Monday, July 19, 2010

Kyoto - Third Day

Another day started. It seemed like we finally started to get adjusted to the local time zone. Today we decided to take things easy. Had another breakfast in our room and then debated where to go. The majority wanted a refresher from Temples and Shrines. And so we set out to find the Museum of Arts and Crafts.

The bus stop was in the middle of a museum area.

The museum was in the lower level of a convention center, and when we came in we thought we entered a tourist souvenir shop. After a few minutes we realized that there is a musuem like display behind the shop.

The museum itself (no pictures allowed) is rather small, but it did cover all types of handcrafts and had a few movies about woodworking, how foldable fans are made, and the making of dolls. It even had some artisans working on lacquer dishes and straw baskets, alongside the exhibitions.

After going through the gallery, the kids registered for cloth inking. Lior painted a hand-fan while Roy painted a handkerchief. They used complex stencil sets that had three different patterns superimposed on each other.

While the kids were working on the art, Yael and me went around the convention center. In one room there was a large bug show with various beatles, spiders, and other creatures. It was about to open its door and there was a large collection of colorful young Japanese people. Few of them pulled out reptiles from their handbags and compared notes about them.

From the museum we walked (in the glaring sun) to Nanzen-ji.

Nanzen-ji is a large temple that contains gardens and multiple shrines. The buildings here were large and imposing wooden structures. The old wood was almost black with age and looked very formal.

One aspect of local architecture that we didn't discuss so far is the roof tiles. They make tiles that look almost like they were made of metal, but I suspect that they are clay. The tile works in Kyoto are all very similar, but from the train we also saw other colors of roof tiles (blue and green). The rims of the roofs have decorated tiles, some with simple patterns, and others with much more elaborate patterns.

An impressive structure in Nanzen-ji was a big stone aqueduct. Although the whole city is webbed with water canals and pipes, it was the first time we saw such a contraption for moving water.

One of the main halls had a Zen garden. The family decided they did not want to enter, and so I entered alone. I had to take off my shoes, and walk barefeet on the worn-out wooden planks.

The temple had rooms decorated with very old painting (various nature scenes) and a maze of Zen gardens for contemplations. The place had an eerie atmosphere and left me very calm.

After that we climbed to a small shrine on the hillside above the aqueduct. Here we saw a small graveyard, apparently of the local monks, nested in a small valley.

By the time we left Nanzen-ji it was already quite late in the afternoon and so we decided to skip the walk up the Philosophers' Path to our next destination and instead took the bus. From the bus we walked along a cherry-lined path next to a water canal.

At the end of path we reached Ginkaku-ji, literally meaning Silver Shrine. This temple is considered one of the highlights of Kyoto and was swarming with people.

It was hot and sticky and Yael and Lior decided to skip out early. Roy and I continued the roundabout path, which was like walking in a long queue, where we got to know the people ahead and after us.

Surprisingly, even though the place was crowded (and I can't even start to imagine how it looks during the peak rush of the cherry blossom season), we did get many views that were devoid of people. The grounds were kept meticulously by gardeners who were combing every inch.

The shrine itself does pose a very beautiful scene, but I am not sure if, given the high praises, we expected more than that.

While waiting outside of the shrine garden, Yael and Lior decided on buying candy with a fortune within it. We had hard time interpreting it, even with Lior's knowledge of Japanese, so we asked a fellow who sat next to us for rest. Turned out he was with us on the bus and so he was doing roughly the same tour. He was from Tokyo and we had a nice chat about the fortune and the weather.

After moving on we all felt hungry and decided to take a bus downtown to the area of the covered arcade.

We decided to try a restaurant that specializes in breaded, deep fried, meat (i.e., schnitzel) dishes, which was recommended by our guidebook. The menu was about selecting your main entry, and the rest of the dinner (miso soup, salad, and rice) came with it. Initially we each got a small pottery cup with coarse insides, that contained toasted sesame. The waitress told us to crash these with a special wooden stick that each of use got. Once we crashed them well, we added thick soy-sauce and a hot sauce to make up a sesame dip for our meat. We were hungry and the servings were large, and we have a very satisfying lunch/dinner.

Having rested, we now had more energy to explore the area. We looked in a few shops, and then went to search for a large bookstore recommended to us at the hotel. Initially the bookstore looked like a department store, with a different "store" in each level. The first few levels had fashion and furniture stores and we thought that we were mislead, but then we discovered that the top four floors were all full of books. There were books about arts and photography books we could somehow make sense of. There were also all kinds of technology books (e.g., Word for Dummies) that we figured out by the English words on the title. Most books, however, were totally unintelligible.

After an hour or so in the store, we started walking back. On the main street we discovered the location of the portable shrines that we saw yesterday. A large space was lit by paper lanterns and hosted the shrines. There was a group of man that chanted and played the drums and flute next to it. Many people stopped and lit a candle next to the shrines.

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