Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OAT Japan, Monday, March 30, 2009:

Second Full Day in Kyoto

This morning, the Hearton’s Patio Restaurant was jam packed again, this time with well-dressed business people. Since today’s touring was going to be more leisurely, we decided to wait a half hour for the room to clear. We passed the time checking our e-mails on one of the hotel’s computers.

We began our tour with a drive to an older, well preserved neighborhood, located in east Kyoto. The prevalent architectural style reminded us of that of the Samurai-era Nagamachi Quarter in Kanazawa. Note the similar mud walls, window treatments, rockwork and roof tiles.

Our next stop was the Ryoanji Temple, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Zen temple is best known for its karesansui (dry rock garden). The unknown designers, thought to be working in the 1400s, created a rectangular space composed of a field of white raked rocks. They placed 15 moss-covered boulders, placed in such a way that the only viewpoint where all 15 were visible was from a single location in the Kuri, or main hall. An article in the science journal Nature called this design concept medial-axis transformation (this assertion is open to controversy; the appeal of this garden may lie in its inate Zen simplicity).

The surrounding gardens at Ryoanji Temple were quite spectacular as well.

We finished this morning’s excursion with a visit to a countryside rapeseed or canola farm, where we learned about picking flowering plants for later use in a salad or cooking in various ways. We were given disposable plastic galoshes to place over our shoes due to the mud. We had fun wandering the fields with farmhands, who taught us to pick only those stems with budding flowers (mature flowers would have been too bitter in taste).

The original itinerary had called for a cooking class today in a local community center. As it turned out, we assisted in preparing lunch in an intimate restaurant created in an old farmhouse near the canola farm. We learned to make simple sushi, which we added to the excellent meal prepared by staff.

As one can see, parking is at a premium in Japan’s cities. We passed this mechanical parking garage as we walked near our hotel.

Dinner was on our own again, so we cast about for ideas. Several of the group raved about the Kushikura yakitori
restaurant a short walk away a couple of nights earlier, so that sounded good to us. Irina joined us for dinner at Kushikura, which turned out to be delightful. Although their fixed price menus were on the expensive side, we were able to keep costs reasonable by ordering items a la carte.

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