In the center of Kyoto, inspiring natives and tourists alike with the beauty of nature and dotted with Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines, lays Maruyama Park. It is Kyoto’s version of New York City’s Central Park. Wendy and I walk regularly at home in Healdsburg. More than 45 years ago Wendy lived in Kyoto. One of my favorite mornings of the trip was when she took me to this park, early one morning, prior to the onset of tourists — when the park was quiet and only the sound of drum beats and a gentle wind could be heard. We walked for what seemed to be forever, passing nuns and ancient cemeteries and blossoming trees and flowers of all kinds, shapes, and colors. It was magical to be here in the quiet hours of daybreak. Maruyama Park was deserted and overgrown with shrubs and weeds until three hundred years ago. In 1886, it was designated as a park site at which time it was enlarged. In 1913, it was professionally designed by Jihei Ogawa, a landscape gardener who had previously designed the well-known gardens of Heian Shrine and Murin-an. We were told that it was a typical Japanese park especially noted for its big dropping cheery trees and various other varieties of these trees. To stroll through this park relatively alone at the height of cherry blossom season provides a memory to be cherished.
We began this beautiful birthday with 64 degree sunny weather at the National Treasure Sanjusangen-do. The principal images of this temple are the 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon… AKA “Kannon.” The 1001 Buddhas are made of Japanese cypress wood covered in gold, and are 700 years old. It took 70 artists 100 years to complete these Buddhas… Each of the Buddhas has 11 faces and 21 pairs of arms which totals 1000 arms, and as the story goes, with treasures in each hand saves 25 worlds. It is believed that Kannon Bodhisattva can transform himself into 33 different figures. Therefore, the 1001 images really equal 33,000. Can’t really say that I understand this all too well… but it was impressive to see.
In the center of these Buddha figures is a larger Buddha that was had carved by a famous 82 year old artist.
Next, we visited the Nijo Castle. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally built in 1603, it was the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugaway Shogun. In 1867, when Yoshinobu, the fifteenth Tokugawa Shogun returned sovereignty to the Emperor, the castle became the property of the Imperial family. It was donated to the City of Kyoto and renamed Nijo Castle in 1939.
Our final destination was the “Must See” Kinkaku or The Golden Pavilion. It is literally made of gold and sits stunningly on an island surrounded by Maple & Cherry Trees among other stunning landscape. It was overcast today, so didn’t see the gold temple and Cherry Blossoms reflected in the lake, but photos show that it is breathtaking in both spring and again in fall with the changing colors of the maple trees.
My birthday celebration was spent with a Champagne dinner at the Ryokan, where dressed in Kimonos, we indulged in an 18 course traditional Japanese dinner.
Certainly a birthday I will always treasure. Thank you, dear travel mates and friends!
A chartered bus transported our group the hour and a half drive from Osaka to Kyoto where we passed through the industrial section of Osaka on the outskirts of town. Just prior to arriving in Kyoto, low houses with Japanese style roofs lined the river as we moved into the countryside.
Kyoto is a city much smaller than Osaka with the charm of traditional Japan complemented by influences of the modern world. Our first two nights are spent at a Ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese style hotel or inn. Our inn respects the unique and subtle beauty of Japanese culture and custom. We sleep on futons on tatami mat floors and have public baths for both men and woman in addition to deep soaking tubs in each room. We are offered Japanese Kimonos with formal silk jackets to wear for breakfast and dinner. The dinners are 16 courses of traditional Japanese food served in exquisite ceramic bowls where the artistry is as sensual as the textures of the food. Breakfast was a real treat with a cold soft boiled egg and rice, ginger and a score of other condiments.
The first temple we visited was Tenryu-ji Temple, which is a World Cultural Heritage Site. It is the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism and was established in 1339, by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji in memory of Emperor Go-Daigo. Throughout the years, it has been ravaged by fires more than eight times, most recently in 1864. However, the magnificent landscaped garden behind the main hall is one of the oldest in Japan, retaining the same form as when it was designed by Muso Soseki in the 14th century. It was the first Special Historical Scenic Area named by the Japanese government, and in 1994 was designated by the United Nations as a World Cultural Heritage site. The garden is a MUST SEE.
After a traditional Japanese lunch with fish, tempura and other delicacies, we went to a high tea ceremony (which was a joke and really more of a photo op of Geisha and Maiko girls). The tea ceremony, such as it was, was a prelude to a Geisha performance. All of the actors and musicians were females. The sets and costumes were breathtaking, colorful, and quite impressive. Otherwise, the show was a bit commercial for our taste.
Most Americans have never heard of Momofuku Ando. I certainly had not… and perhaps one of the last products I would imagine to be synonymous with the quote “Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat” is CupNoodles Top Ramen. In fact, I was quite curious as to why a visit to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum was on the itinerary for our Japanese culinary tour.
The museum was swarming with people of all ages from school children on field trips to adults visiting from throughout the world. Each of us were shepherded through the lines to make our own personally chefed CupNoodles, while listening to the fascinating story of how one man, deeply affected by the poverty and starvation caused by WWII, invented the world’s first instant noodle product, and subsequently used his fortune to establish a foundation dedicated to the sound growth of young people. Who knew that CupNoodles has such a rich and textured history and global impact on feeding the world? It was indeed a morning well spent.
Observations about Osaka as we leave for Kyoto:
– There is a fanciful sense of style with young, old, men, and women in Osaka, where there seems to be no one fashion trend, rather, individuality and creativity with fashion.
– At the Hotel Granvia Osaka, everything is minimalistic with exquisite attention to detail. The toilet seats are heated; there is a heated mirror in the bathroom to prevent the glass from fogging up; the beds are hard as can be but comfortable and rice pillows are a reminder of Japanese lifestyle.
– Architecture throughout Osaka is in transition, with old narrow alley ways and crowded spaces that open into large boulevards with modern glass high rises, artistic sculptures scattered about, and innovative design. The city is very clean and people seem respectful and orderly. They drive and walk on the left side, as in England, and during rush hour the subway station is a sea of black moving quickly.
– The best shopping for food is found in major department stores in the basement level. There are unbelievable choices of fresh fruits and vegetables, gourmet delicacies and packaged foods. Shelves upon shelves of soy sauce choices made us all laugh.