The ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto- pure magic!

Last week, we took our first road trip to the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, which served as Japan’s capital until 1868. This city has so much history, dating back thousands of years, and due to its historic significance, was not targeted for air raids during WWII. Consequently, there are SO many temples and monuments to see. I absolutely loved our time here and cannot wait to return.

Driving in Japan is not cheap. There are toll roads to get almost everywhere. The roundtrip toll cost for this 6 hour drive was over $250! We were able to rent a van from the base, which covered toll costs, and in case of a break down, they will even come get you. Considering the toll costs, we came out just about even and the van was awesome!

Tenryu-ji Temple

Our first stop on day one was to Tenryuji Temple, also our first of four UNESCO World Heritage sites for the day. This temple was actually in a neighboring town called Arashiyama. The grounds of these temples are always spectacular. You gotta love a koi pond!

This man was actually sweeping the moss with a broom and a giant dust pan. I guess this is why everything is always pristine!

Taking a break at the temple.

I am really falling in love with Japanese architecture. This wrap around style porch was amazing!

We wandered through the lush grounds to get to the even more spectacular, bamboo forest, that was just beyond the temple grounds.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Just beyond the back gate of the temple was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. There are no words for how amazing this was, and the pictures certainly don’t do it justice!

We enjoyed walking through the thick forest and watching the trees gently sway in the breeze.

Arashiyama was a sleepy little mountain town, compared to Kyoto. We enjoyed wandering around the town a bit before the next stop. 

On our drive to the next temple, we saw all these scarecrows in a rice field, and I just had to get a closer look (notice Olaf, from Frozen, on the far left). Apparently, scarecrows (kakashi) go back to the 8th century in Japanese culture. There are even scarecrow festivals in different parts of the country, I would love to see that! They compete on scarecrow creativity in many different categories.

They were all different, and so creative!

It was also neat for the girls and I to see rice plants, close up. This is not something you see everyday in the west!

Kinkaku-ji Temple

On to the next temple, the great Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion. This temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and may be one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen! The top two floors are completely covered in gold leafing, which cast the most beautiful reflection in the pond.

This structure was originally built as a retirement retreat for Shogun Yoshimitsu in 1408, but has burned down and been rebuilt numerous times throughout history. The most recent being in 1950, when a disgruntled monk burned it to the ground. Ooops!

Sorry, for so many pictures, but it was just so beautiful!

We then weaved our way through the grounds. Here is Ella trying to throw a coin into the bowl. I’m sure this has some meaning for good luck, but to Ella it was competition.

One of my favorite signs. Haha.

This is my kind of vending machine!

Ryoanji Temple

Off to our third Unesco site of the day! This was the Ryoanji Temple, which boasts an internationally famous Zen rock garden created around 1500.

This is the garden. I guess you could say, I was expecting something more? I’m sure I don’t fully understand the greatness, it just didn’t seem to live up to the hype, to me.

The temple was beautiful and peaceful though. As Matt said, “Those aristocrats had things figured out!” I loved the tatami mats and screens in this room.

We rested on this peaceful porch for a while. Matt even took a short nap.

A small replica of the garden. It is made up of 15 rocks and from any vantage point, at least one of the rocks is hidden. I guess that’s the claim to greatness.

Nijo Castle

Our last UNESCO site for the day, whew! We walked from our hotel to the Nijo Castle, which is kind of right in the heart of downtown Kyoto. This castle was the original residence of the very important Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa.

This is the moat surrounding the perimeter.

The very ornate entry gates.

 We were not allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but I was particularly intrigued with the “nightingale floors.” The wood floors were designed to squeak to alert the guards of intruders. They made a wonderful chirping sound.

And a lovely garden, of course.

This was the gorgeous view of the complex, from the top of the moat wall.

The subway was featuring an authentic Peruvian band?

After walking the streets of Kyoto for awhile, trying to find a kid friendly restaurant that was not packed, we ended up at this one (can’t even remember the name). The food on the sign out front looked decent, but after walking into the restaurant they kept leading us down more and more flights of stairs until we ended up in what literally looked like a dungeon or cellar. To make matters worse, they were playing a techno song on repeat during the entire dinner. It was HORRIBLE, but one of those memorable vacation moments! I think it has been mentioned more than anything else on the trip.

To add insult to injury, most Kyoto restaurants (even downtown Tokyo, for that matter) charge a cover charge to eat there. We did not see this on the menu anywhere, so it cost us an extra $12 just to sit down. Anyone who knows Matt will know how he liked this! Haha! However, it is also not customary to tip in Japanese restaurants, so maybe it all evens out somehow.

But, all in all, a great first day! More to come….

1 Comment

  1. Laura
    September 15, 2014 / 2:17 am

    You got some wonderful pictures. So pleased this stuff made it through the war.

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