April 7th, 2015 - Kyoto, Japan - Day 237

Big Pete's POV

Today we had scheduled a tour of Kyoto.  We have not been very big on tour while we traveled, but we thought this would be a great way to learn more about the city and the Japanese culture.  We needed to leave the house by 9:00 to get to the tour so we had an early morning with the kids.  Lea has been cranking on school and we actually got a lesson in before we left on the tour.  

We met our guide for the day Miko, at a location which turned out to be about 3 minutes from our house.  There were 5 other people on the tour and after the introductions we set off on foot to head to the Kiyomizu temple, which is another UNESCO world heritage site.  I am not sure how many that makes for us on this trip, but it is a lot.  Our guide took us up a back street to the temple so we could see a Japanese Cemetery.  We learned that in Japan, most people are cremated after they pass, but their ashes are still buried and tombstones erected.  

Japanese cemetary

Small shrine on the way to the temple

After about 5 minuets of walking we arrived at the temple and we realized why she took us the back way - the temple was packed!

The temple was very cool and we learned a lot about the culture.  Everything seems to have symbolism and meaning behind it.  The attention to detail is simply amazing.

Even the tickets to get into the temple are beautiful

We made our way through the various sites at the temple and came to one in particular which is called "going to your mothers womb".  You take your shoes off and walk down a set of steps into complete darkness.  You are instructed to hold onto a railing while you are walking and just follow where it goes.  When I say darkness I mean pitch black - eyes wide open and blind.  Then after winding you way through a small maze you come to a glittering stone which you place one hand on and make a wish.  The experience was really interesting and we are all hoping our wishes come true. 

We then made our way over to the main temple and took in the sights.  It is a beautiful location which was a little hard to enjoy because there were 10,000 other people there, but I tried to imagine being there alone and I think it would be amazing.  Here are some pictures from the temple:

Getting artsy

The final thing we did at the temple was to drink some of its famous water.  The name Kiyomizu means pure water.  You could chose which stream to drink from, one was to enhance academics, one was for love and the other for health.  To my extreme happiness both kids chose academics!

After the temple we started heading back down to the district where our house is located - Gion.  The streets leading away from the temple were packed, but they are beautiful cobblestone lanes with cute shops and sweets everywhere.  

Before making it to Gion we had a scheduled stop at another temple - Kennin-ji.  This temple was much quieter and more peaceful than Kiyomizu.  It is well known for its beautiful artwork on its door panels and its dry gardens, but before we entered we had to take note of the special sign they put up just for Lea.  

The ceiling of the main temple - this dragon enforces the buddhist laws

This is the room where the Japanese tea ceremony was invented

We all agreed this temple was a very nice change from the hustle and bustle of the first one we visited.  Once we were done we walked a short distance over to Gion, which is the largest of the 5 geisha districts in Kyoto.  Again I continue to be impressed by the attention to detail and artistry of this country - below is a street sign in the road in Gion.  The fans are an obvious reference to the Geisha lifestyle. 

Our guide told us this was actually a tourist, not a real Geisha

The walk through the Gion was nice and learning about the lifestyle was really interesting, but we were getting really hungry.  We went to a restaurant down a back ally and had a nice sampler meal where we had tempura, udon and Japanese pickled vegetables.  It was nice to sit down and warm up after a long cool morning.

After lunch we visited a couple more shrines right in the downtown area.  We learned the central area of Kyoto once had 1000 shrines all packed together.  Seeing these little oasis's right in the middle of the city was very cool.   

By rubbing the head of the bull you will have good luck in your education.  I made the kids do it twice :-).

After the shrines we headed into the food market.  The market here is a single very long ally that is packed to the gills with food stalls - and people!  It was great to have Miko there because she could explain all the weird and wonderful food we saw.

We wrapped up the day by heading to one more shrine.  This one is the oldest in Kyoto and is dedicated to the art of Japanese flower arrangement.  They were preparing for a big exhibit this weekend so it was a bit under construction, but still quite interesting.

After saying goodbye to Miko and our new friends from Malaysia and New York we started on the 30 minute walk home.  By the time we got there we were all exhausted.  It was about 4:30 so we relaxed for a little bit (except for Lea who got right back to work) and then had an early dinner and a REALLY early bed time of 8:00 - the museum walking killed us again....