The best part of my trip to Japan was that we enjoyed different sites with so many of our Japanese hosts. Each one of them was wonderful, infinitely kind and gracious and truly made our trip memorable. We saw a lot of temples and shrines in Kyoto. Kyoto is called a city of ten thousand shrines and has the most gorgeous shrines and temples.
On first day in Kyoto, Piper and I met Hanada San and Nakagome San. These two ladies are 83 and 81 years old and have been best friends for over four decades. They are highly educated. Hanada San studied languages and Nakagome San has PhD in Chemistry. They use technology, accessed emails on their cell phones, and walked at such a fast pace and climbed stairs with such gusto that it would put young people to shame.
I found that in place of typical Japanese softness and roundabout way of saying things, older Japanese women are very direct. They sit up so straight and exude such dignity as if every wrinkle is telling a tale of hardships overcome and character built. These two gorgeous women were completely straight forward and totally direct. Right away they made it abundantly clear that they were going to pay for everything, including meals, entrance fees, and various cab rides.
They took us to Kinkaku-Ji gold temple. This is a zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. There is another similarly named Silver temple, Ginkakuji that we did not see. Kinkakuji is absolutely gorgeous temple, overlooking a large pond. We could not go inside. But we walked around outside and took pictures.
We went to a lovely restaurant with delicious vegetarian food for lunch. Then we took a taxi and went to see beautiful rock garden and lotus garden. Again the views were absolutely astounding and every place gave an idea of how seriously Japanese people take elements of beauty. Hanada San and Nakagome San were lovely company. Hanada San told me that she was just like my mother and I began calling her Mama San.
We took a taxi and went to see a Shogun’s castle, called Nijo Castle. The castle castle has two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of Honmaru Palace and various support buildings and several gardens. In 1601, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of the Nijo castle. In 1867, the palace was the stage for the declaration of support to the emperor by Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the palace was returned to the Imperial Court.
We were the last people to enter. As we walked past an area, the caretakers closed the doors behind us. We were the only people and so we clearly heard that as we walked by the wooden floors squeaked, but not in an annoying way. The floors squeaked like the sound of the bird and they called it the nightingale squeak. The squeak was designed to alert the shogun when someone was walking and so that no one would sneak up on anyone in the castle and yet it was designed to be gentle on the ears. It was a gorgeous castle with lovely views outside.
We then went to Takashimaya, a huge shopping center and after some window shopping, went for dinner. I wanted to climb up the seven floors, while everyone else took an elevator. The floors however, did not go straight up but veered sideways on each floor and finally when I landed on the 7th floor, I emerged in the warehouse of a huge grocery store. I made my way out of the grocery store but could not locate them. In English combined with sign language, I explained to the concierge to make an announcement for Piper, and they did. I got found, and we had a hearty laugh during the lovely dinner!! Hanada San and Nakagome San insisted on coming with us to the train station to buy tickets and stood waving goodbye at us for as long as they could see us. Awww I was soooo touched!! What a memorable day!
We enjoyed Kyoto again with Kozue and her daughters Hikari and Yuki and visited the Kiyomizu-dera shrine. Kyomizu-dera temple was founded in 780 on the site of Otowa Waterfall, and is added to UNESCO world heritage sites. The main temple juts out with a big wooden stage, 13 meters above the hillside below, offering gorgeous views of cherry and maple trees, along with the views of the city of Kyoto, in the distance. The main hall, along with the stage, was built without the use of nails.
Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall is the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shirne are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. If you can successfully walk from one to the other, with the eyes closed then it is said to bring luck, in finding love. If someone guides you and you reach the other stone then it means that an intermediary may be needed, in finding love. At the shrine, there are many other little puzzles and special prayer places to help in finding love. The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. The waters come out in three separate streams and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school, and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy, so you must choose, where to drink from. Important lesson in prioritizing!
We walked up and down the souvenir street and then went to eat at hot pot restaurant for Okinawa cuisine. Kozue was immensely sweet and discussed menu for me at great length to make sure that I got completely vegetarian food. Later we walked around and enjoyed the Kyoto skyline at night and saw the reflection of the Kyoto tower on the glass building, opposite the tower and enjoyed the water fountain with music.
Later I enjoyed the visit with Lisa to the beautiful Byodoin Temple and garden. While walking back from the temple, we stopped at a tea shop and then walked to the station. But Lisa forgot her water bottle at the tea shop. So we parted company, as she went back to retrieve the bottle and I went alone to Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is at a base of Inari mountain (Inari mens God of rice) and has trails that go up the mountain to many smaller shrines, across 4 kilometers. The distinctive feature of this shrine is that entire walkways up are lined with literally thousands of vermilion or orange tori gates. This is not only one of the most popular shrines among tourists visiting Japan but during Japanese New Year, it also draws several million Japanese worshipers. It was great fun walking up the trail.
The highlight of my trip to Kobe was that quite unexpectedly, we ran into a Jain temple, even as I was explaining to Donna that during the religious days of Paryushan, I generally go at least one day to the temple and this may be the only year, when I would not be going, since I was in Japan. As we accidently came upon a Jain temple, Donna insisted that it was not a coincidence and these events happen in our lives, when we have powerful intentions and that it is a part of the divine plan. We walked in Kobe a lot. Also went to the harbor, which was beautiful. I love Manju, little Japanese dessert and ate a lot of that.