Sandy first met Audrey and Neil, both Anesthesiologists, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Lahey Clinic Peabody in the early 2000’s. They became friends and occasionally interacted socially with other friends and introduced Jim into the mix. In 2016 Jim had major surgery and Sandy asked Neil to administer his anesthesia. After our retirement in 2017 we moved to Paris for four months and Neil and Audrey spent a few days with us there, really cementing our relationship as we walked at least nine miles per day with them, ate a lot of good food at spectacular restaurants and Audrey taught Sandy how to shop at high end stores. Since that time they have visited us in
London, Mexico City, Madrid and New Orleans. We are so delighted to now be able to host them in Japan.
Our time with them is notable for the most laughs, the most miles of daily walking and the most money spent on food and women’s clothing.
We waited at the Kyoto train station for Neil and Audrey to arrive and then walked them the short distance to our Japanese home before heading to Kawaramachi where Audrey had made 6pm reservation at Tiger Gyoza to eat Japanese dumplings.
After dinner Audrey and Sandy beelined to a nearby department store minutes before they closed to purchase a turquoise Louis Vuitton bag that Audrey has had her eye on. As you can see this is her favorite color.
We enjoyed a walk through the streets of Gion trying to catch a glimpse of a Geisha which is the neighborhood where most of them live and work. It was not meant to be though that night.
Searching for the elusive Geisha.
Prior to coming to Kyoto Audrey and Neil did extensive research to plan their short stay with us in Japan planning out the days almost hourly. The first sight was a visit to Nijo Castle and Imperial Palace. This world heritage sight was the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most powerful men in Japan. The castle was built as a residence and not for defense purposes. However to protect the shogun from enemies, special creaky floorboards were installed to warn of anyone approaching.
The highlight of our visit here was the Imperial Gardens where the cherry trees were in full bloom. Neil and Audrey had been very fearful that they would miss the blossoms as they arrived very late in the season. They actually got to experience a lot of trees still in full bloom.
Jim said he was “palaced out” so he made good use of his time while waiting for us.
Kyoto in the springtime has so many beautiful and unusual flowers in bloom. We used our plant identifier app on our phone many times.
Our next agenda item was a sake making tour and tasting. Needing some food in our stomachs before it we grabbed a somewhat disappointing lunch at a nearby hotel restaurant.
Matsui Sake Brewery has been in business since1726 and has remained in the family for twelve generations. During our tour we learned the process of sake making. Audrey is now an expert in defining the differences between filtered and unfiltered Sake, just ask her.
Looking into a vat of fermenting sake.
After the tour we were able to sample several different sakes and also able to purchase ones that we favored. Audrey picked the one in the prettiest bottle.
Next stop was Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) Temple which was originally built in 1482 as a villa for a 15th century shogun. Despite its name it is not actually covered in silver. Rumor has it that the main building was supposed to be covered in silver leaf but the shogun ran out of money.
Zen sand sculpture garden of the temple.
The moss covered grounds and koi ponds were quite lovely to stroll through.
The temple is located along Kyoto’s eastern mountain range.
Our next destination was Philosophers path. This is a 2 km stone paved walking trail along a canal with over 500 cherry trees. It is one of Kyoto’s best springtime destinations.
Sadly we were unable to get a reservation at Monk Restaurant ( sorry no photo) for their renowned pizza. We even went there hoping for a cancellation and begged a wait staff, but like the Geisha sighting, it was not to be!
Day two: our first destination is Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). It’s a Zen Buddhist temple and is one of the most popular buildings in Kyoto. Its history dates back to 1397 and it was originally a villa, then later converted into a temple. On July 2 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a 22 year old novice monk and rebuilt in 1955. It is covered in gold leaf. Gold was important as it is believed to mitigate and purify any pollution or negative thoughts and feelings toward death. The sunlight on the structure creates a beautiful reflection on the pond.
This is a picture of what it looks like in winter.
Ryoanji Temple was originally an aristocrat’s villa but was converted in 1450 into a Zen Temple.
The temple is most famous for the 15th century zen garden which is meant to be viewed from a seated position on the veranda. The 15 stones surrounded by white gravel that is raked each day by monks are placed so that the entire composition cannot be seen at once from the veranda. The garden is meant to facilitate meditation. We did not get to experience this as when we were there a group of school children took up the veranda seating!
There is a lovely pond and nice variety of cherry trees.
Spectacular wisteria vine.
Audrey booked a lunch for us at one of the best traditional Japanese Restaurants, Shoraian, a stunning tofu-specialist restaurant in Arashiyama. It is tucked away on the banks of the Oi River and as we dined the views of the river and mountains from our private dining room were magnificent.
First of multiple courses.
Final course was tofu ice cream.
We were happy not to be in this room and have to sit on the floor
After lunch we walked through the breathtaking Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, which is a tranquil nature spot and is regarded as the most famous in all of Japan. It encompasses a total of 16 square kilometers.
It can be quite crowded though.
A walk through Arashiyama brought us to the Iwatayama Monkey Park where we hiked for 20 minutes (1000 stairs) up the mountain in the rain.
The 170 monkeys at this park are semi- wild Japanese macaques also known as snow monkeys.
They are cute but can also be quite aggressive. We kept our distance.
There are spectacular views of Kyoto at this summit.
Day three: we take a train to Osaka which is the second largest city in Japan. A port city, it is also a major financial center and is known for its modern architecture, nightlife and hearty street food.
First view of Osaka Castle which was one of our destinations.
This castle is one of Japan’s most famous, originally built in 1583 it burned down and was destroyed several times. It was left in disrepair for many years until the government approved a restoration. In 1997 restoration was completed and is a concrete reproduction of the original. It features a five story main tower, with three extra stories underground, and gold leaf on the sides of the tower. It is also impressively well fortified with a large wall and moat. The interior is a museum and the top floor has an observation deck.
We walked to the top deigning to take the elevator.
We packed a picnic brunch which included mimosas of course.
The Glica running man is one of Osaka’s well known landmarks.
This huge brightly lit sign has glowed over the Dotombori canal in Osaka’s premier shopping and entertainment district for more than 80 years.
Glica is a famous candy company that created a snack adding glycogen from oysters. It was said that each treat could give you energy to run 300 meters thus a running man is the company mascot and logo.
Osaka shopping center, one of many urban pedestrian malls.
Today’s lunch was a real treat.
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake dish consisting of wheat flour batter and other ingredients of your choice. It is cooked on a replan which is a flat griddle incorporated into the table.
You can chose to eat from your plate or right off the hot griddle.
Sandy could not resist taking a surreptitious photo on the train of these Japanese school children in their uniform.
After lunch we went to another shrine because of course that is what you do in Japan.
Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine is a Shinto shrine. It has stood over Osaka Bay for over 2,000 years and it is linked with the sea. People involved in fishing, shipping and other maritime industries come here to pray for safe voyages.
The official name for this bridge is Sorihashi or “arched bridge”, but the structure is often called Taikobashi, or “drum bridge” after the shape created by its reflection in the water.
According to popular tradition, crossing the bridge is an act of spiritual purification.
Next stop Shitennoji Temple which is one of Japan’s oldest temples and first ever to be built by the state. It was founded by Prince Shook, who supported the introduction of Buddhism into Japan.
This temple is also known as the Four Heavenly Kings.
We opted not to pay the fee to go in and just enjoyed the outer grounds which were free.
Buddhist pilgrim statue on the grounds.
Dinner in Osaka was to try Takokoyaki or octopus balls which are ball-shaped Japanese snacks made of a wheat flour based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced octopus.
They look really good but in reality they are a gelatinous texture and relatively tasteless. This was not our favorite meal🤮.
Each day Audrey would lead us on our adventure and get us where we needed to go. It was such a pleasure. All we had to do was follow the turquoise outfit.
Today, day four, our first stop was Toji Buddhist temple in Kyoto which is a funeral temple dedicated to Ashikaga Takauji, first shogun of the Ashikaga dynasty. Fifteen shoguns are buried here.
This is the tallest pagoda in Japan.
We mostly enjoyed the grounds and flowering shrubs
Next on the list was Sanjusangendo Temple which is famous for 1001 statues of Kannon the goddess of mercy. Unfortunately no photos were allowed. Each statue has 42 arms.
Looks like Jim is now “templed out”.
We walked this restaurant lined street many times. Today we are here to check out the location of our restaurant for lunch.
We had a couple from France take this picturesque photo of us.
Audrey prebooked for us to have lunch at Roan Kikunoi restaurant which is one of the most famous restaurants of Japanese cuisine the world over. Below are the incredibly delicious dishes we were served.
Audrey loved this copper sake server which only the restaurant had and would not sell it to us. It helps to keep the sake cold.
These Black Kites are small body raptors and we enjoyed watching them flying and swooping for prey over a bridge near the Gion section of Kyoto. That evening after we strolled through Gion and Pontocho which is the birthplace of Kabuki, a unique Japanese theatre we did spot two geisha’s in Gion but they scurried away so fast that we were unable to snap a stealthy photo.
Last day in Kyoto we went to Fushimi Inari Shrine which is famous for its thousands of vermillion tori gates.
The gates straddle a network of trails that lead into the holy forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
The tori gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies, and their names are on the back of the gates. The donation amount starts around 400,000 ¥, (about $3,000) for a small gate and increases to over a million yen for a large gate.
Unlike most tourists who only go half way up we hiked to the summit and back which took around two and a half hours. 12,000 steps up.
There was a moderate to heavy rain fall the whole way.
Neil was a trooper to do this after having recent knee surgery.
Sandy purchased a small tori gate to leave at a shrine with a prayer for a friend’s son who is ill. She left her pocketbook behind here and did not realize it until we were several stairs away causing us to add more steps than planned. Audrey ran ahead and discovered the pocketbook was still right where it was left it on the trail.
We found a great little ramen restaurant for lunch to warm us up after our cold rainy climb. One of few unplanned meals.
Of course an orange Goyard bag is a must purchase as a nice reminder of Tori gates and Japan.
Last delicious meal in Kyoto was at Giro Giro Hitoshina
Not too many friends would go this far for such a short stay. They say the best stories are in the pages of a passport. Thank you Neil and Audrey for this story.