Catching Up On Kyoto

Catching Up On Kyoto

If you follow our social media feeds at all, you know Eden has been under the weather. It’s no fun to be sick, but it's especially no fun to be fighting a fever on a travel day. We have a pretty tight schedule, and when a travel day comes, we’ve gotta move. We no longer have the luxury of lounging on the couch at home watching TV while sipping on chicken noodle soup, if you know what I mean. So here’s what it looks like to be sick and almost six as a nomadic world traveler:

Poor Eden. She ended up kicking whatever bug she had, but it took about five days. 

Poor Eden. She ended up kicking whatever bug she had, but it took about five days. 

Mitch & Autumn had a few adventures on their own the last few days while I stayed in to snuggle with Eden, and we’ve also moved from Hiroshima to Hakone and back to Tokyo. So I thought I’d take just a couple of minutes to catch up on that week a while back in Kyoto. I’ll attempt the Reader’s Digest version. {But I make no promises to actually follow through on that, wink, wink.}

It might be easiest to give a day-by-day, play-by-play. So here goes:

Days 1, 2, 3: Waiting for Typhoon Talim

Lest you think this extended travel gig is all rainbows and puppies, please allow me to share the less glamorous side at the front-end of our travels through Kyoto.

We began our stay with another {terribly embarrassing} lunch at McDonald’s. Why? Because we were hangry, it was located IN the grocery store, and its familiarity beckoned in a place where there was so much food in packaging completely unrecognizable during a time when we needed to stock up for what we thought was going to be an interesting weather event: Typhoon Talim.  

After grocery shopping, we bought an over-priced deck of cards and even splurged for a pizza {from Pizza Hut — another sad, true, but delicious story} all under the radar-predicted assumption that Talim would have us hunkered down for a good many hours and maybe days.

Then, we waited.

The girls worked on some school, we played a lot of cards, and we wandered around the neighborhood in the soft rain.  

And we waited for Talim some more.

We played a lot of card games and took several walks through the rainy Fushimi neighborhood as we waited and waited and waited for Typhoon Talim to arrive.

We played a lot of card games and took several walks through the rainy Fushimi neighborhood as we waited and waited and waited for Typhoon Talim to arrive.

In the end, Typhoon Talim dumped most of its anger about 400 miles southwest of us on Japan’s southern-most island, Kyushu, where tens of thousands evacuated.

We did receive a long bout of that gentle rain accompanied by a bit of wind, but sunshine and clear skies followed. Grateful that Typhoon Talim merely slowed our travel rather than halted it, we prepared to begin our real exploring of Kyoto on Day 4.

Day 4:  Our First Temple

Today, we headed off to Kiyomizudera Temple which included my favorite: hiking up the serene southern footpath that took us alongside the Nishi-Otani Cemetery and its nearly 15,000 graves. 

We trekked up to Kiyomizudera Temple along this quiet footpath with only a few other people.

We trekked up to Kiyomizudera Temple along this quiet footpath with only a few other people.

Beautiful and mysterious, the Nishi-Otani Cemetery harbors many dead who likely have the best views in all of Kyoto. Interestingly, most Buddhists are cremated, so the enormous and elaborate grave stones surprised me with their large burial plots for the comparatively itty bitty urns of ashes.

Aside from Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC and American Cemetery in Normandy, France, this may be one of the most beautiful cemeteries we've seen.

Aside from Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC and American Cemetery in Normandy, France, this may be one of the most beautiful cemeteries we've seen.

Added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1994, Kiyomizudera impressed with its main hall whose wooden stage offered unhindered and expansive views of Kyoto. 

Additionally, its eccentric Zuigudo Hall dedicated to the mother of Buddha, included in its belly a long, deep, dark corridor where, for a coin and with bare feet, we walked down, down, down through a pitch-black hallway into the symbolic “womb” of Buddha's mom. While there, visitors are encouraged to make a wish on the strangely illuminated stone bearing the sanskrit word for, well, “womb.” While we don’t do the “wish thing," it was surely interesting {and dark! so dark!} to see what the hubbub was all about.  

Unfortunately, the main hall at Kiyiomizudera was getting a roof-lift, and we missed its famed waterfall upon which it was built. Kiyomizudera literally means “Pure Water Temple,” after all, so we were bummed to miss that!

Speaking of pure water, though, Eden was distracted by the basins (called chozuya) where those paying their respects are to purify themselves before entering the temple. Because we are not Buddhist, we kept diverting Eden from these basins because we feared being disrespectful, but after a while, we decided that it would be good for her to understand what was happening with the ritualistic hand-washing, and we were hopeful that Buddhists would be happy for her education.

Mitchell explains the Buddhist hand-washing purification ritual to Eden.

Mitchell explains the Buddhist hand-washing purification ritual to Eden.

Upon leaving Kiyomizudera Temple, we selected a different, well-traveled path for our journey down the hill, which spilled us into the surprisingly crowded and touristy throng of pilgrims.

This is the NOT-so-quiet footpath we took down and away from Kiyomizudera Temple. 

This is the NOT-so-quiet footpath we took down and away from Kiyomizudera Temple. 

Day 5: Our First Shrine

Located on the beautiful Mount Inari, the massive Fushimi-Inari Shrine provides an escape from the hustle of the city. We hiked 2 1/2 hours up the long, steep trail through literally thousands of red torii gates (some say there are as many as 10,000!) as we made our way to the summit.  

Autumn at the trailhead before the hike (left), and the whole family hiking down Mt. Inari after reaching its summit (right).

Autumn at the trailhead before the hike (left), and the whole family hiking down Mt. Inari after reaching its summit (right).

I read that there are over 90,000 (!!) shrines in Japan and that there are several thousand dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Considered to be the messengers of Inari, foxes prevail throughout the grounds at Fushimi-Inari, and, as with many temple and shrine statues, vermillion “bibs” are affixed to the foxes as the color red is thought to quell demons and expel disease.  

Here, a statue of a fox sports a red "bib" thought to ward off demons & pestilence.

Here, a statue of a fox sports a red "bib" thought to ward off demons & pestilence.

Day 6: Day Trip to Osaka

We made a day trip from Kyoto to Osaka to visit the Osaka Aquarium as it appears on many “top ten best aquariums in the world” lists, and also, we quite appreciate the marine life.  

The aquarium shows aquatic animals of the Pacific Rim as visitors follow a spiral viewing path down and past 15+ different tanks. We loved the whale sharks and manta rays, but our favorite were the Japanese spider crabs as we haven’t seen them in other aquariums. They have the greatest leg span of any arthropod reaching up to 18 feet from claw to claw, and they weigh up to 42 pounds.

This crab loved Eden and seemed to pose purposely right behind her for this picture.

This crab loved Eden and seemed to pose purposely right behind her for this picture.

This was a quality aquarium, but for all of us, it simply couldn’t beat Georgia Aquarium which we visited back in the States in July.

Day 7: A Thousand Deer & the Biggest Buddha in the World

We made another day trip, this time from Kyoto to Nara to visit the famed Todaiji Temple, home of the largest wooden structure in the world as well as the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. We also spent quite a lot of time walking through its neighboring Nara Park, home of the famed and friendly Nara deer.

Let me tell you, even though I read up on Todaiji Temple before we visited, nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of either the great hall or the bronze Buddha. The hall itself took my breath away, but when we stepped inside, I just could not believe the hugeness of the Buddha! I read that his open hand alone is as tall as a human being. Pictures here just cannot do the enormity of the hall or the big Buddha justice.  

If you look closely, you can see Eden (white t-shirt) and Mitch (blue shirt w/ black backpack) walking up the middle of the walkway toward Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) .

If you look closely, you can see Eden (white t-shirt) and Mitch (blue shirt w/ black backpack) walking up the middle of the walkway toward Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall).

We learned so much from a Japanese, English-speaking guide, and I tell you all about it on our YouTube channel, so I won’t bore you with the minute details here. In short, though, he told us super-interesting facts about the walkway leading up to the great hall, the lantern standing in front of the great hall, the little doors up above the big doors right in the center of the building, the two golden fish tails atop the roof, and the fires that burned the hall down three times (!!).

I'll add a link here when the video is up. I could have listened to the guide all day. Fascinating stuff. But you all know I’m a geek like that. Suffice it to say that seeing “the Big Buddha” and its great hall was a surprising highlight of our trip.  

Autumn and Eden stand beside the Big Buddha. See Buddha's hand up there? Now picture a full-grown man standing in it, and that might help you see how large he is! 

Autumn and Eden stand beside the Big Buddha. See Buddha's hand up there? Now picture a full-grown man standing in it, and that might help you see how large he is! 

And of course we enjoyed the 1,000+ tame deer outside the temple in Nara Park. According to legend, the god of thunder was seen riding on a white deer, thus, from that point forward, deer were deemed as sacred messengers of the gods. Up until 1600 or so, harming a deer was punishable by death, something my deer-hunting friends and family back home will likely be shocked to hear. The deer are no longer considered sacred by modern believers, but they are the star attraction at Nara Park (where deer-hunting is still a no-no).

Friendly deer followed us everywhere hoping to get a treat. 

Friendly deer followed us everywhere hoping to get a treat. 

 Day 8: School & Work

Because traveling is exhausting, we unashamedly build breaks into journeying. Also, we do have aspirations for the five-year-old to someday read and write, the high-schooler’s still gotta finish that pesky Algebra II and French this year, and these blog posts and Mitch’s YouTube videos don’t produce themselves. :) I'll spare you the photos of us working hard, though.

Day 9: Monkeying Around on a Mountain

Mitch read that to make the most of Arashiyama Monkey Park, we needed to arrive early. He was right! After a 20-30 minute hike up Mt. Arashiyama, we practically had the entire area to ourselves for about 45 minutes.  

The Fam before heading up that trail behind them, the one that led us up Mr. Arashiyama to the monkey park. 

The Fam before heading up that trail behind them, the one that led us up Mr. Arashiyama to the monkey park. 

During that time, wild Japanese macaques roamed freely all around us. They wrestled at our feet, climbed in the trees above us, and swatted fish in the pond next to us. Mitch had a close call with one macaque who, when it felt threatened that Mitch was too close, bared its teeth and lunged at him.

To feed the monkeys, we went inside a caged enclosure (note: we were caged... the monkeys, however, remained free to roam the mountain) where we could hand the primates bits of apples and nuts. At one point, a monkey squealed and slapped my hand because I held her peanut too long for her liking. All in all, though, the monkeys tolerated our presence and enjoyed the morsels we handed them.

All of us enjoyed our up-close and personal interaction with the Japanese macaques.

All of us enjoyed our up-close and personal interaction with the Japanese macaques.

Day 10: A Royal Bonus Side Trip

Leaving Kyoto, we decided to make a one night stay in Himeji to see the famed Himeji Castle. It was beautiful and large and exquisite, and as one of Japan’s 12 original castles, it’s easy to see why it is a Japanese National Treasure as well as a world heritage site. 

Here's a close-up of Himeji Castle. As you can see, Flat Maya quite liked it as well.  :)

Here's a close-up of Himeji Castle. As you can see, Flat Maya quite liked it as well.  :)

In all honesty, we were pretty excited not only to visit Himeji Castle, but also to stay a night above an authentic kimono shop in Japan.

Autumn & Eden in front of Hikaru's kimono shop. See that white open door on the left? Just through that door is the stairway that led to the apartment where we stayed for a night.

Autumn & Eden in front of Hikaru's kimono shop. See that white open door on the left? Just through that door is the stairway that led to the apartment where we stayed for a night.

So that’s it: a whirlwind description of our family’s trek through Kyoto (and Himeji). We loved Kyoto — and we continue to be fascinated by Japan. What we’re learning of its history and faith teaches us immensely of our own history and faith… but that’s a subject for a different day.

Cheers!
 

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