Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kyoto: Day 5 (Arashiyama)

On our fifth and final day in Kyoto, we headed to the far western edge of the city. The Arashiyama area is known for the Golden Pavillion, the most famous zen rock garden in Japan, Tenryuji temple, and the bamboo grove that is so often seen in pictures, and on postcards, of Japan. 

The famed Golden Pavilion is the Zen temple, Kinkakuji, and the top two tiers are completely covered in gold leaf. It was the retirement villa for a shogun, and in accordance with his will, it was turned into a Zen temple in 1408. It has burned down multiple times, and was most recently rebuilt in 1955. My 4yo loves all things gold, so she really liked visiting this temple. I, however, didn't enjoy it as much as other places we'd been to because of the insane amount of tourists visiting. 

After leaving Kinkakuji, we walked a little ways to Ryoanji temple. Ryoanji is home to the most famous rock garden in all of Japan. Originally, it was an aristocrat's villa and was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. Surprisingly, little is known about the rock garden's origins. No one really knows when it was constructed, and there are just guesses about its designer. Even more of a mystery is the garden's meaning. Some say the rocks are meant to represent a tiger carrying its cubs across a pond, islands in the sea, or... maybe an abstract concept like infinity. The temple also had some beautiful gardens on the grounds. In all honesty, we enjoyed the gardens more than the rock garden.

Deep in thought.... maybe.
Sakura blossoms falling like snow! 

6yo took this picture. She said she loved the two colors of sakura.
After we got our zen on at the rock garden, we took the train to Tenryuji temple and my husband and girls split off from myself and our friends. He was going to take the girls to get some lunch while we had an authentic, vegetarian, Buddhist meal INSIDE the temple! Tenryuji temple is the first among Kyoto's five great Zen temples, and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple was built in 1339.

You can call the temple and make reservations (which we did), but I also saw plenty of people just walking in for lunch. It was 3,000 yen ($30) for the set, but you could also buy nicer sets, as well as add on beer, wine, or sake.

The entrance to the temple restaurant. 
I have no idea what most of this was, but it was delicious!
One of the highlights of their trip.
The garden behind the main hall at Tenryuji.

The famous bamboo grove... although, I like our local bamboo temple, Hokokuji, better.
Traditional meets modern.
You've probably noticed that we've tried to include a visit to a "fun" place for the kids the last few days. We've had them trekking all over Kyoto, visiting lots of temples, and eating lots of Japanese food (not their favorite). The least we could do was to reward them with something at the end of our long days. Today, that reward was the monkey park in Arashiyama. This was another place that they had previously seen on The Little Travelers: Japan, so they were very excited about following in the Little Travelers' footsteps. And they were really excited about seeing the monkeys.

I knew the park was up in the mountains, but I didn't know that the park is literally on the top of the mountain. The climb up to the monkeys is NOT stroller friendly... heck, it wasn't friendly in general.

We had to cross the river to get to the park.

I think I burned about 70,000 calories on the way up. It just kept going!

Just before you'll get to the top, you'll start to see monkeys swinging through the trees. These are Japanese Macaque's, a native species to Japan. On top of the mountain are amazing views of the city, and then there's also a cage. The cage isn't for the monkeys... it's for the humans. You go into the cage, buy a bag of peanuts or fruit (the fruit is more expensive), and feed the monkeys through the cage wire. If you have kids, they'll love it. There is also a small playground on the way down.

This was the best view in all of Kyoto.

I adore this picture.
Pure joy.

The monkey park was a great end to our day. I wish we had been able to spend more time in Arashiyama - there were some great shopping streets and restaurants - but it was freezing and windy when we got to the monkey park. The girls wanted to play so badly that they toughed it out as long as they could. However, we were too cold to walk back to the train, so we just decided to grab a taxi back to the machiya. The taxi ride turned out to be one of the perks of my trip - I was able to carry on a conversation in Japanese with my taxi driver. Even though it might have been full of the same types of sentences, it was more than just one or two sentences in length and our taxi driver seemed to enjoy talking with me! Finally, those Japanese lessons are paying off. 

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