Kyoto, Japan, October 2011 travel blog

One of the oldest tea stores in Kyoto, Ippodo Tea Co.

Teas are kept in beautiful old pottery jars.

Building where we had our kimono-dressing lesson.

Why are these trees wrapped?

Carefully wrapped, why?

Perhaps a beetle infestation?

Modern Japanese young woman, riding her bike to her office job, while...

Gate to the old Imperial Palace.

Awoke early, eager to return to Portland but sad to leave Japan. It’s been a fantastic experience, with new adventures, new friends, and a greater knowledge of beautiful Japanese gardens.

After the usual hotel breakfast, and confirmation of our airport shuttle time, Alan and I took a walk through the Imperial Palace grounds across the street from the hotel. This was the seat of government for hundreds of years, starting in 794. Now, it’s a public park, with baseball diamonds, croquet courts, and wide paths. It’s a very popular place for bicycling and dog walking. Of course, there are also the old palace buildings (which I didn’t take the time to explore), and the new official government guest house, only open to visiting heads of state.

Wandered onto Teramachi, a popular shopping street I had not yet visited. Like so many other streets in Kyoto, old buildings are next door to new ones, shops that sell traditional Japanese goods like tea and osembei appear next to contemporary boutiques and a Mercedes dealer.

Spent some delightful time at Ippodo, a 140-year-old tea store that sells the wonderful green tea grown in Uji, just south of Kyoto. Quoting from one of Diane Durston’s books, “Ippo-do was once designated by the Imperial Household Agency as a purveyor to the imperial family (though such designations were officially discontinued after World War II). Until the twentieth century, tea was a luxury in which only the upper classes indulged. Said to have been brought back from China by the Buddhist monk Eisai in 1191, tea gained prominence as a beverage among the samurai when Sen no Rikyu perfected the tea ceremony some four centuries later. For the next five hundred years, it was drunk in its powdered form, called matcha. In the mid-eighteenth century, the process of making sencha, the rolled-leaf type of green tea, was discovered. When a tea processing machine was introduced in the early 1920s, the common people were finally initiated to the formerly exclusive pleasures of green tea.”

We visited other stores in the vicinity, including those that sell tea ceremony implements, calligraphy ink and implements, antiques, and beautiful paper. I bought a dragon, since 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, but it’s a good thing my bags were packed (full) or I would have stressed out my Visa card even more! Reluctantly, we walked back to hotel and grabbed a snack before the shuttle van picked us up at 1 PM.

Two hours later, we had driven from Kyoto to Osaka and back to Kansai airport. One more quick purchase at Uni-qlo (say it out loud and you’ll know what they sell), then through security and onto the big bird that winged its way, in record time due to a strong tail wind, back to the US. The long lay-over in SFO was tedious, but we made it back to Portland a bit early.

I would like to return to Kyoto, as it seems a more manageable city than Tokyo to visit. So many other possibilities for exploration exist within walking, bus, or train distance from the central city.

Nice to be home, though I find myself saying, “a week ago I was….” The trip was memorable in so many ways—of course, the wonderful gardens, the expertise of Douglas and Tamao, new friends, almost perfect weather! I was sorry that the fall leaf colors were just beginning. Apparently, best color is seen late in November or December in Kyoto, but it's much more likely to be cold then. Of course, had we been wowed by the fall color, we might have been distracted from the design elements that Douglas stressed.

The trip has taught me to appreciate the intricacies of Japanese gardens and respect even more the skill and commitment it takes to maintain their beauty. I continue to enjoy and appreciate Japanese people and my experiences in the beautiful and fascinating country.

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