Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kyoto & Tokyo!

Final stop before going to San Diego for Christmas: Kyoto and Tokyo. On December 18, we hopped on the shinkansen (fast train) from Hiroshima to Kyoto to spend a few days there. Our first stop was at a top-rated ramen restaurant named Ippudo Nishiki Koji. We were fortunate to beat the lunch rush, so we were able to sit right down with no wait. We had delicious ramen and gyōza:

We visited Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Crowded but beautiful. It took some skills to take pictures not showing the crowd:

We climbed in a city bus toward Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion). Lauren could not resist browsing little shops on the way:

This shop was all bunnies.

So Ginkaku-ji is not actually silver, but has this name because the original owner intended to decorate it with silver foil in the 15th century:

The non-silver Silver Pavilion.

Methodically decorated sand gardens.

A sign at the entrance prohibits selfie sticks!

From there we walked along the Philosopher's Walk, but not without taking a silly picture with a lucky cat:

A problem cropped up for dinner. We had such good ramen for lunch that we were afraid to be disappointed by whatever dinner we would have. We had only one option: eat at the number 1 rated ramen restaurant in Kyoto: Ramen Sen No Kaze. When we arrived there was already a line of people waiting. The staff put us on the waiting list, we took a number, and to kill time we walked around the Nishiki Market. The wait was very long—almost 2 hours—but it was very much worth it!

Ramen Sen No Kaze is a very small restaurant—only 15 seats—run by the owners with no outside staff. In Lauren's words the food was "sooo good!". The pork was perfectly cooked and melty:

The next day we took a very short train ride to the outskirts of Kyoto to see the Fushimi Inari-taisha temple:

Later in the evening we attended a Japanese calligraphy class at WA Experience KAFU. This was one of my favorite activity in the past 6 months of traveling. The studio is located in a residential area, so it looked like we were walking into someone's living space—a very nicely decorated traditional Japanese home, with tatami flooring, a large waist-level butcher block workbench, and interesting pieces of art around the house. Our teacher and assistant welcomed us warmly and were both incredibly nice people. We were served tea and the teacher started to explain her background and basics of calligraphy. She is at least the 3rd generation in the family to be a calligraphy master.

We started learning how to make our own ink using an inkstick. She taught us the posture to adopt when drawing. She explained the various Japanese writing systems (kanji, hiragana, katakana, etc). We practiced drawing some lines, then simple characters and eventually we chose our own characters and practiced drawing them a few times. I chose wind (風) while Lauren chose flower (花) in cursive script.

Next morning we jumped again on the shinkansen to Tokyo.

Shinjuku electronic shops.

Golden Gai area: relic streets from the 1930s with some of the most narrow walking streets and very small bars that seat anywhere from 4-8 people.

Nakamise shopping street.

Near the Nakamise shopping street.

We took a rickshaw tour of the Asakusa district. We felt sorry for the poor guy who was pulling us in this cold weather, but he seemed to be enjoying his work and was cheerfully explaining the history of the buildings and restaurants in this district:

Tokyo Skytree, second tallest structure in the world (634.0 m / 2080 ft). Notice how the tip is shaped like the handle of a samurai sword.

Asahi headquarters: the building on the left is shaped like a beer mug with foam at the top, while the right one is supposed to be a flame but many residents call it the "poo building".

Akihabara district.

Downtown skyline by the Imperial Palace.

What is our next stop? The US! Yep, on December 22 we flew to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with Lauren's family in southern California. We do not quite yet know what our definitive next steps will be, but with any luck, they will include more traveling!

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