Thursday, May 14, 2009

Golden Week

When the end of April hits, everyone is abuzz about what they will do for Golden Week (the first week of May). During Golden Week, a series of holidays fall right in a row; thus, many people are out of school and/or off work on paid holidays. Chad and I filled our time off with a good mix of relaxing days at the apartment, and a little local traveling.

The first day that we traveled, we went to Kyoto (Japan's former capital). One of the most preserved and beautiful areas in Japan, Kyoto is a popular tourist site. It has always been one of my favorite places in Japan--there is so much established history, exciting culture, beautiful and historic buildings and gardens, and delicious food! We arrived in Kyoto around 10:30 in the morning, and decided to go to Tenryu Temple first.

Chad took this shot in part of the garden. It was so beautiful (and so BIG!). It is no wonder that Tenryu-ji is an official World Heritage Site.

Inside the temple, there were several interesting paintings. Among them was this large daruma painting. As daruma figures are modeled after Bodhidharma, the monk often credited as the father of the Zen sect of Buddhism, it is understandable that such figures can so often be seen in Buddhist temples. Tenryu-ji is a head temple of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.

Such a sunny, warm day!

After spending a couple hours walking around the area, we started to get pretty hungry. Our friend Tomo drove us to a cool udon shop and we were able to enjoy a very delicious meal! Below, we are smiling for a quick picture before eating a great lunch of udon and tempura!

After lunch, we were ready for round two. And not just sightseeing--it was time for dessert! We headed to one of Kyoto's most famous sites: Kiyomizu Temple. On the way up to the temple, all kinds of traditional shops line the road. Our first stop was at an ice cream shop for sesame ice cream. I knew Kyoto was famous for its green tea ice cream, which is very delicious, but Tomo told us we had to try the sesame flavor.

Mmm! Delicious! And almost no sesame flavor *haha* !

Tomo, Chad and our friend Tomoko standing in front of the temple. Hisashiburi, Kiyomizu-dera! (Long time no see!)

Kiyomizu Temple, too, is a National Heritage site, with beautiful architecture, and beautiful views.

We were lucky to come this year--parts of the temple were open to the public that generally remain closed. Every hundred years, people are allowed to temporarily enter such areas, though photography is prohibited. Coinciding with this anniversary is the above exhibition of Buddha's strength. Chad and Tomo can't lift the staff in the middle--even when they try together!

A monk outside the temple

After leaving Kiyomizu Temple, we spent hours wandering the city (we passed through Gion, but didn't spot any real Geisha). Before we knew it, is was past 9:00! And...we were hungry again!

We headed to a kaiten sushi restaurant, and got a little daring with our choices. Chad tried little squid sushi (pictured below), and I tried sea urchin. Just remembering the yellow, fishy-smelling paste makes me nauseous, but Chad was lucky enough to enjoy the squid.

All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Our next Golden Week adventure took us to Matsusaka, a city in Mie with beef that rivals that of Kobe. We didn't try any beef, but we got a taste of a little Matsusaka flavor not many others can claim to have tried.

We set off with our friend Tomo again, joined by two of our Canadian friends: Doug and Danielle. Our destination was a music party. At the time, we didn't know exactly what this "music party" was going to involve. On the way to the party, we were asking Tomo all kinds of questions that reflected our uncertainty: "Where is this party again? What kind of music did you say they were going to be playing? What kind of food is there?" Once we arrived, our worries vanished in seconds.

We pulled up to a beautiful cottage. Surrounded by trees, valleys, a small barn with a pony, and a little chicken coup, I had to pinch myself and ask, "Are we back in Michigan?" We walked inside to one of the most amazing, airy, smartly constructed homes I have ever had the pleasure of entering. Not only was the home wonderful, but the atmosphere! Inside, there were several people huddled around the kitchen making all kinds of traditional food! We found out it was all organic, and in a matter of minutes, we also got to find out how a lot of it was made.

Above, Danielle happily sets to work making sweets. She is taking rice balls and rolling them in sweet soybean flour (right) or sesame seeds (left). We also got to make gyoza (fried dumplings) and sweet red bean paste-covered rice balls.

So far, the party was so much fun! We couldn't wait to try the food. But first, it was time to hear the starting band. Believe it or not, it was a cover band of the Police! We got to hear hits like "Roxanne" ("You don't have to put on the red right") and "Message in a Bottle." They kept saying, "We're robbers!"--despite our insistance that they are actually a cover band.

The "Robbers"

Caitlyn and Tomo

Danielle, Doug and Chad

A drummer from Tokyo

Okay, time to eat!!!

Vegetables with avocado dip, pitas stuffed with lettuce, tomato and egg, stir fry with meat substitute (looked like beef!), gyoza, mini pizzas, home-brewed sake and wine, and soooooo much more. We were happy eaters, to say the least.

After dinner, it was time to settle down and listen to the last band. We listened inside, this time, munching on snacks and filling our already-too-full bellies. The lights were dimmed, and easy, low-key jazz filled the room.

Before we left, the owner of the house thanked us for coming (shouldn't we have been thanking him!?!?!), and gave each of us a horseshoe. Everyone was so friendly and kind. We will definitely cherish the memories we were able to make that day.

Our last Golden Week journey brought us to Akame, near the city of Iga. Akame, literally "red eye," is an area known for the origination of ninjitsu (a Japanese martial art) and ninjas. Although we didn't see any ninjas, we made fools of ourselves pretending to be them.

Notice our sweet hats? Chad wasn't messing around when he said he wanted one. And it just so happened that it was pouring that day, so we all decided to go with the trend.

Akame's main lure is its 48 waterfalls and its giant salamandars. Taking on an 8 kilometer hike, we treked forward to see them for ourselves.

Before you start the trail, you go through a little aquarium, and I couldn't help wondering, "What the heck are these!?!?!" These little buggers really freaked me out. They look like little dragons or something!

So weird... Anyway, onto the hike. Below are a few of many pictures taken on the rainy, but beautiful, day.

Chad, our friend Yasu, Doug and Danielle

After a long, wonderful day in Akame, we headed back to the apartment for a nummy dinner of tonkatsu (pork cutlets), gyoza and edamame. The next day we relaxed and did some lesson planning, and before we knew it, we fell back into the groove of our normal work week. What a vacation!

1 comment:

Kara Hanes Photography said...

Those weird Lizard things look like giant water dogs. I use to have two of them as a kid. Weird little things

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