Japan: Cherry Blossom Season

Another day, another mediocre breakfast.
We take a cab to Ryoanji, a temple with a beautiful Japanese rock garden, where Angela is waiting for us. We are lucky to get there early enough to avoid the huge crowds that gather at the historic site. Multiple tour busses full of people come through this temple daily. It’s a cloudy day, and a quick rain has come over night, bringing the temperature down a lot lower than yesterday. The air feels and smells so refreshing after last night’s rainfall. We remove our shoes at the entrance to the famous rock garden, which has been raked to perfection in straight lines and some circular shapes around the more central large rocks.
I sit for a few minutes just admiring all the meticulous work that must be put into something like this!
We follow a short pathway through the rest of the grounds surrounding the temple which are covered in beautiful cherry blossom trees and other cool flora.

20140404-152340.jpgThe three of us hop in a cab and head over to the Golden Temple, known in Japanese as Kinkaku-Ji. The outside of the building is literally plated in gold. It’s beautiful, but absolutely over run with tourists. It reminds me of how crowded the lake always was when I lived in Lake Louise. There wasn’t a time of day you could visit without hundreds of tourists with cameras all up in your grill. This is the same. We get super lucky again because the sun makes a quick appearance just as we arrive to observe the temple, and our photos turn out pretty well!!


Dad is obsessed with matcha tea. Like really obsessed. He loves healthy things. So we stop and get a bowl of matcha tea and little sweet on the side. The treats have tiny gold flakes on the top. How adorable! I’ve noticed that much of Japanese culture revolves around the fine details. It’s pretty amazing.

A bit of rain comes as we’re on our way to the next temple, known as Gingkaku-Ji, which means Silver Temple. This one is famous for looking silvery in the moonlight, and is also the birthplace of ancient Japanese matcha tea ceremonies. The most beautiful part about it really though, is the incredible garden stretching up the mountain behind the temple. It’s unreal. There are a couple extremely detailed rock garden designs near the bottom, but the beauty of the garden is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Angela points out that the person who designed the grounds here years ago, would have had to think about how it would turn out years beyond his death, as the trees and mosses etc., are perfectly placed. No photo could really ever capture it properly, but here, I’ll try.




It’s probably one of the most fabulous places I’ve ever been.
They have a little gift shop behind the temple where they sell matcha. Of course, as this is the original spot for tea ceremonies, we must have another matcha. Angela and Dad can taste a difference between this and the one we had at the Gold Temple, but I can’t. Dad loves it so much he buys a tin of it to bring home.




After the beautiful Silver Temple we are feeling a little hungry so we stop at a noodle shop for some lunch. It’s a tiny little restaurant with only a few tables, so we are asked to leave room to share the space with another group that walks in. A little weird but I totally accept. I suppose the three of us don’t REALLY need a table for six.
The menu is entirely in Japanese and without any pictures, so to order, we go outside and point at the plastic food replicas main the window of what dishes the restaurant has to offer. These are extremely popular in Japan. They’re frequently displayed in restaurant windows to draw in customers.



At first, I thought they were like examples of a couple items they might have on the menu, but I’ve learned that usually, they are exact replicas of the available dishes, and are often used to display the entire menu.
Shortly after we sit down two Korean guys walk in and are seated with us. I don’t even notice at first but Dad points out that one of them is wearing a Vancouver sports hat. (I totally forget the team name. But it was purple?) I don’t think he cared much for the actual sports team, he just liked the hat. Work it, dude. Their English is quite good and we chat with them a little bit intermittently throughout our meal. One of the guys has plans to get a working holiday visa for Canada in the coming year and to live in Toronto, and the other is studying in Tokyo to be an English teacher. The world is so full of interesting choices for people!

I order a bowl of shrimp tempura soba noodle soup, and it’s super awesome. I can’t quite get used to slurping up noodles and drinking soup straight from the bowl in public…but I’m trying. It’s really hard NOT to slurp, but it’s also counter-intuitive to be so noisy while I eat. The struggle is real.

After lunch we head over to a popular river side path known as the philosophers walk. It is lined with cherry blossom trees and I can’t stop taking pictures. I must literally have 100 pictures of one type of tree on my phone and camera, but every new step provides a new angle at the beautiful scenery surrounding us, so I can’t help myself.
Cherry blossom season is not a long one. I get the impression that it’s peak really only lasts a few days. I think today was the absolute best day to see them. Even as we are walking, a light wind will carry some of the petals off of their branches. They tumble down into the shallow water below, sprinkling it with flashes of pale pink and white as it runs beneath the old stone bridges. It won’t be long until the rain completely washes away all the fragile petals of the cherry blossom trees. I feel so lucky to have been in Japan at the right time to see such a stunning sight.







20140404-223117.jpgI take the afternoon to myself and just spend some time relaxing at the hotel while Dad and Angela go to find an electronics store. It’s nice, when you’re absorbing so much new stuff and being so on-the-go, to take a minute to chill out.

When Dad comes back a couple hours later, it’s dinner time so we go in search of a sushi restaurant downtown Kyoto. I find one in the lonely planet guide (which Sev got us for Christmas, the little angel) and it looks legit, so we take a quick cab down to the Gion area where it’s located. We had planned to see a Geisha dance show before or after dinner, but it’s surprisingly hard to find one. We decide to try and go when we’re back for a night in Kyoto after the trek next week.

All the tables at Gangko Zushi are full so we sit up at the bar where an old man makes our sushi right there and plops each individual piece down on a plate right in front of us as he goes. The waitresses are all dressed in full kimonos, and the sushi chefs are all wearing headbands and stuff. I love it.

I won’t lie, sushi is really not my deal. I attribute this to the awful food poisoning experience I had in Hong Kong like 10 years ago, and I’ve tried to shake it, but something about the smell and taste of seaweed really just doesn’t work for me anymore. I think I’ve gotten slowly more comfortable with it though. There was a time I couldn’t eat sushi without being sick, and now I can definitely stomach it, so that’s a plus. But I’m in Japan, so obviously eating sushi is not an option! We order a beer and a sake, which isn’t served in a small shot glass (like I expected) it comes in it’s own little sake vase thing which we can then pour into much smaller cups. I fear the sake, but it’s not as strong as I expect and especially because it’s served hot, goes down quite smoothly. I enjoy my sushi meal to the best of my ability. I think I like the experience of eating sushi more than I actually like the taste. This area of Kyoto is quite cool, but the night air is cold so we take a quick stroll around the streets before heading back to our hotel room and calling it a night.



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