1) Riding the Shinkansen
2) Visiting the flowers and Mimuroto-ji temple
3) A storybook dinner that can only be done in Kyoto
On Tuesday morning, Hiro drove us all to Shin-Yokohama to take the bullet train to Kyoto. Junko said we were on one of the slower of the 3 bullets (Kodama (slow), Hikari (medium) and Nozomi (fastest)). But our train was 700 series
with a maximum speed of 285 km/h so I think the main thing making us 'slower' was the number of stops on the way to Kyoto. We left at 10:16 and expected to arrive at 12.21. Just over 2 hours for the 484km ride.
Shinyokohama station has a dizzying array of choices for take away food from a noodle sandwich to onigiri to some really nice looking sashimi. We each picked a middle of the road choice of O-bento box lunches to eat on the train. Michelle had one of her favorite mochis for dessert or 'dezāto' (デザート) as they say in Japanese.
We arrived in Kyoto station where we were greeted by Takeshi, his wife Eiko and Akagi-San.We met Takashi in 2001 on our Seoul to Osaka bike trip and have made three subsequent cycling trips with him. His wife Eiko joined us for two weeks cycling in Holland. We met Akagi-san when he joined us on the last Pittsburgh to DC cycle trip in 2009. Takeshi's (he's about75) front teeth were broken and he later explained that he had fallen over his handlebar one night after he didn't see the big pothole!! He has been waiting for the swelling to go down before having them fixed. We stored our backpacks in a locker at the Kyoto train station. Akagi-San had brought the Blurb foto album we had made of the Pittsburgh to DC trip and wanted us to sign it.(see Cycling the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O
Towpath at www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1215887) We reminisced a lot about the great trips we all had made together as we made a brief ride on the local train from Kyoto to Uji station.
During the gloomy rainy season in Japan, it is popular cheer-up by going ajisai (hydrangea) viewing. Takashi picked one of the top rated gardens for us to visit at Mimuroto-ji temple in Uji, Kyoto. It is famous for its flowers. We've read that 20,000 azaleas bloom from end of April to early May, and their 10,000 hydrangeas come out in June. We made our way along the edge of the gardens to the main temple. An interesting shrine sits on a perch just behind the temple. We rubbed a statue for good luck and rang the big bell. A historic 3 tiered pagoda is tucked away in the corner.
On the path down the slope through the central walkway of the gardens, thousands of blue and pink hydrangeas bloomed around us. Near the bottom is the snack stand where we enjoyed a deliciously refreshing ice dessert with flavors of Japan, including macha! We were a minute late getting back to the city bus. But Akagi-san had raced ahead a had the driver wait for us. Our arrival was timed nicely and we caught the train back to Kyoto. If we had missed the bus, we would have had to take taxies in order to stay on schedule. Even though we seemed to be going at a relaxed pace, everything in the day was tightly choreographed. The Japanese seem to know how to schedule.
Takeshi then took us to this "out of a book" restaurant where we were treated to a once in a lifetime dinner by Takeshi and Eiko. We passed through hall sprinkled with fresh water and Junko explained that was a sign of purification and welcome. The kimono clad staff bowed so deep their noses almost touched their knees. We walked through several dimly lit narrow halls. Shoes were replaced with slippers at the door of the tatami matted dining room. The dinner was in private room with small garden area and one wall took up an incredibly beautiful screen.
Imagine scenes from "Memoirs of a Geisha". We were treated to a dinner that was a feast for all senses. Leisurely, we cherished and enjoyed each lovely dish. At one point Takeshi asked us what possesses us to do what we do. Michelle said: "we are nomads" and every one had a blank look on their face except Hiro. He nodded knowingly and explained that we were "no mats...people without a mat.....tatami mat", he clarified with a serious face. We had a good laugh.
After a 3 hour dinner, the staff who waited on us bowed long and deeply to us at the curb while we got into the taxies. It is almost embarrassing to be treated with such deference. Only in Japan!
We waved goodbye to Takashi, Eiko and Akagi-san at the train station and Junko, Hiro and we headed to Kobe (40min by train). Junko had reserved the fantastic Portopia hotel in Kobe port and lucky for us, ran a great special. A great day was followed by a great nights sleep. It will be a short train ride in the morning to the ferry dock.