20 February 2012

Pho - toes of Kee - yo - toe

Excuse me while I phonetically sound out everything around me. Living in Japan has made me flash back to first grade when my patient mother would say "Sound it out" with alarming regularity.

Amos-san and I had a delightful weekend in Kyoto. The Shinksansen was as amazing as I thought it would be, though it's never cheap to travel in Japan no matter which way you go. The train tickets were over $100 per person - Yeesh! However, shut my mouth: I can't really complain when the 45 minute journey through snowy countryside landed us in a city so central to Japanese history and culture. I've heard Kyoto equated to iconic cities like Paris and Istanbul, and it's so easy for me to now see why. 

There are so many temples and shrines, mashed up against concrete towers and modern city life, but - unlike other cities - these shrines seem in quite active use, with chanting and offering and pilgrim-ing going on right next to the tourists snapping photos. For the first time, I could relate to a non-Christian seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time, with the choirs, the faithful, the priests: One does not have to be part of a religion to immediately understand sanctity and spirituality.

We visited three temples: the Kinkaku-ji Temple, with it's glittering gold walls (Kinkaku means golden); the zen Ryoan-ji Temple, designated as a world heritage site for its kari-sansui or Japanese rock garden; and the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, with its famous lacquered red gates. Each was beautiful and breathtaking and totally unique.

For accommodations, we took a break from our home-away-from-home Marriott and stayed in a Ryokan -- a traditional Japanese inn -- complete with tatami mat floors, kimono robes, and futons (not to mention a bathhouse and beer vending machine in the basement.) Amoses for the win.

It was such a nice trip - exhausting, yet relaxing - which is fairly apt for our stay so far in Japan. It felt a bit strange to come 'home' and still be in a hotel, complete with room service and no way to call Mom to let her know we were back safe and sound. It makes me realize that weekends away are simply digressions on this much longer (and very exciting) adventure of ours.

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