Kyoto

The ryokan experience... ...Rohan wearing a yukata

The ryokan experience… …Rohan wearing a yukata

Dates visited: March 30, 2013 – April 3, 2013

My fingers were crossed… …up until the trip since we wanted to be there for sakura (cherry blossoms). And we got unbelievably lucky with our timing as the cherry blossom peak came in about two weeks earlier than usual while we were in Tokyo and Kyoto. So we were in Kyoto during the peak bloom!

Here are the highlights of our fabulous time in Kyoto.

  • Ryokan experience— A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with tatami-matted rooms and communal baths. We’ve all seen it in movies where the distinctive features are a room with no furniture except for a small round table, sliding paper doors (fusuma) and sliding paper screens (shoji), and an alcove (tokonoma) which displays a hanging scroll (kakejiku) and a flower arrangement (ikebana). It was an enriching experience though I didn’t have the guts to partake in the communal bath portion of that experience.
  • Sakura (cherry blossoms)—the most perfect time to experience celebration of beauty and harmony. The sakura was out in full force as we visited several shrines, temples and gardens. The locals love to celebrate this colorful season as several of them dress up in yukata and/or kimonos. No amount of words can do justice to the beautiful sight of thousands of sakura swaying in the wind so I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I will just say that these stunning images are permanently etched in my memory, and my mind is never short of happy places to wander to.
  • Hanami—hanami parties are a century-old tradition of picnicking under a blooming sakura tree. We were hanami-virgins in Tokyo, but we lost our cherry (blossom) by having our own hanami in Maruyama Park. We didn’t quite go 100% local with the food, but when you are under a sakura tree with an enchanting ambience all around you, even our Starbucks cake and coffee seemed like ambrosia.
  • Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, Zen temples (and rock gardens)—We visited several of the ones designated under “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)” as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These monuments are a delight by themselves, but coupled with peak sakura blossom, they lent themselves to a magical experience. We visited Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion), Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Ryōan-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace). We also visited other culturally important and nationally treasured places such as Sanjūsangen-dō temple, Kodai-ji temple and the Heian Shrine.
  • Tetsugaku-no-michi (The Philosopher’s Path)—I had read amazing reviews about this one mile of stone path that follows a sakura tree-lined canal between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji, but I can honestly write that none of the reviews come even 50% close to describing the positively stunning and absolutely gorgeous view that greets you during peak sakura bloom.

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