Japan Day 16- Kyoto...
Another beautiful & interesting day in the Kyoto area! We started the day around 7:00 & headed out to the coffee shop we ate breakfast at yesterday around 8:00. When we got there it was closed :( I noticed the sign on the window had the kanji for "moku youbi" (Thursday) on it, & realised that it must mean it was closed on Thursdays, so we headed over to the convenience store for breakfast food. After a decent (but not as much fun) breakfast in our hotel room, we started our day trip to the town of Uji, a little south of Kyoto. We took the hotel shuttlebus to Kyoto station, then got some more mileage out of our Japan Rail passes by taking the JR train to Uji- just about half an hour away. Brendan has been carrying one of the japanese Kamen Rider Den-O books with him for diversion, so we looked at it again while on the train. When he's been tired I've been reading it to him, but this morning he read it to me :) I helped occasionally, but he's really buffing up his hiragana reading. Yay!
Uji is not only famous for being an important tea-growing region (the emperor drinks Uji tea :), but it has 2 of the oldest shrines in Japan, which we planned to visit along with the tea shops. (I should mention here that before we left Mizumaki Nobuko-san very kindly gave me 2 bags of Yamecha- the tea grown on Kyushu. I have developed a special fondness for Yamecha, which Tomoko has shared with me over the past couple of years, & this was shincha, the newest tea of the year. Yum! Although I can find Uji tea online, Yamecha is much rarer & I have yet to find a place that sells it online, so it'll be good to have some different kinds of Uji tea to enjoy at home & remember all the parts of our visit to Japan :)
Charlie had the very smart idea to take a taxi to our first destination in Uji, the Ujikami Jinja, so that we might save our energy for the walk through town to our other destinations. The Ujikami Jinja is a shinto shrine that dates from the mid-11th century. It is Japan's oldest shrine (like many others, a collection of shrines). It was very peaceful & beautiful, & Brendan really soaked up the atmosphere while he rinsed his mouth & hands at the purifying pools & cast coins into the offering boxes. On the way out we purchased "omamori" (good luck charms) from a very nice miko (shinto shrine maiden). Some of the omamori are based on the chinese zodiac, so we wrote down the birth years of the people we wanted to get omamori for (including us) & she pointed to the animal for our years (Fruits Basket manga fans will know the zodiac as the "jyuunishi"). I'm year of the dog, Charlie's the rabbit, & Brendan's the mouse (or rat- the japanese don't distinguish between them). We wondered why there were a bunch of special omamori with rabbits on them & the miko explained (in japanese) that the shrine's deity is associated with the rabbit (which is also associated with the moon in japanese folklore, since they see a rabbit in the shadows on the moon). Charlie got a special rabbit one, too, since he's year of the rabbit :)
After our visit to Ujikami, we walked down a narrow street along the Ujigawa (Uji River) that was lined on the other side with houses & more, smaller shrines. Right before the Ujigawa bridge was a tea & sweets shop that has been in the same building since 1672! And the family that owns it, the Tsuen family, has been in the tea business for 830 years!! We stopped in, of course, & had some wonderful confections. Brendan had odango- green-tea-flavoured sweet mochi balls on a stick, plus some matcha (powdered green tea) ice cream. Charlie had a parfait that featured green tea & vanilla ice cream, squares of plain (unflavoured) kanten (agar- known as japanese jello, but stiffer), anko (sweetened red bean paste), fruit & a chestnut on top. I had a similar sweet with more kanten & a matcha-based syrup. Yum!!
Here's Brendan outside the Tsuen tea & sweets shop. It was very peaceful & quiet inside, in spite of being a bustling place outside. After that, we walked across the Ujigawa bridge to Omotesando street, where the tea-sellers had their shops, & also the way to the Byodo-in temple, the oldest Buddhist temple & monastery in Japan.
The Byodo-in's main building is the Phoenix Hall, built as a palace, but then turned into a temple. it dates from the Heian period of japanese history, a thousand years ago, & is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. It really is amazing... Brendan & I are also convinced that the Phoenix Hall was used as the model for a palace in the 2nd InuYasha movie, which made it fun as well :) As we walked over to the Byodo-in, Brendan's calm mood faded & the tics moved in, but we were able to keep him focused on seeing a Buddhist temple & looking for a monk's staff like one of the characters in InuYasha carries, one of his main goals on this trip to Japan. Because the elements are taking a toll on the temple a lot of the artwork (statues & paintings) have been moved to a museum on the grounds, cleverly hidden underground so it doesn't disturb the temple's beauty at all. In one of the display cases was the statue of a bodhisatva with the very monk's staff Brendan had been looking for. He was very happy :) We hit the musem store on the way out for omiyage (omamori for friends at home :) & Brendan found some lavender incense & a little nezumi (mouse) incense burner to go with it.
On our way back down the tea-sellers' street I stopped in a few of the shops to buy some tea & more omiyage (& a small tea pot for home). We were offered some iced green tea at one shop, & while I went in to another on my own (Charlie & Brendan went off to buy some grape soda from a machine- it was a very warm day) I chatted with 4 ladies in another shop (as I bought more tea) & was invited to take some hot ryokucha with them. I am finally understanding the phrase for "where are you from?" & people always are interested when I say "New York", even though we live on the other side of the state from NYC (& there's no way I can say that in japanese :). The other object of great interest at a couple of places was Brendan's braid. I am able to tell them that he's been growing is since he was a baby, & at one place a lady asked me if he was a boy (I didn't tell him that) & was just amazed when I said yes :) Just at the end of the street we found a place selling the famous candy in little obento (the candies are often shaped like fruits & vegetables- these bring back fond memories because aTomoko taught us the japanese names of fruits & veggies using one of these candy boxes). Brendan convinced us to buy some, one to eat here & one for home :) Then it was a 10-minute walk back to the train station, more cold drinks from machines while we waited another 10 minutes for the train, & back to Kyoto.
Our most difficult time of the day was when we got back to Kyoto station. We went with the flow getting off the train & found ourselves on the absolute wrong side of the station. I had memorised the entry door we'd gone through (where we would catch the shuttle back to the hotel), but we couldn't find it on any of the maps :( Brendan got ticcier & ticcier & ended up on the floor while we puzzled over maps. Charlie finally asked a group of policemen, who pointed us in the right direction, & I wrapped my arm around his head so he wouldn't see any tic triggers. I realised at that point that we hadn't actually eaten any lunch- just had those lovely sweets in Uji. We snacked on chips & the rest of our cold drinks while we waited for the shuttlebus. Once back to the hotel it was hard to get any food into Brendan, he was so distracted by tics, but I found that the episode of Kamen Rider Den-O that we'd watched last Sunday was finally up with english subs online & the change of focus got him back to himself. He ate a croissant & then we ran him a bath with lavender oil in it in the big, ofuro-style bathtub, & he had a really nice soak. I went out to the convenience store with a list of dinner requests while he was in the bath, & we had our favourites for dinner. Over dinner we talked about how much we are enjoying Kyoto. Brendan decided that when we come back to Japan, we can visit Nobuko-san for a few days, then spend the rest of the time in Kyoto. Charlie mentioned that we probably won't be able to come back for a couple years at least (it's an expensive trip- although Kyoto isn't as expensive as Tokyo), but he also mentioned that perhaps Brendan will be able to get a job someday using his knowledge of japanese. Brendan followed that thought with the idea of living in Kyoto- but we'd have to visit him often :) I have no problem with that! Brendan decided that he's adding Shinto priest to his list of ideas for jobs when he grows up... The evening was very mellow- Brendan played Dragon Fable for a bit, we tried the tv but there wasn't anything good on, so we played a long game of Uno & tucked Brendan into bed.
Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy, so we're going to take a taxi to Nishijin, the textile centre, to a couple of shops & then maybe walk home (if it doesn't rain too hard). The in the afternoon, the concierge arranged an english-speaking guide for a tour of an old, special castle nearby that has lots of secret rooms & passageways- we thought it would be right up Brendan's alley... :)