Kyoto, Japan, October 2011 travel blog

Silver Pavilion (never really covered in silver!)

First indication of what was in store around the corner

Raking detail

This is raked sand!

Other parts of the garden at Ginkakuji

From the hill above Ginkakuji

Yojiya Cafe logo...

...translated onto the top of our matcha cappucino!

Mrs. Andoh's back yard garden

Mrs. Andoh's home


Douglas has done this trip often enough over the past 10+ years that he knows when we should be at various places to avoid crowds. We started out early today and were first in line at the Gingkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion). Our goal was to beat the hordes of school children and be able to enjoy the garden in peace. We were successful in beating the crowds, enjoying the early morning peacefulness, and being first in line at the bathrooms and gift store. Good work, Douglas!

This garden is famous for its raked gravel, including a large upright formation that has been called various things, including Mt. Fuji.

Leaving the Silver Pavilion, we strolled Kyoto's Philosopher's Walk, a 2 km-long path through north-eastern Kyoto. Kyoto's Philosopher's Walk covers five significant temples and two shrines. It is a path along which a philosophy professor, Kitaro Nishida, used to frequently walk. It is a surprisingly pleasant and relaxing walk even today. The walk runs south from Ginkakuji Temple beside a river to Nyakuoji Jinja Shrine. It is especially famous for being beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Highlights of the Philosopher's Walk that we visited, in order heading south:

Honen-in Gate: Honen-in Temple is a beautiful secluded temple with a thatched roof gate. We enjoyed the lovely garden beyond the gate, though we had little time to explore it. Here's a link to some lovely photos: http://www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/japan_picture/thumbnails-74.html

Many guidebooks suggest that the walk continues further south from Nyakuoji Jinja Shrine to Nanzenji Temple, but this southerly section of the walk is less consistently signposted.

Douglas guided us to a lovely two-storey home which is now a small restaurant/tea shop. We went upstairs to the second floor tatami area, where he suggested that we all order their specialty, the Matcha Cappuccino. We were amazed when the cups arrived, beautifully decorated with the shop’s logo made with the frothed milk. No barista in the US has provided me with such a beautifully decorated hot beverage. Almost too pretty to drink, but we sacrificed art for our thirst.

While relaxing with our matcha cappuccino, Douglas gave us a lecture about the architectural details of this style of home and how it relates to the sukiya style garden behind it. He described roof and ceiling construction, various types of windows, halls and stairways, etc. Following our tea break, we had a few minutes to wander the garden behind the house.

Continuing on our stroll, we came to the first major highlight of the day. Through the years, Douglas has made friends with people in Kyoto who have then opened their homes and gardens to his tour participants. We spent a couple of hours with Mrs. Andoh, a charming lady who lives in a gorgeous house with her husband. They run a textile company which creates the designs for the fabrics used to cover futons.

Mrs. Andoh’s hobby is her garden. It is spectacular, with perfectly pruned trees, a lovely pond, and some of the largest, healthiest koi we’ve seen. Mrs. Andoh was charming, and clearly enjoyed answering our questions about her life and her garden.

We continued through the neighborhood, then stopped for lunch at the Junsei Restaurant. From its website: The building that is now the Japanese restaurant was originally a medical school, established in 1839 by Ryotei Shingu (1787-1854). At this school, talented students studied anatomy, physiology, pathology, surgery, internal medicine, natural history, chemistry, and pharmacy.

The main building with tiled and thatched roofs appears one storied, but part of the building actually comprises three stories. Featuring traditional shoin-zukuri architecture, the main building, with its attached tea-ceremony room, has been designated a tangible national cultural property.

Even though Nanzenji Junsei main restaurant specializing in tofu dishes opened in this building just after World War II, the major architectural features have been retained, including the garden and even the furniture in the room where Doctor Ryotei lectured. "In addition to a medical school, Junsei Shoin functioned as a salon where various artists and men of culture gathered," said the restaurant owner. "We still have a collection of calligraphy and paintings created by such people." We enjoyed the lovely garden as well as more traditional tofu dishes.

Leaving the countryside, we returned to the city, and spent the late afternoon at Junji Kagata's Bamboo Warehouse. He and his family live in the back of the store, along with his parents and grandparents. It is a typical 4-generation family business. He carries many types of bamboo used for architectural applications as well as basketry. His father has an impressive collection of bamboo baskets over which I salivated! He had one of the few guitars that Yamaha ever made out of bamboo and he graced us with a short concert. We were also pleased to meet his wife, children, and parents.

Another full day of fascinating experiences.

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