Monday, 10 November 2008

Kyoto - Day 4 - Nijo, Ninomaru and Higashi Honganji

I woke up starving which is a good sign.
As we are spending tonight in a monastery up in the mountains, after breakfast, we pack our stuff and check out of the hotel.

We head off to Nijo palace. After previous visits ending a tad stressfully for our guide, we are given strict instructions to be back at the entrance by 11am. We all head off around the castle at different speeds, some stay to listen to the interesting commentaries of the guide - this is if you can stay awake and keep your concentration. I decide to wander off at my own pace and marvel at the amazing woodwork and intricate decorations.

In many of these palaces around Japan, the ancient inhabitants had devised a very funky way of detecting intruders... Nightingale floors. Brilliant piece of engineering that uses cramps and spaces underneath the floorboards in the corridors which will squeak when you walk on them.
I think they would drive me mad long term, but it is a very effective alarm system. I wander through the eleven different rooms on show and exit via the tourist trap stalls and foul smelling food stands.

I make a few small purchases and Sis and I walk on - at a brisk pace due to the time constraints - through to the gardens in the grounds. For me, these are not as breathtaking as the previous gardens, but a good chance to capture some hilarious Engrish - or Japlish as it is known here.

We make it to the rendezvous point on time to find ... no one.
Had we stayed with the guide, we would have known his time estimate for this site was grossly underestimated and he had therefore changed the rdv time to allow an extra half an hour. It seems we were not the only ones to not have been aware of this change in the schedule so a couple of us sat on a wall and waited for the group to turn up.

Once all reunited, we stop at a genuine samurai sword shop - cue debilitatingly long commentary again - and a few buy the token miniature sword and stand. No trashy look-alikes for me, I opt for a few ninja stars for my brother!

Higashi Honganji is next on the agenda.
This place displays an amazing contrast between old and new contemporary architecture.

A huge part of the temple is begin restored at the moment, and it will be ongoing until 2012. So a hangar was built around the restoration to protect it. On display, a reduced model of the renovations, the attention to detail is astounding.

A very speedy visit once again, stopping only briefly in the new part to admire the amazing subterranean new build to incorporate an auditorium. It reminds me a bit of Young Sherlock Holmes and the underground pyramid.

Back to Kyoto station for lunch and while the group heads back downstairs for some local chow, Sis, Dad and I go in search for anything but.

After lunch we begin our epic journey to Mount Koya for our traditional monastery retreat.
A metro, a forty minute train to Osaka, another metro ride and a two and a half hour train journey later and we arrive at the base of the mountain. But it is not over yet.

A cable car ride and a bus take us up and finally, after night fall we arrive at our monastery in a stunning location.
(No, not a ghostly presence but a bit of smoke too close to the camera.)

We are invited in for tea served traditional style which is a welcome pleasure as it is freezing up here and needless to say there is no central heating and the walls are all glass or paper.

We are shown to our rooms and a bout of worry follows when all we see as far as bedding goes, are the tatamis on the floor and a few really thin pillows. We later discover futons and blankets hidden away in a closet.

My digestive system is feeling better as we head down for a traditional vegetarian dinner and while my ankles don't thank me for kneeling while eating, I make a good effort with with the food.

After dinner, we are asked if we want a Japanese bath.
Anything warm at this stage is a godsend, so Sis and I decide to forget our hangups and give it a go. The idea of this method of bathing is that you start of scrubbing yourself clean in a shower before rinsing thoroughly and stepping into the tub of very hot water for a soak. This is to allow the bath water to be reused. Tonight it was absolute bliss, even after Sis and I realised that the towels we had schlepped all the way from home to be used at this specific time, were neatly packed away in our backpacks in our room! Useful.
Joined by one other woman in the group, we relax in the steaming hot water until we are well and truly lobster-like. A quick dry off at lightening speed with minute hand towels, on with the kimono and off to bed... or not.

Returning to the room, we discover that our beds... or rather futons had been made up. The room although filled with the intoxicating smell of the kerosene heater, had a very inviting atmosphere.

I won't go into details but what followed was Sis and I spent many an hour trotting down the wooden stairs in our Geta sandals to the communal toilets and back up to bed trying not to wake the whole household. A very cold and not so regenerating night but a few laughs and a great experience.

Fave pics of the day...

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