We'd been encouraged to stay at a ryukan if we had the opportunity and it's a recommendation I'll happily pass along. The Rikiya ryukan – which was actually our second choice – couldn't have been more perfectly situated, directly in between several of the major temples in Kyoto. Run by two very elderly women and retaining an authentic traditional feel, we were really impressed by the both the atmosphere and the quiet. The room felt spacious after the narrow confines of our hotel in Tokyo. I found the bed to be far more comfortable too.
After settling in, we walked up a long flight of stairs to find...
The Ryozen Kwannon, a shrine to the Unknown Soldier of WW2. The bodhisattva itself is hollow and can be entered from the back, inside are representations corresponding to the Chinese astrology (I think, the place wasn't big on english explanations). The occassional monk would pass by, as well as young women in traditional komonos and carrying umbrellas.
All around were craft stores and eateries, again retaining a traditional style as much as possible. Streets and paths wove in every direction, and every handful of steps there would be another shrine, some just an alcove in a wall, others larger than many of the stores around them.
The food here was incredible, so satisfying and so inexpensive. The first night we ate at a tiny 6 table restaurant, with a somewhat confusing faux-Italian style (but traditional Japanese cuisine). At first, I was a little worried we had located ourselves in the middle of a tourist area, which we kind of had, but we saw far more Japanese visitors than we did any others. The area clearly held great significance for many, and for lunch the next day we ate tempura & udon amidst dozens of high school students on a field trip to the temples.
We spent most of our time just exploring the district we were in, the many parks with winding paths that lead up into the hills, the cemeteries attached to the temples (I think there were 4-5 just the few blocks around us).
On the second and last night in Kyoto, we walked down to nearby Murayama Park, before heading down to check out Gion, the night district. At that point I began to understand just how little of Kyoto we had actually seen... Streets ran in every direction, with far too much to see and do in the little time we had. We ate in small restaurant lined with signed pictures of sumo wrestlers; signed hand-prints seems to be a thing with them too. While we tend to look for places that offer english menus, both Elaine & I are familiar enough with Japanese food to wing it when we have too. So far, we haven't been disappointed with a single meal we've had, and that includes the McDonalds we bought to leech off their free wifi access. I've never seen McDonalds burgers that look so much like the idealised pictures on the menus...and they put maple syrup on their bacon & egg muffins! A truly enlightened civilisation.
(As I'm writing this, we're just passing again through Himeji on our return to Tokyo...outside we can see the castle - which we've been told is one of the few original castles remaining after the war - sitting timelessly on a nearby hill.)
After our two nights in Kyoto, we packed to head off to Hiroshima. Each time we've had to leave a city, I've wondered if we would've been better off spending more time in the current city instead...but every time I've been so glad we made the trip. It's very clear, however, that a week just isn't enough to even begin to scrape the surface of everything that is happening here.
(The photos are a little low-res; I'm writing these in OpenOffice and then uploading to Google Docs to post to LJ...it's making somewhat of a cat's breakfast out of it...)