I am back from Kyoto! What an amazing trip. It was short but sweet: 3 days, 2 nights, but I was very content with everything that we did there. There is so much to see and do in Kyoto, there was no way we could have done it all in three days--but that just means that I'm going to have to go back there.
On the first day that we were there, we did most of our sightseeing. We visited Kinkaku-ji, the "Golden Pavillion," which was built in the early 1200's. It was built by a shogun so that he could live there. Kinkaku-ji is surrounded by many gardens, which make it serene and peaceful. They even had a tree that is shaped like a ship, which I found interesting. Kinkaku-ji has three floors, and each floor has a different style of architecture: the 1st floor is a kind of palace style; the 2nd floor is a style of the samurai house; and the 3rd floor is Zen temple style.
Next, we headed over to Ryoan-ji, the "Peaceful Dragon Temple." This was built in the 15th century, and is supposed to one of Japan's masterpieces. It is a simple Zen garden, with fifteen rocks laid out in different areas of the garden. From any angle that you look at the garden, you won't be able to see all fifteen rocks. I tried looking at it from several different angles and it's true. No one really knows the what the garden represents, but many believe that the artist left it up to individual interpretation.
That night, we were exhausted from our crazy schedule (we had to catch a 6:05 A.M. bus from Matsumoto to Kyoto), a total of six hours on the highway bus. After a short power nap, we decided to venture out to Gion. This district is known for its a shopping/nightlife, and also a popular "geisha sighting" area, however, we didn't see any geisha.
The next morning, we went back to the Gion area because I had an appointment to get dressed up in a kimono! I was so excited to do this! Ever since I'd heard about the chance to wear a kimono in Kyoto, I really wanted a chance to experience this. The kimono rental place was called "Yume Kyoto." My rental package included a kimono & hairstyle of my choice. The process was interesting: first, you put on kimono "lingerie", which is basically a thin white cotton robe. After the lady practically tightened the robe so tight that it was impossible to breathe, I knew that wearing a kimono for the seven hours wasn't going to be exactly comfortable. Next, I had to put on another robe with a collar (I opted for a white one), and went through more tightening and securing in place. Several more layers, tightening, fastening, stuffing, and fifteen minutes of torture later, I was wearing a kimono. I can't deny that it looked great, but it was hard to move around since I my torso was super stiff. They styled my hair, which took another 10 minutes. There was a photo album with different kimono hairstyles, which in my opinion, kind of reminded me of prom up-do's, but I just wanted something more plain and not "out there." Lastly, I got to choose a purse to carry around for the day (that reminded me of the "Sex & the City" movie with the rental purses), and slippers. Traditionally, Japanese people wear kimono slippers slightly smaller than their actual shoe size, so walking carefully and taking smaller steps was necessary--especially for me, someone who is accident-prone, if you know my history.
After that, we went to a J-League soccer game. Alex had convinced us (more like forced us) to watch Kyoto vs. Yokohama while we were in Kyoto. What were the chances that Kyoto was having a home game at the time that we were visiting? We sat on the Kyoto side, and it was packed with Kyoto Sanga supporters. Every time I go to a soccer game, I love seeing the crowd shouting and singing songs to support their team. Here in Japan, in the stadium section dedicated to hardcore fans, you'll usually see drummers, people with megaphones, and people waving huge flags in support of their team. Kyoto Sanga ended up winning with a score of 2-0, which was really cool. The goals were pretty sweet too. It also ended up raining, which sucked, because we had our kimonos on. I ended up buying a Kyoto Sanga raincoat because it was the only thing available in terms of rain protection. After the game, we went back to Yume Kyoto to return my kimono. I was kind of sad that it was time to take off the kimono, but they gave me some discount coupons for next time so I am definitely coming back there!
The rest of the day, we went back to our hotel and relaxed for a while before eating dinner. We didn't realize how hungry we were, and decided that somewhere close by was the best option since we were starving. We ate at a Chinese restaurant and decided on doing the buffet. It was definitely worth our money. I probably had three or four rounds, and that wasn't even including dessert! After dinner, I was feeling pretty lousy. I shouldn't have eaten as much as I did because I was ready to go to bed. We went for a walk along the river, in search of some cool bars, but didn't find any. After returning back to our hotel rooms and watching some silly Japanese shows, we all retired.
The last day was really laid-back, and we didn't do much of anything. We woke up and took advantage of the hotel's breakfast buffet, then went back to the Gion area to buy some omiyage
(gifts). I had no idea how it was possible, but after two buffets in a row, I managed to fit in some matcha soft serve ice cream, the best in town. They have cues for this place, but luckily we got ours right away. By mid-afternoon, we were on our bus back to Matsumoto. Exhausted from our three day adventure, we crashed on the bus ride back. Kyoto is truly an amazing place, and I absolutely recommend going there to all of my friends who visit Japan!