Thursday, January 17, 2008

Japan (Kyoto)

On our second full day in Japan, a friend took us to Kyoto to see some of the many beautiful shrines and temples. The ride from Osaka to Kyoto was a short fifteen minutes by Shinkansen, but when we got to Kyoto and started to look for a lunch spot, we were stymied by long lines everywhere. Apparently, many companies give their employees up to a week of vacation for the New Year, so everyone was out and about, enjoying their holiday.

We finally decided to grab a quick bite when we got to our first destination, which turned out to be the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is famous for its many red "torii" (Shinto holy gates):


Because it was New Year's, there were tons of small stands outside the shrine, selling various types of Japanese street food. I had more takoyaki, some oden, a skewer of yakitori, and yakisoba. I passed on the grilled squid, but had some egg puffs for dessert.

After eating too much again, we spent some time exploring the shrine, but decided not to undertake the two-hour hike up the mountain behind it. Instead, we headed over to the equally famous Kiyomizu temple:


There is a balcony at the top of the temple which has a really nice view of Kyoto:


We hung out there for awhile to take photos, and were told about a folk tale involving jumping off the balcony to get a wish granted. To me, it looked like an awfully long way to fall, but apparently many people survived, way back when. Nowadays it's prohibited for anyone to attempt a jump.

The temple's name means "pure water"; it is named after the waterfall that flows through the complex. Many of the visitors drink the water from the fall, believing it will bring them health, longevity, and academic success:


On our way out, we stopped by a small cafe for some mochi and tea. I had warabimochi for the first time, and I liked it so much that I tried to buy some to take home, but was told it only stays good for two, maybe three days. Too bad.

Afterwards, we made our way to a restaurant called Ushi no Hone, in a trendy area near the river. The menu consisted mostly of small dishes, of which we ordered many. My favorites were the beautifully arranged Japanese appetizer platter, the fried lotus root, the grilled meat, and the salmon and ikura rice (and I'm not usually fond of cooked fish).

Finally, we hopped on yet another Shinkansen train so we could get to Tokyo before midnight. I'm usually a fan of taking public transportation when travelling, but I was pretty exhausted even after sleeping through half of the nearly three hour ride, so we ended up cabbing it to our hotel, the Monterey Hanzomon, before crashing for the night.

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