Thursday, January 8, 2015

Japan (Part 3)

We took one more day trip from Tokyo during our stay in Japan.  On Saturday, we boarded the shinkansen and headed to Kyoto.

We had two activities planned in Kyoto:  Brian and Bruce wanted to see the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum (they, along with their father, are huge train buffs.  Is it genetic or environmental?) and we wanted to tour a Buddhist temple or two.  So first, the museum, which featured over a dozen steam engines, one of which you could actually ride.
Steam engine at Umekoji
It was a great museum.  You could climb into many of the engines and "drive."
Full steam ahead!
It had a lovely courtyard garden.  Much of it was brown (it was December, after all), but the camellias were blooming.
We left the train museum and walked through Umekoji Park.  We spotted a traditional garden, and found that we could tour it  for 200 yen.   It was out of season, but it was still very beautiful.  And well worth the 200 yen.  We never found out what the name of the garden was. 
When you visit a garden in a freezing drizzle, you have it all to yourself

Some of the Japanese maples were still colorful
 We walked through the park and into a more urban part of Kyoto.  It was full of narrow residential streets and alleys.  We wandered around, admiring the traditional homes, until we spotted a temple a few blocks away. It was Nishi Honganji, the "Western Temple of the Original Vow."
The temple complex occupies an entire city block.  We wandered in.  It was a beautiful place.

Dragon fountain 
The largest ginkgo tree I have ever seen.  It's giant limbs were propped up with large poles.
It included a research center, a visitors center, two large worship buildings (they had altars) and a beautiful entrance gate (the "Karamon").
 We removed our shoes and entered both of the main buildings.  It was fascinating.  Several of the monks were holding a class and although we couldn't understand what they were saying, we stayed and watched a while.
The elevated walkway between the two worship centers.  We
 couldn't figure out what the creature on the corner of the roof was.
Across the street from Nishi Honganji, we found an entire street dedicated to the sale of religious paraphenalia.  The street was lined with shops selling statues of Buddha, altar pieces, bells, boxes....
Altar piece
This was in a niche outside one of the stores.  A cistern?
Kyoto Station was quite beautiful.  I especially liked the ceiling.

We got off the shinkansen at Shin-Yokohama instead of heading back to Tokyo.  And went to one of the most bizarre amusement parks/museums/restaurants I've ever seen.  The Ramen Museum, which describes itself as the world's first food themed amusement park.  In fact, the English pamphlet says it is a "Ramusement Park."  There is a small museum dedicated to, what else, ramen at the street level, and the lower levels are a historical theme park, a recreation of a working-class Tokyo neighborhood from 1958, the year ramen was first introduced to Japan, crowded with tiny shops, houses and restaurants.  It's bustling, a bit worn and predates the industrialization of Japan.  Very nostalgic.  The bottom level teemed with entertainers, sake bars and small shops selling pastries.  And the best part, there were eight ramen shops.  They were all satellites of famous ramen shops from different parts of Japan, and all served distinctive versions of ramen.
Looking down from the 1st lower level.
Very retro.
As I said, it was bizarre.  But the ramen was amazing!  Nothing like the stuff I ate in college.

The next day we headed back to the US.  Christmas in Japan was a fabulous experience.  I hope to go back some day.
Merry Christmas!

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