It was truly wonderful to be back in the beautiful city of Kyoto, nearly a decade after my first (and most recent) trip. Unfortunately, the schedule allotted only a few hours in the city, but that didn’t stop me from having a great time.
First, I stayed the night just outside the city, in the incredibly fancy Biwako Hotel. (I wasn’t paying, lol.) The view from the room was literally breathtaking – Biwa Lake is the largest lake in Japan and its huge. Happily, the hotel had a beautiful onsen for the guests, including a small outdoor pool, which was exactly what I was hoping for. After an all-you-can-eat breakfast (where I ate too much…) I went into the city for a few hours before catching a train out of town again.
Kinkakuji – The Golden Pavilion
The gods smiling down on Kyoto today, with a perfect sky and temperatures just chilly enough to allow for walking in winter clothing but just warm enough in the sun for matcha (green tea) flavored soft serve ice cream. Kinkakuji is the only temple that I really wanted to visit in Kyoto last time but didn’t have an opportunity, so it was great to get to go. It was crowded (unsurprisingly) but not so crowded that I wasn’t able to get some unobstructed photos of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Obviously, the pavilion itself is gorgeous, but I found the rest of the grounds equally stunning. In particular, I enjoyed noticing that of all the koi fish in the lake, I could only find one gold one. It just seemed like such a quaint coincidence; it was also a great opportunity for another of my silly Japanese puns – 金閣寺の金鯉 – kinkakujinokinkoi – the golden pavilion’s golden carp. I also enjoyed finding random paths and a staircase in the temple, all fenced off, but so enticing and just calling for exploration.
[Note, my other favorite puns include: 箸の橋 – hashinohashi – the chopsticks’ bridge; スキーが好き – sukiigasuki – I like skiing; 柿のカキ – kakinokaki – the oyster’s persimmon.]
Ryoanji was one of my favorite temples last time, and I’m so glad I got to go again. The zen rock garden is so calming, and I definitely needed that today. Sitting zazen, even just for five minutes, gave me an opportunity to slow my thoughts, relax my body, and return to the moment. As much as I love comparing this trip to my previous trips to Japan (and it really is a blast!), I also want to really experience this journey on its own.
Funnily enough, I was so intent on my zazen at the rock garden, I didn’t even take a picture of it! But I did get a few pictures of other details in and around the temple that I noticed and enjoyed, including a fun experiment with my (limited) photography skills.
I got another temple stamp (朱印 – shuin), bringing my total for this trip to five. Shuin are available at basically every temple or shrine, and usually show the branch of Buddhism that the temple is a part of, the specific god or deity that is enshrined or worshipped there (or one of them, if there are many), and the date (era, month, day). I love these stamps, because you buy a small book, which you carry from temple to temple; the stamps become a record of your travel. My last trip to Japan, I reserved pages and then glued photos of the various temples on the opposing page; this time around, I’m just keeping track and I think I’ll make an accompanying sheet to slide in. The best part is that because I can’t possibly fill the book up on this trip (though I bought the thinnest one available, there are 22 spots for temple stamps), I’ll just have to plan another trip to come back to Japan and fill it up!
After a mad dash back to the central train station (my favorite one in the whole world!), I grabbed a train to Tsuruga. The adventures continue tomorrow with a tour of Japan’s decommissioned fast-breeder nuclear reactor, Monju. Until next time, おやすみなさい！(Oyasuminasai – goodnight)