Off to lunch!
So, when you take a JTB Sunrise Tour that includes lunch, they dump you off at the Kyoto version of a port excursion on a cruise—a big building full of vendors hawking all the usual Japanese souvenirs (they give it a thin veneer of culture by calling it a “handicraft center”). I mean, I don’t think anyone BUT people on tours actually shops here. But they also gave us a big buffet lunch, which wasn’t bad. Years of throwing elbows at Disney buffets gave us the edge as we dodged the bottleneck of tourists getting free “I survived a Kyoto tour” stickers or something and dashed upstairs to the lunchroom to open the buffet.
When we finished, we started at the top and worked our way down through 6 floors of tchotchkes and gewgaws. Supposedly there were handicraft demos and hands-on demos too, but we never saw those. It wasn’t as terrible as I’m making it sound—everything was neatly displayed and some of it seemed to be of good quality. It was just so weird to find basically everything you can get at Japan in Epcot (minus the anime stuff… and the food…) all in one building.
I finally found a coin purse I liked (in this trip report I’ve spared you the Saga of the Coin Purse) and an ingenious invention—a fan holder to keep my ubiquitous Epcot fans from getting munched in our backpack.
After lunch we got on the bus for the afternoon tour, which started at the Heian Shrine, another bright red, Chinese-influenced affair, but this one had a lovely lake and a bridge out back that Patrick was really crazy about.
So the Heian Shrine is new by shrine standards. It was built in 1895 to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto and honors two emperors: the founder of Kyoto and the last emperor to live there before the capital of Japan was moved to Tokyo.
Many of the buildings are 2/3-scale replicas of the original Kyoto Imperial Palace, which was destroyed back in 1227.
There are three gardens out back, but this one was Patrick’s favorite—and his favorite stop of the day!
Back on the bus!
Next they carted us over to what may have been the most impressive site – Sanjūsangen-dō Temple which, in addition to being the longest wooden building in Japan, houses 1,000 life-size statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, plus one ginormous Kannon in the middle. It was amazing to see the sheer number of them! They didn’t let us take pictures, so here’s one I got from Wiki Commons:
Guess what happened after that…
The last stop on the tour was, well… we thought the previous places had been crowded, and they were, but this one was three times as crowded—and our guide later told us we were lucky not to be there on a busy day! It was the Kiyomizudera Temple, up on a big hill, with shops all the way up and crowds at the top.
Kiyomizu-dera has a rich and interesting history, most of which was completely left out of our tour guide’s spiel, which she hollered over the heads of the crowd. I learned a ton of stuff about it on Wiki just now. Kiyomizu-dera temple has been there since 798, although the present buildings were constructed in 1633—without a single nail!
One of the main attractions of this temple is its killer view of Kyoto.
The other attraction is the “stage” (the deck) of this building. In the Edo period, it was believed that if you jumped off the stage and survived, your wish would come true. 85% of people’s wishes came true! The practice has since been banned, but according to Wiki, the expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is as common an expression in Japanese as “to take the plunge” is in English.
There were also three fountains to drink from for health, wealth and something else. (Wiki sez… health, wisdom and longevity—and if you drink from more than two, some people think this means you’re greedy and will risk bad fortune.) I went all the way to Blarney Castle in Ireland and refused to kiss the Blarney Stone, so you can bet I wasn’t waiting in some line in Kyoto to drink from some sketchy fountains!
On the way back down the hill we poked our heads in various shops…
We also started down this street but decided we didn’t have enough time til we were s’posed to be back at the bus. I’m wondering if this was the picturesque old Kyoto we were hoping to see.
Our tour guide conferring with our bus driver…
We got back on the bus and then spent half an hour sitting in gridlock on the short hill back to the main road—yeeeesh! However, we’d booked our return trip for 7:30pm, so even getting back to the hotel a little late, we still had some time to kill. I’d spotted Toji Temple on our souvenir map of Kyoto and decided it was the structure on which the five-story pagoda in Epcot’s Japan pavilion was based and that we must see it. (Turns out Epcot’s is actually based on the Goju-no-to Temple in Miyajima—d’oh!)
Before we left the tour, I asked our guide about it, and she told us how to get there by taking the train two stops away. We got off the train and just started running toward it, even though we weren’t sure exactly what street it was on.
When we finally got there, we found it closed. Whoops! So here are a bunch of pix from the street of a temple that has nothing to do with Disney and we couldn’t even get into…
Then we ran back to the train, took the train back to the main station and went searching for some dinner we could take with us on the bullet train.
We totally fell asleep on the train ride home—it was so soothing!
OK, I know this was prolly the most boring update yet, but hang in there, cuz this trip report is going out with a bang! And it starts with…