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Amparo Bertram

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07:35 am: Sightseeing in Arashiyama
Rain moved in with cooler temperatures, so we decided yesterday that our plan to sightsee in Kyoto was looking good. Our goal for this trip was to sample what is called shoujin ryouri, a type of vegetarian cuisine developed by Buddhist monks. We elected to visit the western side of Kyoto, an area called Arashiyama, to eat at a restaurant located inside the temple grounds of Tenryuuji.



Tenryuuji is a big tourist attraction in the spring, when its drooping sakura are in bloom, and in November, when the momiji leaves have turned bright red. Right now, the leaves are only slightly tinted pink in a few places.

Inside the temple grounds, we also found a small man-made pond with frog statues inside, sitting at the base of a Buddhist statue. The sign declared the water trickling into the pond to be the Spring of Love.



Along the path were blooming these kikyou flowers. The kikyou flower, with its distinctive five-pointed star shape, is the symbol of the Heian-era onmyouji Abe no Seimei. An onmyouji is a person who practices onmyoudou, a type of magic based on teachings originally brought from China. In the Heian era, the onmyouji were responsible for (among other things) reading the stars and predicting the fortunes of the nobles, giving them advice on how to avoid bad luck. Back then, if an onmyouji told you it was your bad luck day, you were obliged to stay home from work to protect yourself. (Of course, this also made a great excuse when you just didn't feel like getting out of bed in the morning.) Abe no Seimei was one of the most famous onmyouji of all time, and he has a shrine in Kyoto where they will be holding a festival today for the Autumnal Equinox.

We finally concluded our walk and went to the restaurant. They have three set meals, with prices of about $30, $50, and $70, though for the two more expensive versions you have to make reservations. You take your shoes off when you walk in, and you are seated in a large tatami room that has a red carpet running along two walls. You sit on the red carpet and the tray of food is placed on the floor in front of you. The wonderful thing about shoujin ryouri is that we knew we could eat every single thing they brought us--they don't even use fish broth, which is ubiquitous in Japan. The food changes seasonally, though they make an effort to provide harmony among five cooking methods (raw, boiled, fried, deep fried, and steamed), flavors (salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter), and colors (red, blue/green, yellow, white, and black).

After we finished our incredibly filling meal, we left the temple through a bamboo forest and went for a walk along the main merchant street. Unfortunately--or, perhaps, fortunately for our wallets--Wednesday is the day most shops chose to be closed, so there were very few places open. We did, however, come across a place called 奥嵯峨苑 that sells the cutest accessories in the world. They take braided cords that are supposed to be used to make kimono belts and twist them into all different kinds of keychains, earrings, brooches, necklaces, hairclips, and other items. It was hard for me to resist buying any more than the four items I picked. I wish they had a website I could link to, but apparently they don't.

We stopped for a break when we reached the end of the road, where wednesday_10_00 ordered some soft-serve ice cream ("soft ice"). I thought I'd show this picture illustrating the different flavors they offered. Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and green tea are not surprising, but then the last three are black sesame, tofu, and yuzu (a type of citrus fruit) peel. I love tofu, but I cannot for the life of me imagine wanting to buy tofu-flavored ice cream.

Trying to find the train station on our way back was yet another adventure...

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