fry that was oh so good!
Nestled into the hillside this temple features a gorgeous dark wooden pavilion eerily similar to the “Golden” one. Both utilize the same architecture, are situated on the water and have lush gardens surrounding them. And while we came to gaze at the craftsman ship of the pavilion building, Beth and I were in awe of the expertly sculpted rock gardens on the grounds. Raised hedges and flat top cones tower over the sysmetrical pebbles. Smaller gardens featured shrubs, rocks, and even stone markers and all were uniquely designed for that day. Considering the buckets of rain that had poured down on this temple only two days before, the beautiful precision and geometry of the designs was breathtaking. The Ryoan-ji Temple may have been the original rock garden, but the rock gardens of Ginkaku-ji Temple are surely the best I’ve ever seen. We continued our walk through the gardens, featuring everything from bamboo forest groves to the crimson red cherry trees to the bright green moss that covered the forest floors. Rising up along the hillside we were treated to a gorgous view of the temple grounds, as well as overlooking parts of Kyoto. Aside from visiting the three hillside shrines on the out skirts of town, this vista was the best place to see much of Kyoto.
With time running short and the rain coming down we hopped back on our bus for the hotel. Despite visiting many shrines and temples our Kyoto bad luck wasn’t finished yet as we hadn’t been to an ATM in some time and needed to find one before checking out of our B&B. At 1:05 p.m. we reached our bus stop with not enough cash, an hour to check out, and two hours to get to our train to Nagano…without a 7-11 (the only place off-base Beth’s checking card would work) in sight! Future travelers to Japan, here’s my advice. It’s a cash based place, and so long as you carry your money responsibly you should have no trouble carrying large amounts around with you. Transportation, restaurants, entrance tickets, and lodging all burn through cash rather quick and you never know when you can get caught off guard. After some frantic searching down major boulevards by the B&B, we finally found a working ATM…phew! Thankfully we made quick time back to the B&B and checked out a little early giving us enough time to pop into our favorite French place for some chili and clam chowder bread bowls for lunch.
After lunch we bagged up some pastries to go and hopped on our bus to the Kyoto Station. With traffic making the trip a little longer than expected we dashed through the station, only being able to take in a few moments to admire its grandeur and scale. The massive hotel, shopping center, transit hub, and architectural beauty is considered one of the world’s best train stations and is renowned for its massive rooftop framework of semi-circlular steel and glass. But with only ten minutes to spare we raced through the station and onto our shinkansen to Nagano. While I have previously stated that the bullet train is treated like Japan’s version of US domestic flight, the station’s security is nothing like any US airport. No screening, no shoe removal, no pat downs or ID checks. So long as you have your ticket and know where you’re headed your fine. While this may or may not be as “safe & secure” as US domestic air travel, it’s much more convenient as we were able to check out, have lunch, take a 25 minute bus ride, and get on to a train taking us hundreds of miles away…all within an hour. With our little Japan vacation loop nearing the end Beth and I have only one stop left: Nagano. Stay tuned to hear more about the Japan’s epicenter of skiing and our adventures in the snowy mountains!