Day 7: A country home made of gold

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October 21st 2009
Published: October 30th 2009
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Golden Pavilion/Kinkakuji
If you could build your dream house, what would it look like? Apparently for a shogun named Yoshimitsu, it would be a gold pavilion on beautiful grounds, which he called Kinkakuji. It was his retirement estate, built around 1394. Mr. Yoshimitsu seemed to like many different architectural styles because the stunning gold pavilion, beautifully situated near a gorgeous pond (the reflection makes a great photo) is composed of three separate styles. The first level is the most plain - a simple wooden "palace style". The second is the style of a samurai house (covered in gold leaf) and the third is Zen temple style, also in gleaming gold. The pond is called "Mirror Pond" and mirrors not only the gold temple but the beautiful trees, some of which were changing colors and now bright red and yellow.

A large Chinese phoenix statue keeps watch on the roof, not unlike the weather vanes in the U.S.

Kinkakuji was our first stop this morning. On the way to our second, and final, temple visit in Kyoto, we followed the lead of the Japanese school children and bought green tea ice cream cones - very tasty.

The words "Zen Rock Garden" conjure up all kinds of peaceful, meditative images. The Ryoanji temple contains one of the most famous rock gardens in the world. Again, housed in a lovely temple admist gorgeous, extensive, Japanese gardens (including a pond), it was surprisingly simple. Just 13 rocks, some large, some small, arranged in little groupings in a large rectangular area of raked white pebbles back in the late 1400s. You're supposed to sit and contemplate the meaning: mountains rising above clouds perhaps? It was a peaceful place (despite the ubiquitous Japanese tour groups and masses of school children carefully color coordinated in their respective groups by hat color) but we don't think we quite got this one.

We took the long way back (walking) through one of the university areas and along the large stone wall of the Imperial Palace. Preparations were ongoing for the hugely important Festival of the Ages which takes place tomorrow (unfortunatey we're leaving then) and is a parade of Kyoto-ans dressed in costumes from various periods of Kyotos past ~1200 years.

After picking up our bags at our ryokan, we wheeled them over to the Kyoto station and hopped on our train to Osaka (~30 minutes). We

Fall color at Ryoanji temple
must give off a distinct San Francisco vibe because on the train a Japanese gentleman proceeded to show us photos that he'd just had taken of himself - in full geisha makeup and kimono. He still had the makeup on his neck.

Our flight leaves from Osaka tomorrow morning so we didn't have much time to explore. It's Japan's third largest city and a big financial center and has several attractions - some temples, a castle, etc. Maybe on our next trip. The highlight of Osaka for us, however, is our hotel. Thanks to our wonderful friend Alison, we are spending the night in plush marble luxury at the Westin near the train station. Like most modern buildings in Japan's large cities, the hotel looks like a more utilitarian cement block from the outside but the inside of the Westin is all elegance and comfort.

We opted for a quiet evening with a drink at the Sky Tower Lounge, about 173 meters (over 500 feet!) up in the Umeda Building, a famous skyscraper in Osaka, and then dinner at one of the many little restaurants on the ground level of the same building.

So a summary of

Some of the rocks in the rock garden.
1. What did we like the best? The beautiful gardens, the Nijo castle, the amazingly efficient public transit system in Tokyo and also the bullet train, experiencing a ryokan and meeting up with Nick and Emily.

2. Would we come back? Yes. We want to explore more of the country's natural attractions - the town of Takayama tucked away in the Japanese alps, the far north, the more tropical south.

3. Would we ever want to live here for an extended period of time? Maybe. The language and customs are so different from anything we've ever experienced that it would be very difficult but there are also many things that we really like about this country and the people.

And on to our next country: Malaysia!

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31st October 2009

Can't wait to hear about Malaysia!

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