Around the World With the ArvaMonts
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We flew into Nagoya just in time for our tour of a Toyota factory.
The kids loved watching the welding robots. There were 8 stations, so 8 cars were being welded at once, with each station focusing on welding a different part. I was impressed that 4 different models could be made on the same assembly line simultaneously! All the cars were made to order! And at the end of the line to see a left steering car rolling off the line among the right steering ones was just amazing!
We had talked about spending a day in Tokyo on our way out of the country, but decided we liked Kyoto so much that we'd just skip Tokyo on this trip. There really is a lot to do in Kyoto, it is an attractive city, and very manageable in size.
Sitting in our hotel dining area on our first evening in Kyoto we were captivated by a poster of a bamboo forest in Arashiyama, so we made this small town our first stop!
The Bamboo Forest
As we wandered through the bamboo forest, we encountered this temple, surrounded by a lovely garden, so we went in to explore.
Okochi Sanso and the Jubutsu-do Shrine
A little farther on through the bamboo forest, we found yet another garden! This one was built by the famous Japanese martial arts actor Okochi Denjiro. It is nestled into the side of a hill, with a view overlooking Kyoto, if you just keep climbing. There are little tea houses and other structures spread throughout.
The price of admission included tea, so after we walked about for an hour we came to the tea house and were served matcha and a sweet. I had read in the guidebook that the tea cup must be held just so and the tea drunk in 3 gulps. So this is what I did. Then I ate my sweet. Hum, not exactly my favorite, but alright. Then I started to be embarrassed that Anika would not so much as try her tea. (Of course she wouldn't, she only drinks water and sometimes hot chocolate!) So I drank hers too. Well. This was a mistake. In small doses I could handle the matcha, but the double portion left me feeling decidedly unwell!
The Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake, and prosperity located in Fushimi. There are many Inari shrines, as Inari is an important god, who now governs success and prosperity in business. This shrine, which is one of the oldest in Kyoto, was originally founded in 711 CE. It is the lead Inari shrine and has responsibility for all 40,000 such shrines across Japan.
^ If you have a wish, say you would like to do well on your exams, then you should write this wish on a little wooden board and hang it on one of many pegs within the shrine. You can also buy a wish at the gift shop. If you want it to come true, you tie it onto a bush or string within the shrine. Alternatively, if you don't want it to come true, you tie it to one of the bushes or the strings within the shrine. (Yeah, I'm confused by that one too.)
The most remarkable thing, in our humble opinion, is that the Fushimi Inari shrine has some 10,000 orange torii over the long paths behind the actual shrine, leading up a hill and to several smaller shrines. These are all donated by businesses and individuals thankful for the prosperity Inari has brought them.
All along the path there were smaller shrines and memorials, usually also covered in miniature torii. The view of Kyoto from the top was lovely. Finally we had enough with the artificial feeling of walking through tunnels in the woods, and struck out on a torii-less path to head back down into town.
The Nijo Castle
This is the castle used by the Shogun when he came to Kyoto to visit the emperor. It is austere! There are a series of rooms defined by tatami walls, which contain magnificent paintings, but there is really not much in the way of furniture or fixtures. And the overall size of the castle is quite small.
In Our Neighborhood
Made of gum wrappers! The gas station next door. Look, the pumps are mounted on the ceiling to save space!
Fast food in Japan doesn't have the same connotations as in the US. In Japan, it simply means fast food, reasonably priced. So, we had to try it. Here we are eating at one of the many automat restaurants we encountered. You order and pay at the automat, turn in your receipt and then the wait staff bring you your food!
This sweet making machine had us all enthralled for a long time and so we had to buy one of the sweets it made! We saw the machine drop what we thought was a piece of chocolate in, but it turned out to be sweet bean paste, so while the resulting pastry was tasty, it was a little bit of a disappointment given what we thought we were getting.
This is the garden down the street
from our hotel, next door to the Lawson's. We met the owner, and he invited us
in to hear the lovely fountain. He has a long bamboo pole mounted into a
pool which is fed by a
small fountain so that you can listen to it. There is a very sweet plink
plink plink to be heard when the water drips from the fountain into the pool.
It is difficult to tell from the photos, but there is water running down the
inside of the glass wall with the circle cut out of it, and the garden has tall
buildings on either side of it!
This was the first real snow we'd encountered this winter and the kids had a blast (they've been jealous of their friends back home having so much snow; Yannis and I have not really missed it). Between playing with the snow and feeding the tame deer, we almost didn't have enough time for the sights of Nara.
Okumura Memorial Museum
On the walk up to the most famous temple in Nara, we encountered this museum. It tells the history of the Okumura Corporation. From their lovely brochure: "...the Company has been steadily developing as a harmonious general contractor..." Isn't that lovely? "The inside is open to the public for free admission with a resting space for people to relax in and an exhibition space to introduce our century of company history. We would be delighted if many visitors could use this place as a resting house while strolling around the historic city."
This is a device they use to simulate an earthquake. See the blue liquid as Anika is experiencing a level 7 earthquake. Then they switched the chair to the latest earthquake-proof building platform and simulated the same level 7 earthquake, and guess what? The liquid remained almost completely steady!
This temple was originally constructed in 752 CE as the chief Buddhist temple in Japan, and it had so much influence that the capital of Japan moved from Nara to Nagaoka in order to escape its undue influence! This temple is the largest wooden structure in the world, even though when it was rebuilt after a fire in 1692 it was built only two thirds its original size!
This Buddha is huge! See the man lighting a candle in the foreground?
Some inspired monk drilled a hole the size of the Buddha's nostril through
one of the columns behind the Buddha. People now delight in squeezing
through this simulated nostril. It is said to bring good fortune!
Traveling Around Japan
The Shinkansen Trains (aka "Bullet Trains")
These run frequently between the major
cities and are a great way to get around Japan (albeit a little expensive if you
don't have a JR Rail Pass which has to be purchased before entering Japan -
oops). It takes 2.5 hours to go from Kyoto to Tokyo (averaging about 120
mph), and we basically walked in to the station and bought tickets for the next
train that suited our fancy. We (here you should definitely read Yannis) chose to wait 40 minutes so we could ride one of
the new Series 700 Shinkansen trains. Far faster than flying when you
factor in the 1 hour to get to the airport, 1-1.5 hours before check-in, 1 hour
on the plane, another hour to get from Narita, etc.
500 Series - still the fastest. New 700 Series - just a hair slower than the 500, but apparently much more cost effective to operate.
Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen
Riding in the Shinkansen.
And last, but not least, one of our favorite images from Japan - these appear to be in almost all the hotels from budget to high-end:
The things you can do with this toilet! (Unfortunately, doing laundry wasn't one of them!)
The seat is heated, for your comfort - temperature controls included
(Don't ask us what this feels like!)
There is a bidet option, which we found mostly scary.
When you sit down, the water starts running into the bowl automatically.
And then there are still five or six buttons and dials whose functions we could not ascertain.
From Japan, we headed off to Guilin, China
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