Kobe and Kyoto

After leaving Okinawa, we have a sea day as we proceed to Kobe, Japan.At 9:00am the following morning, we arrive at Kobe port. The Capitan has successfully sailed us through the narrow shallow straits and past the many tiny islands in Osaka Wan Bay. All who are going ashore are lined up to meet the many tour buses which are going to take us inland to Kyoto. Kobe was one of the first ports open to foreign contact and is still thought to be the area most tolerant of foreigners. Commander Perry, a US Navy commander, was able to negoiate an opening of the port to us for trade in the 1850′s.
Kyoto is located 47 miles inland from Kobe. It is the old Japanese Imperial Capital founded in 794a.d. Today we are taking a tour of Kyoto. It is scheduled for 10 and 1/2 hours which seems quite long to us but, we learn that the 47 mile road trip will take almost 2 hours each way due to the very dense traffic. It is Sunday and everyone is out to enjoy the beautiful weather. A nice Spring weekend day brings all the Japanese out in their cars. During the week most of them commute to work using mass transit. We are told that most have 2 hour travel times and must arrive at work by 9:00am. They work until 7:00pm and then must travel back home. Today, however, they will take the car out and sit on the expressway in traffic. The car is their principal luxury indulgence.
At a service station plaza we stop for a break and run into an exotic car club. The cars are all parked together and the owners are visiting instead of sitting out on the expressway burning through $8.00 per gallon gas. A Harley Davidson group rolls up and joins them with their dolled up machines. No time for us to dally. We have to get to the restroom facilities. In Asia women’s restrooms can be challenging. In China, ladies think that sitting on the same seat as someone before them is unsanitary. Therefore, most stalls are equipped with a squatting toilet. In China there is no toilet paper or other means of drying one’s self or one’s hands so, you must plan accordingly. We are now in Japan and the facilities are wonderful. They have the toilets that play music, have warmed seats, and the seats rise and fall by themselves. They act as a bidet and even have a warm breeze for drying. Automated sinks provide water, soap and air driven dryers. I am delighted to not have to provide all my own requirements. It also helps to hurry the process of accomodating bus loads of people.
Back to the bus and on to Kyoto. Our first stop is the Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji. This was the retirement villa of a shogun built in 1394. It is lovely with gold leaf covered walls inside and out. It is topped by a bronze Phoenix. We are informed that the original building burned down in the War but an exact replica was rebuilt in 1950.It is very pretty and could be peaceful but, the crowds are enormous today. I like this place because the gardeners have covered the grounds with a patchwork of different mosses and have fashioned a black pine tree into the shape of a living ship. The ever present rocks are featured prominently and the ponds have several kinds of ducks and herons.
Next we travel a few miles to a nice hotel for lunch in a traditional lunch box style. We enter a room where lovely black and red trimmed lacquered boxes with lids are at each table setting. The box has four compartments offering various types of sushi, tempura, rice, pickles, and tofu. I love the box and its unique presentation. I enjoy most of the foods and James is even trying some of it but mostly drinking the sake. He is at least being very polite which is more I can say for most of the other guests. It is not like this over weight bunch is going to starve if they miss a meal.
Next we visit the NUO Castle which was build by a Shogun in 1603. He has very ornate carved painted and gilded gates and we must remove our shoes before entering. We walk along the old wooden floors which are known as the Nightinggale Floors. They were built in such a manner that they emit a distinctive squeak which sounds like a bird. This would warn the Shogun of any approaching Samurai which were attempting to kill him. I think the floors are wonderful! The castle has beautiful screens of huge black pines very often associated with the Shogun because they symbolize strength and longevity.Pines are one of the few evergreen trees native to Japan. This castle was built as a place where the Shogun could meet with the feudal lords who were his vassals. It is also historic in modern times as this was the place where the last Shogun gave up all power to the Meiji Emperor. Much of the castle is being refurbished. The buildings are all wooden and built upon piles driven into the swampy land. The windows are all screens and the roof is thatched reeds. One can imagine that it would be very cold in winter. The gardens are remarkable as well with rocks and handsomely shaped pines. Beyond the wall is a cherry and plum orchard which is just at the brink of blooming.
Next we head to the Sanjusargen-do Temple. When we arrive the gate clearly says that the temple is closed but we are scheduled to visit and by god we are going to do so. Several phone calls are made and we are given a ridiculous 15 minutes to visit the temple. Shoes off again and I walk briefly past the 1001 life sized wooden gold leaafed statues of the Buddha diety. Originally built in the 15th century, only 124 survived the fire but all have been replaced as before. Over the next few days, I am saddened to hear the importance of this temple. We were simply not given the time to understand the real meaning of the numbers 33 and 100 which figured importantly in the design of the temple. I would like to return here to properly visit this site.