Today we explored Kyoto on foot, no minor feat considering how large the city is. The plan was simple: we'd start at our hotel and essentially walk North. By the end of the day, we should be near a vegetarian restaurant the guidebook suggested and should have hit a number of interesting sites along the way.
Our first stop was the Higashi Hongaji temple. From the street, the temple didn't look like much. But, step through the gates and you realize the grounds are huge and the buildings massive. Inside, they are down right stunning, with an alter area that defies my description.
To my further amazement, this experience repeated itself again at the next temple we stopped at, the Nigishi Hogan-ji. Again, the buildings were absolutely epic. This time we caught the tail end of a service, which contained wonderfully soothing chanting.
From the temples we made our way to the Nishiki Market, which was an eclectic combination of market stalls. In one stall, you could buy fresh veggies, the next raw sea urchin, the next cooked sea urchin, the next a pair of shoes, and then next may be a tiny sushi restaurant. It was a wonderful collection of sites, sounds and smells. For a snack, we stopped at a stall which offered what appeared to be mushroom and potato cakes on a stick. What we ended up eating was some gelatinous, fish tasting item that defies explanation. There are many wonderful foods in Japan that we've tried, this wasn't one of them.
From the market we made our way to Nijo-Jo castle. Like the temples earlier in the day, the outside of the castle was quite plain. But step inside, and you're quickly treated to a bright, colorful and gorgeous outer gate. The inside of the castle itself and the surrounding gardens were also quite beautiful.
After much walking and exploring, it was finally time to track down that vegetarian restaurant. And of course, when we arrived at the address and stopped a passing Kyoto resident, we learned that the restaurant was no more. D'oh. Luckily, there was another vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away, so we had dinner there instead.
Throughout the city we found an number of smaller, working religious shrines. While not on the scale of the temples we visited, they are quite interesting in their own way. It's fun to try to figure out what's going: I think that woman just said a prayer, dropped some coins in a slot, and then rung the bell. And that woman over there, rubbed the forehead of a stone lion, and then rubbed her own forehead, then rubbed the cheeks of the lion and then her own cheeks. And are those small sheets of paper filled with prayers and then tied onto that structure? I suppose I could Google all this to find out what it means, but for now it's more fun to just observe and try to piece this together on my own.