Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From Rock Gardens to River Ruckus

This was a jam-packed day. From the Ryokan we headed out to the famous Kinkakuji temple, with the absolutely stunning scene of a gold leafed temple gleaming in the sunlight and mirrored in the reflecting pond that it rises from, spotted with smaller islands and gnarled pines. From there we walked to Ryoanji, home to the famous raked rock garden, that though being smaller than expected, was something to see.
After heading back to Kyoto we ate lunch at one of those restaurants that serves a little bit of everything. Before coming to Japan I had always thought it silly to see those plastic models of food at Asian restaurants, but now I get it. Not only is it more efficient for people in general to see a picture of what they want, but moreover absolutely essential for the hungry non-Japanese speaker. It was hot out, and humid, so i ordered cold WHITE soba noodles with vegetables and swapped out the accompanying sliced ham for my beloved fish sausage. It all came in a sweet soy broth, on top of, get this, a big ice cube! They weren't kidding when they said cold soba... but hey, it was refreshing, and tasty to boot. (Its also awesome that the dishes actually do come out looking exactly like the plastic models.)
After that we decided to check out something called The Monkey Park, which turned out to involve climbing a mountain which made me happy, and at the top we saw a few wild red-faced, red-butted Monkeys and bought some chestnuts to feed them with from the vendor in the shack. And then, it was feeding time; not for me, but for them! This was hilarious, because the guy turned on music on the loudspeaker and Monkeys came running out of the trees. Imagine hundreds of monkeys going crazy and fighting over scattered food, all with the Can Can song blasting in the background! Pure gold.
Then we took a train to Osaka where we checked into our hotel and then made our way to the river where Yoko had reserved us spaces on a reviewing float to view the hundreds of lit-up boats that sail the river once a year as part of a special festival. They served us an awesome bento box with a little bit of everything from tempura to marinated beef and onions, from whole shrimps and sashimi to sweet-tofu rice balls and a pickle assortment. There was also an open bar that supplied me with healthy doses of shochu and so aided in my enthusiasm for the festivities which involved a special chant and series of claps for EVERY boat that went past. After the first 25 boats we got the idea, but all in all it was fun and quite an experience to be in the middle of a Japanese festival and crammed together with millions of people as fireworks explode all around you.

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