Having written a book on organization,Organize Yourself So You Can Have Fun, I have often had friends mention to me how much they thought I would enjoy visiting Japan. I finally took the bait, and embarked on a two week journey, visiting over 7 cities. I can honestly say that it changed my life. My journey started in Kyoto, the city of the geisha, or as they say in western Japan, Maiko (apprentice geisha) and Geiko. Checking into the Ritz Carlton, Kyoto, was an experience in itself. A smiling woman in a Japanese kimono greeted us and escorted us to a gorgeous lobby sofa for a welcome beverage and a check in. Once in our room, we viewed the meticulous Japanese garden in our private patio, the zen-like furniture, and (best of all) the hot temperature toilet seat with washing gears and self flushing mechanisms. The room was equipped with separate coffee and tea makers, each with matching china cups and saucers. Two earth-colored kimonos hung in the closet for our use. As a feeling of true serenity washed over us, we officially decided at that moment that we loved Japan!
For our first day exploring Kyoto, we learned the difference between shrines (Shinto) and temples (Buddhist). We started with the Nijo Castle, a wooden ornate temple originally built in 1603, as the first Kyoto residence of Shogun, Ieyasu. It’s one of the finest examples of the early Edo period, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I loved the orange trim and pillars.
Our next stop was Sanjusangendo Temple. Once inside the temple, I saw 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity, Bodhisattva, made of Japanese cypress and painted gold. Of the 1001, 124 were made in the 12th century, and the other 876 were made in the 13th century. To house these statues, the temple is 394 feet long, and walking inside was breathtaking.
The most striking temple I saw was the Kinkaku, also know as the Golden Pavilion, or Rokuon-ji Temple. Built in 1397, it is said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. Seeing this temple in the Fall, with the golden foliage seemed like the perfect time to visit.
The Ryoanji Temple is a different sort of temple, in that it is a zen rock garden made for meditating. There are 15 rocks in the garden, but a visitor can only see 14 at any given time, as this represents the unknown in life. It was built in 1499. I thought about trying to meditate here, but it was very crowded with tourists, and I’m not that great at concentrating.
For pure whimsy, I loved the Otagi nenbutsu-ji Temple. When I entered the grounds, I was surrounded by 1200 carved stone figures of Rokan, made by people from various parts of the country. Winding my way through the moss covered statues, I came upon a golden Bodhisattva. I was told that the eyes of the Bodhisattva were not symmetrical, as this represents the duality of Buddha with both strictness and tenderness. (They looked symmetrical to me. Can you tell the difference?) The Otagi is known as the temple of healing.
Like the multiple statues at Otagi nenbutsu-ji, the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine features tens of thousands of torii, or gates. It’s awe inspiring to see and to walk through.
My friend, Karen’s, favorite site in Kyoto was the Ginkaku-ji Temple with it’s meandering moss, sand garden, and dragon’s walk of stones. Built in 1482, the temple was eventually going to be covered in silver, hence it is referred to as the Silver Pavilion.
We participated in a private tea ceremony in a Chikujoso, Kyoto home. Our gracious hosts explained that the tea, scroll, flowers, and sweet cake were planned for us a month in advance with the theme of “couples.” We learned to slow down and take our time admiring the tea cups, tea scoop, design of the coals and ashes, etc.. We had to hold back our giggles during some of this, as the focusing on these details while the hosts watched us was somewhat awkward to say the least. Sitting on our knees for 45 minutes on tatami mats also proved to be quite a feat. None of us succeeded.
We tried various types of Japanese food for our dinners. We had a tempura night at Yoshikawa, Kushi (skewers) at Kushikatsu, and Kaiseki in a private room at Misogigawa.
As we toured Kyoto, I had my camera ready for the unexpected. Here are some of the delights that caught my eye.