Day 5 was spent exploring the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. We started with a hike up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park, twatayama, where the guidebook explained to us we'd find monkeys running around with us while we could feed them from within a cage.
This was only partially true, it turned out. Yes, you could go into a building and feed the monkeys while they stuck their hands through wire mesh, but it was also possible to leave the building and just observe the monkeys in their natural habitat. It turned out to be great fun. Though, I think Shira was just finally excited to see a site that didn't involve a temple or a shrine.
Speaking of shrines, as we left the monkey park, we noticed yet another shrine, this one decked out with both rice paddles and wooden tiles. Written on the rice paddles were various wishes (one hoping to get into law school, another hoping that his girlfriend would fall back in love with him). For $5, you could purchase your own paddle or tile, and write your own wish on it. (Of course, this being Japan, it's all on the honor system.) So, in the spirit of our lock-bridge in Paris, we purchased a tile and left a wish. I'm not sure how long these tiles hang out there before they are collected, but if you're in Japan, feel free to stop by and visit our wish at the base of the Monkey park.
Lunch on Day 5 was quite the adventure. We went for Zen Buddhist Vegetarian cuisine, which was served in fairly formal Japanese style. The two Japanese ladies having lunch next to us, sat on their knees the whole time and had their tray of food resting directly on the mat they were sitting on. The restaurant knew this was a bit much for us, and was kind enough to bring out little TV trays to rest our food on. Still, I have no idea how they sat in that same position for an entire meal without their legs falling asleep.
As for the food...well, just wow. I won't lie to you; eating that meal was a bit like being on a Game Show. In front of us were a number of dishes, with only the rice being recognizable. I couldn't tell if the food was hot or cold, spicy or sweet, solid or gelatinous. Each bite, nibble or slurp was a roll of the dice. Most of the items were quite good (the large round, solid objects in broth, for example), with only a few of them being completely inedible (what appeared to be seaweed salad with a very heavy dose of slime, as well as an especially gelatinous square with a dab of green on top). Overall, the meal was truly unique and I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world.
Dinner was in many respects the opposite of lunch, as it was almost effortless. We asked the restaurant for a Thai suggestion, and they not only provided one but called ahead to make sure they had vegetarian options. They told us what bus to get on, and gave us a detailed map to the restaurant. When we got off at the correct bus stop, a nice Japanese man noticed our confusion and asked if he could help us. He pointed us in the right direction, and then after a few moments, we realized we were actually headed to the same restaurant. We walked there together, kibbizting along the way. When we arrived at the restaurant, they had both an English menu and a vegetarian-English menu, as well as a waitress who more or less spoke English. Even the seating was perfect, as we sat out on the deck during a perfect Kyoto evening and ate wonderful Thai food. It was magical. The only catch was that we had to take our shoes off at the entrance to the restaurant and wear borrowed slippers to walk out on the deck. Turns out, they don't have a pair of size 11 slippers, so I had to make do with a comically smaller pair.
Let's talk toasters for a second. On the way back to hour hotel, I wanted to step into another store on the scale of Bic Camera that we visited the day before: Yodobashi. While there, I was curious what kind of options they have for toaster ovens (the one we have at home is on its last legs). When we looked at Best Buy they had 4 or 5 choices at most. In Yodobashi they had, and I've got photos to prove it, 60+ different models to choose from. And, we're talking in configurations that I could only dream of (double-decker trays, anyone? half-rounded tray for cooking pizza?, and so on). A quick Google Search showed that that the Japanese do indeed have a fondness for toaster ovens (apparently they are compact and often do double duty as the primary oven in the house). But, consider the puzzle selection on the Toy & Hobby floor. In Toys-R-Us there's what, a wall of different puzzles you can choose from? Here there were, and again, I have the photos prove it, 6 large aisles of puzzles to choose from. I'm telling you, they take shopping to a level we just can't appreciate.
Today was our last day in Kyoto, with our trip continuing on to Hiroshima first thing in the morning. I leave Kyoto just in absolute awe of it's history and the temples that it offers. I can't recall ever being to a place where houses of worship were both in this quantity and on this scale. It's truly something you have to see to believe.