“Everyone is staring at us,” said Rebecca. “That’s because you’re dressed like a Geisha!” I reminded her. I have to admit, she did look stunning, even minus a Japanese heritage.
Kyoto is awash in stunning sights, and with a pair of good walking shoes and a lot of energy and motivation, it’s possible to see and do a lot in three days.
Our centrally-located Karasuma Kyoto Hotel was an excellent choice. It was spotless, reasonably priced, and close to both Kyoto Station and downtown. The rooms were large by Japanese standards. But the best part was the bakery in the lobby offering the most humongous, rich cream puffs I’ve ever tasted. You know the kind I’m talking about…. they’re so big you buy one to “share” but they’re so good you end up eating nearly the whole thing yourself.
Established in 794 A.D., Kyoto is a treasure trove of culture and history. With its shogun palaces, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, it’s one of the best preserved cities in Japan. Rebecca, Marie and I set off for our first day, opting to take a full-day tour. Our whirl-wind Japanese itinerary permitted only one day in Kyoto for historical sightseeing and it would have been impossible for us to get to the major sites our own in that short time.
First up was Nijo Castle – a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 1603 and residence of the first Togugawa shogun. Upon arriving, I discovered to my horror that I had neglected to put my memory disk back into my Nikon the night before. After mentally berating myself for a good thirty minutes, I finally succumbed to posing for photos for the day. Tough work, but someone had to do it.
The most famous site on our tour was the oft-photographed Golden Pavilion temple and gardens. On the way out, I was snagged by two young Japanese school girls carrying pads and pens, scouting out foreigners to interview… my blonde ponytail is always a dead giveaway. They struggled to ask their questions in English and even more to translate my answers. At the end, they took my picture asked for my autograph. How sweet is that?
Of all the sites visited, the highlight for me was Sanju-Sangendo. The outside of this shrine was very modest and unadorned, so I was totally taken aback when I entered the Hall of 1001 Statutes. Placed at precise angles executing a distinct visual rhythm from every vantage point, the ancient images of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, projected an ethereal, serene atmosphere. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited.
We snickered when Marie paid 200 yen for an omikuji (paper fortune) at the Hejan Jingu shrine. Traditionally, predictions range from amazing to horrible, but by tying the slip to a tree you can avert an unlucky fortune. Marie had the last laugh, however, when she read her fortune out loud on the bus, “You are like a moon that can shine through a cloudy sky.” Drat! I wanted that to be my fortune!