Full Day tour! Finally, we got our bus tour of Kyoto’s important cultural sites. Kyoto was largely spared the destruction that was imposed on Tokyo and Osaka during World War II, so there is a lot to see. It is impossible to visit everything during one day, but here’s what we saw:
Kiyomizu Temple: This is a Buddhist house of worship, whose name comes from the steam that flows past it. “Mizu” is the word for water, and Kiyomizu’s water is supposed to bring the people who drink it either academic achievement, success in love, or longevity, depending on which of the three fountains they choose. Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by mountains, so many of the temples and shrines are set at the foot of a mountain. As we approached main entrance to the shrine, the ground fell away to the right, providing an amazing view. We were suddenly eight stories in the air, standing on a balcony. I walked around to the back of the temple to a path that went through the woods back down the mountain, and ended up at the fountains. The water was cold, and tasted no different than normal, but it was sort of fun to do. (For those of you concerned about hygiene, the water was tested by Kyoto’s food administration, and the serving cups are sanitized by UV light in between uses.)
Nishiki Market: A long alleyway, full of shops selling interesting seafood and countless matcha products. According to our tour guide, a lot of people living in Kyoto do their errands there, so it’s an interesting mix of customers. I went into a CVS-like supermarket because they had free wifi and cheap goods. I was surprised to find that they had a special tax-free register set up for tourists who purchased over 5000 yen worth of goods. The line also required a passport with a valid stamp.I got lunch at an udon restaurant right next to the market, where you order a simple bowl of noodles and broth, then choose toppings from a buffet. It was a lot of food, but quite good! The noodles were the best part of the meal.
Nijo Castle: One of the national treasures of Japan, the castle was home to a powerful shogun. Unfortunately, the main entrance was covered by restoration work, but the inside was quite nice. The gravel courtyard gives way to a quiet path through a garden. When we were visiting, there were two specially trained gardeners pruning the Japanese pine trees next to a pond, and the care with which they cut only accentuated the beauty of the garden.
The inside of the castle is a series of rooms separated by paper wall screens decorated with tigers, cherry blossoms, and peonies. The decorations give an indication of the purpose of each room – tigers to express power, cherry blossoms and peonies to express friendliness and security. The hardwood floors were nice, and I found myself appreciating the austere architecture of the inside of the castle, in contrast to the ornate decorations on the outside.
Golden Pavilion: Apparently, the Golden Pavilion is a pre-loaded background image on certain Mac computers. While my photographs can’t compare to that screen, the screen can’t compare to seeing it in real life. The entire day was cloudy, and it even snowed a bit when we were at the Nijo castle, but the sun briefly broke through when we were at the pavilion, and the gold glowed with such warmth and brilliance.
Heian Shrine: By the time we got to this last stop, I was lagging a little bit. As it turns out, it was a great way to end the tour, because there were very few people at the shrine. Behind the prayer area, there’s a sizeable garden, home to the first electric train car in Japan, and quietly beautiful plants and ponds. I’m sure it looks even better in the spring when everything is in bloom, but the winter had its own charm. There was even a bit of adventure, as we skipped from rock to rock across one of the ponds.
The Heian Shrine was a five minute walk from our hotel, so we went back on foot, picked up our music, and met some of the members of the Kyoto Glee Club, who walked us to rehearsal. We thought the rehearsal space would be close, but it was closer to a 40 minute walk. When we finally got there, we ran through a few of our pieces and a few of their pieces. They are a student-led choir, and their conductor was incredibly energetic and expressive as he urged us to change our faces to fit the music, and glissando as if we were lightly descending a staircase.
After rehearsal, we went to the student cafeteria, where we had a late dinner, and then it was back to the in. Bone tired, I soon fell asleep.