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!
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!
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
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.
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!
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.
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.
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….