This post is being written in the middle of the Strait of Taiwan on our sea day between Ishigaki Island Japan and Xiamen China about our second day in Kyoto last month.
We woke up early and after a quick breakfast from the bakery next door to our hotel, we took the subway to Nijo Castle/Ninomaru Palace. Prior to being relocated to Tokyo, the capital of Japan was Kyoto. Originally built as a fortress by a shogun, this castle later became the palace for some of the emperor’s relatives and hosted a long visit by the Emperor.
The entrance gate is heavily decorated (actually everything is that way!) and I found some of the details just beautiful. Even the back is the gate is impressive.
The palace building is a series of rooms each having a different purpose, the first ones administrative and the further interior the more private. All are also highly decorated. Additionally, the floors chirp when you walk on them. It is said this was done for security so that an intruder could be heard coming. However, my mama would have said the floors squeak and they ought to call the contractor back to fix them! Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed inside but I’ve included some photos found on the innerwebs below.
The gardens of the Castle/Palace are lovely and I suspect more so during blooming season. They were designed to be viewed from inside the building and the waterfalls and plantings create pleasing vignettes for the royals pleasure.
There is a second building onsite but it was under scaffolding being restored but we did cross it’s most and climb up (and I mean climb) to the castle walls.
Throughout the grounds there are several tea houses most of which are not open to the public but instead are used for official entertainment or can be rented for events. These were originally used by the royals. One of them was open during our visit so we decided to have a rest and have macha tea for the first time. Macha is a powder made from green tea and rather than steeping it, you mix it using a bamboo whisk with hot water. When you hear about a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, it means you will be drinking macha. The tea house was lovely but rather than being traditional and sitting on tatami mats on the floor, we elected to have our tea on a bench (much easier to get up off of) on the porch (much cooler than inside). It was an enjoyable experience with a beautiful view into the garden but we won’t need to have macha again! Thankfully we also had some cold green tea which we knew we liked since that’s what we drink at home. With our tea we got a sweet-typically Japanese it was the consistency of bread dough with a sweet bean paste inside. I later learned we should have eaten with the macha as the sweet would have made the bitter of the tea more enjoyable..or so the guide said. The first video is of us making the tea and a lesson from Mike on its health benefits while the second one is worth watching just to see the look on Mike’s face as he tastes the sweet!
After tea and a stroll through the beautiful garden we headed towards the exit of the Castle/Palace with one last stop at the Imperial Kitchen. This huge building (surrounded by many small storehouses) is now used for exhibits. There was a photography exhibit of everyday Kyoto life on display which was interesting but I found the huge beams and beautiful architectural details and doors even more fascinating. But best of all were the beautiful long handles shoe horns waiting at the entrance/exit to assist in putting your shoes back on!
It was lunchtime by the time we left so we decided to walk towards our hotel (thankfully the taller buildings provided shade to the sidewalk) and find some food. We of course were looking for something traditionally Japanese-soba noodles perhaps but when we saw Mos Burgers we knew we had to try Japanese fast food! It was great fun-the cashier didn’t speak English but between her smile and my google translate we did just fine. The menu had burgers, shrimp burgers, fried shrimp on a bun, tofu burger and all sorts of others. We elected to have the Mos Burger which was a pork and beef mixture and the shrimp on a bun. Both were tasty, the fries and onion rings were just ok. After eating our sandwiches we were still a bit hungry so we split a hotdog. It was really good-more a German sausage than an American hot dog.
After lunch we continued our stroll (Death March) back to our hotel passing some interesting architecture and what we presume was a negligee store along the way.
We also passed a bakery with beautiful cakes so we order us up a slice of thebfig version to take back to the hotel. We were more impressed with the packaging than the cake unfortunately. Not only did they pack it in a beautiful box and bag, there was a cardboard spacer in the box along with a teeny ice pack and an even teenyer fork! All this for $4 bucks. No wonder the cake was just alright tasting! 😂 Back in the room, I made myself a cup of coffee using the coffee system that we found at both hotels in Japan. The coffee comes in what looks like a small packet that you typically use in 4 cup maker but the packet has cardboard “arms” which you just to hang it over the coffee cup. You then just add hot water and it brews to a quite tasty cup o’joe.
After a rest (read nap for someone), we headed back towards Gion. On the way we stopped to have soba. These noodles are thicker than ramen and made of buckwheat. Here rather than pork in the broth like in Tokyo, the tradition is to have tempura with them. Mike had a hot dish, while I selected cold noodles which are served with a cold mashed yam paste. We both liked them.
After supper we headed to Gion Corner. This theatre is the official headquarters of the Geisha Association and they have two shows a night which include a traditional tea ceremony, flower arranging and music (all happening simultaneously), a traditional orchestra performance directed by a conductor in an elaborate costume and mask, a traditional comedy play, a puppet show (with big puppets operated by two or three people) and a traditional geisha dance-in this case performed by a first year and second year maiko. You can tell the second year as her upper lip is also painted. You can tell they are not yet geishas, as their obe (belt is long in the back rather than tied into an elaborate knot. The show was a little hokey but I’m glad we went as otherwise we wouldn’t have seen a real geisha at all.
After dinner we had a nice stroll back to the hotel through Gion (where maybe we saw some modern Geishas??) and along the river which was quite lively. We also popped into the two story supermarket beside our hotel. The upper floor was a specialty market with lots of foreign foods-who knew you could get Brer Rabbit Molasses outside the south? Of course at $8 a bottle I wouldn’t be buying it very often!
Tomorrow we head to Hiroshima.