Saturday, March 3, 2001
Our ryokan served breakfast, so we went down to the dining area about 8:00 a.m. They said they could do a western breakfast for us, but we still weren't sure what to expect. We took our shoes off before we entered the room, naturally, and we got to sit on the floor. They brought us each out one cold fried egg served on a bed of lettuce, three dinner rolls, and a tiny cup of coffee - interesting. Sure beats what the Japanese guests were eating though. It looked like they got dried seaweed, dried fish, rice, and a raw egg. Whatever.
We checked out, left our bags, and walked over to Nijo-jo. The castle Nijo-jo was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. As a safeguard against treachery, Ieyasu had the interior fitted with "nightingale" floors, which are floors that squeak at every move, making it difficult for intruders to move about quietly, and with concealed chambers where bodyguards could secretly keep watch.
The moat at Nijo-jo
Nijo-jo rules. It has a big moat, an ostentatious palace, nifty Japanese gardens - everything you could want! We spent a couple hours walking around there. They give you slippers when you enter the palace, but we noticed one of the cleaning ladies had brought her own. She wore bunny slippers with big floppy ears!
The castle and gardens
Tom and Jana at Nijo-jo
We ate lunch at a soba shop and had a nice, warm meal. Soba noodles are thin, brown, buckwheat noodles, and they were served in a light broth. Mark and Traci and I got ours with a big jumbo shrimp; Tom did not.
Next we went to Kinkaku-ji, also known as the famed Golden Temple, apparently one of Japan's best-known sites, though I'd never heard of it before. The original building was constructed in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. His son converted it to a temple. In 1950 a young monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground. Go figure. In 1955 a full reconstruction was completed. The gold-foil covering of the temple makes for quite a tacky sight. But it really is pretty sitting there at the edge of the reflecting pond. We were not, however, so enamoured with it that we were compelled to burn it down.
The Golden Temple
We then caught a taxi over to Ryoan-ji, a Buddhist temple. When taking a taxi in Japan, don't make the mistake of opening the door. The doors are automatic and the driver will control them for you. The taxis over there are nice. They are spotlessly clean and have doilies on the backs of the seats. And the taxi drivers wear white gloves. I kid you not.
Ryoan-ji belongs to the school of Zen Buddhism and was founded in 1450. The main attraction is the rock garden, a collection of 15 rocks, apparently adrift in a sea of sand, enclosed by an earthen wall. All 15 rocks cannot be viewed at once regardless of perspective. The designer, who remains unknown, provided no explanation - which is unfortunate, because we didn't get it.
Zen rocks adrift in a sea of sand?
Then it was back on the shinkansen and back to Yokohama. Mark and Traci had to get back to their kids. Traci scored us real American pizza for dinner from a real American chain on the U.S. Airbase near their home. She can get us this delicacy due to her years of service in the Reserves. Yippee!