Day 5 & 6 of the 13 Day Trip
TR Robertson … Day 5 of our trip to Japan found us waking up in the Palace Hotel in Hakone, high in the mountains about 70 miles outside of Tokyo. We awoke to strong winds, misty rain and fog. The rain would continue for several hours after our morning breakfast, but it would clear up later, but the strong winds would remain. I should mention a little about Japanese breakfasts. There is a great deal of traditional Japanese food served including a variety of noodle and rice dishes, along with many different vegetable dishes. Salad is a part of the breakfast and they serve a traditional Western breakfast – eggs, bacon, pancakes and waffles. There is a lot of fruit offered as well. You will not go hungry or not find what you want to eat, except if you are looking for biscuits and gravy. Many people in our group enjoyed the evening before by taking in the hot springs spa to relax tired traveling muscles. Relaxation and a good breakfast and we were off on another day of adventure.
Photos will follow in a separate article
Today was supposed to include a boat ride on Lake Ashi to see Mt. Fuji from the lake, but high winds and fog prevented this. We were also to take in the Mt. Komagatake Rodeway ride, this was also cancelled. Our guide added a stop at the Hakone Sekisho exhibit which was a restoration of one of 53 checkpoints throughout Japan built in the 1600’s to control arms entering Edo (Tokyo) and to stop women from attempting to leave Edo. The reconstruction consisted of the stables, walls, rooms, guardhouses and other buildings as well as examples of the daily life that would have existed during this time period. There was also a very nice gift shop available visited by many in the group. One of the craft specialties this part of Japan is famous for is the beautiful Yoseki, wooden mosaic crafts. These wooden pieces are designed by gluing together thin wooden slats and rods which have amazing natural colors. The result is geometric patterns that are turned into a variety of designs. The most famous of the designs are the magic boxes, so called as they take many steps to solve the intricacy of how to open them. After about an hour here we continued our drive in the mountains to the Shinto Hakone Shrine, which sat in an area with ancient cedar trees. This shrine was referred to as the 9 Headed Dragon Shrine. The wind and fog in the tall cedar trees made the shrine a mystical place.
The sun broke out as we continued on for about 45 minutes, arriving at The Hakone Open-air Museum. This very modern facility was opened in 1969 as the first open-air museum in Japan. It includes 5 exhibition halls, including the Picasso Pavilion, a foot-bath fed by natural hot springs and an amazing pathway featuring over 120 works by modern and contemporary sculptors. The Picasso Collection is an art gallery devoted to one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, “Love is the only thing that is worthwhile”. The gallery was built in 1984 after the museum had donated to it 188 pieces of ceramic art work created by Picasso. These pieces were donated by his eldest daughter, Maya. The collection now includes over 300 works of art that consist of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, ceramics, bronze casts, copper plate prints, golden and silver objects, tapestries and photos of Picasso in his studios. The art represents a variety of periods in the artist’s life. It was a wonderful presentation of Picasso’s work. Another impressive gallery included castings of the various facades designed by Italian artist, Giacomo Manzu, from 1952 until 1964. These facades were commissioned by Pope John XXII in a competition for the redesign of the doors at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Manzu won the right to redesign one of the doors. The door he designed is called “The Door of Death”. It is said the door represents the faith, love, death of saints and martyrs and nameless citizens. Along with this, the amazing outdoor sculptures made this museum a memorable place to see.
Leaving the museum we headed to Hakone and the Odawara Station to catch the Shinkansen, otherwise known as the “Bullet Train”. It is considered the fastest train in the world and one of the safest, a record of over 50 years with no accidents. Our train was the Japan Railway Hikari #515. These trains can reach speeds of over 200 mph and are known for their timely record, no train leaves more than 30 seconds later than the scheduled time. Our destination was a 2 hour train ride to Kyoto to check into the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa. Our instructions was to line up on the marked lines at the terminal. As the train pulls in and stops, quickly let anyone getting off go by and then “push” to get on the train before the bell rings and the doors close. Our group made it, but it was close. The most amazing thing about this train is not just the speed but how smooth the ride is. You barely feel the train moving down the rails. We will ride the Bullet Train two more times on this trip.
Upon arrival in Kyoto we boarded a bus for our hotel. Kyoto is the third largest city in Japan with a city population of 1.5 million. Since we arrived later in the afternoon, our guide took us on a short walk around the hotel we were in. We wandered through narrow pedestrian only streets filled with numerous eating establishments. The “eateries” were small and primarily featured Japanese only food, although we did see a British Pub, a Mexican restaurant and several Italian styled restaurants. We would later return for a tremendous tempura meal at a reasonable price. Our main destination on this walk was to the Gion District of Kyoto known for the tea houses where Geishas and Maikos work. Maikos are apprentice Geishas, usually younger than 21. At age 21, a young girl would decide whether to continue to work as a Geisha or she would return home. The Geisha is a cultural tradition, providing conversation, companionship for a short period of time, music and dance for gentlemen who go to the tea houses. They dress in the traditional costume of a Geisha with hair and make-up designed in a specific manner. The men frequenting the tea houses spend a relaxing evening with the Geishas and Maikos and many will conduct business meetings with clients they bring to the tea house. As we entered this part of Kyoto, hundreds of tourists were waiting for the arrival of the Geishas and Maikos, many arriving by cabs, and the scene would quickly turn into a paparazzi extravaganza, cameras and phones clicking away as people tried to get a close-up picture of these young ladies. It was something I had never witnessed before. We were able to sneak a look at several Geishas and Maikos arriving and attempting to quickly enter the tea houses to begin their evening. The majority of Geishas in Japan are in Kyoto, although there are several areas in Tokyo where Geishas live and work. Quite an end to the evening.
Day 6 arrived and a new day would bring a very long day of site seeing around Kyoto. Our first stop would be at Ryoanji Temple, a Zen training temple since 1450. There are over 1,600 temples in Japan, many of them World Heritage sites. The beautiful gardens of this temple circled around a small lake and the highlight was the rectangular Zen Garden that was first created around 1500. There are 15 sizable rocks in the garden area and we were told to try to see all 15 from some point on the wooden platform above the garden. I was only able to see 14 at one time. Our next stop was to the Kinkaku Rokuon-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple also called The Golden Pavilion. This temple was extremely crowded and the highlight was the temple across the lake, Shariden Kinkaku, designed in the Shinden style of the 11th century imperial aristocracy. Gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of Kinkaku and a shining Phoenix stands on the top of the shingled roof. The temple gleamed in the sunlight. Pictures were available of the inside of the temple, but visitors were not allowed to enter. The rooms looked magnificent. We were given time to wander the beautiful garden grounds surrounding the temple.
Next on the agenda was a short ride to Nijo-Jo Castle, another World Heritage site. Nijo-Jo castle was completed in 1603 on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Shogun was the ruler of the Kamakura Samurai government. Ieyasu unified Japan after a long period of civil war and ushered in over 260 years of peace and prosperity. This castle would later be given by the ruling Shogun to the future Emperor of Japan. The castle is actually the Nimomaru-goten Palace, consisting of six connected buildings arranged in a diagonal line from the southeast to the northwest. The Palace has 33 rooms and over 800 tatami mats and some 3,600 wall paintings. Most of the original paintings are in a sealed gallery, but reproductions were designed and now on display on the walls. Next to this palace is a moat with a stone block wall supporting the Honmaru-goten Palace, constructed 1893 after the Emperor took over rule of Japan. Visitors were not allowed in this area.
Our tour guide took us to a 4 story building for lunch, which housed numerous Japanese restaurants, a Subway and a Kentucky Colonel on the first floor, a huge video arcade area on the second floor, a parking area on the third floor and a movie theatre on the fourth floor. From here our bus took us to a part of Kyoto known for Sake breweries. We visited the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum and were told the story of how sake came to be and how it is made. Samples of sake and plum wine were provided at the end of the tour. This particular sake factory was founded in 1637.
One of the final stops for this busy day was to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, an amazing Shinto shrine of over 1000 arches. These large arches form tunnels that wind up and around a hillside, referred to as a Torii Path. Each arch was bought and donated to this shrine and dedicated to prosperity and good fortune for businessmen and merchants. Visitors can wander through these arches. We were able to only wander through a small portion of the arches, due to time constraints. We were told it would take another two hours to complete wandering through these arches back to the initial buildings of the shrine. At the base of the stairs, a long corridor of food vendors were selling a variety of meat and rice and bread products. We did make a quick photo stop at Heian Shrine on our way back to the hotel.
A very busy day in Kyoto and an even busier one awaits us for Day 7. More later as we get ready for the Giant Buddha and the Sacred Deer Park and the Giant Bamboo forest.